Dr. Ezekiel Izuogu is a stalwart of the All Progressives Congress (APC). Known for frankness on any issue, the politician shared his thoughts on happenings in the country, especially the Biafra agitation, corruption war and Buhari’s government. He insisted that the South-east deserved the chairmanship of the APC BoT. Iheanacho Nwosu writes for Daily Sun…
What do the continued activities of Biafran agitators and Shiites fundamentalists portend for the country?
The issue is that Nigerians should be very very thankful to God for giving us Buhari as President of Nigeria. This is the first time we are having a leader who is not out for what he can get. He is a selfless leader. He wants to serve Nigeria. He is not corrupt, he does not encourage corruption. He is committed to fighting corruption. Those who looted our money are returning it . Nigerians should be grateful to God for giving us President Buhari.
Secondly, all those who are making trouble and seeking separation of the country should know that they are engaging in a wasted effort. There is no reason anybody should be fighting for separation or secession. There is no reason for that. We should team up together and build a country that is comparable to the United States of America. Look at us, the number of tribes that make up the country. The whole world is there but they are cooperating. They have built a nation that is number one in the whole world. Look at the blacks in America, they account for only eight per cent of the population but today a black man is the President of the country.
The Igbo are hardworking people, they can get things where nobody can get it. Igbo are scattered all over the country, they are in every local government, they are leaders. They should cooperate with the rest of Nigerians to build a viable country where the igboman can be number one.
During the time of Azikiwe, I was a teenager; we saw our people playing major roles in the running of the country. Okpara was there, Ibiam was there and an Igboman was even the head of the army, Maj.-Gen. Aguiyi Ironsi. We controlled Nigeria. I am sure that if Igbo can cooperate with Buhari, they can once again come back to their place in Nigeria along with other tribes in Nigeria. We don’t need to separate or secede. Talikng about separation is unfortunate.
How about the claim by the agitators and some notable Igbo leaders that Buhari has treated matters, concerning the South east with contempt?
It is not true. You know me very well, I will always speak the truth. When they were not supporting Buhari, everybody was going for Jonathan, all the christians were preaching Jonathan, Jonathan. As a christian leader, I came out and said that Buhari would be the President. I gave many interviews to The Sun newspapers to that effect. I am a Christian, I pray to God and He speaks to me. When I say that, I am not trying to be holier than anybody. I pray to God and He has a way of relating with those who sincerely call on Him in truth.
Buhari does not hate Igbo. An Igbo man is now the Minister for Petroleum. That is where the biggest money is in this country. Does that not send a signal to other Igbo that this man does not hate Igbo. An Igbo man is the Minister of Science and Technology , Foreign Affairs Minister, etc. We are not discriminated against.
I had once formed a major political party in Nigeria and people from different parts of the country followed me. Many of those that joined the party were my elders. They include Solomon Lar, Abubakar Rimi, Lateef Jakande, Bola Ige, etc. They were all comfortable in the party that I formed. They were looking up to me not to disappoint them. Yet I am an Igbo. They didn’t discriminate against me.
The argument is that the President is acting out his statement that he will pay less attention to those that gave him five per cent of their votes, but will concentrate more on areas that gave him more votes. Would you say their argument is not plausible?
It is not true because if what they are saying is true, the Minister of Petroleum, who controls the larger part of the nation’s resources would not have been appointed from the Igbo.
But the Minister is from the South South and not South East…
The South South person is an Igbo man. It is just the dividing line of River Niger. They are our brothers. So, he gave the ministry to an Igbo man and that means he trusts Igbo. When I worked with him during the campaign, he trusted me, he talked with me, he believed the report I gave to him. He wanted to make me a minister, it was internal sabotage that scuttled it. I do not worry about that because i didnt support him because i wanted to be a minister. I supported him because I believe in the oneness and longevity of Nigeria. I believe that if Nigeria has a good leader, the country can do wonders in Africa and globally. Today, Nigeria is a leader in Africa, does that not impress us? If we divide the country into three or four countries, we would no longer be number one. So, when I say what I am saying about the need for us to remain together, I mean it.
I do not like the thing that happened when Nzeogwu and co planned a coup and ended up killing some leaders of this country. That was a wrong step. Nobody should be killed in Nigeria. Anybody who has led Nigeria should be respected. If he has done something wrong, you can jail him but not killing him.
That killing of Ahmadu Bello and other leaders was not good. My mother, when she was alive, was not a politician but always supported what was good. I was a teenager then; she called me and said, Ezekiel these people did not do well, they shouldn’t have killed some leaders. That move conveyed a bad impression.
I didn’t like what happened to Igbo in the North and other parts of the country, who were eventually slaughtered. They didn’t know anything about Nzeogwu’s coup. Nzeogwu never told Azikiwe, Okpara about the coup. It was 28-year old soldiers, who plotted the coup and ended up killing some political leaders. That was not good. We must do what is good. Unfortunately, when one wants to act, they would say Igbo, even though those who did what they did didn’t consult the other Igbo.
Ndigbo must be careful about the things they say and do. Buhari is in power today and going by the principle of power sharing and everything, the next President ought to be an Igbo. We cannot become President if we are dividing Nigeria. There are some detractors who are saying Igbo should go ahead, nobody can conquer them. They are not true friends, they only want the Igbo to be at war so that they can take over Nigeria.
Are you saying agitators for Biafra are used by some external forces?
Of course, yes. They are being used. They want to scatter Nigeria, they want the Igbo man to be held responsible for scattering Nigeria.
Those forces you claim are using the agitators, are they anti-APC?
Yes, they are anti-APC elements. But beyond that, they are individuals, who do not want Ndigbo to take their rightful place in the country. They are those who do not want Igbo, who are soldiers to become Field Marshals or to rise. They are those who do not want Igbo in the civil service to attain their proper positions, they do not want Igbo politicians to gain their rightful place in Nigeria. They are instigating this agitation so as to have a reason to demonise Ndigbo.
But the truth is that we do not want any war. During the election, they didn’t support Buhari but he won the election. If you took a wrong decision, you should be humble before God and return to your creator to say I am sorry, I took a wrong decision. We should now come wholly and support Buhari in order to tell him that we are not against him. We have never been against a northerner. We are not against the Youraba. They are all our friends. Nobody should give the impression that we are against Buhari.
Don’t residents of the South-east have the constitutional right to support whoever they want?
Yes, they have. But if you are supporting or not supporting, you cannot be talking about Biafra at the same time. Don’t bring another nation into the Nigerian nationhood. Such action is called treason. Nigeria is a nationhood, if you come here preaching about another nationhood, you are now saying that Nigeria is nonsense. You are by that abusing the sovereignty of the Nigerian nation. As long as I am a human being I will never support that.
What is your take on the ongoing probe of the arms contract scandal and the growing insinuation that is all part of game plan of the incumbent administration to get at former President Goodluck Jonathan?
If you were Buhari and you had a conscience that is alive, you would do what he is doing. If I were in Buhari’s position, I would do exactly what he is doing. There was corruption in the system. If you arewho a sincere leader, you must probe the corruption. If you are probing the corruption and the name or names of your opponents are mentioned, it is not your fault. You didn’t put their names there, what they did in the past caused their names to be there.
Buhari is doing what every good Nigerian must do for Nigeria. I am happy that the President is doing what he is doing. He is making me happy because it shows that I didn’t take a wrong decision by supporting him during the election. If he was a failure, I would be regretting, I would have been asking myself why I supported him. I am happy he is doing the right thing. What he is doing is the only thing that will save this country. He has only been in power for six months, we have to give him time to settle down and handle Nigeria’s problems.
The price of oil is low, everybody knows that. The country is not getting the usual money that came its way in the past.
Buhari came at the proper time to make sure that there is accountability in the system. He has appointed ministers, I congratulate all of them. They are not living big, they are not working like Jonathan’s ministers, who were more interested in grabbing everything. The current ministers are humble, they are willing to serve Buhari under the system the President has set in place. That is what loyalty is all about. So far, Buhari is good as far as I am concerned .
In defending his policies and action, are you not concerned about the allegation that he has been selective in his corruption fight, that he is yet to widen his targets to include APC members, especially those that picked his campaign bills?
I am very sure that Buhari would probe every corrupt activity, no matter who is concerned. He will probe every financial illegality. I believe in Buhari. He does not go for niceties, he does not go for praises like other politicians. Buhari is in a class of his own.
If what some people are complaining is true, we only need to give him some time, he will address those concerns. Investigations of all illegalities have begun, he is addressing them one after another. As he is probing one issue, there are others that will spring up. As they are coming up, they will also be looked into. That is the Buhari that I know. I believe in the man. He is the right person for this country at this time.
When Shagari was here, South-east supported him. Nobody said he was against Ndigbo. When Murtala Mohammed came, Igbo also supported him. So, why should we not support Buhari? Ndigbo supported Tafawa Balewa, nobody talked about religion or ethnicity thst time. Why should all those things come up now?
Is it not possible that there is something Buhari does to the Igbo that those leaders from the North you mentioned were not known for?
Everything is propaganda. Buhari does not pursue woman, which most Nigerian politicians do. He does not look at other people’s wives, he is satisfied with what he has. He does not believe in stupid accumulation of wealth, which other politicians in Nigeria do. So, what would anybody hate Buhari for?
Buhari is good and upright as far as I am concerned. When people speak against Buhari, I often ask myself what do these people see in this man that I don’t see? I really want to know why anybody would hate somebody who wants things to be done right for the good of everybody in the society.
Apart from the arms contract probe, which other areas would you want this administration to quickly turn its attention to?
I like what the government is doing regarding the swindling of Nigerians through arms purchases. Most Nigerians are happy with the investigation. Nobody should steal from this country and go away unpunished. If the former NSA was an Igbo man, our people would have said the government was going after Igbo. People should stop deceiving Nigerians with all these tribal sentiments. If you are wrong, you are wrong. Even when my father or mother commits a crime, he or she should be judged and jailed if found guilty.
There are other areas Nigerians still want the government to look at. The man that was the minister for Niger Delta was taken up sometime ago over certain things he did as a minister. Instead of focusing on the allegation against him, he whipped up sentiments that government was after him bevsuse he supported Jonathan. He is playing to the gallery. If anybody supported Jonathan but did not soil his hands, nobody would probe him or her. There are several people who supported Jonathan that are moving freely. It is only those who burnt their fingers that are being investigated.
People voted for Buhari because they wanted government to show accountability and probity in the running of our dear country. Nigerians want this government to go after past government officials and some Nigerians, who committed financial crimes. Anybody who served in government should know that his or her actions would be judged. Let Jonathan’s men stop complaining about Buhari. The President has done no evil by going after those that raped our nation. For me, Buhari is the best leader that Nigeria has had in recent times.
What has he done in the last six months that you are voting him as the best ahead of leaders before him?
The areas he is touching are critical to the survival of this nation. Look at the way he speaks about corruption, we didn’t see that from past leaders. He condemns corruption in all ramifications. We have not had past leaders, who stood in the public to condemn corruption the way Buhari is doing.
Buhari does not hate anybody, what he hates is corruption. If the man is that kind of person that hates anybody, he would have shown that against IBB. The former was the one that sacked his government through a coup and took over power. He has not gone after him. He is not that kind of person.
The first time he came into power as head of state, it was through a coup. That was against Shehu Shagari. He and Shagari are friends today. Shagari visited him when he emerged as President early this year. That is what politics should be. It should be a give and take venture. Nobody should kill the other. That is what Buhari believes in – live and let live. We should allow him to govern Nigeria very well. I am sure that by the time he finishes his four years, Nigeria would be a changed place.
If Buhari possesses this picture you have painted, the power to turn things around and all that, why is his government still struggling to address key problems like fuel scarcity six months after?
Buhari is not a magician or God; these problems accumulated as a result of the poor governance that went on in this country. Leaders who piloted the affairs of the country displayed high scale incompetence and love for corruption. We saw a situation where even civil servants were known for corruption. Permanent secretaries, ministers, etc. were all affected. Buhari cannot change this bad situation overnight. He has started well, after sometime, Nigeria will start seeing changes. Nigeria is a country of about 150 million people, you cannot change anything overnight. It will take time to affect everybody positively. The government is recording successes in the recovering of stolen funds. When these monies are applied, Nigeria will be better off. Thank God that more and more people are returning money they illegally acquired. It is a good development. If Buhari pilots the affairs of this country transparently for eight years and another person comes in and follows his path, Nigeria will be transformed, the country will be like US. It will make successive leaders to think twice before they steal from the country.
Crevices and cleavages seem to be widening in your party, APC; what is actually the problem?
I don’t know what you mean, did anybody tell you the party has any problem? I don’t know of any problem.
Why has the party been unable to inaugurate its Board of Trustees?
The Board of Trustees is in place. I discussed with the National Chairman some days ago about the Board of Trustees and he confirmed that the board was going to have an election very soon to get its chairman and other officers.
How soon will that be because Nigerians have been hearing this for a long time?
Very soon. I am interested in contesting the chairmanship of the board if the position is conceded to South-east. Conceding the position to the zone will mean making it possible for the zone to have a say in the party. The South-west has done well, they initiated the process. The North has done well, the zone has produced the President and several officers. The South-east is left out. If it is possible, I want to come in as the chairman of the Board of Trustees so that when you are talking about the Yoruba, Hausa- Fulani, you talk of the Igbo as well in the party. These are the three major tribes in Nigeria. The minorities are already there. The right things are being done. The APC National Chairman, Chief John Oyegun, is a good man. He is an incorruptible man; he is a decent person. He does not believe in jumping into something only to regret it and look for ways of coming back. He does not believe in such a system.
The party is being run systematically. There is no crisis in the party. If they go to the National Assembly and there is some fighting for the senate presidency and it is later resolved, that is a family. You go to the House of Representatives and there is some little fighting about the speakership and later it is resolved , that is democracy in action You cannot pretend about democracy. If you come to the Board of Trustees and there are some issues to handle, it does not mean there is no peace. There is peace in the APC, the party is doing well. The party is not going to break as I hear some people predict.
Are you not worried about the way tendencies are springing up in the party?
It is laughable to suggest that we may go the way of PDP. We are not like PDP, we are different in all ways. PDP was made up of something like a cultic caucus that was deciding on evil things and ensuring that they were executed. And because they were in power, nobody could check the things they were doing. But Nigerians were watching. Nigerians prayed against PDP for several years. Everybody was happy when God answered that prayer.
In APC we are very careful. We are reminding our members, especially those who came from PDP that this not PDP, don’t adopt evil methods, we will not allow such methods to work in APC. I have been a progressive leader for close to 30 years. I have done virtually everything possible for the sustenance of progressive movement. I am very happy that progressive movement is in power today. I am still the chairman of progressive movement of Nigeria, which made a lot of impact under President Umaru Yar’Adua. He worked with us. We are out to make sure that the progressive party does the correct thing, things that are consistent with the progressive movement. The progressive movement is for the masses. Anything that we are doing that is not for the masses has to be looked at again.
I can assure you that the APC is fully working with progressive ideologies. And as long as we are doing that, we would not have problems. The party will never divide. All the groups that came together to form APC are enjoying the power that has been conferred on us by Nigerians. Anybody who wants to break away wants to stay away without the power. And nobody would like to do that.
The struggle in the party is linked to the 2019, are you saying you are not aware of any untoward moves by some leaders of the party?
I believe that Muhammadu Buhari should continue beyond 2019. We are in a democracy , anybody can have an ambition , it is not a crime . It is only God that knows how far anybody can go with his ambition. Buhari is tremendously popular in the APC , he is tremendously popular in the whole country.
Is it not surprising to you that APC is not gaining ground in some zones like South East and South South despite controlling the centre?
It is so in the South East because no proper agenda has been followed . If you put me in charge of the South East ,in less than 100 days the whole zone would go for APC. You need to have somebody trusted by the Igbos as an arrowhead. Most of the people going around do not enjoy the trust of the Igbos because those people eat here and there. But for all the eyes I have been in politics nothing bad has been linked to me and Ndigbo know that. They know that when i speak my word is always my bond. When all the Igbos were going for Jonathan i stood out. I told them that we should go for Buhari . I called a meeting of Christian leaders in the zone at Owerri in December, i told them that Buhari would win the election, that they should support him. They didn’t believe me but they respected me. I told them to take my phone number and call me a day after the election . When the result was announced many of them called me. I also met another Christian group, the Scripture Union that had a conference in December last year and told them that Buhari would be the next President of Nigeria, they shouted and expressed doubt. Ninety five percent of them dismissed what i said . But today Buhari is the President. There are people who would speak and you take them seriously. Rev. Fr Mbaka in Enugu told the world that Buhari would be the next President. He is one man everybody must take his word seriously. Another prophet from Akwa Ibom who is based in Lagos prophesised that PDP would crash, that the new party recently registered would win the election. His declaration came to pass.