We pay N20m for Eagles COVID-19 tests – Pinnick
President, Nigeria Football Federation, Amaju Pinnick, recently spoke to journalists in Lagos about topical issues on Nigerian and world football. EBENEZER BAJELA brings you excerpts
What happened to the sponsor that was supposed to be paying the Eagles’ coaches salaries?
You can understand that Aiteo just came back from one major problem (oil spillage). The day I was talking to the executive vice-chairman, that was the day he was called that the spill had started; he was just about to make funds available to pay not just Gernot Rohr (Ex-Eagles coach) but the other coaches. We’ve already done the documentations. Once the money comes in we will pay everyone and we are very confident about that. Trust me on this, we are looking at so many things and the emphasis is team-based.
What is the situation with Victor Osimhen?
Victor is very fine and there is no issue between the NFF and Napoli. Forget about all that has been said. Leave anything that has to do with the jurisdiction of players to me. All the players that we need to be in Nigeria (for the AFCON) will be here by God’s grace. That I can tell you. I had a long conversation with Osimhen and he is very fine and the (sports) minister also spoke with him and he is eager and hungry to be there. He wants to be the highest goal scorer at the AFCON. We are very excited about that and I also spoke with (Wilfred) Ndidi and (Alex) Iwobi. I speak to my players virtually every day just to keep in touch with them and help build their confidence.
Has the NFF agreed to allow Rangers trio Joe Aribo, Leon Balogun and Calvin Bassey feature in the Old Firm derby against Celtic on January 2?
It’s not me that will determine that and I am not going to talk to the coach because I don’t interfere in his matter. I can only appeal as regards that. These players are key players for their clubs and when they sign contracts, there are certain clauses in them. I will talk to the coach and also appeal to them because that game against Celtic is very crucial and it is also good for their own preparation.
With some European clubs trying to prevent players from attending the AFCON, are we not going to see a similar situation with the NBA, where players can’t honour the country’s invitation during club games?
FIFA is a regulatory body and will not do that; I can tell you that is not possible. NBA is more like a business enterprise, so it is two different ball games. The clubs have been informed a long time ago. There is no team that wants its key players to leave, so they (European clubs) will always fight, but what does the law say about it? What does our status say about it? So, we cannot stop it and that’s the truth. Statutorily and politically, we will ensure we have all our players available for the AFCON.
What is the NFF doing to ensure the domestic league gets better?
We are working with the League Management Company and they just got two sponsors now and we are also trying to work on some other things. You can understand that a lot has happened in the last two years and on the part of the NFF there are a lot of things that we are doing that even the league body is not aware of. I have absolute confidence in what they (LMC) are doing. Leadership is not easy in this country and the good news is that we have Davidson Owumi there. Now fully in the league with his experience, drive and passion for the game, he is going to add a lot of value to what they currently have. Let’s wait and see but what we are trying to do is to harmonise their calendar with other programmes. There are a lot of things that are better left unsaid but we are working behind the scene to ensure we bring them to a higher level. They are our babies.
Is the AFCON going to hold as planned despite doubts surrounding the tournament?
The Nations Cup will hold. There is nobody that is antagonistic of the tournament, but we are looking at the health concerns and we are also looking at all signs about the Omicron variant. It is highly contagious but again it is mild and it takes a specific period. We don’t have a situation where we will have games postponed due to players testing positive for COVID-19, so Cameroon will come up with top-notch protocols as we observed in Doha. CAF has also done well by contracting one of the best laboratories in the world to come to Cameroon to carry out the entire test. So far so good, Cameroon is ready.
With the renovation of the Abuja stadium completed, will it become the home ground of the Super Eagles?
Naturally, Abuja is their home but also everywhere in Nigeria is their home. They can go anywhere just as England did before Wembley. We are happy Abuja is back and it is going to be our first priority towards having them play the final qualifying game in March in Abuja. We can go anywhere to play depending on certain factors but Abuja is their natural home.
What has been the high point of the year?
The pandemic has been the negative thing to have happened to football this year but what we have done this year is to raise our financial profile. We are trying to be self-funding because it doesn’t mean when we are going for major tournaments that the government must always come in with their grants. People must understand it is not just the Super Eagles. We have 11 national teams and matches are so expensive now because you carry out the COVID-19 tests every two days. COVID-19 tests can go for over N20m because it’s not just the players but the entire team, including the backroom staff. It is not easy but we are happy about what we’ve done. By next year I want to send a proposal to my executive committee to build a technical centre in Abuja. I want that to be my physical legacy. I am in talks with FIFA already for part of the funding and we are going to talk to a couple of companies in Nigeria. It is like a one-year project, we are going to see how we are going to build our secretariat that will be upgraded and incorporated with two synthetic turfs and two natural pitches, a mini-stadium and waiting room and a hotel with a gym. It is a very ambitious project, but we will work towards achieving it and we will achieve it.
Are you still running as NFF president for a third term or do you have someone as your successor?
I do not own this country and whoever is going to succeed me will be elected, but we are working hard and consultations are still on. I have a family that believe that they’ve not been seeing me too often and that’s why I take my wife almost everywhere now. I am still talking and my mind is still as it was but my concentration right now is to ensure we qualify for the World Cup and do well at the Nations Cup. There is a lot of determining factors but trust me I am also waiting for God’s guidance. I do a lot of work for CAF and FIFA and I am an integral part of the two bodies.
As IPOB declares war against unknown gunmen …
*Spokesman says ‘We’re not against restructuring but that’s not our demand
By Vincent Ujumadu, Chimaobi Nwaiwu, Steve Oko and Emmanuel Iheaka
RECENT events across the South East geopolitical zone have shown that the leadership of the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, has started heeding to the words of Igbo leaders on the way forward for a lasting peace, including their all important intervention to ensure quick release of the detained leader of the pro Biafra group, Mazi Nnamdi Kanu.
IPOB has also been applauded for suspending the Monday sit-at-home which began on August 9, 2021, with its attendant adverse effect on the economy of the region.
There have, however, been conflicting orders by some people considered to be renegades who are attempting to usurp the authority of IPOB by trying to enforce the sit-at-home even after IPOB had urged residents to go about their normal lawful duties on Mondays. On several occasions, IPOB had had to issue, warnings that it would deal with anyone found enforcing sit- at- home in any part of the South East.
IPOB media and publicity secretary, Comrade Emma Powerful even had to issue threats to the illegal enforcers, but the warning appeared to be falling on deaf ears. In a strongly worded warning, Powerful said: “We wish to reiterate that IPOB has cancelled Monday sit-at-home order and anybody or group enforcing the relaxed order is neither from IPOB, nor from IPOB volunteer group. We are advising our people to ignore anybody enforcing non-existent Monday sit-at-home order and go about their normal businesses because such person(s) are working for our enemies and their intention is to blackmail IPOB and set the movement against the people but they won’t succeed. Anyone caught adding to the pain of our people in the name of enforcing Monday sit-at-home order will be treated like the enemy that he or she is.
“We, therefore, warn these agents of darkness using the name of IPOB to enforce a non-existent order to desist because if we lay hold on them they will eternally regret their evil actions. Why should these unpatriotic elements be inflicting pain on our people and dragging our image to the mud? IPOB remains a non-violent movement and our peaceful approach for Biafra restoration has not changed. Nobody has the powers to enforce the suspended sit-at-home using the name of IPOB.
“The only day sit-at-home will be observed in Biafra land is when our leader Mazi Nnamdi Kanu is appearing in court, and we shall, as usual, make it public for all to know. We hereby direct community leaders, market leaders, church leaders, and other institutions of authority in Biafra land to arrest any hoodlum trying to enforce any sit-at-home on Mondays and hand them over to IPOB. Such criminal elements must be treated in a language they understand.”
Despite the warning by the IPOB leadership, some people at Awomama in Imo State last Monday embarked on the illegal enforcement of the sit –at-home, only for them to have a confrontation with some soldiers, which led to loss of lives and destruction of property in the areas.
Reactions have also continued to trail the IPOB stand on the sit –at –home. The Chairman Christian Association of Nigeria in Abia State Apostle Emmanuel Agomuo, hailed IPOB, for declaring war against the dreaded unknown gunmen wrecking havoc in parts of South East. Agomuo said the move by the group to go after the unknown gunmen would help to checkmate the worsening insecurity in the zone.
The cleric who lamented the activities of unknown gunmen and the sorrows they have inflicted on innocent citizens said that with the declaration by IPOB, the game of the perpetrators were up and urged IPOB members to live up to their promise.
Former Secretary to Abia State Government, Chief Ralf Egbu also spoke on the issue, commending IPOB for the declaration which according to him suggests that the pro-Biafra group is concerned about peace in the region.
Egbu said the move by IPOB would deal with forces of disability in South East and further argued that there was serious need to properly investigate if the faceless unknown gunmen could be outside infiltrators.
Chairman, Council of Traditional Rulers in Umuahia North local government area, Eze Philip Ajomiwe, commended IPOB for resolving to confront unknown gunmen who he said had committed atrocities in the South East, noting that if the menace of unknown gunmen were tackled, the problem of insecurity would have been reasonably tackled in the zone.
The monarch also said that the declaration by IPOB was a vindication that the group might truly not have any link with the unknown gunmen contrary to allegations in some quarters.
Speaking on the release of Nnamdi Kanu, the Ohanaeze Ndigbo youth wing said any Nigerian of goodwill who desires progress and unity of the country should support the call to release the IPOB leader..Speaking through its Assistant National Publicity Secretary, Hon. Chibuzor Udekigbo, Ohaneze described those against the move as crisis merchants and national saboteurs.
He said: “Over the last few days, some crisis merchants have embarked on a malicious campaign of wickedness and national sabotage with the aim to discrediting the well-received and patriotic advocacy by the Ohanaeze Ndigbo Worldwide-Youth Wing, which has mobilized enormous support from across all spheres of opinion and orientation for the unconditional release of Mazi Nnamdi Kanu.
“We wish to make it clear that the advocacy for Mazi Nnamdi Kanu’s release is in the best interest of unity, peace and progress of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, and anyone trying to discourage these efforts should rather be counted as an enemy of Nigeria’s survival as a united, equitable and progressive nation. Across history, nations have continued to adopt political methods in resolving issues of this nature and records show that these political methods have guaranteed more sustainable peace, unity and healing than force or punishment.
Emma Powerful makes more clarifications
How will IPOB handle the issue of those enforcing sit-at- home that has been suspended?
We have issued warnings to those enforcing our suspended sit-at-home and also warned those attacking and snatching vehicles from our people in the name of unknown gunmen. IPOB will never allow them have a breathing space to humiliate and intimidate our people because IPOB is a peaceful movement and our sole purpose is to achieve Biafra freedom, not to intimidate people.
We know that the Department of State Services, DSS is the one creating different groups to demonize IPOB but they don’t know how IPOB movement is structured. For 100 years to come, IPOB will remain a puzzle to them. Those creating different Facebook accounts distracting IPOB leadership don’t know how IPOB operates and should not think that they can destroy the movement or the leadership. The Monday Sit-at-home was suspended long ago.
The suspension was based on compelling need not to compound the woes of our people. IPOB is a freedom fighting movement and a listening group. IPOB heeded various appeals from our people but the agents of darkness recruited by the wicked Nigeria security agencies are still moving about enforcing a sit at home that has been suspended. Their aim is to implicate IPOB as a violent organization but they came too late.
What is IPOB’ s position on the visit to Aso Rock by some Igbo leaders on the release of IPOB leader, Maxi Nnamdi Kanu?
We don’t have any position on that. We are waiting for the unconditional release of our leader Mazi Nnamdi Kanu, because he committed no offence to deserve his current ordeals and inhuman treatments.
If the Nigerian government eventually releases the IPOB leader, what do you think will likely follow?
IPOB members and indeed Biafrans and friends of Biafra will be happy and thank our God, Chukwu Okike Abiama.
If government embarks on restructuring of the country from the point of view of the Igbo, will that assuage IPOB leadership to relax some of its demands?
Nigerian government must bear one thing in mind; IPOB is not fighting restructuring. We are not against restructuring but our demand is not restructuring. Our demand is restoration of Biafra State. All we need is a date for referendum to decide whether or not we want to continue with this forced marriage. Those who think Nigeria is ready for restructuring may have to think again. Those benefiting from the current lopsidedness have made restructuring impossible. They are unlikely to heed the clamour for restructuring. But for us, the only thing that can make us slow down a little is government giving us date for referendum. Restoration of the sovereign State of Biafra is a divine mandate. Our eternal leader Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, told them to restructure Nigeria and they said no and killed millions of Biafrans in the war. Mazi Nnamdi Kanu and IPOB did not come on board to demand restructuring; we are for total freedom and independence.
IPOB position on the conduct of Anambra election made it possible for a peaceful exercise. How did you achieve this?
What happened in Anambra State during governorship elections is what can be called masterstroke to those evil politicians who wanted to take over Anambra State Government House by all means. By the time we frustrated their evil plots, they did not have time again to apply plan B. If we did not suspend that five day sit -at -home, the desperadoes who wanted to enslave Anambra at all cost would have taken over the state with the powers that be in Abuja. Some people always say that IPOB members are not politicians; that we are miscreants. Yes we are not politicians but we are not illiterates. We are not miscreants. And the kind of politics we do, you cannot understand it.
Your advice to the people, going forward
Our advice to the people is : let everybody have endurance and wait for the coming of independent Biafra nation. Nobody can stop what God ordained, and God has long ordained that Biafra will be free. Our people must understand that there are obvious prices to pay for our freedom to come, and that is what we are paying now, including the abduction of our leader. But very soon the Egyptians we see today, we shall see them no more! Weeping can endure for a night, but Joy comes in the morning.
How I ran Central Bank of Biafra – Sylvester Ugoh
Dr. Sylvester Ugoh, Harvard-trained economist and former Minister of Science and Technology, is among those that can be said to have seen it all in politics and economy.
With participation in the Second Republic, General Ibrahim Babangida’s transition and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), he discusses the politics of Nigeria with relative ease.
With the same candour, he talks on the Central Bank of Biafra, where he was the governor, explaining how he ran the two-man director institution for the 30 months the civil war lasted. Ugoh also dissects other issues in the land, identifying where the drift in the current democratic experiment commenced, as well as way out of the crisis.
The last time many Nigerians heard about you was during the PDP Convention of 1999. Since then, you have literally been off the scene. Why?
My wife was ill in the United States of America (U.S.), and my children, who were there, felt that I should come and stay with her because, usually, in the morning when they would have gone to work, she would be alone. It was not an easy decision for me to make. But considering her situation and how highly we regarded her, I decided to abandon everything here and move to the U.S. to stay with her and nurse her. That was how, I, more or less, disappeared from the scene in Nigeria.
Now that it is presumed that you are back, what do we expect from you?
Strictly speaking, nothing; because I am merely visiting. My wife did not survive the sickness. She eventually died in 2010 and my children insisted that I must remain in the U.S. I have been there since then. I visit Nigeria once a while. So, I am merely on a visit. I don’t intend to get involved at this time in anything happening in the country.
Accept our sympathy, sir.
Is it not curious that given your status as an elder statesman, you are saying that you do not want to get involved, even with the way things are going?
Yes, things are bad; but I cannot make any difference, if I were to be active. Many times, I have even wondered whether the service I rendered in this country did any good at all. But that is gone. Our situation is very serious. I don’t think a Sylvester Ugoh playing any part in Nigeria today can, alone, change anything. It is really not worth my while to spend any time here trying to correct the ills of the society.
How bad is the situation that you see and why do you think you can’t make any difference?
I my view, things are worse today than they were 20 years ago. In other words, whereas other countries are moving forward, if you check any area of our endeavour, you will discover that we are moving backwards. I don’t think we are successfully tackling the situation. So, being just one man, as I said, I don’t think I can change much, even if I were to put in the best that I have to offer.
You are a founding member of PDP. Do you still recognise the PDP that you people founded in 1998?
Things are worse today than they were when we founded the party. The party we founded is not the same today. It is the same in name; but the philosophy, the values and the commitment are not the same. Many people are in the party for what they can get out of it, and not for what service they can render to the country. That, I think, is what makes the difference.
Have you, in any way, expressed this concern to the leadership of the party?
No, I haven’t; but I don’t think they need my comment to know that the situation is grave. Any of them who is discerning would accept what I am saying to be true.
Olusegun Obasanjo was not part of those that founded PDP. To what extent do you think his emergence as presidential candidate of the party in 1999 contributed to the decline of the value system you talked about?
Strictly speaking, Obasanjo was imposed on the party. When the party was being formed, he was not available because he was not around. But the retired Army Generals felt that he would give them the security which they thought they needed and, so, imposed him on the party. As far as I am concerned, he ran the party as if it were a military organisation. From that day, the party started to decline, and one can hardly recognise it as what we had in mind when we were running around to form the party.
At that point of imposition, what did you, the civilians, do?
The civilians could not do much because, whether you like it or not, the military has a strong hold on Nigeria. Look at the people selected for the national conference. How many Generals do you have there? That gives you an idea of the strong hold the military has on the country.
Do you then see much coming out from the conference?
I don’t think the conference, as such, can solve our basic problems. This is because our basic problem, really, is not the constitution but the people who operate the constitution. I don’t think the conference is going to discuss the value system; or the fact that one can commit all sorts of crimes and get away with them. You don’t see any of the people committing these crimes being prosecuted and jailed as deterrent to others. So, many people in Nigeria believe that they can do anything and get away with it. That is the tragedy of the country.
During the General Ibrahim Babangida transition, you were the vice presidential candidate of the then National Republican Convention (NRC). Given the insinuations that the transition was programmed to fail, do you think your efforts were worth the engagement?
Of course, not! Babangida had no idea of handing over power. He maradona-erd every Nigerian to believe that he was going to hand over power, when he had no intention of doing that. So we were all sucked in. There was no doubt that that exercise was really futile because it didn’t lead us to anything, except that there was a swell of disgruntlement and disappointment that made the military to ask Babangida to “step aside”. That was the only thing it achieved and not much else. But then, (General Sani) Abacha was not better than Babangida. It was a continuation of the same old military junta running the country as if it were their private estate.
Though you have not been in the country, from what you have heard and read, how would you assess the current administration?
I have not been around. But the current administration is bedeviled with so many problems. Its authority is even questioned in some parts of the country; some of its intentions are, to many people, suspect. So, it has all these negative issues to deal with. Of course, as I had said, the incidence of people committing all sorts of crimes without being prosecuted, has continued.
That hasn’t helped them. This is in addition to the fact that since 1999, when Obasanjo promised us that within the end of his first year, we would have uninterrupted supply of power. From that day till date, we still do not have uninterrupted supply of power. Without regular supply of power, the economy cannot move. So, the current administration has too many problems, and I don’t think it is making much progress in solving them.
Do you think it is due to lack of capacity or political will?
I don’t know what is responsible. All I know is that from what I see, not much is being done to solve our basic problems. Whether it is because of lack of capacity or lack of will, I don’t know. I am not close enough to know the reason. All I know is that I can see the evidence of lack of progress.
Obasanjo comes around today to pontificate and make comments, even passing judgment on those that succeeded him. Given what he did or failed to do in eight years he was in the saddle, do you think he has the moral right to criticise others?
In my view, he should just do what (former President) Shehu Shagari did – go home and keep quiet; ‘sidon look’ as he would say. But coming out to pontificate is merely exposing himself because he did worse things than his successors, though much was expected of him.
Let us go back a little. You were the governor of the Central Bank of Biafra. How did you run the economy of that obviously besieged nation for three years, yet Biafra did not have the problem we are encountering now?
It was a different situation. Practically, most people in Biafra were interested in the success of the war. They were not interested in amassing wealth. So, the commitment was stronger than it is today. The people were prepared to make sacrifices which, today, people are not prepared to make. So, the situation is different. That, I think, explains your observation.
What did you do, practically, to run that economy?
I did not really run the economy as such. What I did was that, with the withdrawal of the Nigerian currency from Biafra, we had to try to create a money system that could be used to substitute for the Nigerian Pound, to facilitate buying and selling of goods and services.
So, my primary attention as governor of Central Bank of Biafra was really to make sure that we had enough currency to facilitate the running of the economy. That was the only thing we did because we were in a war situation and could not engage in other activities that a Central Bank ordinarily undertakes.
Were you printing currency?
Of course, yes. We did. We had to create a Biafran currency. We had to print the notes and put them into circulation. That was what was used for trading once the Nigerian currency was withdrawn from circulation.
Inflation was not as high as it is today. How did you achieve that?
As I told you, commitment by the people was strong. Moreover, we had help from the International Red Cross (IRC) and other donor countries. Also, people who were not involved in military activities farmed anywhere they wanted. Even school football fields were converted into farms. So, we were, at least, able to produce something, though the problem Biafra had was that as the war situation got worse in some areas, the people from there moved to other areas. Of course, there was hunger. We cannot run away from that.
What was your relationship with the Biafra Head of State, Emeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu?
There was nothing much. He just handed over the bank to me and asked me to take care of it, so that he would not have to worry himself about what was happening in that field.
Even when I asked him to appoint some other members of the board to help me run the place, he said he had not complained about my running it alone; that I should go ahead; that he didn’t have any more people to give me; that everybody else was busy. He had complete confidence in me and allowed me to run the bank as I would because he felt I was doing the right thing. Only on a few occasions would he send for me, if he needed some information; otherwise, he left me to run the bank without any interference.
How many people were on the board of the Central Bank of Biafra?
There were only two of us. Even then, the other person was on the warfront. So, I was a one-man board, in fact.
Who was the other person?
The late (William) Uzoaga who was a professor of Business Administration, University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN). He was in the Military Intelligence; so, I never saw him.
Chinua Achebe, in his book, There was a country, blamed Nigeria’s problems on the exclusion of the Igbo. Do you think Nigeria could have benefited from the civil war if the authorities had handled Biafra differently?
There is no doubt about that. You know that, in Biafra, we had research and production department, called RAP. Most of our scientists and engineers were involved in trying to develop and produce different things. At the end of the war, if Nigeria or those in charge with her administration had cared, they would have assembled most of those scientists and engineers to create for them facilities or employ them in existing facilities to continue to develop things they were developing during the war.
But because the scientists were Igbo and they saw no need to encourage them, they were left to go. Thus, years after the Ministry of Science and Technology was established, those people who would have been really the core of scientists and engineers that could go into development in various areas of science and technology, had been dispensed with or had dispersed and could not be reached. That was a terrible thing.
By the time the Biafran experiment collapsed, how did you feel?
For me, it was unfortunate. But I am one of those who, in whatever they want to do, put in their best. If at the end of the day, my best does not succeed, I accept it as the will of God because I couldn’t have done better than what I had already done. That was how I took the Biafran experience. We put in our best.
Do you have any regrets getting involved in the exercise?
Looking back, do you think that war was inevitable?
At the time, yes. I don’t think we could have stopped it. And the sad thing about it all is that I don’t think that even we in Nigeria have learnt anything from that tragedy. We have continued to accept the philosophy of unity, but not its consequences or implications.
Why do you think so?
You can see what is happening in the country. Weren’t the Igbo again killed in the North? Haven’t they been driven out of the North? Now, Boko Haram is killing their own children because there are no more Igbo to be killed in the North. This, I think, is a tragedy. At the confab, I think they should really decide if we want to stay together as a country. This is because I don’t see what can be done. I do not know the value system that informs people killing their children because other children are no longer available to be killed. Is that how we are going to develop?
Recently, some youths who went for job interview were killed in stampede. What do you think is the way out of the unemployment situation in the country?
If you do not have uninterrupted supply of power, you cannot have a sustainable manufacturing industry. You don’t manufacture with generators; no country does that. That is why my greatest disappointment is that, in 2014, we still do not have uninterrupted supply of power, when we have gas, hydro, coal and all the resources needed to generate power. I understand that distribution of power has been privatised; but privatised to whom?
Do the people it has been privatised to have the capacity, experience, resources? I don’t see why we should limit ourselves to Nigerians, if Nigerians don’t have what it takes. There wouldn’t have been any harm in getting Nigerians, giving them certain percentages and making sure that foreigners who have the experience are involved. Then you would be sure of result. But to privatise the thing to the old Generals and old politicians is just a waste of time. Nothing will change. One should not use such a vital sector for political patronage.
What was your worst nightmare during the civil war?
Of course, our worst nightmare was that we would be routed. Don’t forget that the problem we had was that Biafra had no Army. We just had some Igbo or Eastern military officers and men who ran back from other parts of the country. Most of them came back empty-handed; no guns, no equipment; worst still, no support from any European country because Britain made sure that didn’t happen.
There was no support from any of our neighbouring countries because these were practically colonial creations. Their colonial powers wouldn’t allow them. When Bangladesh, which was Eastern Pakistan, decided to break off from Pakistan, with the support of India, this was possible. If India had not supported the move, there would have been no Bangladesh. Biafra did not have an India as a godfather.
This was the problem we had. The British were so anxious to control the oil in the delta that they were prepared to get the Igbo destroyed, to retain that oil. Perhaps, if there had been no oil, they wouldn’t have cared whether the Igbo became independent or not.
There is still this issue of Obafemi Awolowo advocating starvation as war strategy against the Igbo. Achebe commented on this in his book. Do you agree with views held by Achebe?
Awolowo, don’t forget, had been prosecuted and jailed by the previous civilian federal government. He was serving his term in Calabar, Eastern Nigeria. And there is no doubt that Dr. Michael Iheonukara (M.I.) Okpara, who was the Premier of Eastern Region at the time, did try to make his stay there as comfortable as possible. But when General Yakubu Gowon took over power and reconstituted his government, he released Awolowo and made him his number two man. He gave him a lot of responsibilities in government.
Awolowo’s main interest was to make sure that Nigeria won the war. So, as far as he was concerned, whatever policy that would help him win the war was acceptable. And he followed it. That was his own idea. You would find out that even at the end of the war, Awolowo, who was an alumnus of UNN, did not lift a finger to help rehabilitate the institution. So, he did what he thought was the best thing for Nigeria. I don’t think anyone denies that it was his position that everything, including starvation, was fair in war. That was his position.
Do you mean that Awolowo was an alumnus of UNN?
Yes, he was given an honourary degree by the institution. I was teaching at UNN at the time. So, I know what I am talking about.
In present-day Nigeria, the economy of the East does not seem to be faring well, despite the people’s entrepreneurial spirit. What do you think has gone wrong with the Igbo man?
A lot of things have gone wrong. The value system in Igboland now is not what it was before the civil war. That is part of it. Money, irrespective of how it is made, means everything to many people, now. This is why people are prepared to counterfeit drugs – literally killing people to make money. It was not like this before the civil war.
Secondly, agriculture, which was very important under Okpara, the last Premier of Eastern Nigeria, has been completely neglected.
Of course, the school system has totally collapsed. So, when you think seriously about our problem, you would see that we are in a deep pit and it will take us some time to come out. This is really the problem of Eastern Nigeria.
Do you think it has to do with the quality of leadership, particularly the kind of governors we have had since 1999?
The governors have something to contribute. If you look at some of our governors, they don’t even have the right conception of what governance should be. They don’t see it as service; service to the people. When we were in politics, for me, it was a matter of service. But today, it is a matter of personal aggrandisement. If that is the ambition or objective of whoever that is there, the people come second or even third in his order of priority. So, the governors have their share of blame.
But don’t forget that, really, the federal government has to give the framework for the states to move in and work. However, you find out that in most of the states, the government does not collect taxes. They do not have independent sources of revenue; absolutely none. Every month, they go to Abuja, cap in hand, to collect the revenue allocation for that month, come home and share it and wait for the end of the next month to go back. Many of them have even no projects to talk about.
You had held many prominent positions, yet people do not know you as a ‘rich’ man. How did you resist the temptation of amassing wealth?
I am rich; I have children who are successful in their own right. That makes me rich. It was never my ambition to amass wealth; I didn’t need it. All I needed was to educate my children, and I could do that with the resources available to me. I don’t envy those who have billions and trillions of naira. It makes no sense to me.
If you have the opportunity of living your life all over, would you still hold on to that philosophy?
Absolutely! This was something I learnt, not only from my parents but from the schools I attended. I went to Catholic primary and secondary schools before I went to university in the United States. I was taught, and I learnt, not to touch anybody’s thing. When I was in government, I was clean.
You are 83. Looking back, would you tell us how it was with you while growing up?
We grew up under colonial government in a very rural area, in what today is called Imo State. I went to a school in my village – St. Patrick’s Catholic School. Because the Catholic priests and managers of the schools were so particular about which secondary schools the children wanted to go, we were channelled to go only to Catholic secondary schools. At that time, there were only six Catholic secondary schools in the whole of Eastern Nigeria – CKC Onitsha; CIC Enugu; QRC Onitsha (for girls); St Patrick’s College, Calabar; Holy Family College, Abak; and CCC, Uyo (for girls) in what today is called Akwa Ibom. Those were the only Catholic secondary schools. We had to get into one of them. So, the competition was very keen. Our priests who were teachers and those they trained to teach us were particular about our moral upbringing. I grew up with it. We were very proud of our schools and one wouldn’t do anything to soil the name of their schools.
What do you think is the way out of the huge mess we are in today?
Frankly, it is my view that if we want to move forward, if we want a change for the better, we have to live by example. That has to start from those at the top. People are lawless in Nigeria because they feel they can get away with it. Once they know they can’t get away with it, everybody will sit up. In civilised countries, everybody is under the law. But in Nigeria, there are many people who are above the law. That is the problem.
• This 2014 interview was first published in TheNiche
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