Uzodinma Nwala, a retired professor of philosophy, was Peter Obi’s lecturer and mentor at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. He was a member of the G34 that formed the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, in 1998 and has been active in the politics of Nigeria.
In this interview with THE WHISTLER, he speaks about the chances of Obi in the 2023 presidential election and related issues.
Who’s Uzodinman Nwala?
I am a retired professor of philosophy from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. I taught in many Universities in the country, namely Kogi State University, University of Abuja, Benue State University, Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka and the Nasarawa State University, Lafia. I also taught abroad.
All my life I’ve been a very active person involving myself in many social issues and causes. I will say my retirement is retirement from the classroom but not retirement from active involvement in social and political affairs of our society.
What Is Your Assessment Of The Political Situation In The Country As We Approach The 2023 General Elections?
Political recruitment in Nigeria has had a pattern and that pattern is godfatherism. Young men find that the only way they can break through is to serve those who are in front as the head and most of those who are the head don’t have any inspiration or values; they have virtually little or nothing to bequeath them, except the raw strategies of power struggle. That is a very unfortunate thing.
It is not by accident that society has been witnessing the great upsurge of youth revolt. My prayer is that at the end of the day, this upsurge will yield great transformation as has happened in some other countries.
My prayer and urge is for the youth not to give up, not to relent to ensure that the government that will serve the purpose of transforming this country is in place.
Well in the first place, the country is so down and out, there’s no law and order. The institutions of governance are broken down. Is it the court? Is it the EFCC and others, all have broken down.
There’s no authority that can call anybody to order, the executive is in shambles. The legislator is in comatose. That is the unfortunate thing. I believe that what the youths are doing is a logical outcome of the state of affairs of what has happened, and I am happy when I watch their tenacity and commitment. I’m happy at the moment that everybody can see that they have chosen an arrowhead when it comes to who will be on top as president next year, who will be an instrument with which the youth will transform this country. It is very clear to everybody that Peter Obi is the man of the moment.
How Well Do You know Peter Obi?
Well, Peter Obi, my student; he was our student in the Department of Philosophy, University of Nigeria Nsukka where he graduated. And at the time, I was a great Maxist scholar, almost all the students were rallying around me. But then the Marxism of the time had an aura or an orientation to which I eventually revolted against those who were at the head, people like Ola Oni, Ikenna Azimiro, Eskor Toyo, all these were my great patrons.
I found out that the brand of Marxism they were propagating and pushing was very idealistic, full of theories. I think I had the advantage, which I had over them and that was my training in New York at the New School for Social Research. There I came across great scholars, Marxists, social democrats, and so on. One of them was Stanley Diamond, who was a Biafra friend during the war. I graduated there as the best student in philosophy.
One of the things I learnt there from Professors Stanley Diamond, Hanna Arendt and Kenley Dove was the theory of praxis. Hanna Arendt was the lady who was voted as one of the eight most intelligent people in America. Praxis is a study that enables you to see the link between theory and practice.
So, it seems to me today watching Mr Peter Obi and what he is doing, it is not an abstract thing. He is a man deeply moulded in praxis, with deep understanding of the challenges of society, the challenges of humanity and the challenges of changing society, that this is possible. That man can do it, just like Kwameh Nkruma (of Ghana) said. That man possesses in his hands, the power to abolish all forms of poverty and degradation. I think that is what is moving Peter Obi today. And I think that’s what is making the youth see him as worthy of being the rallying point.
Have You Personally Worked With Peter Obi For You To know Him Well?
I’ll say I helped to groom him generally in the university. In the political field Peter Obi and I have had interactions working together. We worked together when Ndigbo Lagos came to Enugu for a programme. We were both there.
Peter made a statement when somebody criticised the leaders and governors and political leaders at that event. Peter said, ‘the mistake you people make is to regard us as leaders, we are not leaders. You are the leaders. You have to guide us while we have to listen to you. We are only your servants.’ I was highly impressed by that position.
From there when I formed the Conference of Democratic Scholars (CODES) and we brought Chinua Achebe back to Nigeria, Peter (Obi) was there to receive us. He hosted about 13/14 social organizations in Aligbo at Awka; we spent the whole night there with him. People like Pat Utomi, Mr Asoluka, Mr Kalu Onuma, etc, were there that night.
Yes, I remember my friend Pat Utomi was there and many of us. We spent the night there and he spent the night with us. Peter provided us an enabling environment, the place to work together, to work out a model for transforming Aligbo at a time, using the momentous events surrounding the 50th Anniversary of Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart to arouse the Igbo nation to be alive to its historical mission.
What Is That Historical Mission?
It can be seen in what Zik (Nnamdi Azikiwe) and Okpara (Michael) did in Aligbo, the foundation they laid. The Igbo nation is a productive nation, her citizens are universal citizens (Oje Mba enwe ilo), easily adapting to their guests. After that evening Peter joined us also as we organized the First Festival on Igbo Civilization.
The other time Peter Obi and I met and worked together again was during the burial of Achebe. Achebe and I were very close. And when he was dying, he told his family I should organize his burial. In fact, on the eve of his death, when he was in the hospital, his son Ike called me from Boston (US). He said to me ‘Ugonabo is in hospital’ and he said I should let you know you shouldn’t tell anybody.
Very early in the morning, the young man called me again and said Ugonabo has slept and that Achebe said I should inform the Anambra Government, inform Ohanaeze, inform the federal government and move on from there. So, I informed Obi and he took it up.
Another moment in our history that Obi’s path and I crossed again was when there was a reinforcement of the teacher/student interaction. This was at a time our organization Aligbo Development Foundation had set out to look more deeply into the foundations Zik and Okpara had laid. When you go round Eastern Nigeria, you see a lot of their footprints in agriculture, animal husbandry, in estates, in various areas of development.
At that time we felt that our people had missed the track, they should come back to it. Then as we were planning an Industrial tour, the World Igbo Congress came to Enugu to organize a programme, I was there, incidentally Peter was there.
As we were discussing, one of the young men that spoke made reference to a lot of what Peter Obi achieved in Anambra when he was governor.
When we finished, the next day we started discussing a plan for the industrial tour. We decided we’ll start from Anambra State. We invited Peter to join us.
We started the journey from Nnewi, home of the great leader, Mbazulike Amechi. After receiving us Mbazulike started telling us – “my brothers please thank Mr Peter Obi for me. That car you see outside was bought for me by Peter Obi when he was governor.”
We followed that up and found that he did the same for many of his colleagues. We found out that he did the same for people like Chike Obi, the world renowned mathematician. He did not only buy a car for him, he also built a house for him.
We came to Nnewi to Nnoson Motors and moved around the whole place. When we sat down, he said to my brother, please thank Obi for me. What you are seeing here, all these massive industrial plants you see could have decayed without Obi. When I started, he gave me a contract of 5 billion naira to produce various sets of vehicles for schools, churches, town unions and ministries. I finished the work and he gave me another contract.
We had a story of when one of our men’s goods were seized at the airport. Obi left everything and went to Abuja to plead with President Goodluck Jonathan, and he ordered that the goods be released. So, we came to Onitsha, a massive industrial area, the initial beachhead a good deal of which was by Obi.
This experience made us tacitly accept him when Atiku nominated him as vice presidential candidate. When some people said no, and started kicking, we said we must support this guy.
Also, we learned that during a certain bad flood in Nigeria, that affected Anambra and Kogi area, that Peter Obi went around and made sure the Kogi people were brought out to the Anambra area where he took care of them and had to settle them when they finished.
So, these are some of the testimonies we have and we have tried to articulate this in the book, Challenges Of Democracy And Leadership, The Peter Obi Factor, to be launched in Abuja on the 24th of November.
Now That He’s Also A Candidate And No Longer A Running Mate Where He’s Up Against People Like Atiku Abubakar And Bola Tinubu, What Can You Say Of His Chances?
Peter Obi can only lose this election if it is rigged, rigged in a very dirty manner. I can tell you Peter Obi will win this election. If he wins, he may only be stopped from serving the Nigerian people if there’s a coup. These are alternatives which the criminals in power may resort to.
Why Do You Think He Can Win?
It seems to me that the youth of this country are also ready to do what their counterparts did in other places to stand toe to toe to stop anybody who wants to take us back to Egypt.
Is The Youth Support Alone Enough For Obi To Win?
It’s not only the youths that are supporting Peter Obi, the youth are at the forefront. Many elders, writers, scholars and veterans are supporting him but they are not talking yet. They’re also not on the streets to show their support yet.
Talk More About This. You Said The Whole Country, Are You Including The North?
When you go to the north you look at the talakawas, the Aminu Kano talakawas are on the prize, they are waking up. They are realizing that they have been deceived by religion. We’ve been made for people to hate us and people have controlled our lives, that is what they are saying.
I’m sure that the sons of Joseph Takar are also waking up in the Middle Belt. You can see what Ortom (Samuel) is doing. Ortom is a true disciple of the Takas. Everybody is now singing one song and that song is the song of liberation.
If you asked me what kind of society we are looking for, what are we expecting from Peter? I was at a cultural conference of 94/95 the time of Abacha. We were authors of the six geopolitical zones, the principles of rotation and power sharing. And at a time, we were able to identify fundamental elements that can weld this country together, elements of principle, elements of equality, elements of justice, element of equity, elements of freedom, that is the various nationalities, whatever they are, should be able to control their lives and come together in a union of equals. The kind of things you have in some countries where we have mini republics united and the presidency rotating among them.
Some are 10 million, some are two million and each controls their internal affairs and their resources. That is the kind of future we believe we are looking for. Peter Obi is not going to impose this future. I believe what the Peter Obi era will do for us is to provide an enabling atmosphere for the people of this country to come together and decide their destiny without anybody imposing themselves.
You Have Spoken So Well About Obi And The Expectation Is Quite High But Does He Have The Financial War Chest And Structure, And The Acceptability To Win This Election?
First and foremost, you can see glimpses of how the youths are reacting to this money thing. If you watched over the whole place, nobody’s funding them. They are funding the Peter Obi movement themselves. I’ve been interacting with many Peter Obi Support Groups, they are funding themselves without Peter sending them money.
So, remember, again, a number of people have won power without the kind of mighty war chest the Tinubu (Bola) and Atiku (Abubakar) have. Barack Obama did it in America, a number of people have done it in Europe and many other places.
Secondly, you can also find that even those who have the money are harassing him, wanting to provide their money. They also want that change. And so I don’t think money would be a problem.
If You Were To Advise Him Now, What Would You Say To Him?
The advice I would give Peter , one, to remain himself. Two, to ensure that the people understand him, where he’s coming from, where he wants to go. Three to ensure that he does not disappoint the youths and all those looking for change. And four, not take money from the devil.
This election will not be decided by money. I will tell him he should know that he’s an agent of history, that countries have had people like him at various times in their history.
Again, Based On Historical Perspective And The Region He Comes From, Do You Think He Will Be Accepted In The North To Get The Required Votes To Enable Him To Be Elected Because Some Are Saying To The Contrary?
Remember there’s a large population of Igbos in the north. When you take away Boko Haram and all the insecurity created by people there who are now beginning to expose themselves, how they created Boko Haram. Apart from that, the Igbos have been living peacefully with people in the north. The votes are there for him.
Mind you many Igbo leaders were born in the north – the Azikiwes, and others. So, the ordinary Igbo men have no problem in the north. It’s only when the criminals that want to use the ordinary Hausa and other fellows in the north as a political instrument to retain power, by saying you are not ,we are not ,that kind of thing. I think people are waking up. The song of freedom is raging over the whole place.
Do You Think The Call For Power Shift To The South East By Some Groups Like The Middle Belt Forum, Afenifere And The Niger Delta ForumAmong Others, Will Propel Him To Victory?
I think so. You see, some of my friends, Atiku and Iyorchia Ayu and others; I am talking of those with whom we worked together in the PDP. I was one of those that built the PDP. I wrote the first constitution along with the late Chuba Okadigbo and Jimmy Bowe. I was the pioneer director of strategy of the PDP. I led the foundation for the PDP. I was secretary of the Jos Convention.
The PDP was a child of history but unfortunately, it has been hijacked and destroyed. We started out very well, to build a new nation. When we started, the PDP was the biggest party in Africa. We were proud of it. When people said PDP was going to rule for many years really, that was a dream, based on the kind of passion with which we started. We laid the kind of foundations that if we had held on to it, we would have turned this country into a real model.
But not the power that be; those that have been ruling this country used Abdusalami Abubakar and co to throw away the best constitution this country has ever had, that is the 1996 constitution which we gave to Abacha.
When he died, Abubakar organised his people to throw away the basic elements of it. Look at it, even what you call the EFCC today, our dream of the EFCC is not the kind of thing you have today. We agreed on setting up a tribunal for recovery of ill-gotten wealth and for dealing with other minor crimes. We said that that tribunal should be made up of people drawn from various cadres of society. From the religious community, the trade union community women organizations, popular organizations among others that these are people that will represent the people that will speak the truth.
I am sorry to say this, Abdusalami Abubakar threw this away. What we now have is the running dog of the government, of the powers that be. If they want to deal with you, they set EFCC after you. Look at all the revelations going on about all these people, nobody is doing anything as if this is no man’s land owned only by a few people. That is the problem.
What Did You Do When Atiku Insisted On Contesting Since He Knew Power Rotation Was Not Only Constitutional But A Tradition Of The PDP?
I wrote a letter to Ayu and sent a copy to Atiku at the beginning of the primaries when there was discussion about rotation of power. I drew the attention to the PDP and the foundation PDP had laid. They were members. Atiku was a member. Ayu was a member. We started from G 34. That G34 I wrote its first document that we discussed in Lagos. The document that gave right to G34, I wrote it. I wrote the original document.
In the Course of our meeting, when we came together at that time, the G34 was made up of real patriots from all over the country, people who were committed to turn Nigeria into a very united and peaceful country. That was the goal. So, at the time, we were debating about the principles of the new government at the Federal Palace Hotel, Lagos, our man, the veteran from the north, Tanko Yakassai got up to move a motion that the founding fathers of this new party should make sure they defend the principles we had agreed on the constitutional conference. One of them was zoning and rotation, that we should adopt that.
That he was moving a motion for the leadership at the time to zone the presidency to the south and personally to Chief Ekwueme (Alex). That was the motion he moved there.
Chief Ekwueme, you know him, was a gentleman, a democrat, objected and interrupted and said, Tanko , while we may accept the first part of your motion of adopting zoning and rotation, the second part of zoning it to Chief Ekwueme is not a personal thing.
Because in terms of rotation, what we agreed on was that the presidency should rotate in a South/North alternation beginning with the south because the north had had it for several times. The south/north alternation among the six geopolitical zones, meaning that if the Southern zone takes it this time, next time it goes to the northern zone, it comes back to another southern zone, it goes back to another northern zone and so on. That was what we had agreed on.
Going by what is happening up to this year, the North has taken the presidency, the south- south has taken, the south west has taken. But not south east.
So, I told them (Atiku and Ayu) that we should stand by that decision of rotating power. Those who have jettisoned the principles and practice are enemies of the stability of this country, that’s what I want to say.
What Would You Say Of Atiku’s Insistence? Did They Reply Your Letter?
I don’t want to use the word greed, but that is what it is, and selfishness. People putting themselves above the welfare of the polity of the Republic, your interests above the interests of the Republic, which is a dangerous thing.
None of them, not Atiku or Ayu, replied to my letter.