Former presidential aspirant on the platform of the defunct Social Democratic Party (SDP), Prof. Iyorwuese Hagher, has urged separatist agitators to go about their agitations in a civilised manner to avoid bloodshed.
In an interview with VINCENT KALU, Prof Hagher, a former senator who has served twice as minister, and twice as ambassador, said the three zones that have produced the presidents should wait for the other three zones to have presidents. After that, he noted, the president should be chosen purely through popular contests devoid of zoning.
Nigeria is being troubled on various fronts – security, economy and others, even as mutual suspicions among ethnic groups are deeper. What gave rise to all these and what solutions can you proffer?
Many Nigerians have tried to go back in history to situate Nigeria’s problems in the Amalgamation of 1914. They say that Nigeria’s amalgamation into one country should never have taken place because of our differences. These groups insist that the amalgamation’s expiry date is over, and it is now the time for the dissolution of the federation.
But I say these people are wrong. There is no manual for the formation of nations. Wars, accidents, imperialism, necessity, agreements, arbitrations, and consensus have all given birth to countries.
Our nation was born from imperialism, and we became a British colony after the Berlin Conference of 1884-1885. But we shook off the shackles of colonialism and emerged as an independent nation. The whole world stood still, understanding that Nigeria would be a great nation and would wipe away the tears of all black people of the world by building a great democracy and a republic, where justice and honour, peace, and progress will be showcased.
The reasons for the failure to attain greatness are that we have poor leaders and poor followers, who have not made nation-building their number one priority. Our leaders have continued to wallow in ethnic racism and corruption. Ironically, it was based on Pan-African unity and nationalism that our founding fathers got independence, but soon after independence, we have systematically destroyed every fabric of nation building through corruption and ethnic racism (tribalism). The last six years have been the very worst in throwing up Nigeria’s fault lines. The parties have failed to give leadership. They lack ideological commitment, purpose, or clarity. The weak institutions of state have been unable to defend democracy, and the Nigerian people have not yet resolved on national greatness. When we decide, nobody can stop us.
Nigeria’s elite must come together, overcome their apathy and decide to make Nigeria great through a comprehensive restructuring of the federation. We need a more efficient and leaner federal civil and public service. We need the states to be stronger and the Federal Government to divest itself of its overwhelming control at the centre. We must resolve to tackle tribalism with greater intensity than we have fought corruption. The last thing we need to do in addressing our nation’s calamities is to recruit into politics and the public sphere people with sound character, who see wrong as wrong and who are courageous to stand up to forces that seek to destroy Nigeria,
Talking about insecurity, we started with Boko Haram and now ISWAP. The United Arab Emirates recently named some Nigerians sponsoring the insurgent group. Nigerians were excited, thinking that those who have contributed to plunging this country into the crisis that has gulped billions of dollars and the carnage that followed would be prosecuted. However, the Presidency said charging them is not a priority. What is your view on this?
My view is that the government has been living in denial that Nigeria is festering from a civil war that religious extremists and ethnic bigotry have foisted over us. The government has invented semantics of deception, which is helping terrorists by packaging them as “bandits” and, even worse, “non-state actors.” I was deeply disturbed to see Mr. President walking on eggshells, to call the foreign Fulani terrorists, arsonists, rapists, and land grabbers through genocide as “non-state actors.” Kidnapping has been packaged now as a flourishing business as well. Perhaps this government is slowly manufacturing our consent and clandestinely urging our surrender to a Taliban-type insurrection. The facts are too glaring to say otherwise. This government knows the sponsors of these asymmetric wars. They know how to block their funding and know far more than they wish the public to know. We lift our eyes to God in the knowledge that every terrorist era has an expiry date. May the God Almighty hasten such expiry.
There have been calls to classify bandits ravaging the North-West and other parts of the country as a terrorist group, but the Federal Government still holds the position that they are not terrorists even when they recently downed a military aircraft, attacked a train and commit other heinous atrocities. What does this suggest?
It is said that 2023 and power rotation contribute largely to overheating the polity. What is your take on this?
Whenever we practise democracy, it gets better with usage. Democracy is the best form of the worst forms of government, as they say. I disagree that the issue of rotational presidency is contributing to overheating the polity. The year 2023 is the leading cause of heat. The hope of 2023 is somewhat calming the polity. Separatist emotions are being assuaged by the hopes of participating in elections and benefiting from a power-sharing process in a united Nigeria.
How do we halt these growing separatist agitations? It started with Biafra in the South-East, then to the South-West with Oduduwa, and the other day, the Ijaw National Congress leader told a visiting High Commissioner that they were tired of Nigeria and wanted to opt-out.
We cannot stop separatist agitations. They are simply part of democratic guarantees of freedom of expression. There are over 50 secessionists’ movements in the world on every continent, except Antarctica. These movements can be found in Europe, Asia, the U.S, Canada, Australia, Mexico, etc. Europe’s most famous breakaway group is in Scotland. In 2014, they lost in a referendum where those that chose to stay voted 55 per cent against 44. The great pity about most African separatist groups is that rather than submit to a rational due process that leads to a referendum, a few determined adventurers usually take arms against the state. In Canada, the Quebec province keeps seeking to secede but stays on. I wish all separatists would go about this in a civilized manner to avoid bloodshed.
From the recent high court judgment on VAT, the clamour for true federalism, fiscal federalism and resource control are taking a higher pitch. This seems to pit the North against the South. What is your view on this issue, and how can it be resolved?
We need an elite consensus and restructuring. I also do not think we have any more North and South dichotomy in this country. We have had six zones for power sharing since the 1999 Constitution became operational. The three zones that produced the president are expected to wait for the other three zones to have presidents. After that, presidents of Nigeria will be purely through popular contests devoid of zoning. How do I know this? I actively took part in the crafting of zoning in the 1994-95 Constitutional Conference.
Some call for a political solution instead of legal battles for Nnamdi Kanu and Sunday Igboho. What is your view on this?
Those calling for a political solution are drawing similarities between the insurgent behaviour of Kanu and Igboho on the one hand and that of the Fulani herdsmen terrorists on the other. There is formidable indignation that while Igboho and Kanu terror groups have been criminalised, the more brazen and ubiquitous Fulani herdsmen are given a pat on the back and not categorised as terrorists. In my opinion, there should be only one law for all citizens who should be offered an even-handed criminal justice system. To do less is to demean the rule of law and create a ruling class mentality of those above the land laws.
The Middle Belt, through the Middle Belt Forum (MBF), joins the South on common purpose or national issues instead of the North. What does it suggest for the perceived monolithic North?
The Middle Belt comprising the indigenous ethnic nationalities of Central Nigeria and other non- Hausa-Fulani and Non- Fulani in all the states of the North woke up in the wake of the Buhari presidency to begin to question the identity politics that has been highlighted by the Buhari presidency. These groups woke up to find the core creators- North and those whose paternity is openly derided living in different worlds. They felt betrayed and looked up to the South for an alliance. This is a healthy development to open space for discussion and negotiation of political freedom.
How can Nigeria be rebuilt to meet the dreams of the founding fathers?
Nigeria must be built with the building blocks of justice, equality and freedom for all groups in Nigeria. Tribes must give way to a united Nigeria, where we no longer are expected to announce our tribes to offer or receive goods and services.
Discrimination on a tribal basis in any form should be sanctioned. When we are Nigerians, first and foremost, our sense of self-esteem will grow. The citizens will become the watchdog over our rights, democracy, and our resources.
It is reported that herdsmen have killed 1,773 in Benue State in three years. How can this herdsmen issue be tackled so that there will be peace across the country?
The herdsmen should be compelled to obey the anti-open grazing law of the Benue people or be held accountable for breaches and for terrorism. Herdsmen’s attacks on Benue farmers are an attack on Nigeria because it undermines our food security assurance.
Please take the cows and the caste condemned to chase their emaciated and weathered carcasses hither and thither off Benue farms and Benue land. The country must embrace ranching or perish in ignorance.