Untold story, by Col Tony Nyiam
•Plus how to address the wrongs bedeviling Nigeria
By Chidi Obineche
Acclaimed military strategist and one of the alleged actors in the failed 1990 military action to oust Gen. Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, (IBB) from power , Col Tony Nyiam, retd, speaks on restructuring, military politics and deals, clash of religious interests among the military ruling elite, as well as other sundry issues.
I would like you to look at the structure of Nigeria? Are you satisfied with it as it is now?
When we use the word, structure, people think about different things. What we are saying in effect is do we have an appropriate political, economic structure on which our country is built? Nigeria is another structural, political-economic injustice whose reverberations stifle our development. The present lopsided macro-political-economic structure, which the elected civilian governments inherited from rogue military dictators is urgently in need of the restoration of balance of power and fairness. This must at the minimum, be resolved to what was obtainable prior to 1969 when they led the military, for the benefit of their kith and kin to replace the 1963 Federal Constitution with Acts and military decrees that were aimed at undermining and subverting the tenets of federalism. Take for instance, Lagos State, which has always been, and still is more populated than the old Kano State (now inflated into two states of Jigawa with 26LGAs, and Kano with 42LGAs) has only 20 LGAs. In other words, Lagos that produces over 75% of non- oil related revenue, and of the total country-wide VAT collection has 48 local governments avenue for getting federal funding less than the old Kano State. To correct the existing injustice, Lagos State needs at least additional 48 LGAs, three additional senatorial districts and a corresponding number of Federal House of Representatives constituencies.
Over four decades down the line, this structure has subsisted. What in your view is responsible for that?
A country that is multi-ethnic, just like Nigeria should be run on a system called federalism. Be it in Russia, Germany, Canada, India, United Arab Emirates, UAE, where they have about seven emirates. Dubai is just one of the emirates in UAE. It is because UAE is allowed to practice federalism that Dubai was allowed to be on its own. That was the wisdom those who bequeathed the country to us, the British, left us with. Some people used the military as an excuse for coups. The coups were designed to serve their own interest and their kinsfolk’s interest. They used that as an excuse to deliberately distort the structure and return Nigeria back to unitary system, in fact, to a very primitive command and control system of government. What we want is a system that gives people self government. What we need in Nigeria is a minimum of six regions made out of the existing six political-economic zones with two capitals – the federal capital (administration) Abuja, and the federal commercial capital, Lagos. I will give you some examples. In China, Beijing is the administrative capital, Shanghai is the commercial capital. In Germany, Berlin is the administrative capital, while Frankfurt is the commercial capital. The Central Bank of Germany is in Frankfurt. In America, Washington and New York are the administrative and commercial capitals. In South Africa, Johannesburg is the commercial capital while Pretoria is the administrative capital, while the judicial and legislative capital is Cape Town.
What are the things you consider as the critical nuggets for restructuring?
The issue is that the existing structure is based on a system, which is called fiscal federalism, which is an over centralization of the political–economic power in one place. And by that over centralization, it means that we create what is called no man’s money, which is open for stealing. In effect, it encourages corruption. When money is centralized in one centre, buccaneers will help themselves easily. The system of federalism, which we had was such that the federating units contribute to the centre. It is not like the system where the federating units go cap in hand monthly to the centre to collect handouts. This has made people indolent and without creativity. The older federalism encouraged healthy competition among the federating units. That was why the South-west had a better Television station and system than a country like Germany. That was why the pace with which Awolowo moved the South-west, made the East to follow. It was the University of Ife that Awolowo created with Prof Oluwasanmi that forced Zik to float the University of Nigeria Nsukka. To relate this to the diversification of the economy; for an economy to be diversified, the main catalyst is when you have the people buy in; when the people own their hard work and resources and pay taxes. You cannot diversify the economy the way they are talking theoretically. You have to sensitize the people to the economy.
To what extent do you think that the lack of restructuring has impacted on the myriad of crises and tension in the country today?
Fantastic!. By virtue of this existing constitution being corruptive, it means that it encourages the oligarchs; a few people who are rich, and by being rich, they impoverish others. Of course, there will be frustrations in the land. And you now have a dysfunctional society. When people see that those who don’t go to school, or those who are not engaged in honest hard work succeed more than those who do, they will retrace their steps and go the criminal way like doing drugs, rituals and 419 for quick money. As we have recently found out, militants, (sorry they should be called vandals) have been vandalizing oil pipelines with a territory in the creeks. They could not be reached, until they had to use military aircraft to bomb them. But one would wish that similar quick responses are given to other states that are attacked by herdsmen. If you can bomb the vandals, why can’t the herdsmen who have carved out territories in the forests be bombed too? Secondly, this constitution we have has no room for referendum. In effect, it has no room for what is called direct voting democracy. You know, many of the young people now do not know it. We are only familiar now with what is called indirect democracy. This is called repetitive government. The country delegates people to the House to take certain decisions on their behalf. Don’t forget, that the fact that sovereignty belongs to the people, now and again, they should exercise that sovereignty directly, and not through delegates. And that is done through plebiscite and referendum.
The fact that this existing constitution has no provision for that means that we are not practicing full democracy. We are practicing a system where the nation state is more important than the people. That is why some agencies of government like the Department of State Services (DSS) are only concerned about the security of the state, and not the Nigerian people. The human security element is not in Nigeria. This is why the lives and property of the average person is not protected. All our funds go to state security. The Nigerian nation state, which should be serving the people is not there for the people. Nigerians are now servants of the Nigerian nation state. In effect, our people need to be freed from the constitution that makes them servants of the Nigerian state. This lack of room creates tension and distrust between the political class and the led. Once power is amassed, it leads to abuse. When people talk, they say you cannot challenge the power of the state. We now have a situation where if you are in government you unleash impunity and unaccountability on the people. Take for instance, are the law enforcement agencies really independent? The police are not independent. The Police Inspector General should not be appointed by the president. In Britain, there are local government police there. And one of the biggest bureaus, which is a collection of bureaus is the Metropolitan Police. The head of the Metropolitan Police is hired and fired by the Police Service Commission, which is made up of the local governments that the police are serving. It is unlike in our own case where the Police Service Commission is just a nomenclature.
The Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC is only in name, not in actuality. The commission’s board members, chairman, commissioners, residents and executives are appointed by the executive. Of course, that comes along with its abuses. In other dispensations, there is a collegiate system. I would have thought that the chairman of INEC would be appointed by three colleges, namely; the college of the bench, the College of the bar, and the College of SANS (Senior Advocates of Nigeria).
These three can form four or five colleges, and they can from their ranks vote for a retired judge to be the chairman of INEC. When that is done, and it is accompanied with first line funding, you have made him independent. Thirdly, we need to have an Independent Population Commission, because we have never had a free and fair census. Of course, the judiciary too has to be independent and the chief judge has to emerge through the ranks of the judges. Without these independent institutions, we can be held hostage by the executive.
Former vice president (Atiku Abubakar) who has been calling for restructuring, blamed the past political structure as being responsible for what we have today. Do you not think he is hypocritical?
First of all, I gathered that after Atiku’s outburst on restructuring some weeks ago, there have been subtle attempts to blackmail him to mellow down. I think, he was most courageous to speak on it in a gathering of far northern Nigerians made up of the people that matter in the North, and on an occasion to commemorate the anniversary of the death of one of their greatest leaders, General Usman Katsina. One cannot but salute Atiku’s courage for pointing out that it is born out of mental laziness that certain people are rejecting restructuring. It is the refusal to allow restructuring that is causing the spate of self determination calls. We should not be bothered about the messenger, but the message, in the case of Atiku.
Was he blackmailed?
It was alleged that his visit to the APC headquarters was to urge him to mellow down on his call for restructuring. And he is arguing, just like Gen Akinrinade did, that restructuring is in their manifesto.
He argued that it is either Nigeria restructures, or face war. Do you agree with him?
I have a book I wrote in 2002. The book is True Federal Democracy, Or Awaiting Implosion? Does that answer your question?
What do you think is responsible for the rejection of restructuring?
Fantastic! People forget that those who are rejecting restructuring have no good reason for doing so. It is self-serving; because the moment you restructure, you will correct the injustices, which they are thriving in. It is most unfair to the South-east that other regions have at least six states. The South-east has only five states. Why should the South-east be so short changed? This structure in the country has in it an abuse of the inner inbuilt rights of the human being. Take, for instance, the issue of resource control. It is an abuse of human rights to say that one’s resources underneath his land does not belong to him. That is gross injustice. Thirdly, this constitution encourages VAT that is collected in areas that approve drinking of alcohol or beer, and you take the money to give to the people that don’t allow it. The universal practice is that VAT (Value Added Tax) as the name implies always goes back to the area where the consumption was done, so that it can add value to these areas. If there is pollution from the brewery, the money will be used to improve those areas. You can use the money to improve medical facilities in the area to take care of possible fallouts of alcohol related illnesses. This constitution legalizes illegalities; legitimizes illegitimacies. This constitution has taken away people’s rights to their seaports. All over the world, seaports belong to the local government it is situated. Apapa should actually be one of the richest local governments in the country. Everything here is done in the opposite. This idea of NPA (Nigeria Ports Authority) owning the ports is absurd. NPA should only be a regulator.
Are you saying that the North, as it were is feeding fat on the South?
That is a very divisive language. I would rather say that instead of saying the cup is half empty, I will say the cup is half full. When you say the North, it does not include the North-central, because the zone is not cheating anybody. They are suffering what we are suffering. Just like the people in Niger State where the dam is located, it belongs to them. In effect, the injustices against the Niger Deltans are such that they frustrate and cause agitations that have spilled to violence. The injustice against Lagos should also be corrected, because Lagos contributes over 60 per cent of VAT. Lagos has only one Commissioner of Police serving about 20 million people, while a state that has three million people has a Commissioner of Police. Lagos is so deprived that at least it should have seven commissioners of police. To the extent that Lagos is so short changed shows you how cheated the state has been. Lagos deserves at least the equivalent of three states in Nigeria in terms of revenue sharing. Why should the Ijebus not have a state, while Gombe is a state, and Yobe is a state? My people in Ogoja in Cross River State, with five key towns – Ogoja town, Yakurr, Ugep, Ikom, Obudu and Boki – each of these towns was bigger than what Gombe was before it became a state. Why should Ibadan not be a state?
All efforts to resolve these contradictions through national conferences and the 1990 Orkar led coup have all failed. What should be done?
We have had some of the best national conferences ever which have been rejected by the same cabal of self serving officials. The first is the Aburi conference and accord. If we had addressed what was agreed before General Gowon was forced to change his mind, we wouldn’t have had the civil war. The 2014 National Conference dealt with all the matters. In fact, if we had addressed them, we won’t have herdsmen killing people. The conference had agreed on regional governments indirectly. After Lagos State decided to opt out of South- west region, and Ebonyi rejected being part of South-east region, we now arrived at a democratic decision that instead of the system defining the regions, we made provisions in the recommendations that states can choose where they want to belong to, but they have to go through plebiscite in their different places.
Referendums are not done nationwide. Like in the case of Cameroun, it was not Nigerians that decided, but the Camerounians who did it. At the conference, the people of the Middle Belt begged us to free them from the hold the Emirs have on them. In Borno, the Elkanemi is in charge of the whole ethnic nationalities around, and not only the Kanuris. He should be the Elkanemi of Kanuris.All the traditional rulers in the state and beyond are subservient to him. That is the extent of the enslavement. The people of southern Kaduna, they used to call them southern Zaria because they were all under the Emir of Zauzau. In Adamawa, a delegation came that they do not want to be under the Lamido of Adamawa, and the only way they can be freed of that is by giving them a state in southern Adamawa. One may ask; if you create more states, are you not indirectly undermining federalism? The new states to be created will be secondary federating units, while the principal federating units are the six regions and the Federal Capital Territory, FCT.
Recently the president reopened some old wounds on why he was removed from office in 1985, blaming it on Generals Ibrahim Babangida and Aliyu Gusau. What do you say to that?
The reopening of Nigeria’s state related deep wounds was not kick-started by Buhari, but by the December 2015 edition of The Interview magazine’s disclosure by Babangida in an interview, of his reasons for moving against Buhari. He said the reasons were because of his transgressions. Buhari was only responding to that. President Buhari’s uncommon courage in his reopening of the open secret, which is not unconnected with Dele Giwa’s murder, disappearance of Gloria Okon, institutionalized illegal drug trade, the axing of Buhari/ Idiagbon ‘s War Against Indiscipline. From these wounds, Nigeria has never recovered.
The mention of Aliyu Gusau, to me is mere scapegoating. Buhari’s import licence regulation is a tip of the iceberg, that is, less than 25 per cent of what is at stake. The unseen of over 75 per cent has to do with the alleged illegal drug barons’ takeover of certain federal government departments, like the takeover of Nigerian embassies’ military attaches’ diplomatic bags for the misuse of drug couriers. It was also alleged that there was a misuse of Nigerian Navy ships, as was evidenced by one of Nigeria’s ships that was arrested in Liverpool. It is all these most shady developments that a General of integrity, which Buhari has always been, could not accept. In spite of being told that the funds from these dirty deals were part of the funds that were used to fund the military coup that led to his being made the Head of State, Buhari said he cannot be fooled. He said that illegality is corruption. He said they should be probed, and that was what led to the coup. The man who was sacrificed was Gen Gusau, who was retired. The incident is not unconnected with the then Coordinator of National Security (CONS) parading of young men and women who were alleged to be drug couriers of the wife of a top military officer (names withheld).
At the background of the seemingly long standing feud is what may be addressed as an intra far northern Nigeria Muslim Ummah cold war. “Ummah” means the community of believers worldwide. The two opposing sides of the cold war are the Ahlus-Sunnah leaders, versus Ahlu-d-dunya (worldliness) type of leaders. There is a conflict between the two groups. Ahlus-Sunnah leaders’ lifestyle tend to be one who exemplifies the daily living out of Sunnah Islamic principles, which the Messenger (peace be to his name ) taught, that is, living what is called Tadjid lifestyle. Such leaders are often in the forefront of the promotion of the restoration of Islam. They are very much Mujaddid, i.e. people who like to restore the pristine Islam. While the Ahlu-d-dunya are leaders who are pre-occupied with the acquisition of wealth, power and fame, and the alluring deceptive nature of earthly life.
It is indeed amongst these Ahlu-d- dunya that one finds Ahlu-dh-dhulm i.e tyrants, oppressors and unjust rulers; those who practice injustice like the late General Abacha. It is often the takeover of the Muslim Ummah by the Ahlu-d-dunya leaders that has given rise to violent Muslim movements like Maitatsine and Boko Haram.
Also in the context of this cold war is a contest between pro-modesty and ostentatious living leaders. It is also pro- the tradition of due process leaders versus leaders soaked in the culture of settlement. It also one between players of politics with principles, like the late premier of northern Nigeria, Ahmadu Bello versus players of politics without any ideology. What increasingly offends critical stakeholders of the far northern Nigeria is the takeover of their people by people of criss-cross identity. This reopening of state related old wounds calls for a Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
These deep wounds that Nigerians have suffered are four types. First, is the deep wounds caused by the extra judicial killings we had. The second is regime change, which brought about the abrogation of constitutions. Third is systems change. People are more focused on regime change forgetting that systems change is more important. That is why within this system Buhari cannot succeed much, and then you have the social vices as the fourth. The overthrow of Alhaji Shehu Shagari allowed the beginning of what I call institutionalized illegal drug trade through Nigeria. Related to that is the disappearance of Gloria Okon. It relates to the 0ctober 19, 1986 parcel bomb that killed Dele Giwa. This also led to the overthrow of Buhari/ Idiagbon’s War Against Indiscipline. This is one of the unsaid messages of Buhari’s situation.
Drug barons removed him?
Yes. Drug barons’ interest had a hand in the coup that removed Buhari. Under the regime change, you also have the June 12, 1993 annulment. Under extra judicial killings, you have the poisoning of MKO Abiola. Alongside that, a government came in and imposed a legalization of nepotism determined constitution, a compounding of inequality in existing unfairness, which favoured the North with 19 states, compared to 17 in the South. From Gowon’s equal six states in the South and six in the North, we moved to self interest driven states creations. It was moved to an inequality of states that favoured the far North. This was what Abacha and Abdulsalami regimes carried over and even compounded. In 1990, there was the Pius Okigbo’s $12.8bn oil windfall embezzlement, which marked the beginning of institutionalized corruption under IBB’s watch. Thus, it was one of the major reasons for Major Gideon Orkar’s pro-democracy 1990 action. The murder of MKO Abiola led to the conspiracy of the unanswered question that created the room for Obasanjo’s acceptance to rule Nigeria in 1999.
What is the conspiracy of the unanswered question?
All I can answer is that it is not unconnected with the poisoning of M.K.O Abiola. In other words, M.K.O had to be killed to pave way. I leave it like that. The imposition of the 1999 constitution deepened the root of the negative paradigm, which gave rise to Boko Haram. We also commend the president for going into another deep wound in the murder of Bola Ige, Harry Marshal, and Dikibo.