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From Femi Folaranmi, Yenagoa
Nobel Laureate, Prof Wole Soyinka yesterday said the unity of Nigeria as a nation is an issue that must be discussed in order to address lingering complaints of marginalisation. His view runs counter to the one expressed by Acting President Yemi Osinbajo, who said the country’s unity is not negotiable.
“The claim that the unity of Nigeria is non-negotiable is a false statement”, Soyinka said, adding that “the right of the people to determine their future is what is non-negotiable.”
The Nobel laureate who made the comments in Bayelsa when he joined the state governor, Seriake Dickson in an interactive session with students of the newly commissioned Ijaw National Academy, Kaiama, Kolouma/Opokuma local government area of the state stated that Nigeria’s political leaders that bear enormous responsibility have been indulging in what he described as a falsity that Nigeria’s unity is not negotiable. The Ijaw National Academy, which has been running for four months, accommodates up to 1,000 students at the junior and senior secondary levels.
After a brief exchange with the students about his exploits as a renowned writer, Soyinka challenged those who maintain that Nigeria must remain as currently constituted, while her unity remains non-negotiable. “Don’t tell me that Nigeria, as it is, is non-negotiable. To me, that’s a fallacy”, he added.
Soyinka’s position is coming at a time when some politicians and top government officials have asserted that Nigeria’s structure is not defective and as such, does not require restructuring.
Two weeks ago, Acting President Yemi Osinbajo repeated the administration’s position on Nigeria as an entity. “Our unity is not negotiable. We should make sure that we remain united in order to enjoy the resources God has blessed Nigeria with. So many nations envy what we have as a nation,” Mr. Osinbajo said while receiving Muslim leaders in the State House June 25.
But Soyinka further disagreed with Mr. Osinbajo and other proponents of the status quo, stressing that “negotiation involves ensuring that there’s no marginalisation. Negotiation involves ensuring that the major components of the country are not feeding on the centre.”
The professor said he believes in the unity of Nigeria, but warned those against restructuring to stop being ‘dogmatic and dictatorial’ in expressing their position.
“We must stop confusing the argument, mixing up the argument. When people especially former leaders especially those who bear enormous responsibility speak on the question of breaking up or not breaking up, it always sounds hypocritical and dogmatic and dictatorial and that statement is that the unity of Nigeria is non-negotiable. No! That for me is a falsity. Anything is negotiable. The right of people to determine their future is what is not negotiable. Most nations came into being through negotiations.
“Sometimes when people say negotiate what they really mean is restructure. What the argument should be, what the question should be is should Nigeria break up? My answer to that is no. But that Nigeria as it stands is non-negotiable, to me it is a fallacy, a nation got to be negotiated. Negotiation includes ensuring that there is no marginalization, negotiation has to do with control of resources, negotiation has to do with the restructuring in a way the components, the constituents are feeding an over bloated centre to their detriment. So Nigeria is negotiable. The language we should use is; what are you willing to sacrifice, what efforts are you willing to make to ensure that Nigeria remains intact. That is the citizen question.”
WHY NDIGBO EMBRACED BIAFRA STRUGGLE –CHRIS ASOLUKA
Dr Chris Asoluka is a former Vice President of Ohanaeze Ndigbo and also a former member of the House of Representatives.
Recently, WILLY EYA engaged him on various national issues including the recession, echoes of disintegration, restructuring among others.
There is tension in the land with echoes of disintegration threatening the nation. In the South East, there are agitations for the state of Biafra; in the North, the Arewa youths have given the Igbo a quit notice with a counter narrative also coming from the South South, the South West and even the Middle Belt. What are your reflections on all of these?
Was the recession sudden? Could it be the cause of the tension and echoes of disintegration? I would not say that the recession was so sudden but Nigerians should also remark that two things happened at the same time and Nigerians should not lose sight of it. We never had an incumbent administration, against the run of play, voted out of power in which case, a new party came into power with their new agenda and approaches including strategy for containment. And when they came, of course they needed time to observe, study and take stock and within that moment, we lost time. You could not see all the kind of responses that could have been immediate if there were no issues of recession; you could see that the response to policies could be faster and you could see that there could have been continuity such that even if you have the recession, it could have been a little bit contained. But when you have a different administration with their different manifest and approach, there could be a little bit of chaos and the effect on Nigerians could be more exaggerated. What am I talking about? Assuming that it was the same government that continued, of course, they could have played more with their foreign reserve and even running loans in order to shore up the Naira. But the new administration would want to take a total stock and ask some critical questions. Why should we endlessly do this? Why should we not think out of the box? And as you are doing this, you are losing time and momentum. You see that when once you lose one liver in the economy, the other ones go haywire and immediately we lost the battle in the foreign exchange and Naira soared from 182 up to 500, of course, there was panic and the prices of things hit the roof and the effect on Nigerians became more than they could contain. The productivity also in terms of industries collapsed as they could not have access to foreign exchange and subsequently raw materials. This was because their model was more externally influenced rather than an indigenous approach to rely on the local raw materials and when you could not get foreign exchange for your raw materials, of course you start laying off workers. The effect became too large and the effect also on the GDP, the decline became too rapid and was almost becoming a free fall. And what is the technical definition for recession-negative growth for two quarters. The situation continued to slide until the new administration now proposed their own strategy in addressing some of these issues. A new government was entitled to formulate its own response and given this interplay, delay is one poison. But you would not say that the recession was sudden. When the oil prices started dropping from $140 down to amost lest than $40, and you know that this is a mono economy, the import started drying up. So, by the time, this government proposed its own policies, things began gradually to change. That is why you see that the Central Bank of Nigeria is beginning to have a better control in the management of our foreign exchange. But whether the recession created tension, of course, it did. The basic rule is survival and when you have a survival issue, tension could mount.
The Biafra agitation has become a major issue in Nigeria; Why the sudden upsurge and what are your views on the feeling of discontentment among the people?
You know about the Rostow Conflict escalation theory of one thing leading to another! The Latin Americans went to war because the wives of two presidents disagreed and it affected the attitudes of the principals. In terms of the quit notice, IPOB perhaps took advantage of the growing sentiments of dispossession in the East, the growing unemployment among the youths. Remember certain discriminatory practices like a child scores 260/400 in JAMB, he is still looking for admission while the guy with 130 is given admission. You see that the audience for any speculation of conspiracy is already there but the management of it could be a different thing.
So when Nnamdi Kanu reflected about his views on the goings on in Nigeria, the youths and those who were not gainfully employed and those who thought that they have one grudge or another against certain institutions of the system easily bought into the conspiracy theory. And how to manage and resolve that, there was a waiting philosophy. The Biafra concept has become a Libertarian philosophy; a philosophy of justice, an Eldorado of sorts, a kind of utopia, whether it would appeal or not is not tested. But it now appears as a state when people think things are not going well, you compare it to what Biafra ought to have been. And may be when you read some literatures on the Ahiara declaration, you see that the mission statement and vision of Ojukwu created a kind of utopia but we know that utopias are within the realm of ideas and not that of practicality. But it becomes an easier commodity to sell and because things are not going well, it offers a very handy alternative, real or imagined. For instance, most of the agitators were not even there during the Biafra war to see what Biafra was like. But Biafra as an idea is very interesting and encapsulating. It is an idea of equality, self rule and take your future in your hands so that if there was a conspiracy, you remember what Jefferson said that the price of liberty is internal vigilance. So if people are against you, that you must be vigilant and protect yourself and the approximation of this projection for young people in the East became Biafra. You could see that even in the South East, the divide was sharp. The older people, elite and the experienced group did not support that but the younger people like any quick fix saw it as an alternative. They believe that instead of staying in this servitude, so to speak, Biafra is the way forward. So, you must understand the philosophy of the Biafra concept. It is not a real world but a kind of utopia that offers a mental escape as well as a solution to the younger people that if this nation is not working, that the other one called Biafra where everything could have been well ordered, organised and productive would work. For the Arewa youths, they frown at the vociferous nature of the younger narrative in the East and they make the mistake of saying the South East but luckily, it is being corrected. The South East was a little bit premeditated. If you are talking about the Igbo, you have the Igbo in Delta, Rivers, so why did you single out the Igbo in the South East. In their narrative, they said the people who killed Sauduana but it is not true; the leader of that group, Nzeogwu as well meaning as he was, was from Okpanam and Ifeajuna was from Ubuluku all in Delta State. And also, the most interesting and authoritative book on the 1966 coup was by Adewale Ademoyega, “Why we struck.” In the book, it was clearly stated the fault lines in the Nigerian Army. That man provided a clear and analytical framework towards understanding the coup in Nigeria. If I would repeat his position and abide into that, at independence, Nigeria had four classes of military officers and the four had different orientations and philosophies. The first group were the well groomed Sandhurst officers. They worked through the disciplined training and rigour with the philosophy that the military must be subordinated to the civil authority. So, they do not dabble into politics. They believed that politics would be determined by politicians and whatever is the policy, they execute as soldiers. The second group were those trained at Monks. These were short, crash programme military officers who under one year with school certificate became officers whereas the other ones with school certificates and more, used two to three years to become thoroughbred officers. But for the Monks officers, at a time in Nigeria, six months abroad and you come back and you are commissioned. Those clearly stated were the beneficiaries of politicians who put them there realising that the military would play a critical role in Nigeria. And to this class, they were beholding to the political authorities. They were divided according to their political benefactors. The same Adewale pointed out that the four groups of officers we had, those who rose through the ranks with time and Nigerianisation programme, they were fast-tracked into the officers cadre and were disciplined and committed towards obeying the civil leaders and politicians. But a little bit extreme, they were not officers, so their mindset was more typically straight-jacketed. So anything about challenging those in authority was anathema because they were colonial soldiers. And you have the third group of officers and Ademoyega told us again that after the Coup of Colonel Nasir in Egypt n 1952 and the wonders in Turkey, the educated ones now realised that in the developing world, the military had a developmental role to play. So, with their University degrees, they enlisted into the army. And for some of them, they were determined from day one that their role in the military was to use that institution to rapidly develop the country. Can you see why Ademoyega made some sense? So, rather than using our military coups for ethnic and religious point of view, he was ready to demonstrate the philosophical and ideological foundations of the different classes of military officers in Nigeria. There was a story there that I found quite interesting that these young men who were Igbo, like himself were Dos and left the respect and the prestige of that office under colonial regime where even the whites were Dos to become soldiers. It was quite instructive but they knew what they wanted.
What particularly do you have to say about the quit notice by the Arewa youths to the Igbo in the North?
They see the IPOB challenge as a deliberate scheme where the elders pushed the younger ones to agitate while supporting them. The evidence, they tell you is that on May 30, the IPOB decreed that there would be no activity in the South East and that people should stay at home and lo and behold, people stayed at home. They say that if IPOB did not have that kind of control and support, that the sit-at- home could not have been successful. You see, it is perception. In 2004, the same thing happened when MASSOB ordered the markets to be shut and that people should not move about. The few who disagreed with them, their shops were looted. So in the latest one, to a large extent, being afraid of losing their properties, the traders stayed away. The few who challenged MASSOB got the wrong end and MASSOB started looming large. But to some of us, this idea of challenging the state is not right but you can bring your agitation insisting on justice, equity and all that. However, my story on MASSOB is for another day. So, the Arewa boys took the success of May 30 as symbolic and exaggerated the symbolism. They forgot that first the disenchantment has set in and two, the traders did not want to risk their goods by challenging any such order because in my place, there is a saying that a man who trades in clay pots is never a wealthy man because with one stone, you can ruin his business. So, no trader would like to open his shop and recall that 29th was the Democracy day, a holiday and you know the average Nigerian can be laid back. That provided a good excuse. But do not underrate the fact that some people stayed home out of respect or obedience to IPOB. So, the Arewa boys now said enough of the agitation, you can go. You can see that they were taking the law into their hands. If I say I want to go, does that now give you enough right to say I am pushing you out. You know the Conflict escalation theory where one little thing leads to the other but I thank God that the elders are beginning to talk. It has become clear to the entire nation that when Kanu now said there would not be election in the zone, they said no. We can say that things are not being done properly but you do not now assume the leadership of the Igbo people.
On the issue of restructuring, it appears there is a growing consensus that the time is ripe now to do something about the structure of the nation. Some are saying that the process can even start with the implementation of the 2014 National Confab organised by former President Goodluck Jonathan. What is your own position?
Change is the only permanent thing in life. When something is not giving you the result you want, you are bound to change. Albert Einstein that everybody quotes says that one form of madness is doing the same thing the same way and you expect a different result. Nigeria as it has been operating under this 36 states structure because of the little recession, salaries of workers, pensioners are owed and before you get the authority to repair Oshodi/Apapa road, you look for the federal Minister of works. And before you solve your energy issue, you look for your Minister of power. If a crime is committed in Rivers State, before you investigate it, you look for the Inspector General of Police in Abuja. These layers do not provide efficiency especially in a plural society like Nigeria. Over- centralisation leads to delay, inefficiency and expensive running of government. So, if you think Nigeria would move the way it is currently structured, it would not. You have created silos to attract federation accounts allocation and when you get the money, you spend it and the people whose lives should change, rather than their lives changing, their lives are worse. So, whether you like it or not, there is a time for retrospection. You ask yourself, am I getting the results I intended. Like the Americans would say during any election, the opposition would put one question before the people, are you better off now than before. The situation in Nigeria is such that some people who were there during the colonial rule would tell you they were better off then which makes former governor of Imo State, late Sam Mbakwe to once say that the colonial masters should come back for another 50 years. That was his own restructuring. My worry is that the rhetoric of restructuring is bad; it is divisive. People have drawn deep lines but we are saying the same thing, whether Nigerians would continue living this lie.
But there are those who insist that the problem is with the power elite in the North East and North West. The argument is that they do not want the status quo to change because they are the beneficiaries of the present structure of the country. Do you agree?
No, it is not true. That is stereotyping. Yes, the beneficiaries from the North East would not want things to change. Of course, recall what Niccolo Machiaveli, The Prince said; he said that those who propose change go through hell because those who are privileged and are taking advantage of the status quo would fight them to a standstill. Meanwhile, those who would benefit from the change may not even know that they would be the beneficiaries of the change. So, when you talk about the North East and West, to me, the problem is in the rhetorics of change and restructuring. For me, if you say restructuring, it is a label that is associated with certain people and ethnic groups. Yes, restructuring could mean that what the Biafrans lost in 1970, they want to reopen the argument from the back door. So, restructuring to some peope could call be a neo-Biafran agitation. Some would say, Oduduwa, after developing Lagos State, they now want to run away. But to some, restructuring lifts everybody up to rise to his or her potential. So, the rhetorics of restructuring should be changed in order to gain a consensus. I know some brilliant governors in the North who if they are given a freer hand, they could fly. I know some in the South that even if you give them all the free hands, they would not fly. To such people, no matter the kind of restructuring you do to give them a free hand, it now means life more abundant for them. They would now become the sovereign. And let us face it, if Nigeria gets it right, the progress of one group should not be associated to that group. I can tell you some people who find favour in certain areas, they have also lived all their lives, do all their contributions in those areas and only go home from time to time during festivals.
With your analysis of the Nigerian question with regards to the need to manage the rhetoric of restructuring, what are your greatest fears for country?
Go and read the sermon by Rev Matthew Kukah two weeks ago. He has always been a brilliant fellow but he spoke my mind. How did we leave the doors so open that people who are incompetent to take decisions are now deciding for us? Have we become so myopic that even the elite have forgotten that it is in their enlightened self interest to resolve this matter?
If the colonial masters could come to Nigeria amid all odds and settled in Nigeria, after a while they were asked to go when they thought that it was to expand their trading interest. Of course to tell you that they were not happy, it is neither here nor there. Stop thinking that people owe you a free lunch! They took action that could guarantee their post-exit interest. Britain does not owe you a living.
RESTRUCTURING WILL SAVE NIGERIA FROM DISINTEGRATION –BODE GEORGE
Nigerians have been enjoined to work towards making the country a great nation as envisioned by the country’s founding fathers. Making the appeal in this interview with TUNDE THOMAS in Lagos, former Deputy National Chairman, Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Chief Olabode George stressed the need for Nigerians to jettison all forms of divisive tendencies capable of polarizing the nation along ethnic lines.
He also spoke on other national issues including his reported planned defection to APC, clamour for restructuring, President Muhammadu Buhari’s health, assessment of Governor Akinwumi Ambode’s administration in Lagos State among a host of others.
What is your reaction to the recent reports that you are set to drop PDP for APC just like some others in the opposition party?
Never. I say never. It will never happen. What would I be looking for in APC? I remain a PDP member and not just a member but also a very committed one.
This report of my planned defection from PDP to APC credited to Lagos State Chairman of APC, Chief Henry Ajomale is not true. I have not met Ajomale and I’ve not had any discussion with him.
It is a mere wishful thinking, it is a pipe dream by Ajomale and those in his group if they think that I will for even a moment think of joining APC. I will never leave PDP, I don’t believe in jumping from one political party to another. I’m a principled politician – what does Obanikoro’s defection to APC have to do with me? Obanikoro is an adult who is capable of taking his own independent decisions, and by leaving PDP for APC, we in PDP are not missing Obanikoro. His leaving PDP for APC to us is even a good riddance to bad rubbish. Anybody including Ajomale who believes or thinks that I will leave PDP for APC is living in a dreamland. What will I be looking for in APC?
But one of the reasons given by Chief Ajomale for your decision to join APC was your recent public commendation of the Governor Akinwumi Ambode’s administration, with Ajomale saying that since 1999 up till date you have never for one day showered encomium on any of the former governors of Lagos State, and APC administration?
Is it a crime to commend when you see something good that is being done? That’s the mistake politicians in this clime often make, they believe that when you are in opposition you must not see anything good in what your political opponent is doing.
But for me, I believe in constructive politics and that was why I openly praised Gov. Akinwumi Ambode. Until the recent celebrations of Lagos at 50, I have not met Governor Akinwumi Ambode in person, but only came into contact with good work his administration is doing especially in the area of infrastructural development, and when you see something progressive-minded, you have no choice but to commend.
How did I come about commending Ambode? There was a time I was on my way to Ondo State and I passed through Epe but what I saw amazed me, a good road network has been put in place. The infrastructural development in Lagos State since Ambode took over has been very impressive. I believe in constructive politics, and this is why I openly praised Ambode that so far he has done well more than his two predecessors, Bola Tinubu and Raji Fashola.
But it would be very funny if my open commendation of Ambode is now being mistaken for my love for APC, or that it is a signal that I’m on my way to APC. Never. I will never join APC. However, I have no regret or apology for admiring Ambode and his good work.
Why does it seem difficult for you to join APC or work with APC leaders like Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, Ajomale and others because what they are saying is that being an eminent Lagosian, you should join hands with them to transform Lagos State into the Dubai of Africa?
Work with APC leaders? Work with Tinubu? This is not possible. You only work with people who share the same ideas with you. You work with people of like- mind. Tinubu’s concept of politics is different from my own. I don’t believe in godfatherism or godfather kind of politics which Tinubu epitomize. I believe in collective and inclusive politics and not a one-man show kind of politics. Why should I join APC? I can never have anything to do with a party that has put Lagos State in a bondage since 1999. Lagos State has been under APC bondage, but the party has remained that long in power in Lagos State through electoral manipulations. But as the saying goes, everyday is for the thief, and one day is for the owner, I strongly believe that APC days in control of power in Lagos State are numbered. It is not that Lagosians love APC as they would like us to believe, but APC has remained in power in Lagos State through manipulations and electoral shenanigans.
How well prepared is PDP for the forthcoming local government election scheduled for July 22nd in the state?
PDP is well prepared, and just like the party shocked APC during the 2015 general elections when PDP won several seats into the House of Representatives and Lagos State House of Assembly, APC should prepare for another shocker. If the elections are free and fair, devoid of electoral malpractices, PDP will certainly prove its mettle.
You recently expressed concerns about the state of the nation especially on the quit notice given to the Igbo living in the North by a coalition of Arewa youths, and also on the agitations for a separate state of Biafra by IPOB led by Nnamdi Kanu …
Cuts in … Yes I have to speak out because I’m a patriot who loves this nation. What good will those things being canvassed by Arewa youths and IPOB serve Nigeria? Nothing but chaos, anarchy and disunity, and this should not be so.
We have come a long way in Nigeria. We are marking 103 years of existence as a nation that’s since the amalgamation took place in 1914. If we are not careful and immediate steps are not taken to douse tension, nobody can predict the outcome or what all these will result into. But we need to learn from history. There is no single nation in the history of the world that survived two civil wars. This is why we must be sober and reflect.
The clamour for secession or creation of a separate or independent state of Biafra will not do the nation any good. Staying together as one nation will do us more good. Division or separation will make Nigeria weak. We should learn like the United States of America to turn our ethnic diversity and population to our own advantage. America is using its huge population to make progress and development, and that’s the way it should be with Nigeria.
I’m not saying that the present federalism we are practicing is not flawed, but I also believe that there is no problem or challenge facing us that is not unresolvable. We must however embrace dialogue in resolving our differences. We must not resort to war or violence. We must learn to accommodate one another. We are all Nigerians, why then must we give or issue quit notice to each other? This is wrong.
The reality we must all be ready to accept is that there is no perfect union in the world. A nation is always a work in perpetual rebuilding and reformation. A nation is never a finished product.
As a union, we comprise diverse ethnic nationalities, people with unique culture, languages, values and varied historical beginnings. But we can’t campaign for the dismantlement of our nation or its dismemberment because we are not happy with certain aspects of our national union.
It’s about time we shed and remove the tendency to always put on our ethnic toga. Our primary loyalty should first be to Nigeria. We should strive to promote the Nigerian in us instead of our inclination to recourse to provincial tribalism. I enjoin other ethnic groups to emulate us in Lagos State.
To emulate Lagos State in what way?
In Lagos State, we don’t discriminate. Lagos State is home to all Nigerians. There is no ethnic group or nationality that is not represented in Lagos, and yet we won’t discriminate against anybody. Lagos State provides opportunities for everybody to excel. In Lagos State House of Assembly, you have people from other ethnic nationalities as members, so also you have people from other ethnic nationalities representing Lagos State in the House of Representatives. We don’t discriminate, this is the kind of spirit to be displayed by everybody. We should also see ourselves as one, as Nigerians who can reside in any part of the country without humiliation and harassment, and this is why Lagos State is making progress, this is why Lagos State has become the commercial nerve centre of Nigeria. The over 26 billion naira monthly internally generated revenue being collected in Lagos State is a collective contribution of everyone who calls Lagos home. The time has come for us to always see ourselves first as Nigerians before you now talk of where you come from.
Amid all these, what will be your own suggestion as the way forward, is it by restructuring or what?
Restructuring is okay. There is nothing wrong with restructuring. Our collective focus should now be how we can remodel and restructure our nation for the collective benefit of all.
Restructuring of my own dream is the one that will bring development and foster unity in the country. Some people talk of restructuring to mean a break up of the country, to mean let everyone go his on way, to me that is not restructuring. I believe in restructuring that ensures true and genuine practice of federalism. I believe in restructuring that will make the centre attractive, and the states more stronger. I believe in restructuring that will accelerate the development of states which in turn will also fast track national development.
Nigeria is a country blessed by God, and there is no part of the country that has not been endowed with natural resources that can be commercially exploited for the benefits of the people. We can be greater than the way we are now, but we need to show more love towards one another and also believe in the project called Nigeria. We must show love to one another and jettison destructive ethnic divisions. We must strive to ensure that the dream of this nation’s founding fathers of making Nigeria a great nation is realized.
The Senate recently demanded for the 2014 national confab report with a view to looking into it and take out areas they feel will help move Nigeria forward, how do you view this development?
I see it as a welcome development. I don’t see anything wrong in taking those recommendations from 2014 confab report, which will help move Nigeria forward. I commend the Senate for doing that. That conference addressed a lot of issues which have been subjects of controversy. But the confab not only addressed such thorny issues, but was able to provide amicable solutions which I strongly believe will help to douse tension in the country if implemented.
On the issue of President Muhammadu Buhari’s challenge, and the calls by some people that he should throw in the towel if he could no longer cope, where do you stand?
We should continue to pray for the President’s recovery. We should pray that God should grant him good health to do the work. The President deserves our prayers. There should be no controversy about that. Why should people talk about Buhari resigning?
The President is a human being and anybody can fall ill anytime. As patriots, we should pray for the President that God should grant him good health. Even the Bible says we should pray for those in authority for their well being because in doing that you are not only praying for the individual involved but also for the well being of your nation.
How Buhari can save Nigeria from break-up – Prof Anya
As the clamour for restructuring and implementation of the 2014 Confab report gains more ground and support from eminent leaders across the country, erudite scholar and prominent Igbo leader, Professor Anya O. Anya, has come out with the things President Muhammadu Buhari needs to do to tame the wave of agitations and save the country from possible break-up. Speaking with VINCENT KALU, in Lagos, Anya who is the Pro-Chancellor and Chairman of the Governing Council, Michael Okpara University of Agriculture, Umudike, Abia State, also spoke on other major national issues.
Nigeria seems to be on edge, with crises and agitations from various quarters. How did we get here?
Nigeria ought to be on edge, because there have been cumulative injustices, cumulative unrighteousness, and we are now in the time of judgment. But the good thing is that this year is going to mark the change from our ignoble past to a brighter and better future. We have to pay the price for it. Take the Nnamdi Kanu phenomenon that is fully and completely created by the Federal Government for example. He has been running his Radio Biafra, and nobody paid attention to it, and he has been coming and going and nobody paid attention to him.
Then suddenly, this time he came, you pounced on him. Not only that, you get to the point where not only one time, not two and three times, court said, release him, but you didn’t do so. That served two purposes. One, people took notice of him, because you have been unjust to him, and the human mind reacts to injustice, which is why we tend to sympathize with the underdog than the big man.
Second, Nnamdi Kanu is only a symptom of a larger malaise. Let me give you example of the so-called Northern youths’ quit notice. According to them, the reason for the quit notice order was that the whole of Southeast was obeying Nnamdi Kanu. Again, I say, the government created the situation that made it mandatory for people to sit at home.
These boys have been going on non-violent protests all over the places. It happens in the history of any nation, there comes a time when the youths are not satisfied and they show dissatisfaction in peaceful protests. But each time these people went out for peaceful protest, the military would be there to welcome them with bullets. It happened in Aba, Onitsha. Some say it also happened in Asaba and Port Harcourt, and the people were buried and that was the end of it.
I was in the village in the Southeast and I was to travel back to Lagos on that day, but I decided to travel the next day for just one simple reason.
I asked myself, traveling from Abia State to Onitsha, to Asaba, am I likely to find groups of youths protesting because it’s what they called Biafra Day? The answer was, it’s most likely. If that is so, it meant immediately that the military or the police would be nearby and if they start shooting, it would be a collateral damage and I didn’t want to take that chance. I’m sure greater majority of people in the towns and villages of Southeast stayed home in order not to run into government’s problem in the attempt to rein in the youths.
Instead of blaming the aggressor, you now blame the victim; the victim being we, the ordinary people, going about our businesses.
When you have a situation like that, something is bound to give.
There is a fundamental and spiritual dimension to this. This is 2017, it is exactly 50 years from 1967, which was a year that one crisis led to another and we ended up in war that lasted for three years. To the Christians and those spiritually minded, they will recognise 50 years, as what we call the Jubilee year. It is a year deep things are bound to happen in the spiritual realm and they will manifest in the physical realm.
When I said earlier in an interview that this year was pregnant, that was sometime in March, then everywhere was peaceful, but now look round the country, the things that people said must not be done are the things people are saying must be done – call it restructuring, call it fiscal federalism, call it true federalism, the important thing is that people are saying that the structure of Nigeria, as it is cannot carry its burdens, and so it has to be changed.
Between now and October, some momentous situation will take place, whether we like it or not, it will force down the hand of everybody to now get back and say this country has to be fixed, what do we do.
You may say because I’m part of it, but the truth of the matter is that you cannot ignore the report of the 2014 National Conference and think you have peace in Nigeria.
The reason is simple: It was the first time that the selection of Nigerians cut across all ethnicities, all religious groups, all professional groups, etc, they sat together to look at the problems of Nigeria.
It was the first time also that no government said don’t go here, don’t go this way or that way. Nobody interfered. All the problems that the conference chose were the problems that everybody contributed in the conference as they see them.
At the end, there were over 600 decisions. These 600 decisions enjoyed the kind of majority that no group has experienced in Nigeria. When we started, in a constitution matters, usually, it is two-third, but some people insisted that it must be 75 per cent (three-quarter); ultimately we used 70 per cent as a compromise. When that happened there were people who jubilated because they thought that they were likely to have their way in frustrating the outcome of the conference, but it didn’t happen.
Some people faulted the composition of the conference, saying it was not representative
There was this Committee on National Dialogue that toured the entire country. Nobody teleguided us and nobody made any suggestion to us.
It was headed by Senator Femi Okoronmu. If you know Okoronmu and you think you can go and impose anything on him, go and try. He can be cantankerous when you dare try to bend him. So, no government will like to dictate to a committee like that. However, there was a group in the country that didn’t want the conference to hold.
At the National Dialogue, we went to all parts of the country, and the information we got was clear on what people wanted.
If you remember, then Governor Adams Oshiomole, we met him in his office in Benin, and he gave us his views and we went to the Town Hall, having finished with us we thought that he wasn’t going to come, but he came, and when he wanted to say those things he said in private, he was booed by his own people, which meant that the ordinary people knew what they wanted and the type of country they wanted, and that was what the committee recommended to the government.
When it came to the composition, Jonathan said he didn’t want to have a hand in selecting who came into it and we should do it. Not in terms of persons, but in the criteria that we would use.
All the ethnic formations, Arewa, Ohanaeze Afenifere, etc selected or elected their own; all the professional associations – Nigerian Academy of Science, Nigeria Bar Association etc, the civil society organizations, all the governors including APC governments selected their delegates. I can go on. There was no major stakeholder group in Nigeria that was not represented, including traditional rulers. When you have a group like that, how can you say it was not representative? All the major stakeholders chose who they wanted to represent them.
That certainly is more legitimate than your sham elections, where politicians distribute money and do what they wanted and you say you have elections. So, let anybody tell who was excluded and should have been there that was not there.
It’s an argument people make. Unfortunately, ignorance, you will be surprised, is present even at the highest quarters in Nigeria. We have to change the story; we have to change the way we think.
Those who are reorganizing and saying that we don’t want it were in the conference. What they say is wrong, why didn’t they bring it there? I can name them, but it is not necessary. On every issue they raised, they lost. What they did not know was that even in the North there are people who wanted these changes that some of us want.
In Bauchi, there was one person who got up and said, let the country be divided and let everybody go his way. From the same Bauchi, somebody got up and said, ‘ you people have been saying that the North has been in charge and he said that his life is worse now despite the fact that the North has been in charge for 42 years out of 52 years. That line of thought is there in the North, but people pretend that those problems don’t exist, they exist, but they have come to a head. There is no way to dodge and there is no way to hide any longer.
How does the confab report get implemented when President Buhari, who is at the helms of affairs appears not dispose to it?
He happens to be the president, so I should not use the kind of proper word to be used when a man expresses that kind of view. The first principle, which is why God gave us a brain, is to think through situations. You cannot think through what you have not seen. So, that is where you start from, and then you can then underline the things that you don’t agree with, and make the basis of discussion.
When you just say, ‘I will not’. Are you God, did you create yourself?
In many ways there are things I respect Buhari for, because I have sat side by side talking with him, and like I said in an earlier interview, his passion for Nigeria is not in doubt, but it doesn’t mean that he knows everything. Indeed, if you line up those who have ruled Nigeria, he may not come up the first half in terms of the knowledgeable ones that have ruled Nigeria and that is reality. We have seen him before and we are seeing him for a second time.
My prayer is that God will spare him and let him survive his present travail and get well and return to Nigeria and see the new Nigeria that will emerge, while he is still alive.
You are talking of 2014 Confab, some are talking of restructuring, others are also talking of true federalism and fiscal federalism, where do all these dovetail? Also, there seems to be no clear -cut definition of what restructuring is. The last time I interviewed Alhaji Tanko Yakasai, he said as much?
Tanko Yakasai is a man I respect, he is one those who have been consistent from NEPU days, but he is also an elderly man and you do not expect him to remember everything. Saying they don’t understand restructuring and what it means is subterfuge of the ignorant.
Restructuring means that when there is structure and you want to make changes to it, whatever the changes are, they are restructuring. Even those who say they don’t know what it is, when they make suggestions as to what they think should be done, they are already contributing to the debate on restructuring.
When you take the decisions of the confab you will find that the decisions fall into three groups.
There are decisions that have political implications, and there are suggestions to amendments and changes in the constitution; there are others that you can take care of by enacting laws; and there are also others that you can take care of by change in policy. They fall into these three groups.
Take the ones that have constitutional implications. The secretariat of the confab did a fantastic work by taking thos e decisions that have constitutional implications and lined them up serially, and they then took the 1999 Constitution and lined up those areas against what the conference decided and they invited the legal draughtsmen of the Ministry of Justice, and asked them to reconcile the two and they did.
The document that emerges from that exists really, and it reflects what Nigerians said they wanted from the National Dialogue/Town Hall meetings throughout Nigeria. They equally reflect what Nigerians wanted from all the people you gathered from all parts of Nigeria across ethnicities, political parties.
By the way, it was only APC that didn’t send the two delegates that each political party was supposed to, but all the state governments sent.
APC cannot claim that it wasn’t there, because majority of the APC decision makers were there.
When you take all that, you know that the people were not serious, because if they were, they would go back to the beginning and ask, of all these things we have agreed, where did I differ. I don’t argue with lazy people, because if you are not lazy you go and find out what the other person said.
Will the confab report not conflict with the current popular clamour for a return to regionalism?
There are even people who are saying that we should go back to the Republican Constitution of 1963, because that was an improvement on the Independence Constitution that the British gave us. From 1960 to 2017, have there been changes in Nigeria? Therefore, anything you are putting forward on how to govern Nigeria, which means a new constitution, must reflect some of the experiences we have gained in the last 57 years. So, to that extent, how can you now say, return to that era? You can’t return, because there have been changes and you must reflect the experiences we have had living together. These problems that are coming from east, west, south and north, we now have enough experiences to reflect them on how we can live together. We have been living together and we have gained experiences and we should reflect them. So, it cannot be a return to the old way, it must be a return to what has worked in the past and has been tested over the years and in addition, those things we have learnt out of our experience of living together.
In your opinion, what should be the federating units of the Nigerian federation- the 36 states or the ethnic nationalities as some have canvassed?
Nigeria is not a federation. I don’t like people who asked questions without providing possible answers. If you look at the report of the confab, if you also look at what people are saying in the newspapers, it is clear that the states are too weak to be federating units. When you have 36 states and only four or at most six can pay their bills without help, then something is wrong. In a federation, powers flow from the bottom up and not from top down, as we have now. At the local level people give you ideas on how they want to be governed and then you go the state level, then to the regional level and finally to the national level.
The military made it so and Nigerians have been avoiding the regional groupings. Nigeria being a multi -cultural society, a multi religious society etc, and when you look at Nigeria, some were kingdoms before the British came; some were republics, some were just free range or freelance people before they were brought together. The people must agree on what suits them. When they agree on that, you then reflect it in your constitution.
You cannot ignore the regions. Actually the regions exist now, the only thing is that, Nigerians like to live in denial, we are pretending that they don’t exist. What are geo-political zones? They are the regions of Nigeria. People don’t want it be given the powers and authority they ought to have as a regional grouping. That is where the problem is. But whether they like it or not, it will happen.
At the National Conference, that issue came up, but we handled it by saying that the various states should either merge, regroup themselves or divide themselves, but whatever they do, they should have certain things in common and work together along those lines. Why don’t we stop pretending and give them responsibilities? They are closer to the states than the Federal Government is, and they are more likely to take into account the realities at the local level, which the Federal Government is not likely to know and should not bother itself about. All these problems have actually been looked at. If you want, you call another conference to look at those specific issues, but don’t pretend there is nothing.
Is the National Assembly likely to support restructuring, given fear that members nurse that it may likely affect them?
Naturally that is the way human beings are. That which affects me first, and every other thing can wait, because they are benefiting from it, even if the country they pretend to be representing is dying slowly. Nigeria is dying slowly and unless you face these problems and give new live to it, it may die. Out of their selfish interest, they say, no, we are the ones elected. Who elected you? The people who elected you are the ones saying this is the way we want things to be done.
If you are doubtful, take the draft document of the National Conference for a referendum by the people who elected you. When that happens, we will then know what the people want. The truth of the matter is, where we are now, and because Nigerian politicians have proved to be so shortsighted, to be so self- centred and to be so selfish, nothing really that is in the long interest of Nigeria should be entrusted to them, because they have tunnel vision.
Did the 2014 conference address the question of Sovereign National Conference that many had clamoured for?
Sovereign National Conference is where all the stakeholders of Nigeria meet and they say, this is what we want; this is the relationship we want to maintain. That has happened already. If there are other people who have strong feelings on other areas, let them bring them forth and we can look at those areas. The people who hold that view don’t understand what Sovereign National Conference means. Sovereignty lies with the people and not with the government.
Whenever you have a group of people representative of all the formations you have in the country meeting, sovereignty lies there, and therefore, it is already a Sovereign National Conference. There is no prescription to what a Sovereign National Conference will be, just as there is no prescription to what a federation should be. The important thing is that once you respect the principle that power flows from bottom up and you now put in checks and balances at each level, and you make sure that they do not interfere with the other levels, that is a federation.
But each nation organises its own federation to suit its own history and circumstances. Example, United States is a federation, but the rules that apply there are not the same with Switzerland, which is also a federation. It is not the same rule that applies in Canada, a next door neighbour of the US, which is also a federation. That’s what works for a nation, so long as it recognizes the principle of federalism that power starts from bottom up and not the other way round because bottom is where the people are and they have the sovereignty.
Once you recognise that, you then tweek those other areas to fit the circumstances of your history and circumstances of your cohabitation. Nigerians were living together before the British came. According to the renowned historian, late Prof Adiele Afigbo, the Igbo had relationships with all other ethnic groups and we were all living peacefully, each one respecting the other and it was peaceful until the British came and put us in one straitjacket.
For almost 57 years of independence, when we were supposed to have emerged as a nation state, we are still grappling with how to move forward, and like Bishop Kukah said, Nigeria has not been as divided as it is today, even during the civil war. Why?
It is not quite true that we are grappling with problems. We understand the problems, except that there is too much hypocrisy in Nigerian politics. There is too much pretending in Nigerian politics, because there has not been justice, and where there is no justice, truth can never thrive. Because we have come to a head and like I said earlier, the beginning of the change that will make Nigeria the pride of the world is starting now, because we have come to the point where all sorts of subterfuge, pretensions have ended, and whether people like it or not, there are problems we must now face, including problems that we have been talking about in the last 57 years, which we have never faced.
The basic principle of federalism – resource control. What people are frightened is the word, ‘control’. I call it resource management. Wherever I am God has put me there, whatever that is there, God has given me the right to look after it.
So you can’t from anywhere come and interfere with it, but because you and me have to coexist, there are things you have that I want and there are things that I have that you want. We sit down and agree on how I can give you a bit of mine and you can give me a bit of yours. That is what federalism is about.
You can’t come and pretend that this land is no longer mine. You can no longer pretend, as the Federal Government has been pretending, that everything under your land belongs to her. When God created the people, was there Federal Government? People must be fair. God has told us to be our brothers’ keepers; the challenge now is, how do we make sure that you and me can share this thing, so that fairness and justice is done to all sides?
What happens if the government doesn’t buy into this restructuring?
It loses legitimacy. If you are in government you should listen to the people who put you there. Right now, whether in the North, East, West and South, people who had never expressed opinion on this subject are expressing the opinion and are in support. Even traditional rulers are in support now. If you are a government of the people you cannot ignore what the people are saying now.
What should Igbo do, especially those living in the north, against the backdrop of the quit notice by Northern youths, bearing history in mind?
Igbo should not live in fear. 2017 is not 1967. Things have changed. The people who are threatening have no capacity to do the things they said they wanted to do. The reason is simple: Whether we like it or not, there have been fundamental changes in the way things are run in the country. The question is where are all these problems coming? They have always been there, but they were better managed than this government is managing it.
When Buhari came along and said his responsibility was to look after the 95 per cent of people who voted for him and not the five percent that voted against him, he was undermining the basis of his own authority as the President of Nigeria, because when you are president, you swear to do good to all manner of people- those who voted for you and those who voted against you; those who abused you and those who praised you, they are all your citizens. When he said that, people recalled the long line of injustices.
At end of the civil war, Gowon pronounced the 3Rs- Rehabilitation, Reconstruction and Reconciliation, and none of that happened. You have a problem; the unfortunate problem in the Northeast and the National Assembly quickly passed a bill for rebuilding the Northeast. The East suffered war and nothing has happened.
Do you expect, not just Igbo, but the rest of Nigerians not to have taken note? And in taking note, they realized that this government is not being just, and justice is the foundation of any government that God approves.
You notice that in this period unlike in the past, non-Igbo have jumped to defend Igbo more than ever in our history, why is it so? Because Nigerians are responding to the demand of justice and fairness.
Igbo should go about their businesses, look for nobody’s trouble, but also anybody who comes your way, offends you forgive him, because ultimately non violence in this situation will win over the violence promoters.
The Kanu phenomenon we mentioned is an example. If the government has not adopted violent means to suppress it, he wouldn’t be where he is. Somebody that nobody really knew or cared about has suddenly become a superstar, and it’s a creation of this government. Igbo have nothing to fear and they are capable of defending themselves, because God is there to defend them.
What Igbo went through… I was in the war, I played active role, and at the end of it, I was one of the last to be given what they called security clearance. At the end of the day, the people who have clean hands, God will always protect. God will not only protect the Igbo, but will teach them how to build goodwill with our neigbhours.
In doing this, we start the dialogue of how we will live together in peace with everybody. Another thing I want to say in relation to what the Igbo should do is that all the prophecies about Nigeria… I’m a scientist, but there are areas of life beyond science and that is where prophecy comes, because it belongs to God.
All the prophecies that have come say that Nigeria has a special role that God has assigned it for the end time event that will bring God’s own kind of government.
Before that, God is going to give Nigeria, what He calls David, a man after His heart who will govern this place in righteousness and justice. Igbo have a major role in that new Nigeria that is coming.
From Senate comes a relief for gunshot victims
At the end of 2008, there was a tragic story in the newspapers about a young 8-year old boy that died from a single gunshot wound that could have been treated.
The story was about a bank robbery that happened in Lagos, which culminated in the death of eight civilians. However, the death of the eighth casualty, the young boy, who was hit by a stray bullet, could have been easily avoided. This is because when the child was rushed to a nearby hospital by passersby, the staff of the hospital refused to treat him without a police report. Needless to say, in the time that it took for the police report to be requested for, written out, and transported back to the hospital, the 8-year old boy bled to death.
Issues like the aforementioned story are rampant. We hear about them everyday; read about them in the news; and watch news reports about victims that could have been saved.
However, based on current legal practices, many lives have been lost. This is why, this week, the Senate fast-tracked the passage of the Compulsory Treatment and Care of Victims of Gunshots Bill. The Bill, which was sent to the Senate for concurrence by House of Representatives, seeks to ensure that all victims of gunshot wounds receive necessary treatment from medical workers and assistance from security agencies.
The Senate President, Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki, was right when he stated after the passage of the Bill, that with the Compulsory Treatment and Care of Victims of Gunshots Bill, the Senate has moved to ensure that everyone is entitled to medical treatment irrespective of the cause of the shooting. This is because so many lives have been lost in the absence of this law.
As things stand, innocent victims who have been shot by robbers, must first be rushed to a police station to secure a police report, before they are rushed to the hospital for treatment. This situation, creates victims of people who would otherwise be survival. This is because having a system in place that forces both the good and the bad people who have been shot to first request police reports before going to the hospital, makes the innocent people among them victims of circumstance (i.e. robberies, or stray bullets); victims of the hospitals, who refuse to treat gunshot victims without police reports; victims of the police, who oftentimes do not process these requests in a speedy manner; and victims of Nigeria’s current laws that make police reports mandatory for both law-abiding citizens and criminals alike.
By the passage of the Gunshot Victims Act, the Senate has moved Nigeria one step forward to saving tens of thousands of lives each year. This law has addressed several inadequacies — like ensuring that society has a burden placed on it to ensure that there will be no unnecessary loss of lives.
Moving forward, based on certain provisions of the new law, every person, including security agents must render every possible assistance to any person with gunshot wounds. This assistance includes ensuring that the person that has been shot is taken to the nearest hospital for treatment.
Additionally, the Bill preserves the fundamental rights of gunshot victims by mandating that no person with a bullet wound shall be subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment and that no person with a gunshot wound shall be refused immediate and adequate treatment by any hospital in Nigeria whether or not an initial deposit has been paid or not.
Finally, the Bill takes the approach of several nations, that have a ‘treat first, ask questions later’ mindset. This is because it specifies that it shall be the duty of any hospital that receives any person with a gunshot wound to report the situation to the nearest police station. This amendment puts the horse back in front of the cart, because saving lives must always come before due process.
Moving forward, Nigerians must commend the National Assembly for the passage of this Bill, and urge that it is signed into law by the Acting President. On top of this, the Presidency and the Executive arm must properly orient officers and men of security agencies to comply with the dictates of this law. Doing this, will show the world that we have society that values the lives of our citizens, more than we value the ‘perception of adherence’ to the rule of law.
I rest my case.
Onemola is a Legislative Aide to the Senate President
Why northern leaders oppose confab report –Waku
Few days after the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) stated its opposition to calls by individuals and groups for the implementation of the 2014 National Conference Report, one of its member, Senator Joseph Waku, offered clarification about the reservation expressed by the forum.
Calls for a revisit of the confab report has gained crescendo in the agitation for restructuring of the country, but the northern lobbying group, in its communiquéZ issued at the end of its National Executive Council (NEC) meeting in Kaduna on Monday, July 10, 2017, referred to such calls as morally preposterous and anti-democratic.
The statement signed by ACF National Publicity Secretary, Muhammad Ibrahim Biu, claimed North’s opposition to the implementation of the recommendations of the confab report stemmed majorly from its perception that the region was disadvantaged in terms of the number of its delegates that participated at the conference relative to its large population. The group also cited contentious issues, such as the abolishment of local government councils and the creation of 18 additional states, which it observed, were not properly resolved.
Waku who spoke to Saturday Sun via telephone interview clarified further: “We are not against the confab report. The Arewa Consultative Forum is not against the implementation of the confab report. Our position is that certain recommendations are useful, and should be put through the due process by going through legislation.”
Groups who seek implementation of certain parts of the report, Waku explained, should push their agenda through a proper legislative process. “They have representatives, let them make that as a private bill,” he said.
Call for wholesale implementation of the report is out of place, according to Waku who reinforced ACF’s position on the legality of the confab. “In the first place, it was an illegal assembly, it has no constitutional backing,” he said.