About Chief M.T. MBU
Chief M.T. Mbu’s political career began with his membership of Parliament from 1952 to 1955. He
has also served his country in various capacities including Federal Minister of Labour, 1954; High Commissioner
Between 1960 and 1966, Chief Mbu returned to serve again in Parliament. During the latter stint in Parliament,
he also doubled as Federal Minister of Defense for Naval Affairs. He was appointed Chairman, Eastern
Nigeria Public Service Commission in 1967, and became Member Constituent
Assembly, 1977– 78. He was first national vice-chairman, Nigeria
People’s Party, 1979 to 1981 before ‘decamping’ to the National
Party of Nigeria from 1981 to 1983. On several occasions, Chief Mbu has represented his Nation as an
ambassador to foreign countries including a recent appointment as Ambassador to
Ambassador Mbu is married to Katherine Anigbo and blessed with six children. His hobbies include tennis and
swimming. Chief Mbu is at the moment leader of the South-South Peoples Assembly, (SSPA); a non-political organization
that was created to help promote the interests of the peoples of South-South geo-political zone.
UZOATU: Sir, you have been a permanent fixture
in the history of
Well, I think any of us who
But after the coup in
Chinua Achebe has this,
by now, popular theory about leadership being the trouble with
That can be said without mincing words. Leadership has been our problem. Whether
Would you say that corruption has always been
part of leadership in
No, I would not say so. Because in my day, corruption like it is today never existed. One could single out those who were found to be corrupt, since they were so few! Most of us were not corrupt, and we remained incorruptible, never taking a penny for ourselves. There was transparency, honesty and probity in public office. So, I would not say that corruption has been with us; rather it has become institutionalised by successive military governments. The military brought corruption, promoting it to such a degree that it has become part of Nigerian governance.
How much damage to the development of a vibrant and patriotic leadership cadre for the country has military rule contributed, in your opinion?
A great deal, when you consider that since independence, the military has held power longer
than the civilians. Sir Abubakar Balewa was eliminated through a coup; Shagari was overthrown after four years.
The present one under President Obasanjo has endured the longest-- for five or six years. For the 45 years of
However, the excuse of the military, in taking over government, was that civilians were corrupt…
That is simply not true. A highly respected and dignified man like Sir Tafawa Balewa died
a pauper. I
So, I insist that military leadership, in this country, is the architect of corruption,
because even though one may point to one or two Nigerians who were corrupt, they were the
ten percenters – in the minority. The military introduced
what had previously never been known in the history of
Yet, there are those who think his approach is merely targeted at political opponents?
No, that is not what I think. You know Nigerians have their own version of things; for me, I support what he is doing. I believe that he is a courageous man to have tackled corruption head on, knowing the factors of our political institutions. So, whatever people might think, I feel differently and support him.
There is a great deal of buzz about the South-south producing the president in 2007. Does it have a solid case?
I believe that it is the desire of every region in
But here’s the dilemma…we have a situation where you are the chairman of a group called the Southern Forum while the North has formed its own version. Is it not an indictment, a contradiction that you, once a champion of Nigerian unity, are now polarising the country into North and South?
Not really. In 1914, Sir Frederick Lugard amalgamated the Protectorate of the North and the South. But as you might know from history, the real motivation behind the amalgamation was to enable the British to source, from the South, the money to sustain their administration of the North. This would have been impossible without recourse to money from the colonial office, so the Southern Protectorate of Nigeria was founded, comprising the Western and Eastern Regions, which had resources enough to sustain the Protectorate of the North. The British, thereby, contrived to bring about the marriage between the beautiful damsel from the South, and the handsome husband from the North.
Now I say this, because you implied that a division of the nation, vis
a vis North and South, is being caused as a result of talk of a Southern Forum. We have always argued that there
has never been a North and South, simplicita. Even with the amalgamation, the Northern Protectorate was comprised
I am a disciple of The Right Honourable Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe who pursued relentlessly, till death,
the achievement of one
The issue, at the bottom of all of this, is really one of power…
Power must be seen to
In the 45 years of
We are not against any particular group or zones; but we are saying that all the federating
units should feel a sense of belonging, and have access to power like any other unit. After all, we of the southern
zone provide 85 - 90 percent of the resources of
Even so, the North has argued that top political stakeholders, including you, have agreed that after eight years of power in the south it should go north…
We ask a very simple question concerning this issue: Where is this agreement that is being referred to, and who are the parties to it? In law, an agreement is an understanding recognised and enforced by the law. If there was an agreement, was it verbal, written, and again, who are the concerned parties? There must be two parties to an agreement. One person cannot carry an agreement all by him or herself… two parties, at least, must be involved. The point is -- we have not seen this agreement, therefore, we counter that there has been any such understanding or agreement. In any case, it could not have been conceived on the principles of equity, justice and fair play, because one cannot enter into an agreement denying a section of the nation justice, equity and fair play! Such an agreement is obnoxious, should not, in any way, be recognized, and, therefore, should be jettisoned.
There are those who suggest that the Southern Forum was formed to help President Obasanjo’s failed attempt at getting an unconstitutional Third Term in office.
Nothing could be farther from the truth. Anyone canvassing that viewpoint has gone far from
the point! We have been working for the past five years with prominent citizens such as my good friend, the former
Chief of General Staff, Commodore Ebitu Ukiwe; my good friend, the first military governor of Rivers State, His
Royal Majesty, Alfred Diette-Spiff; a good number of us have been working under the umbrella of COSESS, an acronym
for Congress of Southeast and South-south. We have been working to promote understanding between two zones that
feel they are experiencing similar problems, and are marginalized in the country. They believe, and can prove,
that they produce a great percentage of the resources of the country, but do not benefit from doing so. The best
way to promote their welfare is for the Southeast and South-south to have a common understanding of their problems,
and work together to bring about the actualisation of their dreams of becoming relevant. Any issue concerning the
Southeast and the South-south should be on the front burner of their agenda in dealing with
After canvassing and holding series of meetings in the past five years, we eventually came
to the realisation of our dream -- a solidarity agreement between the Southeast and South-south signed in Owerri
Having achieved this unique understanding, we began to lobby our brothers in the Southwest:
Would you support us in our quest for the presidency come 2007? They obliged us, saying: “We have had it; if you
two sister zones will provide us with a candidate as well, we will support you.” That led to summit of three zones:
Southeast, South-south, and Southwest, that was held in
So the question is: When did we become part of the apparatus of the Obasanjo agenda that people allege us as canvassing for; something that was established five years ago? The third term agenda…there was no such thing, no talk about it. We were thinking only about ourselves, the Southeast, South-south; the issues that concerned our sister zones. For anyone to say that, all along, this body had been campaigning for a third term agenda, I think they need to have their heads examined.
It is important to point
out that the South-south zone is the location where the
We have to tackle it. We are pretending that there are no problems in the Niger Delta. The problem of youth restiveness stems from the economic plight of the whole Niger Delta area, not just of the youths. That economic plight is extremely harsh for all inhabitants of the area, including the youth who have no employment; we’re talking about those who have gotten an education and rightfully expect to have gainful employment, yet cannot find jobs. They have been persuaded to take up arms against constituted authority, which is the wrong thing to do. My answer to the problem of the Niger Delta is that government must accept to remedy the situation, to address these problems. It should empower the NDDC or improve on it in such a way that sufficient content is addressed to relieve the problem of youth restiveness. Confucius, the Chinese Aristotle, said: “Taking the bull by the horns always yields results, though it might be the bull that gets the result.”
The term ‘resource
control’ has come into vogue as a mechanism for the survival and sustained development of the
We need to pay immediate attention to the people whose home has been devastated. How can
we ignore the fact that they live amidst all the despoliation, that nothing, indeed, is being done to protect them?
That is why the people of oil producing areas, having looked at the situation, say: allow us to control the resources
we produce; allow us to manage what our land supplies. We are not asking to take all the proceeds from the resources…no.
The second thing is this. We say -- let us, like any other area that produces minerals, have control of the rent
of our land, because it is ours. But, no…the federal government wants it all. One other thing; every state in the
country produces one mineral or the other; the question then is, why do we focus only on two; oil and gas. What
about the resources the rest of the country produces? But some people see this as too much complaining on our side.
“Why do we not relocate these complainers somewhere else, some have suggested; there is enough land in the upper
country? Of course, we are reminded, by this utterance, of Adolphus Hitler’s heinous intentions in
You have been known to advocate 60% derivation
When you are presenting a case as a lawyer, you seek the maximum claim in court. If the
South-South has made a claim, and has pleaded with their compatriots, at a conference, to give them what they are
asking, is it not up to the country to consider the claim after examining all the factors placed before it? The
reply should not be a negative: ‘oh move them out of the area; exterminate them, or do something bad to them. That
is simply not the answer. The answer should be – these people have made a demand; is it reasonable or unreasonable?
Whatever the case, the issue begs serious debate. But let us look at it another way- why should we have two different
laws concerning resource production in
When one reflects upon the various controversies over oil and gas; the resource control agitation, the decay in the society due to the discovery of this resource; does it not seem that oil is more of a curse than a blessing?
I would say that oil has been a mixed
blessing, because we have abandoned other economic pursuits; our farm lands have been left to rot away, left to
lie fallow in disuse. Yet, properly managed, what a wonderful resource God has endowed us with! If our resources
were properly managed, why would our young people want to leave
You attended a recent Ohanaeze Ndigbo function. What informs the solidarity with this group, at a time, especially, that it is threatened by internal dissension?
Ohanaeze and the South-South Peoples Assembly have been working together to promote understanding between the Southeast and South-South. When I heard of the international press conference by Ohanaeze, and I was invited as a guest of honour, I gladly accepted, and took part in the deliberations that followed. Ohanaeze has been doing its best as the apex body of Ndigbo, and I think whatever their problems may be, it would be a wonderful thing if the leadership of Ohanaeze and all those who believe in the good and welfare of the Igboman do all that is possible to lessen misunderstanding. The Igbo are easily one of the most gifted people, and not just in the country; they are the most dynamic in all of their endeavours, and they should not be seen to be wanting in finding accommodation for a compromise of their differences. It should be the opposite given that they have very knowledgeable, highly educated and dynamic people. Why should they be found wanting in finding a compromise to their differences? That is my challenge to Ohanaeze.
What is the main problem with the South-east, in your view?
In the game of politics, you only engage in exclusion when you fail to fight for your rights. Politics is not a charity, my good friend; if you fight for what is your right, and you cannot protect it, it will be taken from you. That is politics. I have argued against this notion of marginalization; I believe that a group is marginalized, but only because it is not active enough. Our marginalized groups are not organised enough; if we were, and spoke with one voice, we would not be ignored. Whoever is against us will have to take notice of us. But if we are not organised, we are a house divided against itself; with constant infighting…why then should the rest of the country bother about us? If the South-south wants to produce the president, it must keep its house in order, work together, and win friends. The same thing is true of our South-east brothers. They want the president, it is not a church matter; they should go into the field, and talk to the people. Of course, God will listen to anybody that prays to Him. But in politics, you fight.
What is your expectation of the South-South/Middle-Belt accord?
In politics, what can one hope for? We hope it works out -- that is the best thing. We are all talking, believing that the other man’s intention is as noble as our own.
Are your opinions a result of your experience, at the youthful age of 23, when you rose to national prominence on a platform that is now regarded as Igbo?
Very possibly...I was not promoted politically, because I was from a group considered to
be in the minority; however, the majority accepted and recognised my personal qualities, and used me for the promotion
of not only minority groups, but the development of the former
At the time, the “marginalization” was not yet a part of our political lexicon…
It was not promoted, and we were not conscious of it. I grew up with Yoruba and Hausa friends,
and we were not conscious of belonging to any particular ethnic or minority group. Later, however, this idea became
promoted; unfortunately, by the Action Group of Nigeria (AG). This party developed the consciousness of exclusivity
with the promotion of ethnic lineage in their political philosophy, and it caught up with the rest of
What if, in the end, the South-south leaders
are unable to achieve their objective to produce
Nothing. We need a good government; that’s the important thing. I was asked the question: can the South-south account for the 13% derivation it has been receiving? My reply was: fine; if the country wishes to appoint an ombudsman for the people of Niger Delta, the same ombudsman should be appointed to look into the 87% the rest of the country is taking. The government is so keen to know what has been done with the 13% quota; but what has been done with the other 87%? Why is that question not being asked? I would love to have a large company of auditors appraise the 13% as well as the 87%, and produce a report for the nation. Then, we shall see who has managed what amount better. I am not defending the South-south governors; but I am saying that there should be accountability not just for the 13%, but also for the 87%.
Simple. What did George Washington,
Abraham Lincoln do? These were men of vision. They were
You pointed to the effect of crude oil production
The advent of crude oil changed most people’s work ethics, and this has become
the bane of
So, how can the virtues of hard work and honesty return to our society?
Examples are better than precepts. We have to go back to the dependable and important source, and that is leadership. We need an effective and morally conscious leadership as well as effective law enforcement. If I am caught cheating, if I am caught committing a crime, forget my lineage, forget my connections, I should be punished according to the law. In other words, let there be equity in the meting out of the law, punishments and rights. Equality law does not discriminate, it protects. As long as we have that, there will be nothing wrong with the country; look at the quality of people we have. We know all this, so why do we not practice it?
Energy crisis in the country is perennial...
Nature has endowed us with a great deal; few nations in the world are richer than
But why can’t the regime fix something as basic as electricity, despite the huge sums of money released by President Obasanjo to NEPA or PHCN as it is known now? There is even talk of a further increase of tariffs, but no particular improvement. Where do we go from here?
You have asked a very, very important question in this interview. Only some days ago, by accident,
I was watching a South African programme on Channel 53, and whom did I see on this programme being interviewed
for one hour? Our own Honourable Minister of Finance Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. One of the questions discussed was
the problem of
Government is talking about privatisation of NEPA. Is that a solution?
(Chuckles) Are we assured of light supply 24 hours a day, if we privatise? In our time, we thought that public ownership of the commanding heights of the economy -- like the petroleum, petroleum chemical, power sectors -- that no one individual had the kind of money needed to efficiently provide this service to the public. If government had made a success of these public institutions, then planned to divest from some and place them in private ownership, it would have been welcomed by all and sundry. But I think that we are trying to shift the burden here – we tend to say, government has failed; let us pass the buck on to privatization. And I dare say that privatisation is a wonderful concept, because control then moves to the citizenry. However, in our situation who really benefits -- the ordinary citizen or, as always, the privileged few?
A number of important questions need to be asked. These privileged few - how did they get
their money, and at what price are they receiving our public investments? For instance, why must we privatise a
successful company like the nitrogenous fertiliser plant when it is the only that we have? We say this is a country
that is blessed with agricultural resources, and we need to support it with subsidies. And our nitrogenous fertiliser
is one of the best in the world. For our population,
A major dimension of President Obasanjo’s reforms is revamping the agricultural sector…
He has always believed in it. He is himself a farmer. One of the greatest legacies he can leave behind is the development of agriculture, food production; cassava for instance. Nigerians should look into this, and plan because the future cannot depend on gas and petroleum.
Various governments in the past introduced policies to ensure adequate food supply to no avail; rather our national food imports continue to mount. How can this be turned around?
Look, we have food everywhere. What government needs to do is provide transportation infrastructure.
In my own part of the world, which is
Do you think the recently concluded consolidation exercise in Nigerian banks will be good for business?
I think so, because all along the question has been that our banks are not sufficiently buoyant to help the development of our industry. But now, they have sufficient capital to give for long-term investment.
Let us turn to ethnic rivalry, which has become
such an ingrained part of our social structure that the call for a unified
We are all born into ethnic groups; even when one is born in the urban centre there is still the ethnic community with which one is inevitably linked. But the Nigerian reality is that we are either from very large or, perhaps, smaller ethnic groupings. Is the time ripe for Nigerians to express themselves less in terms of their ethnicity? I think that is a concept every progressive Nigerian would like to see develop. The question is how the various groups may work together to promote a welfare state. It is only in the promotion of the welfare state that we can begin to think less of our ethnic connections.
But what do you make of the theory that manipulation of ethnic sentiments is a tool in the hands of the elite?
The ethnic groups were around long before the notion of elitism came about; I do not think that our ethnic groups are any result of manipulation by anyone. And what I am saying is that the idea of a great nation arises out of a combination of factors, none of which are enabled by an insistence on a diversity of small groups.
Just like ethnic rivalry was used as a tool by certain elements, religion has been employed as a platform for protecting and projecting a given interest…
(interrupts) I do not really think that positing ethnic interests has been, at any time, a platform of relevance.
What I know is that one prominent political leader used it effectively, and others have copied his actions; however,
I do not see its relevance in building a great nation. If we continue in that way,
The issue of sharia continues to be a controversial one. Has the Obasanjo regime addressed the matter adequately?
We create problems for ourselves. The constitution is very clear on this.
would like to sway the conversation in the direction of “godfatherism.” Less than the constitutionally stipulated
two-thirds of assembly members removed Governor Ladoja of
Let us be very clear here…. We have a written constitution. It is only the rule of law that can make democracy work. If the governor or any elected officer has acted in breach of the law, let the due process follow. Whether the issue of this particular governor was followed according to the law is what the people doubt. Justice must not only be done, but must be seen to have been done.
Still on the
We have a written constitution. There should be no problem about that. Proper judicial interpretation of the constitution should be allowed. It doesn’t require a lawyer to answer that.
Let us examine the educational system, which we all are in agreement is in shambles. The public schools were the training ground for most Nigerians; however, with the decline of standards in public schools, the elite and rich are now turning to the more expensive private schools. How can public schools be revived?
This situation was caused by us, it was not imposed on us; we have a way of inflicting unnecessary
pain on ourselves. In the past, our educational system was one of the best in the world. Look at the early schools
You have discussed the declining standards of education in
It is really unfortunate, because one of the greatest things that
You earlier mentioned Finance Minister Okonjo-Iweala; certainly, a highly accomplished woman. Women appear to be the mainstay of the Obasanjo regime…
I think that these eminent ladies, namely, Professor Dora Akunyili, Dr Iweala, Mrs Oby Ezekwesili and others have done the Nigerian woman proud. They can hold their own and can do what any man can do, if not better. (Claps.) It’s a big plus for the women. President Obasanjo must be commended for finding such high calibre of women to come to the service of the nation.
Let us take you down memory lane: You preached alongside Dr Nnamdi
Azikiwe for the unity of
Zik, as a leader, believed in a united,
And Obafemi Awolowo?
I think of Awolowo as a very prominent Nigerian who believed in his people (the Yoruba nation)
And, of course, Ahmadu Bello?
Ahmadu Bello was proud to be descended from the great Uthman dan Fodio. He was from a family of empire builders, and he saw the north as part of that empire. He proudly represented the north; it was one, under one empire, and under his leadership.
Can you recall any memorable encounters with these leaders?
Oh, yes! I had a great deal of contact with them as a young minister. There was one particular
occasion when I had Zik, Awolowo and Shehu Shagari all under my roof. All the main political parties at the time were being hosted
by me in my house in Ikoyi, and Awolowo said: "This house should be converted to a national shrine, a relic of antiquity for the history of
At the time, we were looking for solutions to various crises. The AG and the NCNC were in
talks; we became amalgamated with Aminu Kano under a progressive grand alliance, then tried to fuse with the AG
as well. The NPC under the Sarduana had split up; Awolowo had also split with his deputy, Chief Adegoke Akintola.
The question now arose concerning the platform on which we should represent the grand alliance of
What, in your view, is the difference between present day politicians and those of the first generation?
There is a world of difference. The old politicians were focused in their desire for Nigerian
independence. And they were imbued with the love for the nation, they wanted a great
In what ways do you feel you made an impact on the present generation?
Well...I am a politician of early recognition- as a young man of 23, I was a cabinet minister,
BNW Advocates' Island
BNW Advocates' Island
In your time, young people were able to achieve high positions in government. This is not the case, today; why, in your opinion, do you think this is so?
I have always said that it is not by exceptional qualification that some of us were recognised and given the opportunity to serve our beloved nation. Firstly, at the time, we were not that many with political ambition and qualification. Today, however, a great many youngsters possess exceptional qualifications, and the competition, I would say, is definitely much harder than it was. We came as pioneers. We came as young followers of Zik, some as followers of Awo, some as followers of the Sardauna; that was the age when leadership was, without doubt, prominent, and very powerful. The followers were zealots. And in the process of our discipleship, some of us were recognised and used by the leaders. That is what I would say -- there was nothing extraordinary that we possessed.
On a personal note, where is Dr M.T. Mbu going with the Nigerian project?
All I am doing is continuing, as long as God permits me, to be around to speak, and do what I believe is right, as I did when my good friend, Professor Chinua Achebe, came to me as chairman of the public service of the then Eastern Region of Nigeria for advice following the civil war… and I said to him: “Chinua, you are not a civil servant; I suggest you change your career from civil service to that of a university don. I have read your Things Fall Apart. What a fine piece of work it is, so go and teach our young men and women how to write such a fine prose.” And that is how our Chinua Achebe became a university professor…and so you see, I played a part in the magic that became his career. With humility, he has continued to redefine and attain boundless levels of excellence in the academic world… He makes us all very proud!
Finally, do you still envision hope for
The disparate nations that make up
Thank you, Chief Mbu for sitting down for this conversation.
You are welcome
Disclaimer: The views expressed in the interview are not necessarily those of the Chinua Achebe Foundation. The Chinua Achebe Foundation, an intellectual and cultural organization, believes in the right of every Nigerian to express their opinion.
Founder and Chairman, Board of Directors of the Chinua Achebe Foundation
Chinua Achebe Foundation Interview Series: Chief M.T. MBU in Conversation with Maxim Uzoatu and Paul Odili