Chief Damian Okeke-Ogene, President of the apex Igbo cultural group, Ohaneze Ndi-Igbo, Anambra State Chapter and BOT Chairman, Anambra State Association of Town Unions (ASATU), spoke to KINGSLEY UGWU
“So far, so good, Nigeria seems not to have gotten where she is expected to be. We have had some misfortunes along the way. We have had some breakups.
Few years after Independence, civil war broke out. After the civil war, constant military coup d’etat have not helped in giving us opportunity to democratize Nigeria. In all, the development expected is not what we have on ground now. Nigeria as a nation is moving at snail speed which is not encouraging. We are into what is worse than the civil war. The killings, insecurity, Boko Haram insurgency in the north, inconsistency in policy and non implementation of the constitution, agitations here and there. We are on the verge of breaking up.
No part of this country is comfortable with how things work here, except the group running Nigeria aground. Unemployment rate is so high such that 40 per cent of the youth population is unemployed. All these have eaten deep into this generation and are making them look hopeless. You can imagine where some youths who had finished first and second, including masters degrees in their fields of study find no job anywhere. Many of them have gone into keke riding. There are no functional industries in the country anymore to provide these much needed jobs.
I remember when we were kids, we lived in Onitsha and I recall seeing industries, the textile mills, Michelin tyres, Mercedes Benz sales outlets and a lot of others. I went to Enugu and I saw train going to the north and other places; today, none of these could be said to be thriving.
You can ask yourself why all these business organisations left Nigeria and the answer is simple – maladministration and corruption. The Niger Delta, the Southeast, the Southsouth, the Southwest, the Middle belt and even some core northern areas are all crying. The lopsided appointments in the current governance gives no impression of fairness in sight.
Look at our fellow West African neighbour, Ghana, they were in crises situation in the past and Nigeria was their saving grace; with a good number of them taking refuge in this country. Today, Nigerians are running to Ghana and are even being chased by Ghanaian authorities.
Nigeria has steadily lost what made them thick in the past. The oil is no more realistic as being capable of driving the economy successfully. The agricultural sector has been neglected over the years. The consequence of this may result in disastrous famine especially as the insufficient farm practices in Nigeria had been compounded by herdsmen invasion of agrarian communities.
What do you think Nigeria has not gotten right or wrong that placed her where she is currently?
First is leadership, second is value. We have lost values. That is why we are asking for restructuring. When you restructure this country, it will bring healthy competition. Every state in the component body will struggle to be economically independent. But when everybody depends on the oil money shared, there is bound to be challenges as there are no good plans to work with the shared funds.
After the war, Igbos survived with 20 Pounds; not everybody can likewise survive. Today, they have made big successes and impacts in the country. Let me tell you, farming is more lucrative than oil now. People must eat. It is unfortunate that despite Nigeria’s capacity, she is still entirely import based. Nigeria has enormous cotton, but her citizens go to China, Hong Kong, Vietnam and even Ghana to import clothes. The Kaduna Textile Mill is enough to supply the whole country its textile demands, yet, it is not given any support to deliver. Again, Nigerians go to Thailand to import rice when we can produce it locally and save capital flights in the chain. Why is everything like this? The answer is mismanagement.
It’s in the pretext of all is well that it turns so bad. In this country, people do not react. It makes the leaders feel all is well. However, one cannot rule out that there had been areas of noticeable progress even if marginally. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo fixed a lot of federal highways. Since he left, how many successive governments have made significant impact there? The conditions of the road as they stand today provide obvious answers. Government in power now talks about railway; it means we are waking up again. That is why we are clamouring for restructuring so that every state will wake-up to her responsibilities. Anambra State is building her own airport now, other states that are yet to have one may embark on similar or different projects to match Anambra’s strides.
If you ask yourself the percentage of urban cities in our entire landmass, you will know why it is very important to take massive development down to the rural areas.
Nigerians are very patient and could live happily with very little support given to them but their headache is inconsistent policies of goverment that had failed to address any meaningful needs. It serves no good pretending we are getting anything right when we are becoming a failed- nation. The saving grace can only come from good political process, good leadership and impacting policies. Our elections must commend the people’s trust and believability in the system. For us to move forward in this country, the people’s confidence in their government should be restored. The leadership must show more commitment. No leadership is being taken seriously in this country and nobody is proud to say, this is my leader except sycophants ambling there for selfish purpose.
What is the way out of the woods?
The only viable option in sight is restructuring. There has to be true confederation that people could have the willingness to compete, come back to their roots and help build up their zones. When you hear probe, corruption, EFFCC, IPCP and not much of convictions matching the mantra, it makes the whole thing laughable. We do not pray for violence but there could be a level when violent revolution becomes inevitable if the country continues going on dangerous direction as such.
What I am saying is that leadership has been the problem and lack of courage to do the right thing. So, restructuring is alternative to none. The central government needs to be weakened while elective positions should be made less lucrative. The economic burden bad politics has foisted on public, and damage to all institutions that could have helped deliver infrastructural development to the people should not be made to stand any further, if the country must move forward.
In Nigeria, past governors are receiving pensions, while still in the Senate earning fat pay while the poor cannot afford good two square meals in a day. The funds for capital development end up in reccurent services.
What opportunities are there in the new normal presented by COVID-19?
We always pray to God to renew the face of the earth and now I add the face of the nation. Many things will never be the same again as we had known them in the past. The digital time comes with digital challenges. So, jobs will be lost, therefore, if one is not computer literate, then such person is already being left behind.
Where would you want Nigeria to be in the next 20 to 30 years?
When we start getting the elections right, we can then say we are laying foundation for a Nigeria evolving from restructure. If it continues the business as usual, it may not last the next five to 10 years before collapse but I wish to see a future Nigeria that her citizens could be proud of.