Elder statesman, Chief Mike Ahamba, has warned that if Nigeria must break up, it should do so peacefully. In this interview with VINCENT KALU, the constitutional lawyer and Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), said that restructuring the country is the only guarantee to its survival, even as he called for the adoption of confederation, as well as a return to the Aburi Accord.
What do you make of the situation across the country right now?
First, we have to thank God for not allowing us fall into precipice even though we have been on the cliff hanger for so long. The way we can move from that location is if we become less parochial and more patriotic. We should consider what is communally beneficial, and not what is sectionally beneficial. We must not consider positions based on the advantage it gives you over other people, instead of the opportunity it gives you to serve everybody.
If you have all these, then the political parties will work, the institutions will work and individuals will work. If all these work on the line of being citizens of one nation, then, any other crisis will not be peculiar to us; we handle the way others are handling theirs.
Is this in line with the clamour for restructuring, because some say that unless the country is restructured, it can never make progress?
I believe so, because the present situation appears not to have been well managed for people to like it. Economic restructuring is number one and political restructuring is another. Nigeria didn’t come out into this world; it is a conglomeration of different peoples forced together without their permission.
Having come together, first of all, as a protectorate, engineered by the British colonialists, and later Nigeria by the same colonialists; we went into agreement in the fifties, precisely in 1959 on how we are going to live together, but we have set aside that agreement and that is the bane of our problems today. I believe that unless people know that you eat in terms of your own work, not benefiting from what others have done, that is someone takes it away from outside the area of production; there will always be friction between the owner and the person who is taking it from him. We need restructuring to survive as a nation.
But a situation where this doesn’t go down well with the president, who recently said that the 1999 constitution is very fair to everybody; what next?
It is a pity that our president will think that what he thinks of Nigeria is what Nigeria can be. He is the number one citizen in the country, and even at that, he has to allow the majority to consider what he is good for them. If you look at the original ANPP constitution or manifesto, which was the document, upon which our president of today went into politics to become the president of Nigeria, one of the things written there is that Nigeria has to look at the possibility of restructuring, but times have changed.
All I can appeal to him is to see whether there is the rationale in the request for restructuring; is it true that we must stick to what we are now?
It doesn’t hurt anybody if we restructure in such a way that there is opportunity to develop more for their own area the way they want to develop, then there will be no room for jealousy.
This country will have peace if we agree that to achieve unity we have to give those things that are putting us apart. Aburi Accord, which the Nigerian soldiers agreed upon in 1967, ought to be revisited. The only problem with that document, which I have come to realise is that it didn’t take care of the future of the minorities, and the minorities who were at the head of the civil service torpedoed the document, and it led us into civil war and now we are back.
We must not allow people to continue to feel that some people are dominating them while being in the same country.
Example, in the United States of America, your personal land is your property, and if there is oil, explorers will come negotiate a deal with you and you pay back to the country; people cannot come to your town debase your environment and take away your property and continue to use it to develop other places and allow where it was produced to degenerate into nothingness.
Whatever be the case, I’m soliciting for a new statutorily based national conference; let us sit and make a statement on how we should live together, otherwise, it is everybody to his own, and at a point it may be in a manner that it is not organised, which is something that I pray it doesn’t happen in Nigeria. Restructuring is a sine qua non for the continuous existence of Nigeria.
Northern elders and elites said that there is nothing like restructuring and those clamouring for it want to break the country. What’s your view?
Those who don’t want it are the people who want to break up the country. I refuse to accept the position by a group of people that only those things that they want can happen in Nigeria. I refuse to accept it. That is their view, I want restructuring and they don’t want it. Let’s sit down, as Ojukwu would say, around well-polished mahogany table and decide how we live together peacefully. What is convenient to them does not mean that it is convenient for me. The only thing that makes sense to them is that they are dominating and are in government, and if it turned out tomorrow that they are no more dominating, they will change. Let us go for a means that will enable everybody develop himself; it is not that you sit in armchair, then I suffer for two of us to eat, no. We must put in place those things that will make us like to remain together, and things like confederation must be considered.
Some Southern elders say that they cannot continue to stay where a certain section of the country is the rider, while the others are the horse. They argue if it is like this, it is better to break the country and everybody goes to his place and have peace.
If we want to break this enterprise, let us sit down and break it formally, it is not a situation where one section will want to break it, and the other person will see the other person as secessionist. Everybody is agitating for a change, let us carry this together and decide together that we want to go our separate ways. Let it be done around a well-polished mahogany table; where we should also decide on `what we can do to remain together as friends, not as exploiter and exploited’; the colonial time has gone, and nobody is going to accept colonialism again now. Let us tell ourselves the truth, everybody knows what is wrong, pretending about it will not help anybody, and one thing God has denied us is the knowledge of tomorrow, let us beware.
On the burning issue of 2023 election, some argue that the North should continue after Buhari, what is your take on this?
I’m being embarrassed when people talk about 2023 while we are still in 2019, when the issue of who would rule Nigeria as at now has not been determined. I know some people have gone on appeal to the Supreme Court on the outcome of the 2019 presidential election; I know some have gone on appeal over some governorship in some states. Why should anybody be talking about 2023 in this type of situation?
It is too early in the day; when we get to that time we shall cross it very properly. If we have come to the situation of formally having North -South alternating power in Nigeria, no good citizen will go contrary to it. When the time comes, let us see who comes out from where and we shall determine it, but I think if equity should be followed, subject to bringing a good candidate, the Southeast should produce the presidency.
The issue of rotation you just highlighted, is it not a party affair?
A party is supposed to midwife what the people want; I agree that a party can choose its candidate from anywhere, but the people can use their votes to tell the party what it could have done. PDP suffered it in 2015, and any other person can also suffer it too.
The Southeast governors recently met and took a position on how to safe guard the region, and directed that cows coming in the region must be transported by vehicle and not on foot. But a situation where the security of the zone is being discussed, no person from the region is there, example, the GOC, the state commissioners of police, the state directors of DSS etc are all from outside the zone, how can it work?
It is unfortunate. In a country that is a real country with common citizenship and interest of its citizens being objectively controlled, objectively being safeguarded, then this thing wouldn’t matter. But, we have a peculiar situation in Nigeria. When appointments are made in manner to suggest that you have the intent to dominate even when there is no such intent, people are bound to feel disturbed. It is wrong to do that. It is unfortunate to think that certain things have been done as if some people are being invaded and put under control militarily. It is not funny for those of us who believe that Nigeria is a nation that must be saved is very painful. As it is, the security chiefs have a duty to perform as officers serving in a part of Nigeria and as Nigerians not necessarily as members of the society in that particular community which they are. The GOC is not Igbo, but he should protect Igbo because that is his particular function now to do, so also the police commissioners and other security operatives, they should also do what is right.
IPOB and other Biafra agitators say that the Southeast leaders keep quiet while the zone is policed. According to them, even with the deplorable state of the road, you have police checkpoints mounted on every kilometre, extorting and harassing motorists. What is your take on this?
This is a point that people are raising today, which some of us raised some ten years ago when I used to travel by road to the North, I noticed that the moment you leave the East, you can do tens of kilometres without seeing any checkpoint, but the moment you step into Southeast, every inch is a police checkpoint. I believe that these checkpoints represent economic activities of the officers in charge of these areas. So, every DPO wants to put a checkpoint on the road from one local government to the other to collect their loot for the day.
If you look at the whole place, you find out that nobody looks into your vehicle if you stretch out your hand with money, and they collect the money, they let you go even if you are carrying human head. It is more of corruption affair than a police/state affair; it is matter of collecting money, and everybody wants to be a master of his own area in collection of money. They are doing nothing other than the collection of money.
Why must it be so, why can’t they collect money in those other areas?
Everybody knows the culture of the other people. If you lock up an average Northern man, he stays there with you. But they have realised that in the East, it is a humiliation to be locked up, consequently, the moment you think of locking him up, he is ready to give bribe to prevent it, something that will not happen in other parts of the country.
In the West, they fight you thereafter if you dare lock them up; they fight you judicially. So, in this area, since they have to pay money in other not to go into these dirty cells, these officers then realise that that place is very lucrative for their work. I understand that policemen even give bribe to be sent to serve in the Southeast because of its lucrative nature.
This has a lot of dimensions and should not be looked at for the purpose of attacking anybody. We should look at it as a failure of the topmost person in charge of this organisation to stop them from their corrupt practices among the people.
In fact, you can see some checkpoints just 100 yards apart; you see that of the police, the next one is that of the road safety; then another is that of soldiers kitted as if we are in a war. I don’t see these checkpoints between Abuja and Kaduna road that is the headquarters of kidnapping today, but in the East, they are there as if there is any threat to fight a war when there are no semblance of movements to fight any war; they now block everywhere as if it is a police state. Well, there is God.