Alex Ogbonnia is the national publicity secretary of the Ohanaeze Ndigbo, the apex Igbo socio-cultural organisation. In this interview with NNAMDI MBAWIKE, he reflects on Nigeria’s political cum social journey since independence and the impact it has had.
As Nigeria marks her 61st Independence anniversary, what is the difference between politics of the 1960s and today?
There are many differences between the politics of the First Republic and Fourth Republic. The First Republic represented the vision of our founding fathers. In the First Republic, there was true federalism because every multi-ethnic society all over the world is best governed by true federalism so that each ethnic group has authority over the revenue and expenditure profile of their own societies and because of that, the South East recorded tremendous growth economically. Same applies to other regions. That was the time University of Nigeria, Ahmadu Bello University and the Obafemi Awolowo University were built.
In the early years of Independence, Nigeria had regional political parties. Although those parties are gone the regional divisions have remained. Why is that?
Politics in the First Republic was ideologically driven and to that effect, leadership at that time were not interested in acquisition of wealth. Michael Okpara finished as a prime minister and he did not have a house. Same applied to Akanu Ibiam and Alhamadu Belllo but the regional divisions are not as they were. There have been reconfiguration there. For example, you have the North East, North West and Middlebelt and so on. I don’t think the lifestyle and ideology of these people have changed. Enugu was a meeting point for states in the eastern region but today, the rallying is no longer there.
There is so much ethnic division and tension today in the polity. How do we resolve them?
Ethnic tensions are caused by the leadership of the country at any given time. When Chief Olusegun Obasanjo was in power, PDP zoned all the offices including ministries and so it was easy for ethnic groups or states to know where they belong, everything was zoned according to geo-political zones. The problem right now is that the moment you bring nepotism into leadership, it has ripple effects. So basing appointment on religion and ethnicity is worse than corruption
Is there anything you think Nigeria has gotten right in 61 years?
I don’t think there is anything they have gotten right. I don’t think growing in corruption is getting something right. I don’t think growing in religiosity without spirituality is getting anything right. I don’t think the dilapidation of infrastructure is getting anything right. I don’t think the comatose economy is getting anything right. Above all, they function as if they have another country elsewhere. They carry money and go overseas to invest it. What I think they have gotten right is ethnic consciousness.
What did the ENDSARS protest mean to you and how deep is the disconnect between the youths and political leaders?
The problem is unemployment. During our days, I was able to get three jobs within one week with my school certificate, one was to teach in the secondary school, one was to work in the bank and one was to work in UAC. The youths feel angry because the future appears bleak for them.
Is a third force necessary and how feasible is one ahead of the 2023 elections?
Well, from the voices coming out from the political parties, it becomes clear that they are not interested in electing a good and credible leadership. The sentiment of where one comes from still comes in strongly. The leadership recruitment process is still faulty and still based on sentiments of religion and ethnicity. I’m afraid that bad leadership may emerge in 2023.
What is your view on restructuring and devolution of power?
We have told President Muhammadu Buhari that he will be writing his name in gold if he allows restructuring to take place because as Nigeria stands today, the only option to remain united is through fiscal federalism.