By Ben Agande
A former member of the House of Representatives, Hon. Chudi Offodile believes it is too late for Nigeria to break up. Offodile also speaks on a wide range of issues including the clamour for power shift to the North, the erosion problem in the South-East and the failure of governments at various levels to meet the expectation of the electorate.
How would you assess our progress in both the economic and political spheres in the last four years?
I would say that we are on the right track from the point of view of democracy. We have had democratic rule consistently for about thirteen years now and we have a democratic government in place. Things have not really worked out so well but we must be grateful to God that the democratic experiment is still on course. We may not have achieved all we set out to do but certainly we are making some movements in the right direction; slowly perhaps, but surely I believe we will get to the right direction.
How would you situate this with the increasing level of corruption and insecurity in the country? Do you think that the leadership is not right or it is just part of the evolutionary process of democracy?
*Hon. Chudi Offodile
It is the evolutionary process of democracy that has given room to the challenges we are facing. Democracy is not easy to achieve. Once you have changes, people are bound to react to these changes. If you look at the history and political development of the country, you will agree with me that for a certain part of the country which has been in control of political power for long time; it has not been easy for some of the players to adjust to the changes taking place in the country.
This issue of insecurity and heated polity is directly linked to those changes; so it will take time for some people to adjust to the reality of the situation. Some people will come round to accepting the changes. It is just a matter of time. But we also have to be careful not to mismanage it because if we mismanage the situation we have right now, we will have an implosion and it will not be in the interest of any body in this country for us to have that kind of implosion.
Why are Nigerians not feeling the impact of governance in the country? Why have the roads in South East remained unattended to? Why can’t the governors control the erosion in that zone?
As it affects the South-East, one of the things I try to point out is the structure of our federalism. If you look at the Abuja Airport Road or the Abuja-Kubwa Road, both contracts amount to over N500billion.The entire five states of the South -East put together cannot award a contract of half that sum.
That means that there is something fundamentally wrong with the system we are operating because calling it a federal system is a misnomer. The problem of erosion and other problems may sometimes be difficult for the states to handle.
But some of the problems that you expect the states can solve, basic problems like having clean, livable cities have been ignored. If you look at the South -East zone, there are only two locations that are livable: Enugu and Owerri. Awka is not a livable city; Abakiliki is not a livable city; Umuahia is not a livable city; Aba is not a livable city.
Between Owerri and Enugu, you will see a clear difference. Enugu State has been able to create a livable environment and you expect that development will spread and the state can now attract investments from people in the South-East and outside of it.
What worries me is the inability of the states to solve basic problems; provision of education, health services. Because they are unable to do that, they have no moral right to now complain that the Federal Government cannot solve the larger ecological problem afflicting the states.
If you cannot solve very little problems within your own area, how can you complain about Enugu-Onitsha federal road that is impassable, or the Port-Harcourt Enugu-federal road? There is a general problem of inefficiency. You can trace it to the federal structure we have but, ultimately, the inefficiency at the state level with a possible exception of Enugu has made it impossible for the people to celebrate their investment in democracy.
Talking about inefficiency, your state, Anambra, which is reputed to be endowed with lots of human and natural resources has remained controversial when it comes to its political leadership. Why is this so?
I do not think that there is any controversy regarding governance in Anambra State. If you study the state very well, you will expect that a state like Anambra that has Onitsha, a commercial city, then the industrial hub of Nnewi should be able to generate enough revenue to meet its recurrent expenditure at least. If you have a situation where Anambra, with all these industries and factories, cannot meet its recurrent expenditure, then something is fundamentally wrong.
It is also important that we look at the kind of government we have and, looking at that, government is not a controversial issue. It is within the rights of citizens in a democracy to ask questions. If you go to the United States, for instance, and you watch the struggle between the Republicans and Democrats, you will think that the USA is going up in flames. It is the expression of democratic right. When we question certain things going on in the state, there is nothing controversial about it. When we ask questions, what we expect are answers from government not attempt to cover up.
Various sections of the country have been clamouring to produce the president come 2015. What does this portend?
This issue of zoning and clamour by different parts of the country is not just the North. The South East is also interested in the presidency and the South-South may also be interested in retaining their position. I think we need to look at the performance of the president. The best time to assess this government is 2013. At the end of 2013, people can look back and say this government is either moving in the right direction or not moving in the right direction, then we can come up with arguments.
It is premature to give a fair assessment of this administration. I have heard all kinds of argument for and against but I believe it is premature. We will evaluate the performance in 2013 and people can come up with their positions as they affect their geo-political zones.
But, as a Nigerian, I believe we need to give this administration some time and we also have to be clear that every zone reserves the right to aspire to the presidency of this country. The only problem is at what time do we begin this maneuvering? Is it now or 2013? I believe it should be the end of 2013.
Do you think that Nigeria can survive the myriad challenges it is facing now? Do you sometime fear that the country could break up?
It is too late for us not to survive as one indivisible nation. As far as I am concerned, being an Igbo man, I think those who believe we should not survive as one country are coming too late. What we should be working on is how to manage the resources of this country in a fair and equitable manner; how to structure the country to make it efficient.
We need to have an efficient system of government. These are things we should concentrate on. We should talk about anything, zoning, anything but the only thing we cannot talk about it the break up of the country. If anybody is thinking about breaking up, there was an opportunity for that and Nigerians did not take it, but wasted so many lives on both sides of the conflict; so why talk about it now, forty years after?
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