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Anyaoku: Nigeria is adrift, only restructuring can arrest the drift

Chief Emeka Anyaoku, former Secretary General of the Commonwealth.

Chief Emeka Anyaoku, former Secretary General of the Commonwealth is unhappy with the state of the nation, which, according to him, has gone terribly “appalling”, and needs urgent fixing. In this interview with Assistant Editor, KABIR ALABI GARBA and Features Editor, AJIBOLA AMZAT, he emphasised the need for the country to restructure, just as he provided a template to achieve true restructuring.

The cacophony of voices across the country has condensed to one singular issue: restructuring. What is your view on this?
I strongly hold the view that the present structure we have of 36 states is not conducive for our development and progress as a country. Yes, we are a federation, but at the moment, more in name than in reality. We should become, in reality, a federation. And the way to achieve this is to go back to more viable federating units that we had in the years up to, and immediately after our independence. In those years, That was why it was possible for somebody like Chief Obafemi Awolowo, in the Western Region to formulate his policy of free primary education. If it were a federal government, it wouldn’t have happened, but he was able to do it because he was able to manage the resources that were generated there, essentially from cocoa production and so on. I believe that we should restructure our governance and give education management to the federating units in the regions like we had in the past years. This afternoon (September 26, 2017) in my speech at the Metropolitan Club, I elaborated this point vividly, where I was invited to elaborate my view on restructuring. I said we should restructure now from 36 federating units to eight federating units. Many people think it should be six based on the six geo-political zones, but I think it should be eight. The Middle Belt should have a region of its own. People from the Middle Belt have agitated over a long time and the similarities and commonalities between them and further North are not very pronounced. So, Middle Belt should be a region. And I believe we should revive the old Mid-West Region because at present, the contiguity is not there in the constitution of the South South, where Edo and Delta states are incorporated as South South states, alongside Rivers, Bayelsa, Akwa Ibom, and Cross River.

I also think that the old Mid-West is a more suitable federating unit. So, instead of the existing six geo-political zones, we should have eight federating units- South West, South East, South South, Mid-West, Middle Belt, North East, North West, and North Central.

By this calculation, the present South South would be split into two to create Mid-West Region. What formula should guide the creation of Middle Belt Region going by your prescription?
You see, we started independence with three regions. Shortly thereafter we made it four and the country was developing fast then. We had in the North, the Groundnut Pyramid, vast plantation of cotton, tin mining and production, as well as high quality leather products that marketed abroad as Moroccan leather, and Sir Ahmadu Bello, the Sardauna of Sokoto, was content to remain Premier of the North, and sent his lieutenant, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, to the centre as prime minister, instead of becoming the prime minister himself, because the region was sufficiently powerful, and sufficiently empowered to manage its affairs, development and progress.

In the West, Awolowo was able to achieve what he did by boosting cocoa production. In the East, Michael Okpara, achieved what he did because at that time, Nigeria was the largest producer of palm produce in the world. Now we import palm oil and so on. And in the Mid-West, Dennis Osadebey, was able to boost rubber production. The Mid-West produced a lot of rubber such that Michelin decided to establish a tyre factory in the country, which was closed down some years back. In terms of education, from the primary to secondary schools, and even up to the university level, the regions were doing well and focusing on their best. The products were better than what we have now. But since the military intervened in governance, and came up with a constitution that reflected the command structure in the army i.e. the commander-in-chief gives order and everybody else follows, we lost our federalism! And then, because of military regime, all these states were arbitrarily created with all the abnormalities involved in their creation, such as imbalance and inequity. How do you justify for example, a situation, where Lagos State, which is by far, the most populated state, has only 20 local councils, whereas Kano State has 44. And if you add 27 in Jigawa State that used to be part of Kano, you will have 71 local councils, and resources are shared at the third tier on the basis of local councils. Then, how do you justify the fact that Lagos State produces no less than 60 per cent of the revenue from VAT, and yet what it gets in terms of federal allocation is not more than six per cent? How do you justify that? And then, how do you justify the fact that the centre determines what the educational system looks like? Within the polity, we have ceases to emphasis meritocracy. Because of the structure of governance that we have in place, Nigerians now shine abroad. Until he recently resigned, a Nigerian-Ogunlesi, a very internationally qualified person was a member of President Trump’s Economic Team. Everywhere you go, Nigerians are shining. When I was the Secretary General of the Commonwealth, I travelled all over the world, and there was hardly any place I went to that I didn’t see a Nigerian community. In 1995, I went to Papua New Guinea, one of the remotest countries from our own point of view. After my arrival was announced in the morning, that evening I received a telephone call from a Nigerian, saying, ‘sir, we, Nigerians in Papua New Guinea would like to come and see you, sir.’ I said, ‘Nigerians in Papua New Guinea? How many of you? He said, ‘we are 19 professionals.’ In Papua New Guinea? I exclaimed.

Again, in 1995, I was on an official visit to the Republic of Seychelles, a Commonwealth country in the Indian Ocean. I was very impressed by the standard of their telecommunication system. This was because from my hotel room, I could pick up the phone and dial anywhere in the world, and this was in 1995 when mobile telecommunication had not become as common and important as it is now. And I was complimenting President France-Albert Rene, on the standard and quality of their telecommunication system in my meeting with him, and he said to me, ‘well, Mr. Secretary General, thank you, but I must tell you that we owe that to your countryman.’ I said, ‘my country man’? A Nigerian? He said, ‘yes’. I said I would like that Nigerian to come and see me. Rene’s Foreign Minister, who was present in my meeting with him, said, ‘yes,’ we would oblige him. And in the evening, this Nigerian came to me and I first thanked him for bringing such pride to our country. And that the president complimented him for making their telecommunication system what it was. And I said well, but you know NITEL in Nigeria is in a very poor state, why don’t you go and help us improve NITEL?’ The chap laughed and said, ‘well, sir, after my I obtained my masters degree in Telecommunication Engineering at Manchester University, I went home and worked in NITEL for seven years. But after seven years, someone was posted to my department as head. My first reaction was that it was a political appointment, so, I would go ahead and do my job. But after three months, the new head wanted to bring the level of performance to a level he could cope with. So, at that point, I left.’ And this chap was from Ondo State. I do not know what is happening to him now. So, our system in the country has not encouraged retention of our best brains. Nigerian brains are doing well outside our country. We should, as a matter of political leadership, focus on policies that would enable the country to retain its best people.

As one of the leaders from the South East, how do you see the agitation by the Independent People of Biafra (IPOB)?
Well, I hold a strong view that there is no part of this country that does not benefit from belonging to a country of the size and resources of Nigeria. This means that every part of this country has an interest in this country remaining one because when Nigeria joined the comity of independent states in 1960, there was jubilation in Africa, and in all parts of the world with black people that here is a big black country that will help to elevate the standing of black people throughout the world. I want us to remain a country with that capacity. It is true that at the moment, we have serious domestic challenges, but sometimes, I worry that our leadership does not show sufficient awareness of the seriousness of the challenges we face in this country. I would encourage them to be more aware of the seriousness of the challenges we face. They should also be more aware of the need to address those challenges, which in my humble view, should mean restructuring the architecture of governance because there are agitations and militancy going on in different parts of the country, the most pronounced being the Boko Haram.

Another pronounced one is the IPOB, which I am not aware that it has taken up arms against anybody. The militancy in the Niger Delta is also going on and now we are beginning to hear talks about Oduduwa Republic. This is not a laughable matter because, at the recent Ibadan Summit, there were some people there who said that ‘the talk shouldn’t be about restructuring, but about how to facilitate the emergence of Oduduwa Republic.’

So, there are, in different parts of this country, agitations, and I fear, these agitations and militancy will continue unless we restructure. And by restructuring, we will create better chances for national unity because if the regions that I have suggested are created and adopted, people would develop greater interest in maintaining the Nigerian nation. This is because they would have no pressures that they can’t deal with within their regions.

When I said that, someone asked me, ‘what happens to the 36 states?’ And my response was that they should be retained as development zones within the regions. Development zones that will not have, or need the paraphernalia of administration that they have at the moment. We, at the moment have 36 state houses of assembly; 36 judiciaries; 36 civil services; 36 of every structure of governance, which means that Nigeria spends upwards of 80 per cent of its revenue on just administration. No country has developed spending such on administration, leaving as we do in Nigeria, much less for capital development. The state of our infrastructure is appalling, the roads are bad, the inland waterways system underdeveloped, and the power situation equally appalling, mainly because we have not been investing enough in infrastructure. This is because we spend most of our money on administration.

As the country clocks 57, what is your assessment of its democratic experiment since democracy returned in 1999?
I would say that as things are now, we are drifting backwards, and drifting towards a possible national disaster. That is why I am calling for the restructuring of the country. In 1999 when we embarked on the current civilian administration, there were no insurgencies and militant agitations. Now, we have them. I believe that this country has never been as divided within itself as it is now. And this is a trend that has unfortunately continued since after the early years of our independence. When I was at the University College, Ibadan, we were proud to call ourselves Nigerians, first and foremost. Ethnicity did not play an important part in our identity as it does now. My wife is from Egbaland in Abeokuta. Meaning, former President Olusegun Obasanjo is my in-law. Come November this year, we would have been married for 55 years. And when we were getting married, the fact that I was Igbo, and she Yoruba initially, was not well received. Within the family, there were some surprises and so on. Clearly, parents would have preferred that someone married from his or her stock and so on. But such remarks were of little or no consequences… they didn’t last.

When my mother in-law died and the bishop asked my wife to say a few words during the funeral service, my wife went back to the initial family’s disinclination from supporting our marriage. She went on to say, ‘it didn’t last long because, not long after our marriage, my husband became my mother’s son, and I became her daughter in-law.’ That was how she put it. And that was because, my mother died young while I was in school. So, after our marriage, my mother in-law treated me as her son and I treated her as my mother. We continued like that till her death. Chief Obasanjo could have told you that he lives at one end of the hilltop at Abeokuta, and we have a bungalow at the other end. So, the families visit each other. I am going to Obosi in Anambra State, at the end of this week… As a rule, we spend Christmas there (Obosi). As a rule, we spend Easter in Abeokuta… we live in the two worlds.

But the situation in the country now is perturbing. As I said, we’ve been drifting away from a united country to a divided country. If you search on Google, I think, Nigeria is now listed as 13th on the list of potentially failed states. Also, Nigeria now harbours the fourth most deadly terrorist group in the world, Boko Haram. These are ominous signs….

However, there was a golden age of Nigeria’s performance in foreign affairs, starting from when the country was invited as the first African country to send a peacekeeping force to Congo, and the Nigerian Army was invited to produce the first African Commander of the UN Forces in Congo- Aguyi Ironsi. Obasanjo served in Congo under Ironsi, and Nigeria had played an important role in the creation of the Organisation of African Union (OAU), now African Union. Nigeria was the leader of the Monrovia Group that merged with the more radical Casablanca Group. Monrovia Group had 22 countries; while the Casablanca Group had five countries. They merged to form the OAU in May 1963, and then moving forward, in January 1966, Nigeria was the first Commonwealth country to host a meeting of the Commonwealth Heads of Government outside London. In 1975, Nigeria led the formation of the ECOWAS sub-regional organisation. Nigeria also played a leading role in the struggle to liberate South Africa from colonialism and racism, followed by the role it played (especially during Obasanjo’s regime) in the creation of NEPAD, and in the discussion that led to substantial debt relief from the Paris Club… These were the golden days! Compare that with what is happening today where Nigeria has no seat in the 10-member leading organ of the AU.

Last February, Nigeria’s candidate was defeated in the election by a candidate from Algeria. So, we have no place in the leading organ of the AU. And even in the ECOWAS region, which we used to lead in terms of sending ECOMOG forces, we are now faced with the possibility of Morocco being admitted into ECOWAS. You know what that will mean? Great dilution of Nigerian influence, both in terms of economic integration and political influence… Look at how Nigerian travellers are treated abroad. The little respect for our green passport, and the continued deportation of Nigerians from countries around the world; the xenophobic treatment of Nigerians in South Africa… all of these are happening because we have lost our influence and leadership position.

So, while I think we should celebrate our next Independence Day for our continued existence as one country, we should embark on reflections. We shouldn’t be too happy with developments in our country and we should become more determined to take measures to arrest the drift.

As a prominent son of Anambra State, what is your take on the November election in the state?
The election will hold. IPOB did say they would not allow the election to hold. But Prof. Ben Nwabueze, said he had discussion with Nnamdi Kanu, who said that he and his group would allow the election to take place in the hope and expectation that there would be restructuring of the country. I am actually going to Anambra on Sunday (today) because on October 4, 2017, Nnamdi Azikwe University, Awka, is going to launch the Emeka Anyaoku Institute for International Studies Building.

Is the altercation between Governor Obiano, and his predecessor, Peter Obi, a cause for concern for you?
Well, there is an Anambra Elders’ Council that was set up, which the governor invited me to chair. It is a council that consists of former Vice President, Alex Ekueme, all the former governors and elders of the state. We have discussed that issue and raised some concerns. I have communicated those concerns to the two individuals. It is a bit worrying, but it is not as bad as it is being portrayed in the media. I had the privilege of chairing former Governor Obi’s farewell function in the state, three years ago. And it was he who presented Obiano to me as his worthy successor. But you see party politics in Nigeria is a bit more fractured than it is in most of the countries that I am familiar with. It assumes a lot more personal content than it should. In politics, you can belong to different political parties and having different schools of thought, but in Nigeria, we tend to personalise politics, not only in Anambra State, it is all over the country. I think the two gentlemen have ceased to be personal, they are now focusing on issues.

For instance, Obi, in the news today (September 26) is asking Obiano to explain how the N75 billion he left is being disbursed. This is from political party point of view. To me, it is not personal. Both used to be in APGA, but Obi is now in PDP. And the statement that Obi said he would use his blood to fight Obiano is fabricated. Our media usually go too far! I will give you an example.

In July 2015, shortly before President Muhammadu Buhari embarked on a state visit to the United States, he asked for me and I went to see him. We discussed over an hour his impending state visit to the United States and I gave him my advice on how to handle the visit and so on. As I was leaving, media correspondents at the Aso Rock Villa intercepted me and said, ‘oh, you have been with President Buhari, what did you discuss with him?’ I said to them, ‘…since I returned to Nigeria, I have had the privilege of advising presidents Obasanjo, Yar’Adua, and Jonathan on foreign affairs issues, and I just had a discussion with President Buhari on a similar matter. But I had made it a rule never to speak publicly on the advice I give to the president.’ Can you believe, the next day, SaharaReporters said ‘Chief Emeka Anyaoku had gone to see President Buhari to plead with him not to probe President Jonathan.’ Can you imagine that? In my one hour or so discussion with Buhari, the name Jonathan never came up. The administration of Jonathan was not the issue. The issue we discussed was his impending trip to the States. This is one example. And this will take me back to early 1984. You may recall I was invited by President Shagari to be Foreign Minister after his re-election in 1983. So, I was Foreign Affairs Minister for three months when the Buhari Military Coup threw us out of government, and Buhari and Idiagbon were good enough to recognise that I had nothing to do with corruption. I was the first ex-Minister to be allowed to leave the country. Not only that, Buhari as the new Head of State wrote a letter to the Commonwealth Secretary General that C hief Emeka Anyaoku, had nothing to do with corruption and I was able to return to the job that I left to come and serve the country as Foreign Minister. The day I was leaving at the Murtala Muhammad Airport, the press people got hold of me and said, ‘sir, what lessons did you learn from your short tenure as Foreign Minister?’ I said, among the lessons that I learnt, one of them is that, ‘whereas the saying that there is never a smoke without fire is true, I learnt that in Nigeria, you could have a thick ball of black smoke and no fire anywhere! And that is my indictment of you the gentlemen of the media.

I am used to the media being in a position to distort facts; to exaggerate facts; to understate facts, but never to fabricate something they call facts! Now, Trump has popularised the expression of fake news, but this was not the case before. But in Nigeria, I do not know why people will just manufacture a story, which has no bearing to facts…



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