May 23, (THEWILL) – Magnus Onyibe, an entrepreneur, public policy analyst and former commissioner in Delta State, speaks with AYO ESAN about his new book entitled, Becoming President of Nigeria: A Citizen’s Guide, and other matters affecting the country. Excerpts:
What informed your decision to write the book?
I looked at the whole environment and felt that Nigerians were not sufficiently enlightened on their roles in democracy. And this did not come to me as a surprise because we have had a long reign of military governments and autocracy. I felt we had to enlighten Nigerians that we are indeed practising democracy where every bonafide Nigerian, as stated in the constitution, can be president of Nigeria. I also know that, coming from experience of votes not counting, because of rigging of elections and all of that in the past, Nigerians have become despondent. They don’t want to come out. But following the review of the Electoral Act 2010, which is now the Electoral Act 2022, where certain provisions were made and as it is right now , until we practise it and see that it will prevent certain levels of rigging that used to take place. I feel at this time I should also give support to the government agency that has not adequately enlightened Nigerians about their roles. That is why I had to write the book. It contains all the information that they need to know.
In your book, you subscribed to equity and fairness to all parts of the country. Are you disappointed with the decision of the APC and the PDP to jettison zoning and throw their presidential slots open?
Yes, that is a problem. Look at the blurb on the book. I stated that it would be nice for Nigerians to elect a president who will pursue the agenda of equity and inclusiveness , as well as provide the kind of patriotic leadership that will build upon the foundation of progress laid by previous administrations. So will the 2023 presidential election be a turning point? I was thinking that it would be a turning point because by then the circle will be completed.
It started with the South West, now it is with the North and it is supposed to go to the South-East. But as things are now, the dynamics has changed and the paradigm has shifted. It is going to cause a problem in the country because we are looking at the short time benefit of winning the elections. The two major parties, APC and the PDP, are looking at strategies to win the election . But they are not looking at the long time benefit of sustaining the harmonious existence of the multiple -ethnic groups that make up Nigeria . That is the danger.
You also canvassed Igbo presidency in 2023. With the permutation on ground, how feasible is that now?
It is very difficult to see a pathway to an Igbo presidency right now. In the book, I dedicated about four out of 12 chapters trying to make a case for an Igbo president. But as it is right now, it is not looking as if that is possible. I also pointed out in one of the articles in the book about the dearth of presidential candidates from Igboland. And I put it like this: ‘No presidential material from Igboland’. But it was a good thing that just about a few months ago a lot of Igbo people came out to indicate their interest in contesting for president. And it was like ‘Okay fine, we have been waiting for them for years to come out, but they didn’t.’ However in the past three or four months, they came out in number. Unfortunately from the body languages of the major political parties, though it has not been expressed fully now, the candidates of the two political parties may have to come from the north.
Are you surprised that somebody like Senator Orji Uzor Kalu is backing a northerner for the 2023 presidential election?
As a matter of fact, I would assume that probably he has read the dynamics of the situation on ground and he decided to go in the direction he is going. That is how people in politics are. They are very smart. They look at the dynamics and quickly key into what they think is the best for them to do in order to survive. Already he told me that he wanted to contest. I guess he had a change of mind when he read the handwriting on the wall and figured out that he had very little chance of realising his ambition. I think he decided to pitch his tent with the camp of the likely candidate or likely successor to President Buhari. I think all that is politics. But whether it is out of personal interest or national interest is a different kettle of fish.
Afenifere, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, PANDEFF and the Middle Belt Forum are insisting that the next Nigeria President must come from the South. What are the likely implications of this ?
As a matter of fact, that is the challenge right now. That is the elephant in the ring because there is very strong agitation for the presidency to return to the South for very good reasons and in compliance with the principle of rotation. Why the principle is being jettisoned now amazes everybody.
Why did you choose this time to unveil your book?
It is because this is the right time. We are in the election season. In the next few months, we shall go to the polls and elect another president who would be inaugurated by the grace of God on May 29, 2023. That is why I have decided to published the book at this point in time. I started writing the book for a long time and the delay in amending the Electoral Act actually delayed till this time. I was waiting because the Electoral Act is critical. The whole thing about the future of elections in Nigeria was predicated on the Electoral Act, which we needed to beef up. If you remember that the last amendment to the Act was in 2010. As soon as the 2022 amended version came, which was the only thing delaying the book, I went to the press immediately and published the book. So it is an act of God that the delay became a positive thing.
Aren’t you worried that even the Nigerian elite do not read books?
There is a saying that if you want to hide something from a black man, put it in a book. But all that is changing because at the launch of the book in Abuja on the 10th day of this month, a lot of people bought the book and there is more demand for the book.
Most of the people demanding or buying the book are actually politicians. As a matter of fact, the book reviewer said that the people or those in politics might be thinking that the book would be like a recipe, a menu for a meal and something like that. I also feel that some people are thinking that it will tell them what to eat in the morning, what to eat in the afternoon and what to have for dinner so that they can become president. But the book does not contain any of those things. What it contains is a whole gamut and milieu of political evolution in Nigeria, what it takes to become Nigerian president beyond those specifics.
There is a guide to what you need to do and how to reach out. In fact, I made reference to somebody like late Chief M.K.O. Abiola. I said if you want to become a president in Nigeria, you must be like MKO Abiola who was a philanthropist and who was open to everybody. Abiola was neutral in religion, even if he was a Muslim and he reached out to all the nook and crannies of Nigeria, touching the lives of many people in a very profound way that had never been witnessed before. That was why it wasn’t a surprise to many people that he won the election.
In the book, you also traced the history of Nigeria and past governments in the country. With the research you have carried out, what do you think is at the root of ethnic agitations in this country?
The reason for that is deviation from the norm, from the grand strategies that our forebears laid down for us. If you notice, the 1963 Constitution, which we operated and the country we inherited were such that all the three regions (later they became four after the Mid-West Region was created). The British did the right thing because they actually bequeathed to us their own system, where they had four different ethnic groups, the English, Welsh, Scottish and Irish coming together to form Great Britain. That was what they left us. The system worked for them. It was working for us until the first military coup and counter-coup and then the civil war happened.
Democracy was introduced in Nigeria in 1979. Past administrations, such as the Shehu Shagari administration, has come and gone. We were balancing it through federal character. All that has been jettisoned now and thrown into the garbage bin . People started getting restive like IPOB, the Oduduwa nation and others . This thing is going to continue unless equity and justice returns to the system of government in Nigeria.
As Nigerians look forward to the 2023 general election, what is your advice to INEC and politicians?
The good thing that has happened is that whatever anybody wants to say about the National Assembly or so much bad things that happened in this government, the amended Electoral Act that was signed this year will booster the process of recruiting our leaders in this country. It will be different because technology will give better vitality. In fact, to some existent I would even say that the people now believe that votes will count. People will believe that godfathers will not impose their candidates, that there will be equity and the general election will be transparent with the new Electoral Act .
So to some extent I would say INEC has done well and the National Assembly did well, too, by making a lot of changes to the issues on the front burner or tackling some of the challenges that we had in the past. Going forward, the next National Assembly will look at the issue of electronic voting and voting by Nigerians living in the Diaspora, as well as improving the vitality of our electoral process .
Our politicians have to be sensitive to the fact that there is a need to maintain some balance in Nigeria. The way they are going, by not recognising rotation again, is a problem. They have to note this.