Akin Oyebode, Professor of International law and jurisprudence has advised President Muhammadu Buhari and the APC to tread carefully on the issue of restructuring as it would amount to a fraud if they now claim that it is not their priority since Nigerians voted based on their manifesto. He added that Nigeria is at cross roads with one road leading to perdition, the other to progress and advancement. He said more in this interview with OBIDIKE JERRY.
How do you react to the activities of IPOB and MASSOB and the reprisal quit notice given by a coalition of Arewa youths?
Nnamdi Kanu triggered the response by the Arewa youths by pushing things too hard and describing Nigeria as a zoo, implying that we Nigerians are animals. I listened to his statement on his radio station saying he was going to kill people, talking of Yoruba people as bastards, all sorts of scurrilous statements. So we should lay blame squarely where it belongs, Nnamdi Kanu. I believe he is still on bail and the conditions of his bail have been violated, may be provocatively. May be he really has messianic complex. He wants to become a hero. He sees himself as the unelected leader of the Igbo. But the Igbo intelligentsia have come out after waiting too long. That’s what you won’t find in Yoruba land. Yoruba are very blunt. They are not to be herded into position. Two Yoruba will give you two positions/opinions. The Igbo kept quiet for too long. I am talking of important opinion leaders among the Igbo, some started fanning support for him, visiting him, giving support of some sort. But now the support has been withdrawn because of the counteraction of the ultimatum to vacate northern Nigeria by 1st of October 2017. I think that statement also was as provocative as the notion of we want Biafra. All those who are hankering after Biafra, at least majority of them, did not live through the civil war. They were too young to know what happened. Those of us who are closer to 70 years than 60 years who knew what transpired, how two brothers broke ranks and became sworn enemies before war was concluded, we know better. We are not the only country that has passed through civil war. The Americans had a civil war in the 1860s. There are people who are still the confederates. You heard a few months ago there was a big problem in South Carolina when people wanted to hoist the confederacy flag and people said what is happening? We thought that we had finished with the civil war. But America can take all sorts but Nigeria has not reached that level of sophistication to allow people to hoist Biafran flag because it would touch a raw nerve. So what the Arewa youths did was to open up the fault lines of Nigeria to remind us of pogrom, the history of Nigeria that nobody wants to refer to. So they are reminding us of certain histories that we want to sweep under the carpets. We pray that we would never enter into civil war again although I was a student outside Nigeria when the war was fought. I don’t know how many millions we lost in the civil war on both sides. There were atrocities on both sides. The experts in the management of violence like IBB have told us no country survives two civil wars. And for me I think that the IPOB and MASSOB, they want to drive the hard bargain. I am not sure they really want Nigeria to disintegrate because they would lose more. When you look at the demographics, the Igbo would lose more if they are out of the socio-economic formation that we call Nigeria. The Igbo have invested so much outside Igbo land. There’s no village in Nigeria that you don’t have Igbo traders, without them economy would ground to a halt. I remember I was a student during the crisis before it blew off to civil war, we had an Igbo merchant in Ado Ekiti, the only super market we had then, Okoli and Sons. Okoli had settled in Ado Ekiti when we were still pupils in high schools and then during the civil war he did not go. He married Ekiti women, had kids, he did not leave because he had a lot of investments. Today, he has branches of his own. He is a chief in Ado Ekiti, his children went to school there. So Nnamdi Kanu is a political dilettante, he has no experience, I don’t know what school he attended, I don’t know how much of knowledge he has. For me, if you ask me, he is a rabble-rouser just like the Nazi Germany when you had Hitler despite all the intellect of the Germans. People like Hegel, Karl Max, great thinkers of the world from Germany and still led by opportunists like Adolf Hitler . So the Igbo, as I am glad to note especially well versed, articulate, experienced, they have disowned him. We talk of people like Prof Anya O. Anya, Gen. Ike Nwachukwu. So we should grow beyond this. If we have grievances, let’s lay the grievances on the table. The Igbo were represented at the national confab. Ike Nwachukwu was the acclaimed leader of the Igbo just as we put Falae as the acclaimed leader of the Yoruba.
Since you mentioned confab, the APC government has come out to say that restructuring is not their priority. Even el-Rufai recently said the call for restructuring is political opportunism and irresponsibility. What do you make of that?
I think el-Rufai was speaking for himself. Although I am aware that about three months ago, those who came to the confab from parts of the North met in Abuja to ask Buhari not to implement the recommendation and I thought it was ungentlemanly of them. We adopted decisions by consensus and nobody won all he wanted. You win some, you lose some. Compromise. All the decisions were by consensus and when we had division, chairman of the conference set a committee of elders to resolve those conflicts. So I am saying the proceedings and the recommendations of the conference could be taken as a starting point towards assuaging hot feelings in the country. It is not the final thing but it is something to work on. So that’s why I was extremely disappointed when Buhari said the conference recommendations belong to the archives and that he is not going to be interested and the acting president Prof Osinbajo echoed him by saying it was not their priority. And when I saw Lai Mohammed too saying things like that I was scandalised because it is an opportunity missed. What I recommended that Buhari should have done was to set up a Blue Ribbon Panel, highly placed and smart people to put a comb brush through the panel report and extract what is doable, not everything, for instance, creating so many states. I think the ones we have, many of them are unviable. But at the proceedings, I said that Nigerian federalism was a caricature federalism and people from the North tried to heckle me. I stood my ground and said I am talking as somebody who has lived in three federations. I lived and studied in the old Soviet Union. I lived and studied in United States. I lived and studied in Canada. Now Soviet Union has vanished because of the national question. Russia wanted to dominate the others and the thing broke up. So we don’t want to suffer the fate of the Soviet Union. The Americans have not yet finished the task of nation building. There are still rough edges they are trying to iron out after 240 years. I think we can borrow a leaf. Canada is going to celebrate 150 years, 1867, of its constitution, maybe in another few months. These federations are a work in progress but that should not blind us into the fact that if we don’t manage our situation well it could mark the end of Nigeria as we know it. So we don’t want a situation where we become strangers to ourselves. Africa is looking up to us. The black race is looking up to us. Why should we disappoint majority of Nigerians, the African continent and the black world? Nigeria is far too important to be allowed to go separate ways. Do you know we have over 400 ethnic groups and nationalities in Nigeria? And so it is not a proposal or a proposition that would fly in 2017. Even our worst enemies would not want Nigeria to break up. Who is going to take the refugees if we have another war? If you look at the Nigerian ledger, the credit side is larger than the debit side. We are not saying this is paradise. No. Nigeria has innumerable problems, fault lines, divisions based on religion and the attitude of some who want to lord it over others. What you call irredentism. All those things happen in Nigeria. But these things can be tamed if we establish mutual respect, okay, that the Nigerian citizen should never have to apologize to anyone for being a Nigerian. And that is where the Arewa youths forum blew it when it said people should leave the region at a particular time. It was an overdrive. They wanted to repel the demand for Biafra. But two wrongs don’t make a right. They’ve been called to order. They are now saying it is not that they wanted to call Igbo out, that it was an attempt to get an engagement but that engagement could be dysfunctional and counterproductive. Even Kanu too has said he doesn’t really want secession, that he is calling for referendum and then as a process towards restructuring. I have heard Kanu made statement and I have read him on line, saying it is not that he wants war. As I said, he is driving a hard bargain and when you are negotiating deal you go for most difficult and come at an equilibrium with the other side. Maybe what he wants is another confab to now draw the framework for our cohabitation.
From the views of some Nigerians like Tanko Yakassai and others, it’s like we don’t have a common ground on what restructuring is all about or a kind of convergence of thought on what restructuring means to a common man on the street. Some say fiscal federalism, others say devolution of powers to the states. Do we have a common meaning of what restructuring is all about?
You mentioned Tanko Yakassai. He was at the confab and his voice reflected the thinking of the far North, very conservative, defenders of the status quo. So those who heckled people like me at the confab were those who said why are we changing things? Status quo is fantastic. So there were forces against changing the status quo. So, please don’t be fooled by people trying to throw away the baby with bath water. Why did I, at the confab say Nigeria operates caricature federalism? It is something similar to what the deputy senate president, Ike Ekweremadu said when he went to my school in Toronto and gave Oputa lectures three or four years ago and said Nigeria was operating a feeding bottle federalism. That constituent/federating units go to Abuja every month to replenish their feeding bottle. That’s the situation. Nigeria’s federation is skewed, is lopsided. And so when people are talking of restructuring they want: One, a real federalism, genuine federalism where no constituent unit is greater than the others. Where there is division of powers between the federal government and the federating units. Where there’s a lot of decentralization or what you call technically, devolution. So we have to rework the Nigerian constitution for the federal government to shed weight. It is overburdened by things like registry of birth and deaths, they should not be the concern of Abuja. It should be localized. Railways, if the people from southwest want to build regional railway, they should have the power. So we looked at the exclusive list and we removed so many things from the list. There are about 66 things in that Abdulsalam Abubakar constitution. It was an imposition. The constitution we claimed to be operating is decree 24 of 1999. What the incoming civilian administration ought to have made a top most item on the agenda was doing away with that constitution and creating a constitution that would not tell a lie against itself. They should have convened some forum to elaborate a new constitution which would reflect the tenets of federalism. Perhaps the greatest defender of federal system of government in Nigeria was Awolowo and way back in 1947 he had written Paths to Nigerian Freedom where he said Nigeria was a geographical expression. Then you know when he was in prison he came out with book Thoughts on the Nigerian Constitution. Then later he came out with another book Strategy and Tactics of Nigerian Federation. So Awolowo had articulated most of the ideas on what is federal, we are just nominally federal. Nigeria is operating a quasi unitary constitution which is masquerading as federal constitution. The military were the undoing of Nigeria’s federalism. In 1966 when they came they destroyed federalism because federalism and militarism are odd bedfellows. The military has a unified command structure. They would not want a situation where the commander- in-chief gives a directive to a governor in the state who says no because that would be almost mutinous.
That is similar to IBB’s suggestion?
IBB is not unique. He is stealing other people’s ideas. IBB is just an opportunist. He is part of the problem of Nigeria. He was part of the people that destroyed this country. Now in his autumn years, he wants to cut his losses by being on the right side of history. If you saw me on TV recently I told him that much, that he is stealing other people’s idea. He is not being original. IBB is smart Alec, you know. He wants to run with the hares and hunt with hounds. He’s trying to be clever by half. He can’t better Awolowo or better Ben Nwabueze- people who have studied this matter. The military, they have nothing to tutor us. It is not their calling. They are dictators. They don’t like federalism we are talking about. In fact he is a later day convert to the idea of federalism. I have spoken about fiscal federalism. Essentially what we are talking about is devolution of powers so that everybody feels a sense of belonging. We don’t all have to run to Abuja to transact business. You don’t have to go to Abuja at all. Every region should have enough-taxation, resources. That brings to mind resource control which was a sour point during Obasanjo’s conference. It brought it aground and in this case we didn’t have a walk out by the oil bearing communities. So we had to re-address the issue of who gets what, when and how? Not a blanket statement-13 percent derivation. What does that mean to people who suffer deprivation of oil exploration, gas flaring, genetic mutation and eco suicide? The ecology has been desecrated. They can’t fish, they can’t farm. They live in pitiable existence where we get what keeps Nigeria running and the oil is a wasting asset and when the oil dries up what happens? So we need now to look for alternative sources of income. This question of monoculture economy we have to do away with. God has endowed us with different resources. So instead of this oil, oil, we should liberate ourselves of the oil.
So, are you not worried by the position of APC that restructuring is not their priority?
Well, I am glad you asked that question. Technically APC was not represented at the confab and they washed the whole proceeding with cynical acid. But I thought it was dysfunctional and counterproductive of the APC to dismiss the efforts put into the confab. The confab met around three months and about 500 Nigerians, howsoever they were chosen reflected the diversity of this country and came out with recommendations which should not be thrown away. I remember during the confab, the national assembly also developed goose pimples about the confab. I remember we wanted to hear from Abike Dabiri who was in charge of Diaspora. I was in the committee of foreign affairs and Diaspora matters and we wanted her to come and testify. She just said forget it. If we want to talk we should come to national assembly. The national assembly had status panic because they thought confab was stealing their thunder. And so for them finally turning around to say give us the proceedings, I thought it was a remarkable turnaround, better late than never. It was wrong, indefensible of Buhari to have said the confab is useless. Goodluck handed the proceedings and report to him and said I don’t have time. You might find something useful here. Even a mad man can suggest ideas to you that you can put into use. So for me the national assembly asking for the report is, I would say, is five minutes to midnight because Nigeria is on tenterhooks now.
So why are people like Obono Obla, Special Assistant to the President on Prosecution, saying that referendum is not possible. I guess he was speaking on the request of IPOB leader, Nnamdi Kanu, for referendum before 2019 elections? Is Obono speaking the mind of our constitution, is referendum not possible in Nigeria when it comes to matters like this?
Well, I told you that our present constitution which is an illegitimate document does not provide for referendum. But Nnamdi Kanu is an opportunist. People have said who put you to power? Who are you to speak for Ndigbo? I read something online where Anambra people said ‘count us out of your Biafra whatever, boycott of November 2017 Anambra governorship election . What’s referendum, that Igbo should not vote? We are going to vote. You got away with sit at home protest but this time we are part of Nigeria or you want us to lose out or for soldiers to take over our state?’ Why I said Nnamdi Kanu is being opportunistic is that the concept of self determination is a valid concept in colonial situations when you have the metropolitan power and the people subjugated by the colonial power. So self determination is to poll inhabitants of the colonized territory whether they want independence or they don’t. After independence, it is no longer a matter of self determination. It becomes one of right to development. Nigerians exercised their right of self determination on the 1st of October, 1960. So that has been met and in fact a distinguished professor of international law, my late friend Prof Orji Umezuruike, defended a PhD in Oxford on self determination. People should read. So after independence, the only way you bring change about is not by way of referendum. You have to change the facts on the ground militarily. You defeat the federal government militarily. So you have a new state like that of Bangladesh in 1971, like that of Eritrea in 1979, like that of South Sudan four years ago. So militarily you have to confront the federal government and defeat them and then declare your independence. Then there’s question of recognition. So that’s the only way you change the boundaries in Africa.
Is referendum an impossibility?
Impossibility is not a term that we use in terms of political development. If there’s sufficient pressure and demand by the people that the constitution we are operating is a military constitution, that we want to vote on it, then the powers that be would have no choice. Just like Brexit I gave as example. Now, the Cartalans in Spain have voted. They wanted independence but Madrid said that is not provided under their constitution.
The same thing being said here, that it is not in our constitution?
It is not in our constitution but then let us see how much pressure. If Ndigbo refused to participate in the elections then they have voted themselves out of contention. It would be a new fact just as they managed to get almost everybody sitting at home during May 30, 2017 anniversary. But can Nnamdi Kanu pull it off? You know politicians, politics is their life blood. There’s no way you can teach a cat to stop catching mice. That is their festival. Election is their festival and you are asking them to vote themselves to extinction. And they have started with Anambra and they said who are you? Who gave you authority over us? Look at this street urchin. The Igbo intelligentsia felt insulted. You know the number of people who went to Denis Grammar School alone, the CKC, Christ The King College, etc. It is not now that most people are into trading. But trading or not, Imo state still produces the largest number of entrants into the universities. That should tell you something. It is not that the Igbo don’t like education. Those who can’t make it education wise go into trading and marry PhD holders.
So I want a country where there would be mutual respect, no second class citizen, no born to rule and the others are born to serve. We want a meritocratic society.
Your final word or advice to the government of the day regarding the situation in the land?
It should be worth the while of Buhari, Osinbajo and their confederates to re-examine the proceedings and recommendations of the confab and see what can be extracted from them in order to move the nation forward. Nigeria is at the cross roads. One road leads to perdition, the other leads to progress and advancement. Nobody wants peril for Nigeria. We want to live in a better society like the motto of NIPS-National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies-towards a better society. That should be the essence. Everything we are doing we should use the touchstone, the acid test of-is it good for the overwhelming majority of Nigerians? Do they want to go and die in a war not of their making? Or they want to make sure that the country that they call theirs is an equitable country which allows for equality of status and opportunity and which allows people to attain what we call self actualization, self improvement. You decide what you want to make with your life. The state should provide the wherewithal, the modalities for realizing yourself. So the government of the day, it is good to have priorities against insurrection like Boko Haram, priorities against corruption, and priorities to improve the economy. They are laudable goals. But it is when the country survives that you can now pursue these items. If the country itself goes under, who are you improving the economy for if the people don’t see themselves as common stakeholders in the Nigeria project? This is our country, we all own it together. So we are equal and joint stakeholders in Nigeria. When we have that then of course who is elected becomes academic. We look for the best and the brightest to run the country hoping that the fact that he went to school and that he is trained to think he would bring like minded men and women to actualize his dreams for Nigeria. You know the leader is just the visioner. He is the dreamer but he can’t do it alone. He has to look for those who will actualize his dreams. When parties are contesting for election, they present us various and varied social contracts (manifestoes). When we think that your manifesto is better than the other guy we vote for you. It was misbegotten to say that restructuring is not important. It is part of your manifesto, the first article. You wanted to reap where you did not sow. If you told people that restructuring is a cardinal point then you sold us a pigging poke, you swindled us, you’re playing 419. Anybody who tells you restructuring is not part of the APC should be told that he is 419er because it is on the basis of what you presented us we voted you. You defeated a sitting government who we all described then as clueless. It means you have no clue as to the existential problems confronting Nigeria. Restructuring is the first order.