Gen John Nanzip Shagaya is a former Minister of Internal Affairs and a former Senator representing Plateau South constituency in the Senate from May 2007 to May 2011. In this interview with CHINELO OBOGO, he speaks on the ceding of Bakassi to Cameorun, the Jos crisis, state creation and other national issues.
One of the pains of our democracy today, apart from the institutionalized corruption is the loss of a part of Nigeria, the Bakassi Peninsula to Cameroon. Would this have happened under a military dispensation?
I am happy that you raised this very sensitive issue. The first thing I want to say is that it is criminal and wrong for any nation to consign its citizens or any group of citizens that would want to belong to a nation away without giving them a right to choose. Under the United Nations protocol, there is provision for self determination and in that provision, it says that anybody that is living under the sun has the right to determine how he should be governed.
So, I support that Nigeria should not stay on the way of the Bakassi people if they want to take their petition further to the United Nations under self determination and under fundamental human rights. It is morally wrong for the Nigerian government to stop them. You cannot beat a child and tell the child not to cry. There are two rights that every human being has that you cannot take away. One is given by God and that is right to life, shelter and to where you were born because no one can determine that. For me it is very sad in the sense that as a member of the national boundary commission under the IBB administration and as a man who has researched on the Bakassi Peninsula from 1551 to the various changing perspectives in 1913, 1926, 1956 to where we find ourselves today. That little portion of land described as Bakassi Peninsula which was known under the Spaniards discovery was named after the first person who founded the place, we should not have given it out. History shows that it was under the administration of Obong of Calabar all these years. One would have suggested to the Nigerian authorities if I had a way to do so, even if I had done so on the floor of the Senate before is to have allowed for what happened between the 1950’s and 1959 when northern and southern Cameroun were given the option to decide if they will belong to Nigeria or go back to the greater Cameroun. A certain period was given and after the expiration of that period a plebiscite was conducted and what became the Sadauna province which was Northern Cameroun is today what constitutes a large portion of Adamawa State. Southern Cameroun, in its wisdom decided to be part of the greater Cameroun because of the way the political administration in Eastern Nigeria was treating them, so they preferred to remain on the other side. Instead of signing the people of Bakassi Peninsula away, Nigeria would have allowed a period for a plebiscite to be conducted for the people to decide where they want to go.
Unfortunately, in September 1967, I lived in Bakassi Peninsula for 21 days. I was assigned there by Gen Adekunle, the GOC of 3Division to watch over that entry into Calabar to protect it from the landing of the naval ships into Calabar on the 18th of October 1967. They were Nigerians. We lived with them and they taught us a lot of things. They were proud to be Nigerians and they should not have been consigned away. One thing that we should do in leadership is to admit the mistake that we made and it is not too late for the Nigerian authority to tell the people of Bakassi that they have the right to petition the United Nations. We should not gag them because it is very wrong.
Do you think that Obasanjo acted judiciously in signing that agreement?
If Obasanjo who was the President at the time had consulted history, he would not have taken the decision he took. Under IBB, we almost got close to allowing for a plebiscite, then Gen Ike Nwachuwku was the Foreign Minister and I was the Internal Minister. At that time, we had problems with all our neighbors. An Army Brigade in Ilorin had occupied the territory in Benin Republic. Something happened which made the Nigerian Army occupy some parts of Benin Republic, the same way we occupied Kosomboso. Babangida took advantage of the crisis and set up a presidential committee with the agreement of the President of Niger Republic who was also a military man. That committee was given the mandate to explore the possibility of determining between the near mistakes that would have been committed by the colonial masters in 1834 when they carved it during the Berlin conference. We were given the mandate to recommend the acceptable boundaries between communities. The two Heads of States met and our recommendations were adopted, the boundaries were set and the beacons were re-fixed. Chad and Niger never had a land boundary, it was water. But what Nigeria and Chad Republic quickly agreed on was that any portion that was occupied by Nigerian fishermen will belong to Nigeria. We resolved the issue and the two Heads of States signed the agreement.
There have been conflicting reports about the cause of the crisis in Plateau State. You are from that state, what would you say is the root cause of the problem?
Contrary to the coloration the crisis in Jos has taken, religion has nothing to do with it. First of all, the governor of Plateau is a Christian and 15 out of the 17 local governments are dominated by Christians. The two which are dominated by Muslims are Kanam and Watse. Of all the commissioners that we have had in the state in the last 40 years, only one or two were Muslims, so how does religion come in? Nobody is fighting religion. I see it as a struggle for the control of resource like land on the higher plateau which has tin prospecting areas.
Many of the religious leaders who have been part of the committees of inquiry into the Plateau State crisis have come to the conclusion that there is nothing religious about the crisis in Jos. This is because out of the local governments in Jos, only one or two are crisis prone and those ones that are crisis ridden have the Berom people as inhabitants.
So, if it is truly religious, the state would have been torn apart especially when you find that the boiling point is around Berom communities where the governor comes from and the Fulani. So it is left to the governor to find out the root cause of the matter.
Here, I am referring to Gindiri which until 1960 was the only seat of knowledge in the whole of Northern Nigeria.
After the Second World War, the first educational institution to train pastors and teachers was established there. That is why you find many southerners on the Plateau. In the same way, if you talk about our Muslim brothers, they came in through very close interaction between Plateau, Bauchi states which were formerly the same province. Until 1924, some parts of Southern Plateau were not in Plateau but were under Muri Empire under Adamawa and were being administered from Jalingo. Until after the adjustments of 1924, some parts of the Plateau which is called Lola where Langtang belongs, became part of Plateau and if all after all these years there was no conflict, why is it now that conflict has risen? That is to show that there is nothing religious about it.
Most of the retired military officers you talked about are detribalized people because as at the time many of us joined the Nigerian Armed Forces, we did not know anything about religious apathy. Nigeria was our constitution. If you commanded a force, you will have people from different religions under your command and it is your duty to father everybody, so none of us saw religion as anything. But to hide under the cover of religion because someone else has his own ethnic agenda is what many of us disagree with. The fact that the crises have not engulfed the whole of the states where we have a large concentration of Muslims is for us to deduce that this has absolutely nothing to do with religion.
What was the highpoint of your senatorial career?
The bill I initiated was the highpoint of my four-stint. It was on global warming and climate change. I say so now looking back at what is happening in the country, the change in climatic conditions, the flood and rains that have cost lots of lives, not forgetting the swelling of the seas and creeks in many communities necessitating in the loss of land and property, especially housing. I say this because in 2008 when I was proposing the bill, I did predict that in the next 10 years, especially if one had to go through the scientific revolution that had taken place overtime, especially in the last 70 years, if we took our participation lightly in being part of the committee of the world that discusses climate change, for us to mitigate some of the immediate changing patterns of the climate confronting us, we will be worse for it. The bill has since been passed but the President has not signed it into law. If he had signed it, we would have been able to mitigate the challenges if we truly are able to follow some of the trends. I am of the conviction that the advanced countries are never caught in the web because they take predictions seriously. Because of that they take measures to reduce the pain and the destruction. So I consider that as my highpoint and my contribution to the National Assembly. It so happens that what I predicted is happening in my lifetime.
Some people have called for the scrapping of the senate for what they describe as unnecessary drainpipe of national resources owing to the high cost of maintaining the upper legislative chamber. As former senator, are you in agreement with this position?
For Nigerians who are calling for the scrapping of the senate, I will like to advise that they may need to first of all, revisit the 1979 Constitution to find out whether or not we should go back to what we inherited from the British colonialists or go along with the American presidential model of executive presidency. The executive presidential system suited America because of the bitter war of independence to free themselves from the British overlords.
Some people have blamed the emergence of Boko Haram on poverty. If it is poverty, when did it start and why should it implode now?
I refuse to believe that Boko Haram and other similar security issues are because of poverty and I have given you instances of such occurrence in the past. For instance the risen for the Rivers crisis under Borro was known. It was because they were tired of domination by the Igbos and they needed their independence. Gowon realized that and as soon as the civil war broke out, he gave them their own state.
The next phase of that problem was the attack on oil installations and our means of livelihood was being destroyed so when Gowon had gone, the military administration quickly created OMPADEC a special outfit with special funding that was created to address that economic bastardization.