‘There Is Need For A Change Of Attitude Among Nigerians’
Saturday, 04 February 2012 00:00 LAWRENCE NJOKU

President of South-East and South-South Professionals of Nigeria, Mr Emeka Ugwuoju spoke to journalists in Enugu on topical issues after the group’s town hall meeting in Enugu. LAWRENCE NJOKU was there and reports.

WHY did your group organised a town hall meeting in Enugu?

We are in Enugu as a result of the decision taken by our members to play great role in seeing to the progress of our country, considering the situation facing us now.

The country is being threatened by terrorism, high rate of unemployment and high level of corruption in the system. So we decided to intervene and collate some facts, which people who know our pedigree could rely on and work with.

We are not playing to gallery to please anybody rather we are committed to the betterment and progress of the country. Many of members are contemporaries of the people in leadership positions in the country, starting from the President.

Some of us have comfortable means of livelihood and it’s not as if we are looking for contracts. That give us the opportunity to look at things objectively and so far people are seeing what we have come up with in the time past.

For us, the nation is more important than individual relationship. So that’s what we are doing to get the views of people. We want to know how the people feel and also to let the country know the urgency of the situation because things have never been bad like this before now in the country.

This is why we have come up with the town-hall meeting which we have tagged South East, South-South Conversation in Nigeria. We are talking with Nigerians and sharing ideas on how we can be able to get ourselves out of this ugly situation.

What is the next plan of your group after the town hall meeting in Enugu?

With the town hall meeting, there will be a general consensus on how people feel and we will make our findings available to the Nigerians. We will make it available to different leadership flanks in the country starting from the President, National Assembly members, Governors, Area Councils and so on and so forth.

It might interest you that prior to the April elections last year, we had met with the Senate President, David Mark and the then Speaker of the House of Representatives, Dimeji Bankole.

We have also gone to see the Minister of Petroleum, Mrs. Diezani Allison-Madueke, with regards to the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) because we believed that it was very important to hasten the passage of the bill.

That was in 2010 and now we are in 2012 and yet nothing has been done so far, except now that we are having Senator Udo Udoma committee to hasten its passage by the National Assembly members. It’s quite unfortunate that we had to wait for the national strike on subsidy removal to do what we ought to have done long ago.

But the point I’m trying to make is that yes we do have access to some of the people. But the only difference this time around is that it is as a result of the strike, that people have realise the power of the people and are looking at things differently from the way they used to do before now. Before, when we met with them, nothing was done but now they have started looking at things critically.

How did we get to this level of insecurity now threatening the country’s unity?

I think we got it wrong in 1966 and it later degenerated. The reality is that we should look at the facts and not the sentiments. Place like the former eastern region, prior to the coup, was the fastest growing economy in sub-Sahara Africa.

It was among the areas to watch; the same thing about the western region, and to some extent the northern region. I’m sure we would have tried to work it out instead of destroying the entire system. Then we were talking about 10% but now I don’t know the percentage we are talking about in terms of corruption.

What is the way forward in this country?

I think the only sensible thing is to go back to where we derailed and start working it out again; by that I look at a situation whereby since 1970 to 2012, about 32 years, we’ve been doing virtually the same thing and we have been getting worse than when we started.

It’s obvious that we should go back to where we were making progress and see how we can make it better. But, from all indications, for the past 32 years, with the way things are, we’ve been moving from bad to worse and if we leave it like this, we might have any country called Nigeria before long. The sensible thing is to look at what has worked and what hasn’t worked and then try it the other way. We were better of then than now.

Are you people satisfied with the professionals in Jonathan’s government now?

I will say that in his cabinet, he has good professionals and one of them is the Minister of Finance whom I think is not getting the necessary credit that she deserves. It is either because some people have this phobia about World Bank/IMF because she came from World Bank. Some are saying these World Bank people have come again.

And again, if I may digress a little, one of the things we have planned to do before things get out of hand, there’s this report put together by 25 globally acclaimed individuals and it was about 13 countries, like China, Malaysia, Indonesia and others. What really made the difference, the policies that they took that became the game changer. Why they were able to have 7% growth within a period of not less than 25 years.

It happened that Dr Okonjo Iweala was one of those 25 people. In other words, she is also privy to what made those countries that we are trying to emulate thick. We wanted to join issues with other Nigerians, if we want to be like these countries, this is what they did and we need to start doing some of those things.

Some engaged in high savings rate, some embarked on high level of development of infrastructure, education and others. If she were to come and tell us this is what we should do, it is not about World Bank but is the way forward.

I think for sure, the President is working with the professionals and at the same time, there are some other people who are part of the team and he has to get the right balance because at the end of the day, he is the leader and has to take the decision. But one thing I said during the strike and I don’t know how it impacted on some of the things is that I think the President is a man in a hurry because he has said he is not going for second term.

In other words, he will leave office by 2015 and he seems to want to do a whole lot before 2015. Realistically, when you are chasing after many things at the same time, you might end up making mistakes and my advice to him is that there are people who can go after how many mega watts Nigeria should have, roads that should be built, but the best thing he can do is to lay the foundation. Right now, Nigeria has no foundation and that remains the fact. Let’s not be deceived by how many roads you build, but take charge and drive the restructuring of this country, because the country can’t make any headway. Even if you bring the best man and leave him on this structure, certainly the person will fail woefully. Whereby every month, 36 people gather in Abuja to share allocation, we’ll never make progress that way.

Specifically, what are these things to be restructured?

We have a country called Nigeria, but unfortunately not many people see themselves as Nigerians. Why is it so? We have to first of all work on how Nigerians could see themselves as Nigerians. By that I mean that somebody is an Igbo, Yoruba, Hausa, or Kanuri, but he or she can still be a good Nigerian. But right now, people don’t see themselves as one.

Nigerians hide their green passports. What is it that would make a Nigerian to feel like a Nigerian, that’s the starting point and is for us to agree on some common shared values, something that would make somebody to say for this I want to be a Nigerian.

This idea that we are a rich country should be dead and buried. We might have oil and gas but we are not rich, we could have potentials but we are not rich, looking at our production, even at the best prices, looking at the number of Nigerians, you can see that based on per capital, we are no where near being rich.

So this idea of being rich creates an opportunity for people to be sharing the little, while deceiving others that we are rich. We have to start fundamentally to change that concept so we can be a country that creates wealth and not the one that shares natural resources.

All idea is on how we can rush to Abuja but once the mindset changes and we begin to reason that there’s nothing to share in Abuja , things would begin to change. Then, the natural resource can be an enabler not something that must be shared but something that can be used as a means of creating wealth which is fundamental.

We share the oil money; we are not using it to create wealth. These are things that would help us in moving the country to a great height.

How does your group feel about the way Nigerians are being slaughtered in Nigeria in the name of Boko Haram?

I think, every life is sacred and we abhor totally the deliberate killing of any human being whether he’s Nigerians or non-Nigerian. So, with regards to the Boko Haram issue, we condemn the killings of human beings. We must find a way of stopping the killings and we are also interested in why what is happening is happening, because we know that wasn’t happening before at least, we know there has been previous incidents especially with regards to the killing of innocent southerners especially Igbos in the North, but not to this level of violence, but that also goes back to what we are talking about.

You don’t have a nation and that’s why somebody could think that he could kill somebody, because he is Igbo or because he is from the South. If we get the ingredients of nationhood, such killings will not take place.

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