79-year-old former secretary-general of Ohanaeze Ndi Igbo, Chief Nduka Eya, reminisces on Nigeria’s 57th independence anniversary and laments the nation’s present state in an interview with journalists in Enugu. Excerpts presented by Ngozi Ikpeama
What was your career like?
I schooled at Dennis Memorial Grammar School, Onitsha. I worked at the Federal Polytechnic, Idah, as a registrar after my tutelage at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. I was a commissioner for education in the old Anambra State. When (former governor) Jim Nwobodo came to power I was pulled from my secondment at Idah and made a permanent secretary. I was particularly known as commissioner for education in the old Anambra State. I took over from Mrs Grace Obayi and continued from where she stopped. We developed education because the public schools were down having just come out of the civil war. We opened up private schools, majority of them in Nnewi and so the private schools provided a healthy competition. I retired in 2004 after serving Father Emmanuel Ede where I became a registrar at OSISATECH, Enugu, for five years. I also served at the Independent National Electoral Commission.
Would you say that Nigeria has fared well at 57?
I have paid my dues in this country and my country has been made a laughing stock in the comity of nations, in conferences after conferences, meetings after meetings, all to see how to move the country forward. What we see rather is intimidation, disunity, disrespect for rule of law; a country where the military declared a section of the nation a terrorist group and the attorney-general of the federation went to court and legalized the illegality. Nigeria worked under the colonial masters. Then independence came. The economy boomed but because of corruption there was nothing to show for it. Our young people graduate without jobs. When I graduated I had four job offers, today holders of master’s degree look for job and somebody say he is fighting corruption. In the past, we had the groundnut pyramid of Kano; East had palm oil, and in the West you had cocoa. The regions generated the revenue and paid some percentages to the federal government. The Eastern Region built the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, with 50,000 pounds. Nigeria discovered oil and there was oil boom and Nigeria was rich. The leaders were corrupt, both the military and elected officers looted the country’s funds. Nigeria depended so much on oil and paid scant attention to agriculture. Then came a fall in oil price and the economy crashed.
APC came to power and destroyed our economy. They said change and we have seen the change – gross unemployment in our country.
What would you suggest as a way out?
After the 2005 Constitutional Conference and the 2014 National Confab, we already had a blueprint on how this country will work. The 623 resolutions are there. I call on President Buhari to change his style. He said he belongs to nobody, Nigerians know where he belongs by his actions. If we are going to be a one country, we must have equity, fairness, justice. Unity is not good when one is a master and the other a slave.. It is wrong. Resource control is in the constitution. That is what will help this country come out of recession. Diversification of economy is a must. We cannot continue to depend on oil. We must build industries, develop agriculture, tap our mineral resources and add value to our products. We must not compromise on standard.
This government said diversification of economy but they are spending money looking for oil in Lake Chad. I wrote a proposal to the federal ministry of agriculture for development of ranch and palm tree plantation in my village, but there is nothing, no response. I am still struggling for the federal government to pay my pension. They should allow local government autonomy. Through the backdoor they have made local government a federal issue. Kano has 44 local government areas and a state like Enugu State has 17 local government areas. I request the National Assembly to pick the 2014 National Confab resolutions and make their laws. The federal government should face the reality and stop chasing shadows. There should be fair play, equity and justice. It was the absence of these that led to the agitation for Biafra. Igbos are marginalized.