Apart from widespread electoral violence across the country, attacks on Igbo voters in Lagos during last Saturday’s elections have left far-reaching implications in the polity. Elder statesman and former governor of Anambra State, Dr. Chukwuemeka Ezeife, in this interview, speaks on the issue and concludes that there is a plot to set Yoruba and Igbo against each other.
Igbo residents in Lagos were made an issue in the presidential and governorship elections in the state. How do you react?
I fear that we are getting to the end of Nigeria. Some people don’t want Nigeria to continue. The two groups, who, if they agree to work together, can stabilize Nigeria, are being set against each other. Nobody can dominate Nigeria if Yoruba and Igbo agree to work together. This is a deliberate plan to end Nigeria. But Nigeria will not end because God created this country with great favour.
Look at everything about Nigeria. Is it the endowments? We are so gifted by God. And I don’t know any country so blessed. We go through all kinds of problems and survive. We had the civil war and all kinds of problems. I think the plan to cause fracas between the Igbo and Yoruba would fail the way others failed in the past. I have always challenged Yoruba people to tell me one person who worked so hard for the late Chief MKO Abiola (winner of June 12, 1993 presidential poll and a Yoruba man) before his election and after the annulment of the election than me. In the East, everywhere Abiola visited, he went with my pilot car. I was the governor of Anambra State at the time. We worked day and night to ensure he won. When the election was annulled, I was at the forefront of the campaign for its de-annulment. We were the founders of National Democratic Coalition, NADECO.
What frightens me is that if this thing goes further, the Igbo would show who they are and it won’t be good for the country. Nobody can be more violent than the Igbo who is determined to defend themselves in the face of aggression. We are gifted in many ways by God.
We should be thanking God that we are not spilling blood. I think there should be a way out of what is happening. Igbo and Yoruba elders should meet and find a way to ensure this does not happen again.
What was described as anti-Igbo comments from unlikely persons were found to have enabled the widespread attacks on the Igbo last Saturday…
I never knew that, but I am surprised to hear about it. That is life. Sometimes surprising things happen. I read so many things about Igbo in Lagos. The things I read from Yoruba writers are so encouraging. One of them said Igbo didn’t put a gun on anybody’s head to buy his land in Lagos. For negative thinkers, the best thing is a disintegrated Nigeria, but that is not good for Africa. We are called the giant of Africa. And blacks are judged the way Nigerians are judged. We should know our responsibilities and our destiny. We must do the best we can to project African dignity and respect.
You were a key figure in the defunct Third Republic when Abiola was elected across ethnic and religious lines. But ethnicity was a major factor in this election cycle. How do you feel about that?
There are interests at play. Some people are targeted as if they have subdued the interest being pursued by some people. I don’t like to say it, but I must mention that there are religious interests. And that has international backing. There are local political interests. Progressive people, who are dynamic and industrious, are never loved by everyone. If you succeed where others fail, don’t expect to be loved by others. But things are changing in Nigeria and we are beginning to understand each other. I just read about how Yoruba and Igbo integrated and worked together on #ENDSARS seamlessly. I know things would change, and the change has come.
Peter Obi would be sworn in as President and a new Nigeria would emerge. In that new Nigeria where Peter would be President, the Igbo would ask for no favour, no privileges and nothing special for themselves. They would be super happy that one of them has led Nigeria to success. They would be happy that one of them has made it possible for black people to be highly respected in the world. Those are the things Igbo would be enjoying when Peter Obi takes over. We don’t want any special political and economic advantage. Many people would be happy to see that happen.
You talked about when Peter Obi would be sworn in, but the President-elect has started preaching national healing. Don’t you think it is enough to douse the tension created by what happened in Lagos last Saturday?
We don’t know the origin of the problem in Lagos. But there are suspicions that APC is the main implementer of the problem. That is why people are suspecting APC is behind it. Igbo people voted for one Nigeria. Nobody invited them to Kano, nobody invited them to Lagos and nobody invited them anywhere. Yet, anywhere you go in Nigeria, you find them prospering in large numbers. It is just their destiny and nothing changes it.
It is not every Igbo man that is thinking about moving all investments back home. Some may think retaliation, but that would be bad. Nigeria fought against Biafra for three years, using British war machines, Russian jets and other European war equipment. What was supposed to last three weeks or a month lasted for three years. Those people introduced some new elements into warfare.
People should not provoke the Igbo people into thinking about fighting back. The Igbo voted for one Nigeria and it won’t be good for Nigeria if they are made to think about retaliating the attacks on them. Nobody should think of retaliating. Things would change for the better.
What do you think are the implications of the anomalies that characterized the elections for the country’s electoral framework?
I have concluded that one segment of Nigeria has come to an end. Nigeria cannot continue like this. It is a shame to entire Africa. Imagine what the world press has been saying about the elections. We have come to the end. We better recognise it and accept that the end has come.
We cannot afford to have other elections like these. This is a comprehensive failure. It was such that you would find people leading and suddenly the results would be manipulated. It was so obvious in the presidential election. And all they are saying is going to court. This should be the end of ‘’go to court’’ in Nigeria. Next time it would be a revolution. There must be going back to basics to develop proper social values.
Our churches, our mosques, our schools, and town unions should go back to the basics to teach morals. The aim is to make Nigeria begin to develop again otherwise the country will disintegrate. But God would not allow it. We need a new Nigeria that would be exemplary to the world.
Some are of the view that when the story of this election cycle is written, Peter Obi would be recognised as having re-engineered the electoral process in some ways…
Because of how things have happened, everybody is interested in improvement. It is not just Peter Obi, I believe it was God’s decision for Nigerians to embrace change. Peter Obi is just the face of a movement. It is just an idea whose time has come. The Bible talks about time and season. The time and season for a new Nigeria have come.