Lagos based lawyer and President of Igbo think tank, Aka Ikenga, Mr. Oscar Onwudiwe has noted that the major contradiction in the country’s polity is that the North knows what it wants and is uniting to get it, while the ultimate goal of Southerners is to be better than their neighbours.
Onwudiwe who spoke in this interview with OBINNA EZUGWU, also explored the contemporary issues in the polity, especially as it concerns the trial of Ibrahim Magu, the suspended chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), and the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) scandal, noting that while Magu will be set free, former Akwa Ibom State governor and Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Godswill Akpabio, will be disgraced.
What do you make of the events unfolding in the EFCC with the allegations against Ibrahim Magu?
Well, it is good that this is happening. And I will be lying to you if I say that I didn’t expect that this day will come. The reason is this culture of impunity. There is something I have realised, the minute you begin to do something with impunity, even the natural forces will start fighting against you and end up exposing you. But the other part of it is that as it has come, with all the noise that has happened now, it is just for us to record against President Muhammadu Buhari’s name; that he is not what he pretended to be. That’s just the only thing that could make anybody say it’s OK. For those who will end up writing books, you write it down and say, this is it. But will anything happen to someone like Magu? The answer is No.
Nothing is going to happen to him because there is a culture up there, unlike down South; that says, go there and take it, as long as you have some important people who will protect you in that office, you go there and take care of them. I give you an example; when (Yemi) Osinbajo was acting president, we heard he went and gave him money. What is the reason? It is for protection, because what was going on at the time in question was that Osinbajo came and was a bit radical. He threw out Lawal Daura, he immediately moved for the confirmation of Walter Onnoghen as Chief Justice of Nigeria. He was just doing the right things that made Nigerians feel they had a president.
So, Magu must have thought, ‘this man may get a report against me, so why don’t I also make sure I compromise him?’ It’s the culture up there. And I can tell you that the quarrel between himself and the Attorney General, Abubakar Malami is perhaps because he wasn’t making enough returns as he ought to be making. But it’s possible he has taken care of some other people, in which case, trust me, you just won’t hear it again.
Now, what you are going to keep hearing about, and which will lead to consequences is Akpabio and the gang. These are southerners. There is no godfather anywhere. There is nobody who is going to want to suppress their matter. So, the thing will continue, Akpabio will get disgraced. The other lady, Joi Nunieh may walk away like a hero, particularly now that Nyesom Wike is standing out to defend her, and she may even get one appointment. But Akpabio is going down. However, Magu is going nowhere. Do you know that Magu’s lawyer actually boasted that he would be reinstated? It is the height of indiscretion.
The matter is still being heard and you are boasting. But it’s an existing culture of impunity. I’m aware that there is no way Magu will be reinstated, but I’m also aware that nothing will happen to him. Obviously, he has made up his mind that he cannot go down alone. He has decided that if you guys want to take me down, I’m going to pull people down. They won’t want that to happen, so he will be free in the end.
Could it be his fighting back, for instance, that prompted his release on bail?
Yes, he is fighting back that way, so that Malami will pull back. That’s number one. But it’s not only Malami. If he feels any other person is against him, you will see him come out against the person. The biggest job he did was to go and make sure he has something on as many people as possible. And that becomes his protection. What is bad is, where did our president know him from, for him to say, this is the only person that could fight corruption, even after getting security report from his trusted towns man, Lawal Daura to the effect that look, this man is corrupt?
I did my own little investigation about him. I asked his colleague in the police, I said, how straightforward is this guy? The answer was a laugh, he just laughed. You know when you ask someone something and he just laughs, he didn’t say anything, but he has already told you what you want to hear. That was it. We know what is going on. Go to EFCC office and find out how much is the salary of those guys; then see the kind of cars they are driving. And you know the place is a Northern haven anyway.
Now, there is one major question some of us continue to ask: How come the chairmanship of EFCC is reserved only for Northerners? Have we ever asked ourselves, what does it mean? Does it mean that there is a definition for corruption that we don’t know, meaning what southerners do? Because Northerners are never corrupt? The EFCC is just them and them alone. The reason is the culture of patronage. If you go there and make money, you know that there are people you must take care of. Once you take care of them, that’s it. But the southerners won’t understand that, and we make too much noise.
To them, we southerners are noise makers. You know in Nigeria, there are positions you call juicy positions. And what is the reason you call any government position juicy? It’s simply because that is the place where you are going to see a lot of cash; where you are awarding big contracts. Then we have all accepted it that those juicy positions are not reserved for southerners because it from the juicy positions that the patronage to the many other people, including traditional and religious leaders who do absolutely nothing will have their palms greased. They just go there every month and grease their palms. That’s the way it’s done.
But southerners don’t know because we have a stupid mentality in the South. The mentality is called ‘I better pass my neighbour.’ The others are bonding to continue to exploit or divide us, but we are busy competing with ourselves, with this I better pass my neighbour mentality. When things go bad, we don’t come together to say No, this should not be happening. Our own is, how do I survive better in this condition so that I will be better than my neighbour? Even when we go to church, that’s what we are praying for. If there is no light, it is, how do I buy a generator so I can be better than my neighbour? The schools are bad, it is, if I can send my children to private school, I will be better than my neighbour. If the roads are bad, if I can buy jeep, I’m better than my neighbour. At every time, our struggle is I better pass my neighbour.
But up there, they have a totally different struggle. May these people never open their eyes. May they always remain blind so that we can continue to do what we are doing and enjoy ourselves. When it looks like myself and Obinna are going to parley, someone will come and gossip to you, ‘Are you still close to Oscar?’ You say what happened? He would say, ‘Nothing, it’s just the kind of thing I’m hearing that Oscar is saying about you.’ Now, he didn’t tell you that Oscar is saying anything, but from that day, the relationship between us is damaged. That’s the kind of thing they are so good at. If you go to Abuja, they do it well. It scares them when they see you and your brother getting along well. They always imagine that maybe you are plotting against them.
But in the case of NDDC, is it not a shame that this is happening? I mean it’s supposed to be an avenue for them to develop the region?
No, let’s be very honest. There is nobody in Nigeria who wants to develop anywhere, even the people you are supposed to be developing for don’t want. Their struggle is, ‘give me my own share; let me be better than my neighbour.’ Something has gone wrong with our psyche, it’s gone so badly wrong. The Niger Delta people were in the creeks blowing up pipes and doing all sorts of things because they were being maltreated by the federal government. But they set up NDDC for them and said, we will put in billions of naira into the place. The first thing you would have expected them to bother about is, how do we touch every member state by finding out what each state wants? Then you put them in the budget, then you begin, this year you do for this state, next year you do for other state and so on. By the time you have done those major things, the next one would be how to link all that by good roads or railway systems. But who is going to do that?
Do not forget also that the federal government will never be comfortable with that honest man because it’s the government in power that decides who goes to NDDC and all of that. They are not going to be comfortable with you when you want to show patriotic zeal for that area. Will you hear them call Ankio Briggs for instance; the woman that calls herself Madam Niger Delta? Is she not a lawyer; a very qualified person? But would you hear they will pick her and make her NDDC Managing Director? They will not because she won’t he dividing what they want her to divide. And it will shock you that even some traditional rulers, all they want is to come to that place and take the cash.
But for you to make the books OK, you now say, just bring one company’s name so that we can say we have been awarded contract to this company, then we sign all the papers and you take the money and go away. It’s happening. I used to have one friend, a guy from Adamawa State. But somehow, he has his connections in places and once he said he needed contract because he was broke, somebody sent him to the NDDC chairman that time. He went to Port Harcourt; it was his first trip ever to Port Harcourt. He got there, saw the man, the man said OK, since it’s this person who sent you, fine bring your company name. But well, I don’t need you to be going up and down, this is the contact I want to give you and this is where they supply this, and this is what your profit will be. So, just sign these papers, we will just give you your profit and you can go and the job will be done for you. He was telling me this, it was about 2001.
It is a culture that has now trickled down. I wrote about it on Facebook today. I asked, is corruption a crime or a culture in Nigeria? It is a culture, a culture of patronage. When I’m depending on government and the government doesn’t pay well, but I’m living well, where is the money coming from? Or if I’m working for government and it doesn’t pay well, but I have four wives and fifteen children, where will I make the money? That’s the point. But it’s what we don’t mostly understand here. That’s why when they don’t give us certain positions, we start making noise. But they can’t give you because you don’t know how to manage it the way they want it managed. That’s how it is. You see?
Magu’s case has closed. Akpabio is the person going to get the disgrace he has been courting for a long time. It’s been a long time he has been setting himself up, because it’s this thing called greed. You have been commissioner, you have been governor, from there you became a senator, from there you are now a minister, what are you looking for? All those offices are supposed to impact you with experience, the kind of experience that if you sit down and say you are running a consultancy for governance, people will pay you good money because of the opinion you will write for them. Even people abroad will be looking for you to guide them in whatever they want to do in Nigeria. You do them great opinions, you get paid for it. It depends on how you package yourself.
But you stay, you are still dreaming, maybe you still want to be this and that, then you mess with one Port Harcourt girl. The most we can do is document these things. Regardless, what is going on in Abuja today involves some southerners and some northerners. The case of the northerners will die naturally and nobody will hear about it again. And those two people may end up surfacing somewhere else with another government position. But for the southerners, it’s the end. That lady may survive; I believe she is going to survive because somehow, she is the whistle blower. But trust me also; other politicians from her zone would stay far away from her because they don’t want whistle blowers. They will admire her from a distance, but they will not want anything to do with her because she may blow whistle. That’s the difference between us and the North, they don’t blow whistle. Except when they have had a meeting and decided that this man is no longer in our interest, then they can blow whistle.
For instance, when they decided to blow whistle against Sanusi Lamido Sanusi. But again, they were trying to blow whistle that Sanusi was corrupting his office and all that, another person came and picked him up and made him feel you are my king even if you are not those people’s king. Malam Nasir El-Rufai did that. He immediately appointed him to a board in Kaduna, because he knows he can use Sanusi for tomorrow. So, corruption really is a Nigerian culture.
But all these, you would agree, boils down to a failure of leadership?
The thing is that Buhari has left us with a legacy of division; we are becoming more and more divided. This will be his real legacy. The man is so clannish and he decided to bring it to the centre. Then he has told everybody that this system of almighty Abuja is designed to fail, and it will continue to fail for as long as it remains, no matter who you bring to the place. Now, for instance, the economy of every state is in danger. Oil that is uniting us is almost gone. So, any state governor that cannot sit down and begin to think out of the box, even if it means breaking federal laws, will face real crisis. But it’s important that the national assembly must begin to make the correct pronouncements.
For instance, that Nigeria is going to be restructured, we are going to have state police to tackle the growing insecurity. Take for instance, the whole of Anambra State has 2000 police men, and they are supposed to police seven million people. How are they going to do it? And this includes mobile police men that are there for hire, any VIP that brings money just hires them. So, what time do they have to fight crime? It’s unfortunate that we are a bunch of people that God over blessed, but they choose to waste that blessing.
Now, it is no longer about who becomes president. The other day, one person called me to ask about Igbo president, I told him, look don’t call me again. And God knows I won’t support any idiot who wants to go there. Nigeria has put itself in situation where anyone who accepts to become president has positioned himself to take the blame for everything that is wrong with the country. In Israel today, if the road is bad, nobody blames Benjamin Netanyahu, the Prime Minister because there are local authorities whose jobs is to ensure the roads are good. And their responsibility is not to Netanyahu, it is to the people. But we have a system where the entire responsibility is to the president; everybody must come and bow down to Abuja. It is unworkable, and the chicken is coming home to roost. Are we actually thinking?