President of Alaigbo Development Foundation (ADF), Prof Uzodinma Nwala has said that his organisation would mount pressure on Southeast governors to come up with vigilance groups to protect Igboland.
In this interview with VINCENT KALU, the elder statesman noted that some nationalities are slaves to others in Nigeria, and emphasised that it would not last forever.
Fifty years after the war, are you satisfied with the level of unity achieved so far?
I’m not sure people, honest people who are not thinking of private interest; I mean people who are thinking of collective interests of all the various nationalities in Nigeria, I am not sure anyone is satisfied. As you can see, there is persistence of a perennial crisis, which has now reached a boiling point. How can anybody be satisfied with that kind of development in the polity?
The reason former Military Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon (rtd) gave for the war was to keep Nigeria one, from what you have just said, considering the discordant tunes from various ethnic groups, has the objective been achieved?
The idea of keeping Nigeria, as one, is a historical error. You don’t force marriage between different individuals, how much less between different nationalities with radically opposed national interests. Marriage is a consensual thing, people agree to live together, you don’t force people to live together. If you force them such marriages are bound to collapse.
In Europe, the old empires created by powerful kings and queens all have collapsed.
In Africa, the old federations created by the British for colonial interest have all gone their natural ways but now maintain new relationships as separate independent nations based on common economic and political interests, with the exception of Nigeria that is being forced to stay together because some people feel that they inherited Nigeria and therefore they have to convert the whole territory into their private orchard, that is the root of our problem.
Until we find the right solution, which is to free the different peoples from the forced marriage and to allow them to enjoy the air of liberty and freedom to organise themselves the way they wish and decide on what terms they will live with their neighbours.
So, the war was a mistake, and anybody fighting a war now to keep Nigeria, as one will regret it, as it would be an exercise in futility. The best thing is to sit down and find a way to let the different nationalities organise themselves and find appropriate mode or relationship among them. You can’t force anything.
The Igbo were at the receiving end of the war, are you satisfied with the progress they have made because after the war, they started with nothing?
Individually, Igbo have been very enterprising by their nature; there are also other individuals from other nationalities within the federation that are also very enterprising. Igbo are very industrious, they start with nothing and try to make the best out of it and survive and become a force to reckon with.
However, collectively, efforts are constantly been made by others to make it difficult for them to progress as a people. This explains why their whole area has been turned to ruins – no roads, no railways, airport shutdown, their business men are constantly under siege; this also includes their politicians; what their fellows from other areas do and get away with, they are humiliated and punished for it. You can see what is happening with their economic giants; their businesses destroyed and they are to play a second fiddle and subsidiary role; See what happened to Ibeto, you could see what is happening to Innoson and others.
You can see that the war is continuing in other means, until we realise that you cannot hold a people down forever, no you can’t.
Incidentally, other nationalities are now suffering what Igbo have been going through. I think things are bound to give way, and it is better we sit and renegotiate the basis of our existence in a common political system.
Mere talking of restructuring as if you are begging other people to concede to you your fundamental rights to your resources, your economy, your fundamental human rights, etc is out of it. Those talking of restructuring in such beggarly manner are just begging the question. The reality of Nigerian situation is that it s a multi-national federation being held together as in a unitary system. No, it is worse than that. It is like a slave republic in which some nationalities are slaves to others.
What is required now and urgently too is a political conference to renegotiate the very foundation of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Such renegotiation must involve reaching a solution where the leadership of every nationality come together and agree to a new arrangement that allows each nationalities the freedom to organise themselves the way they want – The Yoruba to organize themselves the way they want; the Igbo, the Hausa, the Fulani, the Efik, the Tiv, the Edo, etc, instead of living together being antagonistic of each other, let us find a common political platform to relate to ourselves.
Going through the history of the Federal Republic of Nigeria from its colonial origins to date, considering all the perennial blood crises and instability, noting this present state of anarchy and lawlessness, we make bold to say, that there can be no peace or stability in this multinational state, until Nigeria becomes a federation of federal union of autonomous regions or independent republics.
The task now is to take the path of statesmanship to, firstly, release the component nations that make up the unworkable Nigerian federation from the bondage in which they presently live. Secondly, let them organise themselves along the path of freedom and self-determination. Thirdly, ultimately, they will be drawn by the forces of economic and social interaction into a possible new form of association like the African Union or ECOWAS, but that will be an association or union of free peoples, and not a union of masters and slaves as is presently the case in the Nigerian federation.
The situation as it is now in the Nigeria is that Fulani nationality thinks that the federation is their orchard and that they should occupy it as their own. They have therefore set out in recent years to occupy the whole area, beginning with the taking over of the military and security organs of government, turning the executive into a Fulani Emirate Council, the legislature, the judiciary, the sea and airports, the educational system, the Central Bank, Foreign Service, the Nigerian diplomatic and international service, etc. If they think this process is irreversible, they are making a mistake.
This is the kind of tragic historic error a people or regime can make when it gets to the point where they no longer know the limit to respect in the exercise of power. Yes, what the Fulani are doing is a historical error and such an ambition will collapse sooner or later.
What lesson was Nigeria supposed to have learnt from the war?
The lessons Nigeria was supposed to have learnt are: One, that the country is a multi-national federation. Two, that the only realistic basis of keeping the people together, working together, politically, is on the basis of self-determination; not on the basis of forced marriage. Those are the fundamental things as we can see from what is happening right now – The Yoruba want the right to defend themselves, to protect themselves; the Igbo want the right to defend and protect themselves, and to organise their economy and make sure that their children have a future, the same thing with the Ijaw, Efik, Tiv, the Jukun, Edo, etc.
When you occupy every place, militarily and force everybody to be on your own palms and use agents you put in those areas to disorganise the people, frighten them, those are historical mistakes; they may serve a temporary use, they can’t work indefinitely, they will eventually collapse.
Nations were known to have from war developed technologically, why is Nigeria’s case different? Biafra was said to have developed some military hardware and other things during the war
It is for the same reason that Nigeria is suffering now, not able to hold together.
Former Governor of the defunct Bendel State, Samuel Ogbemudia, suggested to Gowon that they should find a way of harnessing the immense technological breakthrough made by the Biafrans and that those scientists should be assembled and an institution created for them to continue the great scientific and technological wonders they exhibited during the war.
Either Gowon or another person among the leadership then said they wouldn’t do that because doing so would amount to giving credit to the Igbo.
Let the Igbo organise themselves the way they want, let the Yoruba organise themselves the way they want, let the Hausa do the same thing, let the Tiv and others do the same thing, eventually, we are neighbours and we shall find a way to relate with ourselves.
Presently, Nigeria is an independent country like Ghana, like Togo and others on the West African sub-region with a common political platform, where they all sit and discuss matters of common interest, that is what Nigeria should be. East African Federation has long ago reorganised itself and there is nothing like East African Federation as a country.
What is fundamental is to realise that Nigeria is a multi-national federation, and should do the same thing that East African Federation did, and allow the nationalities to stay on their own and everybody relates to each other as neighbours, as Ivory Coast, Togo, Ghana, Niger and others are working together on the West Africa platform. You have Egypt, Libya, and those mentioned earlier in African Union, and that is what is required. The Europeans have long ago achieved that natural formation of a union among separate nation-state.
The Southwest has set up a security outfit, Operation Amotekun, which is causing ripples in the country, couldn’t the Southeast set up its own to safeguard its people?
The Yoruba are doing what they should do to protect themselves; nobody has the right to challenge them.
Coming to Alaigbo, we have long been proposing and discussing measures to protect our area. We have proposed the anti-open grazing law, just like Benue State passed theirs and are using it to protect their area, their people and their farms. We have renewed the urge and more so, sent fresh draft of the bill to all the governments in Alaigbo. With what has happened in Imo State, it is going to be difficult especially on the platform of the government to have a unified front backed jointly by all the governors in the region. But we can mount pressure separately on each governor and state House of Assembly to pass the anti-open grazing law to empower our people to help them to reinforce their cultural rights.
It is important to recall that by virtue of culture and tradition in Alaigbo, animals like goats, sheep, and cows don’t roam about the streets or through farmlands. It is abhorred and punished according to our tradition. In order to protect our agricultural lands and crops, we don’t allow that. The Old Eastern Nigerian Law made that it an offence to have such animals roam freely and destroy farm crops. I don’t know why anybody should allow that now. It is the height of impunity and provocation.
Perhaps, what we need is to reinforce the old laws; the old traditions by passing the anti-open grazing law, so that no cows must be found roaming around or inside people’s farms.
By our tradition and customary law, our people have the fundamental right to organise their vigilantes of course, our people should organise their local vigilantes to protect their farms and land before they face starvation and death
We have a duty to organise our security, I hope the Imo governorship tussle will be over soon so that all the governments in Alaigbo will come together for this purpose.
Meanwhile, Governor Umahi, who is the chairman of Southeast Governors Forum, should show the true Igbo man he is and forget about any private political interest and provide the leadership needed by working with all the stakeholders including Ohanaeze, ADF and other Pan-Igbo organisations to provide our people the political and governmental legal and material backing needed at this crucial period in our history to protect ourselves. ADF is also calling on all Pan Igbo organisations to stand and work together and make sure that this bill is passed.
We are calling on our women to wake up again, as our mothers helped to protect us from colonial rule; our women should stop doing purely feminine things, they should join to protect themselves, their children their land. Yes, we can protect ourselves.
While the Igbo are making case to clinch the presidency, the South- South is also laying claims to producing the president. According to them, they want to complete their two terms. What is your reaction to this?
The formulae we created to solve this problem in the 1994/1995 Constitutional Conference was shattered and everything pulled apart by ethnic national interests and forces of hegemony.
There is no doubt that the Igbo have been deliberately denied presidency and if they are really part of Nigeria that fundamental right of participation in the presidency is theirs to ask.
Well, the South-South had six years under Jonathan. And I know that majority of the people have been conceding the right to the East. I don’t know why the call from South-South, It could be spoilers voice, but for whatever it is, everybody has a fundamental right. Even the people that have been denied the position have a fundamental right to ask for it, to work for it, it is fundamental. But for us in ADF right now, what is uppermost before us is to have security, our protection, and our regional, national interest as Ndigbo; our ability to organise ourselves, and take control of our environment, amicably break ourselves from any form of hegemonism, these are the challenges before us right now.
Talking about the presidency in 2023, are the Igbo prepared; are they reaching out to other regions or zones, because power is not given a la carte?
Presidency is considered on the basis of political parties, and I have no doubt that the politicians are anxious to have that conceded to them. These things are not given. The Fulani using the military to hold the presidency and they can therefore refuse anybody a ride. When Abiola won election and he was denied, how did the Yoruba get Obasanjo the position, they had to fight for it, they didn’t just ask for it; they didn’t beg for it, they had to fight, pull political muscles. Everybody is aware, they organised NADECO, their youth, everybody was part of that struggle.
When also the riverine people of the South-South felt that they were about to be denied, they also had to fight for it. Their militants went out to fight for it before they became compromised.
How did the North get theirs? Some of them were the sponsors of Boko Haram. I am aware of the extent that Lt Gen Ihejirika (rtd) was harassed because he wanted to get rid of Boko Haram; some of the northern leaders were harassing him because they said he was killing their people. It was through Boko Haram that they used to get Buhari the presidency.
The only presidency that has come normally was the Yar’Adua presidency. If we followed the spirit of 1999 draft Constitution, we would pass this stage. We, in Alaigbo Development Foundation, made a proposal on how to transit from Yar’Adua. We wanted a Jonathan presidency to be transitional so that the north would complete their term, but you know that our problem in this country is that we have Wayo politicians; politics in Nigeria has become a game of vampire, not a game of principle, not a game of honour that is the problem. The politicians are the problems. When we were at the Constitutional Conference in 1995, I met many statesmen who were interested in the polity and the people not their own interest and we put something down, but some politicians from the upper north had to disorganise the whole thing. That is the problem we have in this country, politicians who are riding on the wave of national interest and have failed to recognise that of the big multi-national interest. Yes, our future lies in recognising how fundamental is the national interest of the various nationalities and allow each nation to be in charge of her affairs. Yes, our challenge is to organise ourselves along national interests, run our polity, economy along national interest and have a union of people based on self-determination of people determined to live together or to go on their way if it is not working.
The pressure to leave the federation has always been there, the north wanted to secede at some point, Yoruba also wanted to secede at some point, the Igbo equally wanted to secede at some point.
Right now, all nationalities are waking up, Yoruba are not relaxing, Benue people and other people are not relaxing and the Igbos are waking up and joining the freedom train.
It is our hope, I mean ADF, that sooner or later the leadership of the various nationalities shall sit at the negotiation table so that we can resolve the contradictions in this multi-ethnic federation, We shall be able to resolve it when we decide to harken to the historic sounds of freedom – political and economic freedom coming from the various nations that make up the federation, and then find the path to chart a true union of free peoples based on the principles of self-determination and self-reliance. It is then we shall live peacefully together, not by force. This is the challenge facing us.