Chuks Muoma is a senior advocate of Nigeria (SAN), former legal adviser of Ohanaeze Ndigbo and chairman of Igbo Lawyers Association (ILA). In this interview, he observed that political positions in Nigeria were held by failures in different professions. He spoke with Godfrey Ofurum in Aba. Excerpts:
How would you rate Nigeria’s democracy, from the First Republic till now. Have we made progress in our democracy?
What I see in Nigeria is not progress. I see retrogression, because we are going backwards and not forward. I must say that this is unfortunate. It has never been perfect when it comes to getting the right people in leadership in this country, but it is getting worse. As a young lawyer, when I came back from my studies in the United Kingdom, I was vibrant, politically. Soon thereafter, I realised that I could not be accommodated in Nigerian politics, because I abhor corruption, fought against it and spoke against it. When I realised that I was a minority voice and that my security was even been endangered, I quietly withdrew from politics to live a quiet life and I am currently enjoying that quiet life.
It may interest you to know that I was one of the foundation members of the Nigerian Peoples Party (NPP). I moved on from NPP to the National Republican Congress (NRC) and became the old Aba Local Government Chairman of the NRC. By then Aba had one Local Government. As time goes on, I discovered that in Nigeria people go into politics, because they need material wealth and I was not impressed. It wasn’t the idea I got in my training back then in the United Kingdom that one should go into politics to make money.
I equally discovered that Nigerians go into politics, because they’ve failed in their respective professions. Look at your political class of today, who are they? How did they become leaders? What do you have in politics today, failed lawyers, failed engineers, failed doctors, failed administrators, failed accountants and all manner of failed people, who run into politics, because according to their respective views, it’s the easy way to make wealth. Since they’ve failed in their professions, there is only one option where they can gather to make easy money and that’s Nigerian politics.
I don’t want much money, but I’m satisfied. God has given me all I wanted and I live without anxiety. I had the temptation to such an unnecessary acquisition of wealth, but I rejected it. I’m a philosopher and at my age getting to 83, I’m not sick. To me, a happy life is a life of peace. I live without anxiety and fear. What can be better than that? Only with clean hands and positive thinking, you’ll always be happy. The best protection a man has is clean hands. People go into politics, because they are constantly hungry. Not hungry to eat in its real meaning, but they want too much. Their ambition for material wealth is insatiable. It’s unhealthy. They want abundance all the time. They don’t want to be comfortable or rich. They want to be massively rich with too many houses everywhere. The quest for stupendous wealth is the problem of Nigerian politics.
Tinubu is now the president of Nigeria; so far what’s your view about his administration; do you see hope for Nigeria with him in charge?
Well, I’ll always wish that Nigeria succeeds, because I want a better country, but let me reiterate that the problem of Nigerians is that they are never satisfied with what they have materially. What’s someone, the age of Tinubu doing in the Presidential Villa of a country, like Nigeria? Come on, are we really serious here? Just as I am now 82, going to 83, I’ll be nursing idea of taking up a political position, such as becoming a president? What will be my input? What can I offer that a younger person I know cannot do better? Even though I’m still intelligent, do my advocacy in court and have a sharp memory, what am I going to acquire power for, if not to get more wealth, considering the dirty politics that I see here?
Is it really necessary for someone of my age to be in power right now? Is that fair to our younger generation? What happens to playing advisory role? These are the questions Nigerians should ask themselves whenever this desire for power take over them.
What’s Tinubu doing in Aso Rock? Listen, active presidents don’t sleep. Their phones are regularly on and busy with calls. Can Tinubu endure it? What are we even talking about here? People will always refer to Joe Biden without noting that the United States have a cleaner society than ours. I am sure that Nigerians can assess the current government experientially. Nobody should tell anybody how the administration has been so far, because it is written all over everybody’s face, despite how much anybody tries to pretend. Nigerians don’t need much lecture to know the performance so far. I don’t know why people look at themselves and not realise that they are ageing and need to step aside. It’s just selfishness and greed and look at where it has handed everyone. We’re all feeling it.
From the party primaries to the main campaigns, he insisted it was his turn to rule, what do you make of that?
That slogan “emilokan” was enough to have stopped him in saner climes. Why would a man going into an election say it is his turn to rule? The impression he created was that it was prearranged election and that electorate have no choice or say. Is presidency a divine right that somebody will insist that the Nigerian presidency is his turn? This is the problem we have here. That campaign slogan should have stopped him in a country where things are normal so that he can explain to the people how and where they gave him that right or had an agreement that it’s his turn to lead them. I repeat emilokan should have disqualified Tinubu in a decent society, because it means that he is incapable of leading Nigeria and is only doing so by arrangement. You don’t rule a country by arrangement. Can you imagine people gathering to share leadership tenures among themselves with arrangements like “after me, it will be you and him”? What kind of a thing is that?
Seriously, the heavens will never forgive Buhari for the wrongs he did to this country. How can he go into an arrangement about the rulership and presidency of Nigeria, as if it is his personal property? He has ruled previously, as a Military Head of State, why would he not be satisfied with that? Let me see what he will do next. Let me see if he will go to Niger or Cameroon to rule them. Hasn’t he finished his rulership, is he not going to die like every other person one day? These are things some of the so-called politicians don’t think of. I don’t know why they are desperate for power when they are aware that they don’t know what to do with it when they get it.
Are you comfortable with the level of development in the South-East; are the Governors doing enough?
What is the family background of the Governors that you are talking about? There are things people ignore that I don’t understand why they ignore such. A man from a poor background will always be afraid of poverty. Such a man’s sole ambition will be never to be reduced again to his old background or where he is coming from. I think it was an American Philosopher, Waldo Ralph Emerson, who said that “the Children of the poor having seen the deprivation of poverty look upon wealth as a thing of joy.”
Apart from going to school, let all those Governors tell me their backgrounds. Is that all we need to make someone a Governor in our land? Really? What else do you expect from them? You already know why they’re in politics. You don’t go into leadership with the ambition of becoming wealthy. It’s bad to do so. God is against it. They don’t want to serve to better the lives of the people under them, rather it is to better their own lives more and more, because they are afraid of their past. All our South-East Governors are suffering from poverty, consciousness. Poverty consciousness is the fear of the poor of remaining poor and the fear of the rich of returning to poverty. So, both the poor and the rich are afraid of being poor. This is exactly what they are all suffering from.
So, should everything remain this way; can’t the people do something?
Let me reiterate, we are suffering from poverty consciousness. The poor people, who are the electorate need money. Anybody can talk rubbish and give them money and they will vote for him, notwithstanding all the rubbish he said. You see, this consciousness of materialism is endemic in our society. How do we solve the problem of hunger and greed? This is part of our problems. If the South-East people want serious development henceforth, they should vote for character when choosing their Governors, not because they’re given money or promised one thing or the other. I know that hunger is too much. I know that in a society, where people are very hungry and desperate, there can’t be integrity. Our society is materialistic.
When we are poor, we don’t want to remain poor and when we are rich, we don’t want to be poor. We are constantly afraid of poverty, but we can’t all be rich at the same time. It is a matter of hard work, but Nigerian society is about money. Maybe, because there’s no social welfare programme. Where I was trained in England, there’s a Social Welfare Programme, where those who are sick can be taken care of, if you are unemployed, there are some arrangements that will be made for you to at least eat. Awolowo tried to introduce it, but he was never appreciated, because people wanted that money into their pockets. They never allowed him to achieve it. He died with that idea. Now we have greedy wolves, as leaders looking for whom to swallow. The only solution is True Federalism, but politicians will not allow it.
Why do you think that they will not allow true Federalism?
They won’t allow it, because they want everything to remain unitary, so that more money will enter their individual pockets from the top. Why wouldn’t we emulate the true Federalism, as they do in the United States of America? Why can’t we do what Germany does? Even in the United Kingdom, the components, like Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland still have some reasonable autonomy, politically and economically, all in harmony for strong Great Britain. In Nigeria, the son and daughter of one poor man will jump at the opportunity of a political appointment to make himself, his family and friends permanently rich. Is that governance?
Let me tell you, I’m staying here, because I love Nigeria not that I’m making so much money. And I want my children to always think home and still realise that they are Nigerians wherever they may be. All my children and grandchildren are British citizens, but I want them to think home. However, I’ve refused to leave here. We all cannot run away. Some people must stay to rebuild this country. Who’ll make this country good for us, is it the Chinese or the Germans? The young men are after money and they’ll not allow us to give them advice and any child that doesn’t listen to advice, I’m sorry for him or her.
Why is the call by Ohanaeze for Igbo entrepreneurs to divest some of their investments in the South-East, not yielding much fruit?
I was the legal adviser for Ohanaeze for some years and that position gave me a better insight about the Igbos and probably Nigerians. The truth is that an average Nigerian, particularly the Igbo man will never go into anything that’ll not add money into his pocket. The profit-driven mentality that income resources are more abundant outside is the problem. Igbos are enterprising. Any place you go and see only one black man, just tell him “Kedu”(how are you) that’s when you will realise that he’s Igbo. We are hardworking and love developing wherever we find ourselves. I don’t think we have love for our own land. We build factories in Western Nigeria, and do the same in Northern Nigeria, but when we come to our own land, we’ll build beautiful houses. We don’t have love for our land.
But don’t you think that it is because of how viable other places are with available infrastructure?
Is Aba, not a busy commercial city? Is Onitsha, not a busy commercial centre? Is Port Harcourt not a busy commercial centre, is Nnewi not a busy commercial centre? Don’t we have other cities around us here? Please let them stop talking nonsense. Did I get the comfort that I have today and got to the peak of my career from North or West? I was born in Aba here. My family has been here for over 105 years. My father was here and I grew up here. I decided to practice my profession in Aba. I had all available offers to practice in Lagos and Abuja, but look at where I have gotten to today in everything. My family has roots here and this place has made me who I am and I have contributed to its growth. I’m not an Ngwa man, from Abia State. I’m an Oraifite man from Anambra State. I have friends everywhere, but I decided to remain here and be productive for the good of the Igbo man, the advancement of the Igbo race and Nigeria in general.
Other Nigerians accuse the Igbo of arrogance; is that true?
As a young lawyer, I said during a programme in NTA that Nigeria is Igbophobia. Until other Nigerians begin to see the Igbo man as one with them and see the Igbo man, who can afford to leave his land and come to their land to stay there and live as liberal. It’s a sign of love that one will even go to another man’s land and stay, but it’s still shocking that the other person still sees it differently. This thing they talk about the Igbo man being arrogant and all that makes me remember one Igbo proverb that says that “some children went into the bush to fetch firewood. When one of them fetched more than the others, they accused that one that he went to the evil forest to fetch his.” This is exactly what happens here. Where some go and fell when we go there and succeed, they will liken it to the evil forest, where we went to fetch our firewood.
My question for them is why wouldn’t they go to the same evil forest to fetch theirs? The Igbo man is disliked, because of his enterprise, his industry and his perseverance. He goes to where people said there’s nothing and brings something out. That brings envy and all manner of jealousy. I said several years, as a young lawyer that until Nigeria goes away from Igbophobia that Nigeria will not make any progress. I was a young lawyer when I said it and it was prophetic, as you can see today. Nigerians must change their consciousness and attitude towards the Igbos or we will remain where we are. I say this without an apology to anybody. Some people, whose names and identities are Igbo from some places are deceiving themselves that they are not Igbos. I laugh, because the people they are trying to impress know them better and they will always remind them of their identity when the need be.
Considering the way the Federal Government, her agencies disregard court orders, can we still say that the judiciary is the last hope of the common man?
There is no rule of law in Nigeria. The rule of power and money is what is known in Nigeria. I am glad that I’m sought of retiring. I have a son who is a senior lawyer with big chambers in Abuja. He left it for his junior partners to manage and left for London, to continue there. All efforts I made to bring him back failed, as he refused to come back.
He is also a solicitor of England and Wales. At times, I want to blame him, but some people will say I shouldn’t blame him, because I’m inevitably here in Nigeria, because of my age. That is what some people say. They said I should allow the young man to talk about his future, as his profession will be a determinant factor in the pursuit of his future. Without seeming to be unpatriotic, nothing is happening in this country.
At times, patriotism may lead to stupidity. The truth is that nothing is happening in this country. Some people in this country are not guaranteed one meal a day. For me, I think Nigeria has more beggars than any country in the world. This is a result of misgovernance and some people are leaving the country. Until we change our style of leadership, we’ll keep losing sound minds that could have helped to make this place better. We’re going back every day. The judiciary is not independent. The politicians have refused to allow the judiciary to function properly. What about the Legislature and the Executive? How can anybody blame the judges that they can be appointed and removed without notice? Nobody is talking about Constitution in Nigeria. There’s no separation of powers in Nigeria. In England, the Prime Minister doesn’t make appointment of Judges. The Lord Chancellor is in charge of judicial appointments, but it still passes through serious legal processes that has no influence of politicians or any one man boasting of that right to appoint. The process in Britain is unique and it brings serious independent judiciary.
The Executive is in control of everything in Nigeria. They control the National Assembly. This is why I said that only true Federalism and an independent and separate arm of government can save the country. I can agree with people who said that there’s no hope for the coming generation. The political class is greedy and not willing to change. Just like this move to intervene in Niger, I don’t support it. It’s their internal problem. When we had our own coups here, how many countries came? Why are they rushing to put Niger in order. What about their own home? You want to restore a legitimate government in Niger, how legitimate are we here? Any Nigerian soldier that dies in Niger, the blood will be on the head of those that sent him and so shall it be.