Former Governor of Ebonyi State and leader of the state’s delegates to the National Conference, Dr Sam Egwu, in this interview with Benjamin Nworie, spoke on those issues that concern the South-east zone, among others. Excerpts:
Cynicism has continued to trail the national conference by those who think it would not achieve anything. Do you share their fears?
The national conference like you know has been very controversial -whether it will be or not – but I thank God that the president thought it wise to convoke the national conference for people to sit down to talk because it has always been said that it is better to talk than to war. Nigeria is overdue for this type of discussion. Remember the Igbos which is the South-east started the request for this discussion under the Aburi Accord. And prominent Nigerians went to Ghana and it was agreed that we would sit down and talk so that the people will air their grievances especially the people of South-east, the Igbos.
At that time other nationalities started their own agitations. The South-south started, the South-west started, the northerners started and it became so confused. But this was what the Igbos started agitating for long time ago. And like in a family where people are disgruntled, it is always good for them to come together and find a lasting solution to the problems. If we agree that we want to stay together as a country, there is need to seat down together, all the nationalities – a country of more than 250 ethnic nationalities.
This is a very good thing the President Goodluck Jonathan has done. Before, it was like we were going to box ourselves but now we are understanding ourselves, everybody is settling down and we are hearing ourselves and I think at the end of the day, we will come out with something that will be acceptable by everybody.
As a member of the Governance and Political Restructuring Committee, what are the dominant issues in your committee?
After discussing the president’s speech, we went into committees and incidentally, I am in the committee of restructuring of the politics and government. And this is a very important committee. There, we discussed whether we were going to be a federation or confederation. Generally, we said we wanted to be a federation and one major issue that concerns the South-east is the issue of creating additional state to remove the imbalance which everybody says been unfair to the South-east.
If in every zone, we have six states and the highest has seven, why should the South-east have five states as a zone? In the first place, the argument of federating unit which we have started with, we had agreed is going to be Center and States. The Igbos as it were, came out with own position where we normally have our caucus meeting and said they believe in zonal arrangement. And they have very good reasons for that. The reasons being that if things are shared on the zonal bases we are now sure that nobody is shortchanged.
Whatever you want to do with your own, you do. If you want to create ten states, you do; if you want to create 20 states, you create, we have the same amount. Others, if you want to emerge your state, you emerge. At least one thing is sure that there is equal distribution that is the basis for that. However, within the South-east caucus, we said that Ebonyi differs from other states in the South-east. Reason being that we told them our position that under the East central state or even down to Enugu and Anambra States, many parts of our state suffered serious marginalisation and parts of Abia State also suffered this marginalisation.
In fact when Ebonyi was created, we were among the Igbo states that are least developed, educationally backward. To us, it was a very pathetic situation and it was when we got our state that we now because of our free education which I initiated, which the current governor continued, started having the number of graduates and professionals we never had before. So the entire committee agreed that it is better to have a center and states.
However, when they asked other delegates in that committee, Peter Odili is from South/South and all members from the zone said they preferred states. So it was a national issue. The whole Northern states said they are not for a region or zone. So our position was popular at the end of the day. While we were at the zonal level, we were like a minority, at the national level and we carried the day.
How far is the struggle for the creation of additional states in the South-east?
All our members in that committee without opposition agreed that South-east at least is proper to have another state. This is the only zone that has five states. If you are talking of equality, if you are talking about carrying everybody along, give them one state but that does not stop any other state from agitating. But we should be considered based on merit. Let this inequality be addressed first. So it was addressed that South-east needed and should be given one more state. But it will not stop others from demanding for new states.
What is your committee doing on the issue of power rotation and zoning of the presidency?
The committee has recommended that there should be rotation of power. On the issue of presidency, some people are agitating North and South but what we are talking about is let it be rotating among the six geopolitical zones. Some people are advocating that this zonal arrangement should be entrenched in the constitution so that everything will be done based on zonal arrangement. So that whatever is going on should be along the zones even if it is distribution of wealth, it should be done according to the zones.
But zones should not be a federating unit. It will create a lot of problems. It is like all efforts or benefits gotten by state creation is now a waste like going back again, although the initial purpose of state creation was done by the military. They did it for peculiar reasons. Some people said they wanted minorities within the zones, while some people said particularly in the South-east to give our brothers in the South-south the opportunity to stand up on their own and oppose the Igbos. You know Gowon created 12 states but I believe that subsequent creation was no longer based on that motive. It was based on genuine agitation by the people. Why the one by Gowon was created by fiat, others were created by committees set up.
Some countries have indicated their desire to help rescue the over 200 Chibok schoolgirls abducted by Boko Haram insurgents and also tackle terrorism in the country. But what do you think are the implications of this foreign assistance?
It is long overdue. The truth of the matter is that we have to tell ourselves the truth. We should be able to acknowledge our sufficiency and insufficiency at every particular point in time. Nigeria, because of our population, has gone to the level where our population has outgrown our facilities. And subsequent governments have not been able to address these issues. This did not start with Jonathan. It is something that started many years ago. And it is not just in one sector. We are saying insecurity because of its prevalence rate. In the education sector, it is also there. That is why you see, JAMB for instance, we have more than one million candidates every year but at the end of the year, we can only admit 15% or highest 20 %.
We don’t have the school facility to absorb all of these people. And what happens to the other 80%. The facilities, schools and infrastructure we have are not enough to cope with the massive population we have. The same in the health sector and in the military, it is the same thing. Incidentally and unfortunately, the previous governments have not taken time to address these issues. They have not planned ahead to know that with our country coming up with population explosion, we need to plan ahead on these issues of education, health and security. Many other countries have done that. We are interested in politics. The problem has now overwhelmed us. And that is why I say that we should acknowledge that as a country, we have failed in trying to address these issues that are presently confronting us.
And if we have not been able to confront and address them adequately, what we could do is to address it is in two approaches. Short term plan and long term plan. Short term plan is under the current situation, get to governments or countries that have had similar situation that have been able to overcome it or have the technologies to handle it. In the long term, why they are here, try to see what we will be able to do to handle the situations when they leave. And what you do is massive employment and recruitment.
I have gone to many countries, when I look at our soldiers, the number of people we have today, I always ask, can we adequately say at serious war, do we have enough men? This is population. We are talking of equipment/ training. Israel is a small country bordered by hostile Arab countries but they are able to contain them not by their number but they have their technology where the stay in a particular place and monitor their entire boundary through satellite. Why we called these people to come and help, we should put efforts so that by the time they finish, we must have been able to make do with the training given to us and our massive employment.
A lot of our people are roaming around the street and we are in the state of war for Christ’s sake, whether you like it or not. What we should do is massive employment or conscription. Let our young graduates be recruited into the Army to avoid roaming about; they can be of help to Nigeria. The amount of money we spend in politics is not worth it at all. Let’s face our security, health, education. The current position of the president of accepting foreign assistance is in right direction. We don’t fight modern war with the kind of technologies we have.