In this explosive interview with Stanley Ugagbe of The News Chronicle, Director of the Igbo Leadership Development Foundation and a Senior Fellow of The Abuja School of Social and Political Thought, Law Mefor bared his mind on some salient national issues.
TNC: Thank you for accepting our interview invitation. Let us start with the Anambra governorship election. Prior to the election which produced the candidate of the All Progressives Grand Alliance, Prof Chukwuma Soludo as the winner, there were strong indications that it will be characterised by violence and killings especially because of the recent happenings in the State; but the election turned out to be peaceful. Do you think this was as a result of IPOB’s cancellation of the sit-at-home order?
Mefor: Yes I think the IPOB’s cancellation of the sit-at-home order reset the mode for Anambra election. Mischief makers were certainly going to hide under the sit-at-home to unleash mayhem and use the smokescreen so created to write results as they often did. But God used the Council of Traditional rulers and Bishops of the South East to thwart their evil plans. Though there were isolated pockets of violence which led to the cancellation of results in a few wards, it was nothing compared to what most people justifiably anticipated. We just thank God for the outcome, more so for the emergence of Professor Soludo. It is indeed going to be the rise of a new era. Soludo was easily the most qualified candidate in that election. But you see, with the history and complexity of rigging, at one point many of us were worried that Soludo may be rigged out. But it ended well. We will all support him to take Anambra to the next level. He is firm, fair, visionary and courageous. Those are the basic attributes of exceptional leaders.
TNC: What is your general assessment of the election? What are your recommendations for better elections in the future?
Mefor: I believe the election was free, fair and credible and therefore reflected the wishes of Anambra people. APGA can win Anambra state any day as long as the election is free and fair. There were some hiccups though. INEC as usual was found in its usual tardiness and deployed very late in so many cases. INEC had two major issues, which could have marred the entire exercise but – thank gracious – the Commission was able to pull through. The issues were inadequate manpower when many of their ad-hoc staff pulled out for fear of being in harm’s way. The other issue was the poor performance and malfunction of the BIVAS voting machine. In many cases it took like an age to accredit just one person. As a result, many were disenfranchised, giving the impression that there was voter apathy. This is not quite the fact. Given the circumstances leading up to that election and the historic fact that Anambra has never registered a fantastic voter turnout even on a good day, the Anambra governorship election was just ok. Yes, overall, the election went well. Though there were glaring shortcomings, they were not quite sufficient to detract from the outcome of the election or diminish its essence or render the declaration of Soludo as the winner a pyrrhic victory.
TNC: In a recent article, you expressed worry that while the likes of Atiku Abubakar, Bala Mohammed, Bukola Saraki all from the Northern region are pushing for the PDP presidential ticket, their “South East counterparts are lurking in the shadows, scared of what has remained unfathomable to discerning minds, perhaps waiting for a presidential ticket to be delivered to them at home”. Is this a reflection of the popular statement making the rounds that ‘Igbos are their own problem?”
Mefor: The lukewarm attitude and seeming disinterestedness shown by Igbo presidential hopefuls does not necessarily mean ‘Igbos are their own problem”. No, far from it. The fact is: Ndigbo have suffered grievously in the Nigeria project, to which they have made the most contributions. What is their apprehension is that their aspiration to lead Nigeria may not be well-received by the rest of the country. The problem started from the first military which was organized in the military but became mischievously tagged an Igbo coup despite the historical facts that other parts of the country participated in the said coup. Major Ademoyega for example was a Yoruba Major. Adewale Ademoyega who died February 21, 2007, was one of the five mutinous Nigerian Army Majors who led the 1966 coup that ended the first democratic Nigerian government. Yet, they call it Igbo coup, meant to enthrone Igbo hegemony. I don’t know how many of us know that that coup was partly staged to make Awolowo Prime Minister. The Igbo coup tag provided a very convenient excuse for the two pogroms in the North in which thousands of Igbos were massacred and ultimately the civil war, in which over 2m Igbos were killed, using mainly starvation as a war weapon which killed more women and children than the bullets. Gowon refused to implement the Aburi Accord and levied war on the Old Eastern Region, a people who were defenseless. Many may not know, why Ojukwu and Council of Elders of the Old Eastern Region, which eventually became Biafra eventually seceded. It was because Gowon unilaterally arrogated to himself the power to declare state of emergency in any of the four regions and to make law for same with or without the support of the old Eastern region. Go and read Decree 8, which was to be ratified in Benin in March 1967 with or without Ojukwu. That action was a total negation of the Aburi Accord and left Ojukwu and Old Eastern Region with no choice. The so-called Biafra war should be rightly called Biafra Genocide and that is the reason a certain historical site graded Gowon as the world’s 14th most brutal dictator, going by the number of people that died under his watch. The point I am making is that the exclusion of Ndigbo has been ongoing since the first military coup and the civil war. For the Igbo presidential hopefuls therefore that lingering feeling of rejection in Nigeria hangs on them like the sword of Damocles. You know that sense of impending doom, the feeling that there is some catastrophic threat looming over you. That feeling which has continued to impede unity and development will never go away until an Igbo is elected president of Nigeria to force healing. That is what will ultimately end the civil war and move the nation forward.
TNC: The Igbo Leadership Development Foundation (ILDF) in which you’re its director, threatened to work against the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) if the party fails to zone its presidential ticket to the south-east. Does the group have any affiliation with the PDP?
Mefor: The Igbo Leadership Development Foundation (ILDF) of which I am a director has no affiliation with the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP. What we are doing is even party-blind and candidate-blind. Our campaign is actually aimed at getting all the political parties to zone their presidential ticket to the South East. We singled out the PDP at a point because their leaders were making statements to the effect that their presidential ticket was open to all sections of the country. ILDF believes that that stand contradicts the PDP Constitution as amended in 2009, which states: Article 7(2c) of the PDP constitution states that: ‘In pursuance of the principle of equity, justice and fairness, the party shall adhere to the policy of rotation and zoning of party and public elective offices, and it shall be enforced by the appropriate executive committee at all levels.’ Further amendments of the PDP Constitution never tampered with this express provision for rotation and zoning in the party. You can see where we are coming from. We threatened to go to court over this zoning issue and we have made good that promise. We are in an Abuja federal high court over zoning and rotation. We have gotten one ruling on our motion to compel response from the 19 entities we have dragged to court. Hearing on our suit on rotation and zoning of the presidential seat is fixed for January 2022.
TNC: There is a popular notion in the public especially among northerners that Igbo presidency will wreck the nation. Some people believe that if an Igbo man becomes the President, he will say yes to Biafra and divide the country – and for this reason, some have vowed that an Igbo man will not be given the baton of the nation’s leadership. Do you think Igbo presidency is achievable in 2023?
Mefor: That is a classic case of emotional blackmail. Those promoting the notion, especially among northerners that Igbo presidency will wreck the nation and saying if an Igbo man becomes the President, he will say yes to Biafra and divide the country are simply being mischievous. Igbos have contributed more than the northerners to unity and development of the country Nigeria. The records are there. Over 70% of Igbo investments are outside Igbo land. Go to all the States and Local government capitals and see that over 50% of private properties there belong to the Igbos. If there is anybody who needs Nigeria’s unity the most it is an Igbo man. If not for anything, they will want to protect their investments outside Igbo land. What do the other parts of the country have as investments in other parts of Nigeria compared to what the Igbo man has invested across the country? So, you can see how childish such an argument or notion is. Ndigbo wouldn’t want visas to travel to have access to their properties and investments in other parts of Nigeria. It is these same northerners who have nothing to lose if Nigeria breaks up today that are now blackmailing the Igbos. Biafra agitation is not necessarily for dismemberment of the country. It is for the rights of Ndigbo in Nigeria, which include the right to govern Nigeria and the need to restore the country to federalism as agreed with Britain when they were about leaving Nigeria and about granting independence.
TNC: The Struggle for Biafra has claimed many lives. The Federal Government in its bid to shut the agitation, proscribed IPOB. But in a recent joint statement, Pro-Biafra Groups sued for ‘Biafra of the Mind’ and urged all agitators to keep up the struggle. Do you really think pulling out of Nigeria is the panacea to the ‘marginalization’ of the South-East?
Mefor: Absolute majority of Ndigbo will not vote to leave Nigeria if federalism is restored. The Biafra agitation is aiming for space and legal powers to develop their zone. Igbos are not the ones agitating so I don’t know why their case is seen as exceptional. Sunday Igboho and his cohorts fighting for Oduduwa Republic are not Igbos or Biafra agitators, are they? Proscription of unarmed IPOB as at the time they did was hasty and wrong, a very poorly thought-out policy which has helped in radicalizing IPOB members. I thought the federal government would have learnt something from the backlash from the force it applied to Boko Haram at its formative stages which forced them underground and metamorphosing to full-blown terrorist organization. Federal government has to dialogue with not just Biafra agitators but also all others agitating for separate states like the Oduduwa Republic and so on. Like Winston Churchill of Britain would say, let us jaw jaw than war war.
TNC: You’re among those clamoring for restructuring. President Muhammadu Buhari has maintained his stand that those clamoring for restructuring have ulterior motives and that it will not happen under his watch. In your memo to the indigenous peoples of Nigeria, you asked the people to come together and restructure the nation. How do you think this is achievable since the leader of the nation is against it and he is bent on clamping down on those who air their grievances?
Mefor: It is unfortunate that President Buhari deceived Nigerians. When he was campaigning for the 2015 presidential election, he and his party, the APC promised restructuring. So, it is the height of deceit for him to turn round and say restructuring will never happen under him. Well, we will continue to agitate for restructuring. If he does not restructure, another president will because Nigeria cannot progress as a unitary system in a clearly federal environment. Like I said, our founding fathers agreed with Britain that Nigeria has to be a federal structure. But today, what do you have? 68 items are contained on the Exclusive List and only about 16 items on Concurrent List. Even the concurrent list still gives the federal government the right to override the state laws. What this means is that there is nothing residual reserved for the states. The federal government has the power over everything. That is not federalism. It is a unitary system. Federalism has to be restored in Nigeria. Those who claim that they do not know what restructuring means, tell them it means restoring Nigeria to the federalism our founding fathers agreed to with departing colonial masters and practiced in the first republic. This unitary system is a military legacy. It will not work. It is unsustainable. Over 30 states are unviable because they have no access to their natural resources and cannot give themselves even electricity without passing through the national grid. They can’t even set up their own police because the weird 1999 Constitution says there shall be only one police force for the whole country. For our information, out of the 26 countries of the world practicing federalism, only Nigeria has a centralized police force. You can Google it. You can see why insecurity is the order of the day. Whatever a man soweth, so shall he reap. It is a spiritual principle. Our country has lived a lie from foundation and has to be helped to gain perspective and confront reality before it is too late.