Saturday, September 24

Five states for Igbos is cheating – Nwodo

Five states for Igbos is cheating – Nwodo

Dr. Okwesilieze Nwodo was the first civilian governor of Enugu State and one of the founders of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). He was the pioneer National Secretary and later became the National Chairman of the party. In this interview with CHARLES ONYEKWERE, he spoke on sundry issues. Excerpts…

Enugu State is 25-year-old, what informed the quest for the creation of the state?

Enugu State or old Enugu Wawa state was actually created after 30 years of struggle by the Wawa-speaking people of Igboland to herald a state of their own. What informed this struggle was simply that the northern Igbos embraced western education much later than the southern Igbos.

So, at the time we were having first generation of doctors, engineers and lawyers, our southern brothers were already in their fourth generation of such people. So, they had a good head start on and because of that, they occupied the principal positions in the government of Eastern Nigeria and southern states when it was created and later on, old Anambra State.

So, in all of these different administrative set up, the Wawa-speaking people were always seen as wood fetchers such that if you wanted an honest domestic worker; its either you go to Nsukka, Abakaliki or Afikpo to get such a person. Our southern brothers did not believe that we were endowed as they were to sit at the same table with them.

Well, our pioneer leaders who had also acquired western education like Chief C.C. Onoh, Dr. Akanu Ibiam, Martin Elechi, Chief Nwodo, Chief Charles Abangwu, Chief Enechi Onyia, Mgbada, just to name a few; started to spearhead the agitation that we should have equal treatment as the other people especially as the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, began to help us produce a lot more younger graduates.

We felt that our people also needed to participate in equal proportions in governance. But getting the state was not easy. One of the big problems we had was the experience of the Igbo and the issues of their abandoned properties in the southern states of Rivers and Bayelsa in particular where a lot of properties of the Igbo were confiscated and said to have been abandoned to the people of those areas after the Biafran War.

A lot of the properties in Enugu were owned by these very people we are complaining about that were marginalising us and since they had more riches than our leaders, they were able to stop the creation of Enugu Wawa State for a long time because they were afraid that their properties will be declared abandoned and the people of Wawa State are going to take their properties and so on and so forth.

So, a lot of misgivings delayed this very important developmental agenda that our people had. Since that state was created, there is no doubt that there had been monumental progress in the Wawa-speaking part of this country.

And by the grace of God, General Sani Abacha, went ahead to give the people of Abakaliki what is now Ebonyi State with headquarters in Abakaliki, and as we speak now, the people of Nsukka are agitating for Adada State.

State creation in Nigeria today is the biggest catalyst for development because the state headquarters with all the government apparatus have to be built and there is the tendency that more money will come into the area.

If you have Adada State now, they will have their own allocation every month as well as what will become now as old Enugu State again will have their own allocation and then the local governments and so on. So, these are indices of development in our country for today.

We believe that as long as Igbos have five states, they are losing one governor; they are losing three Senators as well as about seven to eight members of the House of Representatives. They are losing manpower that is critical at the centre as well in the states in terms the members of House of Assembly.

So, that is why the South East is still agitating for one more state to be at par with others so that when we vote at the National Assembly, our votes will count and not when a state like the Kano State votes in the North, it will cover the entire votes of the people of the South East. We think that, that is not fair. So, this is the background for the creation of our state.

What is your take as regards running of the affairs of our local government councils?

When I was a governor, the revenue allocation favoured federal, state and local governments. Less than six (6) months into our governorship, the federal government, (then military) without consultation with the governors changed the revenue allocations in favour of local governments.

At that time, the Babangida administration made us (the governors) to believe that those who will manage local governments were people who are retiring as permanent secretaries and going back home with wealth of experience to put the local areas into serious developmental purposes.

They wanted to make sure that they have money to do what we had in the mind of doing. That was the first time we had the governors’ forum and we went to see the President and we said to him what you are saying is right but if you come to Enugu and jump into a pothole the thing that will come out from your mouth is Nwodo.

If you go to school and there is no chalkboard to write, you will say Nwodo, and if you go to the hospitals, and there is no drug, you will also say Nwodo. So nobody talks about local government chairman. We are having the responsibility and you are giving the local government people the money. That was our first problem.

The second problem we had less than six months from then was the devaluation of the currency, our budget became nonsense. If you are going to do a project of one million, you are going to look for about 1.7 million to do the project. And then they increased in the wages of civil servants without increasing the money that was given to us and most state could not pay salaries.

The former government had savings which they called “stabilisation fund”, so if you make a strong case, that, this is what you are getting and this is what you are spending, they will give you money from the stabilisation fund, may be, to help you sort out salaries for three months and you come back to beg again. So it was that difficult.

The point is that, at that time, no governor is even crazy enough to touch the money going to the local government; the money goes straight to them. At that time we had a holistic plan that supervises what the local government does and concentrate on the ones we can do.

But the difference is that, today the governors have access to the money meant for local governments. They don’t take it for the actual development of the local areas but rather take it for other reasons and the people in the local government will be forced to sign that the money has been used for the local areas which is a general problem in Nigeria today.

So it is too hard to get a local government in Nigeria that is doing well in primary health, primary education, and primary agriculture and so on because the fund is not there. It is either we don’t want it and we scrap it, or we want it and empower it.

What is your advice on how to handle the consistent attacks by Fulani herdsmen?

One of the issues with the Fulani herdsmen is that they feel that their own man or brother is the president. It is not that the president asked them to be doing that but the notion that my brother is in charge what can you do to me, is the major factor fueling this menace of herdsmen.

And therefore looking at it as it is happening, the security agencies, that is the police, and the army cannot do better than the local vigilance because the local vigilance group knows the hideout of those Fulani herdsmen and can even help them to escape if they want.

I therefore advise the state governor to make sure that the local vigilance groups are up and doing. If they apprehend these people and the state knows these are the people who did these acts, it is now the duty of the state government to make sure that the full wrath of the law is meted on them.

There must be a point at which we are going to take the destiny and the responsibility of ourselves in our own hands for the country as at it is now is becoming more polarised. The law in this country does not allow an individual to purchase an AK47 riffle without licence but these said herdsmen carries it around without anybody questioning them; it is worrisome.

I believe we need to be up and doing and if eventually we catch one of these people, we hold him down till the governor comes, our press will make a noise about it with our radio stations until the law catches up with the person and they will know that they cannot do this anymore in Enugu State.

I equally advise that those who have basic knowledge of security to draw up a plan as to how our local vigilances can be trained on how to protect themselves so they don’t just get killed because they are doing vigilante.

They will be given basic education and training on how best to catch the perpetrators and then hand them over to the police. In the course of doing this, we will be helping ourselves and helping the governor too; so that these wouldn’t happen again for our good and that of the government.

How were you able to manage the state when you became the governor?

When the state was created and I became the first elected civilian governor, I sponsored two policies. The first was policy of triangular equilibrium because I felt that any part of Nsukka, Enugu, Abakaliki and Afikpo should not complain of marginalisation as was done in the previous 30 years.

So at that time, the only part of Wawa that is not in the state was Afikpo. The three senatorial zones were Nsukka, Enugu and Abakaliki and I made sure that whatever we are doing in the government, these three senatorial zones were carried along.

As the Chief Executive of the state from Nsukka and my deputy from Abakaliki, I made sure that the third most important position in government which was Secretary to the State Government (SSG) was given to Enugu senatorial zone.

Now in the three arms of government, I headed the executive and I made sure that the Chief Judge of the state came from Enugu senatorial zone in the person of Justice Eze Ozubulu and then insisted that the third arm of government should go to Abakaliki which was the Speaker who hailed from Abakaliki.

The same thing went on even in the distribution of principal officers in the House of Assembly; the Speaker was from Abakaliki; the Leader of the House was from Enugu and the Chief Whip was from Nsukka that is for the N.R.C party. For SDP we did the same thing, the Deputy Speaker was from Nsukka, the Deputy Leader was from Abakaliki and the Deputy Whip from Enugu.

So, this was how we went about the government in Enugu. When we came to appoint the members for the constitution of the boards, if Nsukka produced the chairman of a board, Enugu will produce two members and Abakaliki two members.

If Abakaliki produced chairman, the other two senatorial zones will produce two members each. If we are going to renovate secondary schools; we take two schools each from each senatorial zone. If we are going to renovate general hospital, we will do same thing.

If we are going to build road, we do same thing except that Enugu as the capital had more need for roads to be rehabilitated than the others. Now, when we come to the second policy of my government, I named it Meri-Quotocracy.

I just coined that word to represent two things, namely Merit and Quota. I believed that I should not sacrifice merit on the altar of quota, because if you don’t use the most qualified people to do the most difficult task and assignment, then you are shooting yourself in the foot.

Do you think Enugu State has fared well after 25 years of its creation?

Yes, Enugu State in my view has moved on since its creation. I think that every government that has lead the state prioritised her programmes and tried to do the best they could. And therefore, there has been steady improvement in infrastructure and in the empowerment of the people.

The creation of Ebonyi State helped a lot in the development of the Wawa in so many ways. The only fault I have in our progress is as it is the order of the day in Nigeria for successive governments to believe that the government before them had nothing to offer and they abandoned projects initiated by the predecessors and then they start new projects which within their own tenure might also not be completed.

So, you have all over the place littered with abandoned projects. For instance we spent a lot of time, to engage one Mr. Arthur Ugwu from Akagbeugwu or somewhere here in Enugu and his team to produce 20 years master plan for ESUT; the main campus in Awkunano where Jim Nowbodo started it and the Adada campus.

If you look at this two master plans, you will be shocked if there will be any university in Nigeria that will meet the quality of those drawings and of course there will be no governor that will stay for 20 years in office at most eight years; but I felt that any government that is coming doesn’t have to think about what to do in these campuses.

With the master plan, all you just need to do as a governor is to find out what is the need of the campus at the time you are the governor and you deal with those ones and the university will keep growing at the end of the day. The infrastructures we are talking of in the master plan were roads, the gardens, and then the buildings wherever they were supposed to be were intact.

The drawing of all the buildings to my knowledge met the standard as at that time. Now, these were abandoned at the end of the day and the university was moved to Agbani, the teaching hospital was moved from Ugwu- Queens Nsukka to Parklane Hospital.

Again, we the people of Nsukka were not receiving the radio channel in Enugu, so we started a transmission station at Ugwu- Queens Nsukka to make sure that we are heard not only in Nsukka but in Kogi and beyond and in spite of all the money we invested there, the project was almost 80 per cent concluded and 24 years down the line it is still abandoned.

It required just the last payment to complete that project. You see the road that the governor is doing now between Opi-Nsukka, we designed that road exactly as it is being built now and it’s the same contractor that is doing that job, the R.C.C. that we gave the job.

When I was removed as governor, I had paid them N6 million plus just about a week before I was removed and when I left, RCC left the site. I went to their office in Lagos to complain and they said to me that when Senator Jim Nwobodo was the governor, they were building the road from Oghe to Uzo-Uwani and Jim’s government owed them before they were removed and that they were not paid; so they took the money my government paid them for that. Since then, it took 24 years for us to go back to that drawing board. If you drive on that road now, you feel very happy.

So, this is why I am complaining that government should not feel that whatever their predecessor started is stupid, especially when it is targeted at the good of the people and when you are going to spend more money changing the goalpost to fit your own whim and caprices.

If we had given in on those master plans, I am sure that ESUT will be a different ball game than what it is today. So, I will advice the current governor to try as much as possible to complete whatever we left undone or uncompleted.

Whatever Chimaroke left uncompleted, whatever Sullivan left uncompleted that will be cheaper to complete and in the interest of the people of this state, the current governor should look at them and try and complete those projects. My condition on this is those abandoned projects that are germane to the people, please, please complete them.

What is your take on the growth of infrastructure between your time as governor and Enugu now?

Well, there has been a lot, like I said, Senator Chimaroke Nnamani did a lot in terms of road network especially in Enugu East senatorial district, he touched a lot of roads in that area and also built the state university and also his own private university, the law school and all that.

All these are indices of development. Sullivan Chime did a lot in the areas of roads in the state capital. There are few state capitals that can boast of good road infrastructure like Enugu State and in the last phase of his administration, he tried to move out of the state capital; like the road going through Nike Lake Hotel to Opi, the four-corner road and other few like that.

So he did quite a lot in road infrastructure. Ugwuanyi is equally trying to do the same thing on the other important roads that have not been touched especially the by-pass in the 9th Mile corner which is a major nightmare during Christmas, Easter and other festivities.

If he is able to complete that project which was started by Chimaroke, it will help a lot and what he is doing in Abakpa, is going to break the bottleneck experienced often by those going through Nike Lake to Abakpa down to Nsukka.

At least the university town is being given a face lift. For almost 24 years, you can’t drive into Nsukka and this is where we have the first indigenous university named after the country founded by a great Nigerian, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe. I think that by-and-large in terms of rural electrification, they can do exactly what we did.

You know I got ADB loan for 70 communities and we finished the electrification and we applied for another 74 communities and because of the speed we used in completing the first phase, they approved the second phase immediately and I wanted even to do it faster than the first one because what I did now in the second one was that I bought all the foreign components, I forced the contractors to give us all the foreign components and to nominate their source of supply and I made sure the bank paid the suppliers directly and the suppliers shifted everything to us and they were emptied in the government house where we thought it will have maximum security, so that all the contractors needed to do was to put the poles and come there and take the components and fix them.

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