Presidential candidate of the National Rescue Movement (NRM), Mazi Okwudili Mwa-Anyajike, speaks on tribalism and ethnic differences, as well as the ongoing strike by public university lecturers, among other matters, in this interview with DEBORAH ONYOFUFEKE
What is the motivation behind your ambition to become the president of Nigeria?
Nigeria is at a crossroads of either getting saved or experiencing a collapse. At this stage, everybody can see Nigeria needs salvation and rare in-depth salvation and I think, where others have failed, I have the capacity that I can use to transform this country into what it needs to be.
Why was NRM your choice party to pursue your ambition?
When you are going to fight the battle, you don’t join the camp of the enemy. You have to find a new team of fighters that have the same ideology as you. So, going to any of the big parties would have been a situation of pouring a bottle of old wine into a new wine which is not done anywhere in the world. So, the issue is that I had to get a new platform that can deal with the situation on the ground and as the name goes, the NRM is the only party that talks about how they will save Nigeria from the McGuire leadership and take us to a promised land
As we all know, the South-Easterners have been side-lined from becoming the president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria for so long and there has been a lot of agitation from people saying 2023 should be their turn. Do you think we will see that happen in 2023?
Talking about getting a president from the South-East is a little bit bogus. I think, first of all, Nigeria’s politics is not about ethnic leadership, Nigeria’s leadership is about getting the right leader for Nigeria, whether Hausa, Yoruba, or Igbo. For equity and fairness’ sake, it is about time for a south easterner to be the president of this country. But then, I am not coming out because I am a south easterner, I am only coming out because I am a young Nigerian that believes he has what it takes. I am from the South-East and my people in the South-East will support me, other people from various parts of Nigeria will support me because people are saying let us live in equity and fairness, let us give a south easterner the chance to rule not because south easterners don’t have somebody who can rule Nigeria, but the political quotation of Nigeria has always side-lined the south easterner because of one thing or the other but at least, now you can hear the Afenifere people speaking, Arewa people speaking, people from the different ethnic background are speaking and calling for the south easterner leadership. It’s a good thing that I am from the South-East, that adds to my advantage that I am a south easterner and also that I am a youth. I have the two qualities that Nigerians are looking for. A south easterner and youth and I believe that it is getting the right youth who has not been stained by any political background, who does not come from the old political system that will be able to change this country and that’s where I come in
What do you think of the APC Muslim-Muslim ticket?
This is a critical topic I don’t like to speak on because, I am one of those who don’t believe that religion or ethnicity, should be a basis of leadership in this country. If you go to the United Arab Emirates, Dubai to be precise, there is a mosque there named after a Christian saint. We should not lead this country based on religion or ethnicity. It is high time we come to a contract, whereby, when you are filling a form, the issue of tribe, religion, or ethnicity would be omitted. It should just have a place for the state of origin and the state of origin should be the birthplace. That’s all. Forget about religion or ethnic tribe but then, a Muslim-Muslim ticket is bad in terms of equity and fairness. All the same, if a good Muslim-Muslim ticket can turn around this country, it’s not bad, if a good Christian-Christian ticket can turn around this country, it’s not bad. People are calling me to pick my vice President from the Christian North, I said No, for equity and fairness’ sake. We have to balance the equity not because we don’t have a good Muslim-Muslim ticket or good Christian-Christian ticket, but for the sake of equality. The Bible said if eating meat will cause your brother to stumble, then stop eating meat so that your brother will not stumble. So if a good Christian-Christian ticket will cause Nigeria to disintegrate, then don’t do it and vice-versa. Do what is right in the eyes of the people. That’s my stand on that.
You spoke about birthplace being claimed as a state of origin as against the normal practice in Nigeria which is where parents hail from and that reminds me of Justice Mary Odili’s speech at her valedictory session where she said if Nigeria adopted the birthplace as the state of origin, it could help quell the tribalism/ethnicity problems faced in the country. Do you think this is true?
Yes. But I think the state of origin should not also come into any legal form we are filling in Nigeria. We should only have a place of birth. I mean we are all Nigerians. Take me for example, I should be able to contest an election, to become the Governor of Kano State, if I so wish even without being born in Kano state or living there. We should remove the situation of the state of origin because, when you mention the state of origin, you are automatically linked to a region, instead of being seen as a Nigerian. For example, when asked your state of origin and you say Oyo state, you are immediately seen as a Yoruba man instead of a Nigerian. We are all Nigerians. Same thing as the ideology our past heroes wanted. When Nnamdi Azikiwe, was preaching one Nigeria, what he meant was with “One Nigeria,” there is no problem with the background of where you come from, or issue of your tribe or religion. The only thing important is that you are a Nigerian.
Nnamdi KANU has been in DSS detention for quite a while now and his bail request has been repeatedly rejected by the federal government. Do you think it’s fair on him?
Well, it’s another critical national issue. The federal government has their reason, why they don’t want to grant him bail but, if I were the President of Nigeria, I think granting him bail will ease a lot of tension because every man has a right to bail unless he has committed a grievous crime against the society. A crime of national interest or national security. But a mere allegation deserves bail. You can see that the Judge has reduced the charges against him, from 15 to 7, which means he is qualified for bail but not granting him bail, is like eating up the polity especially in the South-East because not granting him bail is like you have deprived him of his fundamental human right. If I were President Buhari today, to create more credibility and more love from the people of the South-East, I will grant Nnamdi Kanu bail and give him conditions, with a strict warning that failure to adhere to the bail conditions will be considered treason against the country. So, I think the right thing for the government to do is grant him bail.
The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) has been on strike for 5months and counting now, because of the federal government’s inability to grant ASUU’s request. What do you think is wrong and what would you do differently if you had the chance?
The ASUU strike is an appalling unfortunate situation because, keeping the students at home for five months, is like telling them to go and get married because a person who has been married for five months would be expecting with a growing baby bump. It degrades the students, sending them on leave so that they can’t tell when it will come to an end. ASUU has not tried in that sense, no matter what it is they are clamouring for, they have not tried because they are not putting the interest of education at heart, they are putting the interest of ASUU at heart and I am telling you, even if the federal government gives ASUU N1trn today, the schools in Nigeria will remain one of the worst schools in the world because the money will be mismanaged.
I have gone to many schools in Nigeria, the lecture hall is like a prison hall. Take for example IMO State University, IMSU, and many more that I have been to. They have one of the worst educational conditions in the world. It’s not even fit to be called a university and ASUU has been there. Before now, the federal government has been giving them money, what have they been doing with that money? Is it the money they will give them right now that they will use and do good things? The problem we have is that it’s not about money and maybe that’s why the federal government doesn’t want to give them money because they are not using it well but also, the federal government has failed. ASUU is under the federal government, the federal government is like a god, and the federal government decides what happens. If the federal government wants ASUU to end their strike now, they know what to do and ASUU will end the strike but I see that both parties are enjoying it. The problem Is that the federal government has failed, ASUU has failed and the students are the scapegoat. If I were the President of Nigeria today, I will handle ASUU in the way they are supposed to be handled. Just like in other countries. What is the ministry of education doing? What is the labour union doing? ASUU is part of the labour union, ASUU is under the ministry of education, they can’t be bigger than the ministry of education, and they can’t be bigger than the federal government. There is what we call power. If you have the power and you don’t know how to use the power, it becomes an abuse of power. ASUU is abusing its power, the federal government is abusing its power. Both of them don’t know how to use their power and the right thing to do will be to remove the two people from the system and let the educational system work. In my opinion, ASUU should be streamlined, reorganized, and given another orientation that would match the basic system of education that we have. We don’t have to do ASUU every day and the children are suffering every day
Nigeria has been under serious insecurity attacks lately, what do you think can be done to curb the attacks?
First of all, before we talk about insecurity, we need to talk about the cause of insecurity. What is the cause of the insecurity in Nigeria today, the insecurity we have in Nigeria today is caused by hardship, hunger, and starvation, a hungry man is an angry man. That is a proverb we all met in this world. The thing is when somebody is hungry, he can do anything to get food to eat. Nigeria has one of the highest rates of unemployment in the world, Nigeria is ranked among one of the first ten poor countries in the world. Amidst all the resources we have, we are still tagged among one of the ten poorest countries in the world. That’s a very bad image for Nigeria. If you go to the streets, and the village area, you will see that people are hungry. Some persons cannot afford a plate of garri and these are young men. What do you expect them to do? They have to survive. I am not saying crime is good, but, you don’t push somebody to the wall due to the policies you put in the country. Imagine going home and you have mouths to feed at home but not a penny in your pocket, in such a situation you might be forced to do what you can, to get money. The majority of the insecurity we have today is caused by hunger and starvation. The first thing to do as a leader is to find a way to reduce hunger and starvation, thereby creating direct and indirect jobs. If the government can handle 70 per cent of unemployment, the remaining 30 per cent, if they choose the part of the crime, can be handled by the federal government. There’s inflation, take a look at what the dollar is to the naira now, food is expensive, and money is no longer enough, all these are the causes of insecurity in Nigeria. When we get the opportunity to pilot the affairs of this country, we are going to tackle unemployment but the first on my blueprint is, that I am going to tackle electricity. By the time you tackle electricity and create employment, you have a balanced society and would have created an enabling environment for business and foreign investors to strive. After this, you balance the economy, see to the reduction of inflation and increase the minimum wage of workers. Then you re-equip the security agencies and bring in smart security. Nigeria needs to be digitalized. Under artificial intelligence, we can do a lot of things
It was recently revealed that President Muhammadu Buhari approved the purchase of N1.14bn worth of vehicles to the Niger Republic and it stirred a series of reactions from Nigerians given the fact that the FG has not been able to meet up with so many responsibilities, what is your reaction to this?
First of all, Nigeria is not broke but is mismanaged. Being broke is different and being mismanaged is another thing. The mismanagement Nigeria is suffering from is a result of selfish leadership. Don’t be surprised that the N1.145bn approved to buy cars for Niger republic, somebody has taken N500Million from it due to their selfishness. First of all, Nigeria is a neighbouring country and it is not a bad thing for the government to support a neighbouring country in terms of security or any other thing. It’s not a bad thing for you to be your brother’s keeper but at what cost? At the detriment of your people? Well, the government has a reason as to why they purchased those cars the same way, the government has a reason for constructing a rail to Niger republic. Although the government tried to defend it saying, it was to facilitate trade, which is something worth doing but not when Nigeria does not have a good railway system that has gone round the whole of Nigeria for us to go external. It’s like we don’t have electricity and we are supplying electricity to other countries. It’s like penny wise, pounds foolish. Every man is the architect of his fortune or misfortune, same thing every government is the architect of its progress or disaster. The Buhari government knows why they approved the money for the vehicles in Niger, but in the complex of Nigeria’s situation today, it is not balanced. Nigerians are not happy, people are not happy but what can we do, the government makes the final decision. Let’s take a look at the problem facing us today. N1.45bn can pay a lot of salaries and do so much more.