Uchenna Sunday Igwesi, a former member of the Federal House of Representatives (2003-2007) and former majority leader in the Enugu State House of Assembly (1999-2003) in this interview with ZEBULON AGOMUO, Deputy Editor, expresses concern over the plight of the 219 Chibok girls abducted by the Boko Haram members over 100 days ago. He also urges accelerated efforts on the part of government to secure their release. Igwesi speaks on other issues including governance in his home state under Governor Sullivan Chime. Excerpts:
As a leader, father and citizen of Nigeria, how do you feel about the continued plight of the Chibok girls over 100 days after their captivity?
It is a sad development which gives me constant worry. I quite sympathise with the parents and direct relations of the affected girls. It is better imagined than experienced what those families are going through at this time. We were told that some of the parents have already died of trauma. My heart bleeds. It is a delicate situation that you can’t just say let us go to Sambisa forest and release them. If it were possible, I tell you the children would have since re-united with their parents. The President of this country is a man committed to seeing his compatriots happy, but he can’t just order the rescue of the girls at all cost, lest we lose many of them. It is only those who do not understand the imports of strategies that are doubting government’s efforts in this regard. The other time when the military said they knew where the abducted girls were, some of us considered such an utterance as unprofessional. And I still maintain that it was very unmilitary, unprofessional and unnecessary. After that claim, nothing has happened. The only information Nigerians are waiting to hear is that the abducted girls have been rescued. What they do to achieve this purpose is none of the citizens’ business. To be telling people what they have done and what they have not done over 100 years after the incident is unnecessary. I for one have not lost hope on their rescue.
Despite every effort by government, bombs are still falling and many innocent citizens are dying; what in your opinion is the solution to the insurgency?
Insurgency anywhere in the world is very challenging. It is always better that it does not start at all than to fight it. No nation on earth has successfully won the fight against insurgency. Insurgents are terrors and blood suckers. The worst fight anybody can engage in is fighting with someone who is ready to die. In that case it becomes a do-or-die affair. Nigeria is in a do-or-die affair. We cannot pretend that all is well; all is not well with the country, at all. The way people are being killed, it is even worse now than during the civil war time. One thing that pains me is that people are playing politics with the security situation in the country. We must see it as everybody’s problem irrespective of religion and place of origin. There were those who thought it would not concern them, today, they have lost a relation or two to the insurgency. Everybody must be involved in the campaign. It is not only President Jonathan’s cross.
What are your expectations from the National Conference?
We all have been following the goings-on at the conference, I don’t think that the rules of debate, tolerance and maturity were displayed by the delegates. Nigerians are skeptical at the moment on where the resolutions will lead us. But my take is that if some of the recommendations are implemented it will produce some phenomenal decisions that will go a long way to rediscover, resuscitate and most importantly reunite Nigeria. My high hope on the conference was based on the calibre of personalities that made up the delegates. They are trusted and tested Nigerians drawn from far and wide, with deep-rooted intelligence in academics, and the historical aspect of the country.
How would you rate the Jonathan administration and his re-election chances?
President Jonathan inherited numerous challenges, he met a sorry state of infrastructural decay, an army of unemployed and unemployable youths who solely depend on government jobs for survival, due to lack of relevant social amenities which would have provided a spring board for self reliance and self employment, yet he was able to take up the challenges, which had attracted international investors in the country. His administration, realising the driving role of the private sector in socio-economic development, unbundled the power sector for efficient and effective production. He tried to clean up the streets of the Northern part of the country by establishing Almajiri schools in that part of the country in order to impart in these innocent children the required knowledge in line with modern education which will make them realise their full potentials. The insurgence in the North East of the country which was more of political and religious than moral agitation, has received consistent and deliberate response from men of Nigerian Army and other para-military outfits. From what he has done, I believe that there is every reason why President Jonathan should win the 2015 presidential election. His zeal to regenerate the nation’s core values in line with the visions and aspirations of our founding fathers is very commendable.
The unemployment rate in the country is growing by the day and job seekers are being fleeced by unscrupulous elements, how can Nigeria surmount this challenge?
Nigeria is a God-given state, endowed with men and material resources that can be said to be scarce in other societies, yet harnessing of these resources constitutes problems by the managers of the resources. The unemployment rate in the country is very high and that informed the surge in the recent recruitment exercise by a government agency which led to the death of several innocent and hunger-stricken Nigerians. We saw a situation where even those who had jobs were also struggling to be part of the exercise, thereby crowding the venue and creating the impression that all those who applied were unemployed. Government must provide an enabling environment for people to create jobs for themselves rather than depend on government for jobs. There is nowhere in the world where government provides jobs for all school leavers, but it is expected that those who have acquired relevant skills should be encouraged to do something good for themselves.
How is your governor, Sullivan Chime, doing in the state in the last seven years?
I have always said, and still not afraid to say that Governor Chime’s seven years in Enugu have been eventful and productive. We have witnessed uncommon transformation in Enugu both in road rehabilitation and development of state institutions. He has brought back night life to Enugu State; sanity has been brought to streets of Enugu in terms of security and decency. Enugu is indeed working and has never worked before. The governor has been able to achieve all these with minimal noise and brag. I want to charge these groups and organisations that give award of excellence to re-examine their benchmark or criteria for nominating beneficiaries, knowing full well that Chime should be rated the best performing governor of our time, using all gauge and criteria. I, therefore, want to appeal to whoever the successor will be to continue where Chime will stop, if he must leave his foot print in the sands of time.
Which zone is power tilting to in Enugu in 2015 in the spirit of power shift?
The agreement of zoning the governorship slot to Enugu North senatorial zone was the best political decision ever taken, given the tripod political structure of the state. The zones in Enugu East, predominantly Nkanu people, Enugu West predominantly old Awgu and old Udi will by end of 2014 have taken their own share of the slot remaining the Enugu North Zone made up of Nsukka people. This arrangement is fair, egalitarian, and is justifiable. It is the best political decision to be taken in this direction. Enugu people is at home with this arrangement whether written or not and this has been working for us in peace.
Are you nursing any ambition in 2015?
My ambition in 2015 is to work hard to make sure that all our candidates in PDP win their elections, and to insist in my own little way that all candidates in my party are given equal opportunity to contest party primaries. I will always advocate for internal democracy in my party because that will make the general election easy and friendly. For now, I want to support others for supporting me during my time. I wait on God Almighty to reveal to me what next, politically.