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• Sam Egwu
Dr. Sam Egwu was governor of Ebonyi State between May 29, 1999 and May 29, 2007. A staunch member of the ruling PDP, he was appointed Minister of Education by the late President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua in December 2008. He was later replaced by Ruqayyah Ahmed Rufa'i. Egwu spoke to Saturday Sun on the happenings in the country. He touched on the demise of Chief Odumegwu Ojukwu - the talk of his (Ikemba) successor as Igbo leader and his place in Nigeria's history.

About the controversial issue of where and how the next president of the country would emerge, the former university teacher said his sentiment goes go to the South East. However, as a member of the ruling party and as one who subscribes to the party's principle of zoning, he believes the North will have the presidency in 2015. 'I believe that God rules any time in the affairs of man. And if we follow our zoning principle, which some people will say, is not existing again, but for one reason or the other it could be the turn of the North. I believe in zoning. I believe that an Igbo man should be president after Dr. Goodluck Jonathan. But if we follow the principle we have agreed on, it goes to the North,' he said.

Your Excellency, sir, there seems to be a crisis of leadership in Igbo land. Is it possible for leaders like you to put away your differences and use the death of Ojukwu as a means to come together and tackle the problem?

Well, thank you very much for your question. I feel that what is happening in Igbo land is not about a struggle for leadership. What is happening in Igbo land is something that I would say is peculiar to the Igbo race as a group. That problem of how to survive; the problem of trying to feel that 'well I can make it whether you support me or not', – that individualistic approach to life.

So, the Igbo man doesn't necessarily recognize leadership like what we see in other places where they have an organized leadership structure. The Igbo man is individualistic by nature and whether you're Igwe or you're Obi or whatever he wants to survive as an individual. And to that extent I feel that the issue of leadership is something that God enthroned and Ojukwu didn't overnight become a leader because he wanted to be a leader.

It was circumstances of the period that made him to be a leader. And if you look at other leaders that emerged what you may regard as circumstances of event or better still, God putting them at that particular position and then took up that opportunity and occupied that position.

So it is not like that there was a contest and people started struggling. Nature, as it were, will place that leadership position on somebody it deems fit for that position. So, I don't buy that idea that there must be a struggle or contest for leadership. Rather what I would suggest is that Igbos should always come together to look at those things that actually involved the interest of the Igbo man.

There's the need for us to come together but not to come together to struggle for leadership but to have a common ground on the issues that concern us as a race. This is more so as the Igbo race appears to be in danger of extinction. There's what we may regard as an attempt not to allow the Igbo man to occupy leadership positions in this country. Whether it is a design or a coincidence we don't know but people feel very uncomfortable any time an Igbo man comes up and they will find every reason to make sure that the Igbo man doesn't occupy that position. And I think it's not fair.

A time will come, and I've always believed it that by divine nature the Igbo man will come back to the position. It happened with the Westerners; it happened with the Northerners. Initially, you remember that even though the North had always occupied that position but there was a time the Igbo man was everywhere. Even in the Civil Service in the military, in the political arena until a time it became the turn of the North. And the West started glamouring for it.

Awolowo did everything possible, it never happened and at the time God said it was time, Obasanjo occupied the position. Now, whether anybody liked it or not, it eventually came to the turn of the minority. By divine nature, divine providence the presidency came to them.

So, I believe that following that same trend, a time will come by the same divine nature it will be the turn of the Igbo man. But that does not mean that we don't have to start clamouring for that position. We have to start making demands for that. But I believe that our demand alone cannot give us that. It's only when God decides it will be our turn then it will be our turn.

From what is on ground, do you think 2015 is feasible?

Well, I'll go back to what I have said, it is feasible if God accepts it and if we get our act together. But if you look at what is happening in Nigeria, the arrangement we have been using is North-South or zoning formula.

I believe that God rules any time in the affairs of man. And if we follow our zoning principle, which some people will say, is not existing again, but for one reason or the other it could be the turn of the North. I believe in zoning. I believe that an Igbo man should be president after Dr. Goodluck Jonathan. But if we follow the principle we have agreed on, it goes to the North.

Okay. We will come back to this issue of leadership, but meanwhile, what do you think should be the place of Ojukwu in Nigerian history - a rebel leader or one who did what he ought to have done for his people when the need arose?

Anybody who terms Ojukwu a rebel leader is not fair to himself; not fair to this country and not fair to Ojukwu himself. Because if you remember, Ojukwu never clamoured to be a leader of the Igbos. He was a military administrator of the Eastern Region.

And before then he was a commander of an army battalion or so in the North. Ojukwu had been a true Nigerian. But circumstances of events placed him in the position he found himself. And when the same circumstances of events also put him in a position to start protecting the people, his people, he took up that challenge.

You remember Ojukwu went for several meetings; Ojukwu even went to Aburi; the Aburi accord he was also a member. If he had wanted to be a rebel, he wouldn't have even agreed to attend any of the peace meetings. So, it was a disservice to him and a disservice to what he stood for and the Igbo race for anybody to regard him as a rebel leader.

Ojukwu was never a rebel leader. He was a man who stood for his people; a true Nigerian who, when it became necessary to stand for his people, he did so because of what was prevalent at that time.

Was the Nigeria-Biafra war preventable?
Of course, it was preventable. If the leaders at that time did what they were supposed to do. There was no need for that war, as a matter of fact. But some people felt that we were very very stubborn. They never wanted to look at the other side of the coin.

Selfishness and personal interest pushed some people to the level that the war became inevitable. If the series of meetings that were held to stop the genocide were implemented without the idea that it was time to eliminate the Igbos, the war wouldn't have started. Some people felt that if the Igbos are shoved aside they would have more opportunities.

Individuals felt like that, some regions felt like that and they felt that the best way to do it was to eliminate the Igbos. And because of their strong belief that the Igbos should not be allowed to exist, they pushed the Igbos. But the Igbos resisted, saying no, we have the right to survive. That is the first rule of nature - self-preservation. It is only a tree that would stand when there is a certain threat to being eliminated.

As one of the foremost Igbo leaders what would you have done differently if you had found yourself in Gowon or Ojukwu's shoes?

If I found myself in Gowon's shoes; if I were in his shoes, I would have insisted in the stopping of killing of fellow Nigerians. Remember that was what led to the Civil War - the genocide. If I was in Gowon's shoes, I would have stopped the genocide and appealed to the Igbos too to stop retaliations.

May be he did it, I don't know. But may be he tried to, but it was beyond him. But I would rather want to take a position that if I was in Ojukwu's position, I would have done the same thing he did. People shouldn't think that he declared war, no. He said let my people be. Allow my people to be in Nigeria and they said no.

Remember that innocent people were slaughtered; innocent people that had no business with what was going on but were going about doing their normal business. The genocide was monumental; it was bad! And there was no way anybody would fault what Ojukwu did.

He called them back home when they were no longer needed. Even they were being slaughtered in all parts of the country, from the records available. And Ojukwu as a leader said, hey! this is enough. Let us stay on our own part of the country since we are no longer wanted elsewhere. So, Ojukwu did something he was supposed to do. Nobody should fault him.

Where were you during the civil war and what role did you play?

Incidentally, I was just about 13, 14 years old when the war started. I just finished my primary school. I wanted to enter the Boys Company but they refused me because I was so tender.

In fact, I went for the selection at Abakaliki because I saw these young boys as officers and I liked the way they were being respected as young officers. I later learnt that they were used mainly to do 'recce', to get information for the regular soldiers and so on.

I took entrance to enter secondary school when the war started; so I couldn't have entered the army, even the Boys Company couldn't take me. In fact, we were two - one Christopher Ozo. We sneaked out, my father was an ex-serviceman and I knew he would not support it. So, we sneaked out. Incidentally, the boy I went with was taken while I was not taken. The boy didn't come back till today.

We went for the selection. They now separated us. They looked at us and simply said you this side, you that side. So, those of us by the left side of the officer they told us left-right, left-right, about-turn LEAVE! GO!! They just dismissed us like that. Then those on the right were those they took whom they said were strong and old enough to enter the Boys Company. But because of my love and interest in what was happening, I entered the Red Cross. I wish I had my photograph, I would have shown you.

That brings me to this issue of Boko Haram, MASSOB, OPC and Niger Delta Militants, all relating their acts to ethnic interests. Don't you think the possibility of America's CIA prediction about our being a broken nation in 2015 is hovering around the whole region?

In as much as the emergence of these militant groups is very disturbing and worrisome, I don't think Nigeria would disintegrate. Nigeria is a very interesting country. A lot of things have happened in other countries and they broke up. But Nigeria? No, it has not disintegrated.

This is a country all of us love and no matter what happens, a lot of us still want to belong to this country. But that does not mean we don't have to be very careful. A lot of things that had never happened in Nigeria have started happening and they are very very scary. And I think the government needs to address the issues and make sure that the things we feel can never happen should not happen and we should not take anything for granted. We have to guard against it.

Because there are still people I know who do not want this country to remain as a country, based on certain happenings. We believe that we stand to gain more if we remain as one country.

How do we achieve a true federation?
A true federation, the moment power is decentralized, can be achieved - decentralization of power. What we are operating now is not true federalism. When I was a governor, I was among those who glamoured a lot for true federalism to happen. And if there is no spirit of competition, there will not be progress. The states, as they are today, are all waiting for federal allocation at the end of the day.

They get federal allocation, before the end of the month, they're already waiting for another allocation and any time the allocation does not come yet, salaries are not paid. No country develops like that, there is true federalism when states are encouraged to diversify and find other means of generation of income and they're given more powers then there will be competition.

Take for instance the issue of state police. It's something states have been clamouring for and it's unfortunate that neither the Federal Government nor the National Assembly has seen the need to allow state police to exist. The level of insecurity in this country will reduce if we have state police as it obtains in other countries.

They have state police, municipal police, local police and their paths don't cross because they all have defined roles. Rather, they complement each other. There are certain crimes that will happen and the federal police will come in, there are certain issues that will happen and the state police will come in; that of municipal police, that of local police - it happens everywhere. The moment they co-operate with each other, the increase in crime wave will now reduce.

Now a governor will stay in his state and be called the Chief Security Officer but at the end of the day, he has no control of the police. He doesn't even take active control and in the issue of posting a state commissioner of police, he is not consulted. They post anybody to him, even though a state commissioner of police may have a good rapport with the governor and they work hand-in-hand.

If you have the unfortunate situation of having a commissioner of police that is not co-operative, he has no allegiance to you. He takes orders from Abuja and forgets you and whatever he wants to do, he does because all the policemen will be loyal to the commissioner of police who has his loyalty to the IG. And, of course, the IG has his own loyalty to the president. So, it's only if you're lucky and if you as a governor has that natural ability to work with anybody that synergy between you and the commissioner of police can happen.

You keep on emphasizing on these issues which means there's something you must have seen that makes you to be crying out loud?

Yes, I've seen it and my position has given me opportunity to see it all and the experience I have got. It worries me that we're not making progress when we should. And I look at these as major issues facing the country. Mr. President cannot perform miracles no matter how he tries.

He has good intentions. I tried it and I know where the problem lies. You may come with very good ideas, very good programmes but the issue of implementation becomes a problem because you cannot do it alone. There are people there who are to implement the policies. But these are people that their interest is, how do I make more money? How do I protect my interest? Any policy, how does it affect my people? How does it affect my religion? What is coming out of this?

What are the cardinal areas you think Mr. President should put his focus in the next few years?

For me, if Mr. President should focus on power and security more than anything else, then things will improve in Nigeria. This is because every other thing revolves around these things - power and security. If there is power, the economy will improve. Both the micro and macro economy will improve. If there is security, investments will come and people would be very free to go to any place and establish their business, because power and security are assured.

Nigerians are wonderful people. So, for me power and security are the two most important issues in Nigeria.

Who do you think should succeed Ojukwu as Igbo leader?

Remember, in my first statement I said that leadership comes from God. This is one single thing you cannot remove from Him. He said whomever I want to give power, I give. So, the issue of leadership for the Igbo race will come naturally from God. No single person who feels he should get it will get it. Look at how the presidency of Obasanjo came. He was there in prison; the same thing with Shagari, Maitama Sule was the preferred candidate until the mantle fell on Shagari.

Look at our own case. I was in the race for the presidency; Odili was in the race but it was Yar'Adua who had no initial interest and after that look at the current President. So, it is God who gives power to whosoever He likes.

Health is not valued till sickness comes.