Oluseye Ojo, Ibadan
Former Minister of Petroleum and Energy, Prof Tam David-West, has said the Aburi Accord of 1967, which preceded the 30-month civil war in Nigeria, was not for confederacy of the nation, but for dismemberment of the country.
In this interview, he takes a swipe at the former President of Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Chief Olisa Agbakoba (SAN), for advocating revisitation of Aburi Accord to save Nigeria, saying that the constitutional and human rights lawyer goofed on the submission, and that “asking President Muhammadu Buhari to revisit Aburi Accord to save Nigeria is, therefore, manifestly nonsensical.”
David-West also speaks on calls for establishment of state police, situations that led to establishment of Joint Admission and Matriculation Board (JAMB), as well as Agbakoba’s suggestion that Nigeria should be further divided from six regions to eight blocs. Excerpts.
Former President of Nigerian Bar Association(NBA), Chief Olisa Agbakoba (SAN), in an interview published by Sunday Sun last week, urged President Muhammadu Buhari to revisit the Aburi Accord for Nigeria to progress. What is Aburi Conference all about?
Aburi Accord was not for confederacy of Nigeria. Ojukwu (former Military Governor of the Eastern Region, Chief Chukwuemeka Odimegwu Ojukwu) and Gowon (a former Military Head of State, Gen Yakubu Gowon), had divergent, parallel and fundamentally distinct programmes. Ojukwu wanted to legitimise Biafra. Gowon wanted to legitimise the extant one Nigeria indivisibility. In fact, acronym was coined for ‘GOWON’, which was ‘Go On With One Nigeria.’ So, asking President Buhari to revisit Aburi Accord to save Nigeria is, therefore, manifestly nonsensical. Since Buhari is solidly committed to ‘one indivisible Nigeria.’ He was in fact one of the heroes who put their lives at risk to fight the Ojukwu’s Biafra Civil War, whose slogan was to ‘Keep Nigeria One’ is a task that must be done. Furthermore, Ojukwu himself later on abandoned his pipe dream of Biafra. He agreed to run as President Shagari’s vice-president. Yes indeed, vice-president of Nigeria. So, Agbakoba’s suggestion that Aburi Accord will ‘Save Nigeria’ is completely wrong, not feasible, historical shallow. He (Agbakoba) cannot be holier than Ojukwu. His suggestion of eight supreme courts, eight sectional police force and so on, is Freudian slip to fragment Nigeria. Why not eight armed forces? Agbakoba is a very knowledgeable Nigerian. He is a great lawyer. He has invited me to appear in his programme before. But the one he talked about going back to Aburi Accord, I will say he is not serious. What is Aburi Conference? During the civil war, Gowon and Ojukwu, had a meeting at Aburi in Ghana to resolve the problem. It turned out that Gowon did not prepare, and Ojukwu had so much because he was well-prepared for the meeting. It was when Gowon came back from the Aburi Conference that he realised that he never performed well at the meeting. What Aburi means is that there should be no united Nigeria. Ojukwu was happy because Aburi Accord was an indirect way of legitimising Biafra. So, anyone saying we should go back to Aburi Accord is not a serious person. It is not that the person is not serious alone, he is also historically not correct, and he is an enemy of Nigeria.The Aburi Accord virtually legitimised Biafra. Later, Gowon realised that he gave too much. Agbakoba cannot be holier than the Pope. Ojukwu himself, who was the author of Aburi Conference, who was the hero of the Aburi Accord, later on, left Aburi Accord and joined Federal Government. In fact, Ojukwu was to run as vice presidential candidate to former President Shehu Shagari 1983. It was when Shagari was seeking re-election for second term in office.
Shagari pardoned Ojukwu and he came from exile to Nigeria with a big fanfare in Lagos and all over the place. So, Ojukwu who was the hero of Aburi discarded Aburi Accord, and believed in the unity of Nigeria.This was the reason he wanted to run as vice president of Nigeria. But it never happened. But it was clear that Shagari wanted to drop his vice president, Chief Alex Ekwueme, for Ojukwu, who was more popular. So, what I am saying is that Agbakoba cannot be holier than Ojukwu, holier than the Pope. Aburi Accord is just like saying, ‘Destory Nigeria. There is no more Nigeria.’ Another thing is that Agbakoba made a case for creation of eight blocs in Nigeria. I am surprised that Agbakoba just gave himself out. And he said the eight blocs should have their own supreme courts. They should award their own SANs (Senior Advocates of Nigeria). Then, I challenge Agbakoba to relinquish his Federal Government SAN, if he does not want the Federal Government to award SAN.
Agbakoba said all the eight blocs he is proposing should have their own SANs. How can he suggest eight SANs? It is most ridiculous and disappointing that each of the blocs should have their own supreme court. I am surprised at him. He also spoke about Joint Admission and Matriculation Board (JAMB). JAMB was not an imposition. It was demanded by the people for a purpose. The board was demanded so that there could be common standards. Before the establishment of JAMB, every tertiary institutions was just doing what it liked.
What many people read in history books is that the Aburi Accord centred on confederation, whereby the confederation units will be more powerful than the central government. These days too, people have been calling for devolution of power so that the federating units will have more powers in order to practise true federalism. So, what would you say are the differences between the Aburi Accord and restructuring that people have been clamouring for?
Aburi Accord is not about confederation. Aburi Accord is essentially dismemberment of Nigeria. What do you mean by confederation? I believe in confederation. In a confederation, the different units will have a lot of autonomy. But they will not be more powerful than the centre. The centre will not be too powerful to dictate to them. This is how to get true federation. But who are we blaming? Aburi Accord is not about confederation. It’s about dismemberment of Nigeria. Confederation is quite different. The autonomy which the Aburi Accord gave to Biafra, to me, is not confederation. Now, if we say the centre is too powerful today, who made it powerful? People like Agbakoba and Prof Ben Nwabueze(SAN), should blame themselves. The 1979 Constitution was clear on the fact that Nigeria is a federation.
But Chief Agbakoba described it as military constitution. What is your take on this?
He is talking nonsense. Say I say so. For Agbakoba to say 1979 Constitution is a military constitution is absolute nonsense. The fact that a constitution was made during military government, does it make it a military constitution? If you are a professor and you were appointed during the military government, are you a military professor? If you are a judge, and you were appointed during military government, are you a military judge? The 1979 Constitution was made by civilians. Agbakoba did not even know what happened. The 1979 Constitution was drafted by 50 civilians, including my humble self. Papa Obafemi Awolowo was a member, though he later on refused to serve on the grounds that he was not a constitution expert. But some people are saying that he did not want to serve under Chief Rotimi Williams as chairman. In fact, the 1979 Constitution is not a military constitution. After the constitution drafting committee were done, all the legal experts worked on the draft. In fact, what you are reading in the constitution is a product of legal experts. The legal experts include Prof Ben Nwabueze, Chief Richard Akinjide, and Chief Bola Ige. Throughout the time we were sitting, the military never suggested anything to us. In fact, the former Military Head of State, Gen. Murtala Mohammed, in his opening speech, said ‘gentlemen, you can bring whatever you like in the interest of Nigeria. You are people of past experience, you can even recommend no party system if it is good for Nigeria.’ So, the military has nothing to do with the 1979 Constitution Agbakoba is talking about. It is not a military constitution. In any case, when we had the plebiscite – contributions from the public, over 70 per cent of Nigerians contributed, within the country and outside the country. Over 70 per cent supported the presidential system.
After the draft of the 1979 Constitution, Daily Times, I remembered, went round all the states for opinion on 1979 Constitution before it was even submitted to Olusegun Obasanjo because Murtala Mohammed had died then. All the states that the Daily Times went, supported the constitution. So, is Agbakoba more a lawyer than Olu Onagoruwa? Onagoruwa said 1979 Constitution is the best. So, also was former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Uwais. Let’s not drag it, 1979 Constitution is not a military constitution. It was drafted by civilians, not the military. Agbakoba became a SAN during the military government, is he a military SAN? The making of the 1979 Constitution was more rigorous than the making of the American Constitution of 1787.
Writers of history books said Aburi Accord is about confederation and you said it is about dismemberment of Nigeria. Are you saying writers of history books are being economical with the truth?
I am not saying they are economical with the truth. All I am saying is that they have not been incisive enough. If Aburi Accord is confederation, why did he (Ojukwu) jettison it later on? It was when they left Aburi that it was discovered that Gowon has given so much to Ojukwu. Ojukwu was much more prepared than Gowon when they went to Aburi. Ojukwu knew what he wanted and where he was going, and he got it. Ojukwu never went to Aburi for confederation, he went to Aburi for greater autonomy for Biafra. Gowon went to Aburi for a united Nigeria.
But what were the circumstances that led to Aburi Conference?
The friction between Biafra and Nigeria was too much. They were looking for solution not to go into war. Before Aburi, they also went to Monrovia. There was also Monrovia Conference to secure Nigeria together. All what they were doing then was trying to see that all our neighbours – African countries – wanted Nigeria to be united, not to break up. But Ojukwu was much more clever. He was more prepared than Gowon. It was after they left Aburi that Gowon realised that what he had done was dismemberment of Nigeria. What he had done was legitimisation of Biafra. Gowon performed very badly at the Aburi Conference. There was no doubt that Ojukwu outsmarted him. But the interesting thing is that when they came back and the report of Aburi was made public, people reacted. They asked how Gowon could have agreed to that accord, saying ‘it means there is no more Nigeria.’ Then, Gowon himself backpedalled. He realised his error. So, Aburi has nothing to do with confederation.
The proposal for state police, how will you appraise it?
Nigerians are very funny people. We are going forward and backward. There was state police during the First Republic. Why was the state police stopped? We have to go to historical antecedents to know where we are coming from. State police was stopped because the party in power was misusing it. So, Nigerians decided that we should have one police force in the country. The federal police was demanded by the people, that state police was being abused by government in power, and that is how we got to the Nigeria Police Force that we have today. The constitution recognises only the Nigeria Police Force. Nobody can change it. If we are going to have state police, you must change the constitution. Without changing the constitution, all what you are saying cannot change anything, one million Buhari cannot change it, one million governors cannot change it. To change from Nigeria Police Force to state police, the constitution must be changed. Of course, the constitution can be changed. To change the constitution, you must have two-third majority of the National Assembly and have two-third majority of the state houses of assembly, which is 24 states, not people going into committees. Twenty-four states must approve it. Two-third of the National Assembly should approve the state police to change the constitution. When we were doing the 1979 Constitution, one of the problems we had was Sharia and Common Law. Prof Dudley, a professor of political science in the University of Ibadan, said we could not have two parallel legal systems – Sharia and Common Law. But it is only one Supreme Court that we have in Nigeria. Then, if you are suggesting eight supreme courts, there is no Nigeria now. What Agbakoba said later on in the interview supports the fact that Aburi Accord is for dismemberment of Nigeria. If not, how can you – a SAN, former President of Nigerian Bar Association, suggest eight supreme courts, and eight police forces? Why did he not suggest eight army? If the centre is too strong, it is made so by Nigerians. It is Obasanjo that made it so powerful now. If a particular president becomes more powerful, you should challenge him in the Supreme Court, you will win. Agbakoba said we have 68 items in the exclusive list, and 30 in the concurrent list. Who made it so? Is it military? Is it not the civilian?
Chief Agbakoba said the principle of subsidiarity should be adopted to establish eight blocs or geo-political zones in Nigeria. Can Nigeria still be further divided from six zones to eight zones?
Of course, he is not serious. I am disappointed in him. I respect him as a responsible Nigerian, but what he has said is terrible. Then, he made mention of Ireland, Wales, Scotland. I am ashamed that he could even mention that, because he mentioned the 18th Century Accord. Are Ireland, Wales and Scotland happy now to be in the British Union? Irish, Welsh, and Scottish are stronger now and they still want to break away from United Kingdom.
Maybe Chief Agbakoba should not be castigated for his submission on the need for revisitation of Aburi Accord. Is it not possible that confederation is what he had in mind, probably as contained in some parts of the accord?
I am not castigating him. At that time, Aburi Accord was published in full. People commented on it, and prevailed on Gowon to backpedal on the accord. So, it was rubbish, completely rubbish.
The situations that led to the civil war in 1967, are they not still with us in the country these days?
The motivation for Biafra is solid. You cannot destroy it, and we still have it. The different thing is that nobody is mad enough to go to civil war. Even, Ojukwu himself, in an interview in London, I have the copy, said nobody should try to dismember Nigeria. He said he tried it and he failed. He said we should all work together as one Nigeria. Based on that, he accepted to be vice president. For Biafra, Ojukwu had a good point. Look, we are talking of Biafra and Biafra, what of us (non-Igbo)? The problem with Biafra is that they lumped together, both the Igbo and non-Igbo of the East. We the Ijaw, Ogoja were suppressed by the Igbo. Ogoja people do not want to go with Biafra… Oil started the civil war, and oil ended the civil war. If Ojukwu had not got confidence of oil in the Biafran carved out section, that the main bloc of economy of this nation would be in Biafra. Ojukwu was a very clever person. He was very brilliant. Oil stopped in Biafra when Gowon in his wisdom carved out 12 states in Nigeria. He carved out oil producing areas as sovereign states out of Igbo states. When that was done, Biafra stopped. He carved out Cross Rivers, Rivers State. When Agbakoba is talking about Aburi, did Agbakoba remember the pre-independence Willikin’s Commission Report? It gave autonomy to the oil producing areas in Nigeria. If we are to go by Willikin’s Report, all the oil producing areas should be autonomous enclaves. But we left it in the interest of one Nigeria. So, before Aburi, there was Willikin’s report funded by the British Government.