Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu, a business mogul and philanthropist, recently clocked 79. In this interview with BODE OLAGOKE, he speaks on why he retired from partisan politics, why hope is not lost in the Nigerian project and why restructuring is the way out.
It’s your birthday sir, down memory lane, would you want to relate some of the reasons you want to give God the glory?
The help of God in my life saw me through school. Even when I was not privileged to come from a wealthy background, I was able to get several federal government and international scholarships which enabled me to graduate as a bright civil engineer without having difficulties in paying my school fees.I was equally kept alive through fervent prayers while at the forefront of the war fighting during the Nigeria civil war that lasted for about three years. I commanded many battles during the civil war; I headed the Biafra Combat Engineering Intelligence, worked with other bright engineers from Biafra to develop the dreaded Ogbunigwe missile and other military ammunition.
Upon graduation from the University of Nigeria Nsukka, I ventured into engineering which is my area of primary calling, blazing the trail with my inventions in that field of endeavour which include production of flexible pavement made of asphaltic concrete based on Asho Standard.This was approved by the Federal Ministry of Works and thereafter was conventionally used. Before that time, most flexible pavements were constructed with Macadam based on BS Standard.
I introduced a new bridge design that eliminated pile foundations and handrails. An example of this is the Ozaraegbelu Bridge in Owerri-Umuahia road. Before the present design and construction which was done by me, the Ozaraegbelu Bridge was a scene of many fatal accidents where many lives were lost.
In the field of Hydraulic Engineering, I designed an Ocean Berge with a composite section of empty oil drums which was able to carry a pile driver used for constructing pile foundation in the deep sea. This Berge was able to stand the static load and the dynamic load of the pile driver amongst many other inventions credited to me.
With time, I diversified into many other businesses-publishing, shipping, aviation, insurance, agriculture, banking, furniture production, bakery, plastic production and medical equipment industry, properties/real estate, etc, rising to become one of the richest Nigerians at a time; just at the peak of my business career, before venturing into the murky waters of politics where I flew the flag of Ndigbo for several years as three times front-line presidential aspirant.
As a philanthropist, I have opened my hands to thousands of people seeking succour, ensuring that many millionaires were made from my entrepreneurial mentoring and financial support. In sports and hospitality, God has used me as a vessel of honour. For years, the Iwuanyanwu Foundation and the Iwuanyanwu National Ambulance Foundation have been in existence with over ten billion naira spent so far in charity in the areas of provision of scholarships to over ten thousand Nigerians, the building of schools, hospitals, churches, roads, huge donation towards the building of Imo Airport at Owerri, etc. I also founded the Iwuanyanwu Nationale Football club which won several National and International leagues.
I have been given over one thousand National and International awards and indeed today I am one of the very few Nigerians honoured three times by Nigeria with the honours as; Member of the Federal Republic (MFR), Officer of the Federal Republic (OFR) and Commander of the Federal Republic (CFR) I am also the Grand Chancellor of State of Imo (GCSI) which places me in the hall of fame of Imo State. Today at 79 years, I am an elder statesman and wish to remain so in all truism of the word and currently the Chairman of Ohanaeze Ndigbo Council of Elders.
What is the way forward for Nigeria?
Restructuring the country to ensure devolution of powers to the federating units is panacea to political stability in Nigeria. We need to have strong federating units and a weak centre so that everybody will leave Abuja and go back to their regions/states and develop the place and people will now pursue opportunities in their respective states and not in Abuja. The Local governments will now be made very functional to bring opportunities and development closer to the people. The agitation against injustice, marginalisation, tribalism, etc will stop because every region is developing at their own pace with proceeds from their soil, based on how they have been able to maximise and manage the proceeds from their respective regions. The centre now gets a portion of the proceeds from every region to manage external affairs like immigration/foreign affair, defence/military, etc.
It is our view that the Presidency should now be rotational and zoning of the presidency should now be enshrined in the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Implementation of federal character in all other political positions at the national level and in all appointments and employments would then further give every Nigerian a sense of belonging in the Nigerian project.
What do you make of the current educational system?
During our days in the university, we had very quality education with very experienced teachers who were practically oriented and we had a very conducive learning environment. It saddens my heart to see the deplorable state of our educational system today.
The curriculum was designed by the colonial masters to meet the needs of their time which were needs for clerical officers, secretaries, accountants, etc, but today the needs in our society have changed, however, the curriculum remained the same. Creating a functional educational system that can match courses read in the tertiary institutions with the existing needs in the society as against the current curriculum that trains students for white-collar jobs that are gradually becoming unavailable is the way forward for Nigeria’s educational system.
Ensuring that students right from the cradle are equipped with practical skill acquisition in line with their respective courses of studies that meet the needs of society should be the focus of our current educational system.
What is your personal assessment of nation’s healthcare delivery system?
The sorry state of our healthcare system is becoming very worrisome. Even our ruling class today is not confident using the healthcare services in the country; rather they embark on numerous exorbitant medical trips abroad at the expense of taxpayers. Nigerians of all classes deserve quality healthcare delivery and that is what moved me to float the Iwuanyanwu National Ambulance Foundation in 1981.
What do you think can be done about the parlous state of Nigeria’s economy?
There is a need for us to commence building an economy beyond crude oil by restructuring. States will be able to rise to the challenges of generating revenue from the abundant natural and human resources God has deposited in various states in Nigeria and not waiting for monthly handouts from the proceeds of crude oil from Abuja.
A state like Zamfara state where a diamond was recently discovered would be able to explore the natural potentials deposited in their soil without hindrances from the federal government thereby emerging as one of the very rich states in Nigeria. The massive waste and excessive borrowing in government is also becoming very alarming.
The debt profile of this country has risen to a shocking level that I always wonder if any future government will be able to pull Nigeria out of this predicament. The government of the day must now cut down on excessive borrowing and rather cut down the cost of governance.
For instance, politics and legislative duties must be seen as a part-time jobs for people who are already successful in their chosen field of endeavours who now desire to make a selfless impact in the larger society and not as a means of livelihood.
The Senate for instance can be a part-time job, while the Federal House of Reps Members can operate full time. With this, we can cut down the cost of governance to some extent while Ministries, Departments and Agencies of Government should equally cut down on their overheads.
Aren’t you worried about the sheer number of unemployed youths currently roaming the streets?
The youth generation of any nation remains the strength of that nation. Harnessing the many untapped potentials of Nigerian youths through providing them with the opportunity/enabling environment to make their marks in their chosen field of endeavour will see Nigeria rising in the comity of nations with so many technological inventions and discoveries that these same youths exhibit only when they find themselves outside the shores of this country.
A transparent system needs to be put in place to immediately identify and support exceptionally bright/gifted youths. Their inventions/innovations should be properly funded to any level.
This will see Nigeria becoming a destination for innovation and technological development with a resultant effect of massive job creation. This is how great economies like China emerged. They took advantage of their rising youth population and converted it to national productivity.
How can government curtail the spate of insecurity in the country?
Insecurity in Nigeria can only be curtailed when the security architecture of the country is restructured to create room for state police. The concept of state policing will ensure that laws are enacted given the security formations created by the various state governments’ powers to use sophisticated ammunition to be able to combat sophisticated crimes of today.
A governor cannot be the chief security officer of his state but remain helpless at the face of external aggression/ invasion of his state by bandits only to wait for instructions from Abuja before security forces can swing into action to secure his people just like what is happening in most states today.
That subtly seems to imply that the governors are not in actual sense the Chief Security Officers of their respective states and it equally means they are helpless in carrying out their primary responsibility as a government which they are under oath to do.
As a foremost business mogul, how do you think Nigeria can be better industrialised?
Industrialisation can only take place when Nigeria fixes the perennial power problem. Power is key to the industrirestructurin al revolution of the country. Today, our industries are shutting down because of a lack of political will from the ruling class to fix the power situation. I also don’t believe in the principle that government should withdraw completely from industrialization.
The economy is very weak to risk that. However, the government should not run industries. There should be a robust partnership between the government and the private sector. During the Michael Okpara-led administration of the Old Eastern Region, many industries were established by the government in partnership with foreign investors.
Government can actually invest in industries and over time, its shares can be sold out to private investors to enable government recoup its investment and through this process, the government has been able to bring about industrial development without losing any money.
We advised Chief Sam Mbakwe and he took to the advice and established the poultry farms, aluminium industries, resin and paint industries, etc. I believe that if the government takes a bold step to establish at least one major industry in every local government in the federation, there will be an industrial revolution.
How can we tap from the agricultural potential that abound in Nigeria?
Nigeria is blessed with so much agricultural potentials. As a matter of fact, every state in Nigeria has several crops/agricultural produce adaptable to its soil that can be maximally harnessed for food sufficiency and for export by both government and the private sector.
I must give credit to the federal government of Nigeria for its giant strides in the area of rice production through the CBN/NIRSAL Anchor Borrowers Programme and these strides can be extended to other cash crops like cocoa, rubber, palm oil, etc to ensure Nigeria top the chat globally in the area of agriculture.
The agricultural potentials of Nigeria if fully harnessed will see Nigeria looking away from crude oil to agriculture which actually should be the mainstay of our economy.
How best do you think government can tackle corruption?
Corruption is a hydra-headed dragon that must be dealt with for this country to make meaningful progress. In all facets of our national life today, there is high-level corruption despite all the rhetoric about fighting corruption.
Aside from enforcing severe punishment/ long jail terms for corrupt public servants, there is a need for a renewed national awareness. There is nothing also as destructive as ethnicity and tribalism, if Nigeria must remain one, there is need to remove all such prejudices from our national consciousness and this must also start from the cradle.
Let us enthrone meritocracy rather than mediocrity. Let us enthrone a country where any Nigerian from any part of the country does not need to know anybody to attain whatever heights he or she desires, a country that provides equal opportunities to all its citizens, a country founded on the bedrock of peace, love, justice, fairness and equity, that is the Nigeria of our dreams and I hope to see it in my lifetime. I hope to see my people of the South-East given a sense of belonging and not pushed out of the country.