By Dan Kanu
Nonagenarian elder statesman, Elder Umah Eleazu, has warned that there may be no Nigeria to govern in 2023 going by the festering insecurity in the country.
Eleazu, an economist and political strategist who once ran for the office of the president in this interview with Sunday Sun spoke on the dangers ahead and what needs to be done to salvage the country, which he said is now a failed state. Excerpt:
Most Nigerians have come to this sorry verdict that the country has become a killing field. Do you share this view?
In those days when I was studying political science, they said the definition of a state is that it has the preponderance of the means of violence within its borders to be able to maintain peace, order, and good government. That is why a state acquires the preponderance of means of violence and put it in the hands of an army or police organised, mark the word – organised, means of violence. So, when a state is no longer able to control the organised means of violence and unable to defend its people, it cannot provide peace, order, or good government. When a state slips to that point it has failed. So, what we are looking at is a failed state, that is what Nigeria is. But the people at the top, are still behaving like drunken people as if everything is alright, when, in fact, the country has actually collapsed under their watch and non-state actors are now more powerful than the organised means and groups of violence held by the state. So, this is why we have a state of insecurity. You cannot get up here and say you are going to the East and trust that you will get there. So, the state has lost out.
In a situation like this, what is the way out, the solution?
We have proposed several solutions before the country started drifting. I wrote something about restructuring which was published by either your medium, The Sun, or Vanguard, long ago. You see, we keep talking about restructuring and the people who should do it are not interested. They are not interested because they stand to gain by the confusion reign in Nigeria because if you restructure the country the way we are suggesting they may lose out. The only thing we can do now is for those who agree that this country should be restructured to get together and we start doing it, not just talking about it or writing articles or granting interviews or making statements. We should start doing something. What I have suggested is: there are people we elected or rather people who rigged themselves into all kinds of offices and became our leaders. They are sitting in Abuja, if you read your Nigerian Constitution 1999, bad as it is, it gives the National Assembly the power to make laws for peace, order, and good governance in Nigeria. The same applies to the states and the state assemblies, the role of the president is to execute the laws made by the National Assembly. So, the National Assembly is where the matter ought to start to restructure, but they don’t want to. Everybody is waiting for the president, the president is an executive president, he executes the laws made by the representatives of the people. But when you have somebody like Lawan (Senate President) they are there to do what the president wants, that they are there to help the president, then it doesn’t help matters. So, whatever the president says they agree. Only one or two Senators in the Senate can say no, no, no, it should not be that way and then they knock the gavel and say “the I’s” have it and that is the end of the matter. My suggestion now is, these people in Abuja, National Assembly members, should go back to the people they say they are representing. All the Senators should go back to their Senatorial zones and then call the House of Reps members from the same Senatorial zone. When they arrive they should call the members of the House of Assembly from the same Senatorial zone and then bring in their governor to sit with them and have a conversation. What do you want about this much-talked-about restructuring? In other words, the change should start with the people articulating what they want. So, when the senators, members of the House of Reps and the members of House of Assembly have consulted at that level (Senatorial district), then they will call another town hall meeting as the Americans call it, at the level of the state in which they bring in selected people, the so-called leaders we have. They have finished consulting in their senatorial district, now they come to the state and they with the people they think will know, the opinion leaders in their state and they sit together and go through again what the senators had gathered at their Senatorial district and that will now be the position of that state, going forward. Now, when they return to the National Assembly, they will be speaking more effectively as to what the people they represent want. The British people did it in 1948/49 what I am telling you now. When they wanted to give the constitution Awolowo had written a book: “Path to Nigeria freedom”, Zik had written a book: “Renascent Africa and Blueprint on Nigeria freedom”. Chike Obi wrote a book; Aminu Kano also wrote, and many others. They all had their ideas about how we are going to stay together, but it was only at the Ibadan conference of 1948-9, they started in December and ended early in 1949. People had consulted at the district levels and now gathered together at the provincial councils, from the provincial councils they sat with the district officers who were then the white people and summarized what they had held with their people, the conversation with their people which they have articulated. Every region: Eastern, Western, Northern regions, all met in Ibadan in a conference. That was the basis of the federation that we have today. Those who don’t know will say, oh, that the British imposed the constitution….No, they did not impose the constitution. The constitution we had at independence was a result of negotiations among Nigerians, they disagreed on certain issues. Let’s take, for instance, the issue of police. Zik wanted police if I remember well at the state level, and because of the way the northerners used the Alkali courts and the Alkali police, people like Aminu Kano, even Awolowo, they said no, that if you know what is going on in the North, if you give them police also that they will kill all the people they are supposed to be ruling. I remember, in the 1964 election, somebody stood for election in Bauchi, the same constituency that Tafawa Balewa who was the Prime Minister came from. They refused the man to file his paper. Whenever he wanted to file his paper they will tell him the office is closed and all the Alkali police will chase all the opposition out, they won’t even allow them to file their own nomination, that time we had single-member constituencies. The man insisted and went to court to say that he was being prevented from filing his papers. They said no, that he can come at 9:00 O’clock, that was the argument in the court, eventually, the man was killed on the way to file his nomination. That was the atmosphere in which the federal police was agreed upon and regional police defeated. Now, conditions have changed since the creation of states and zones and all that. This is a time to look at the entire thing again and see if governors are said to be chief security officers of their state and then somebody else posts the commissioner of police to him and there is a security issue, he calls his commissioner and says this is what I want you to do, he says: let me ask the IG, so the Inspector General of Police can overrule the governor. So, that is no longer a tenable position to say that the governor is the chief security officer of the state.
So, looking at what is on the ground, do you think the time is now ripe for state police?
The whole thing should be restructured, the constitution, governors, state, everything, down to local government, it is not just the police, even the army. When Obasanjo became president, he called for a reformed conference, I think in 2005, the paper that the Eastern region took there, we suggested that we should have a regimental army. A regimental army means that the Eastern region or as a region will have its own army, that looks after the territorial limits of the East and if Nigeria is to go to war or anything happens that requires emergency, like what is happening in the East now, you can then ask each of the regiments, like the Eastern regiment to please send you soldiers to come and help out. If you follow what happened when they stormed the capitol in the US, the argument was why didn’t the capitol police invite the national guard, the national guard is under the state, but they are all trained together, but you go back to the state that sent you for the training. When there is a major issue like that the nearby states can be asked to bring in their army to solve the problem quickly. That was the argument, that why didn’t they ask Virginia to send National Guard to come and beef up the ones that guard Washington DC or Maryland. Each of them has armies trained and there are rules by which you can call them up for National emergency. So, what I am saying is that we need to sit down and restructure the whole country and until we do it we are not going to go anywhere.
How do you see agitation for a Nigerian president of Southeast extraction in 2023?
Will Nigeria still be there in 2023 at the rate we are going? This country has failed, our leaders have failed us and we the people are saying: let’s sit down and restructure the country. If you put an Igbo man in Aso Rock, what is the guarantee that he will last one week? Didn’t Ironsi take over the governance after the first coup, what happened to him? This is because we are not one; this country is not a nation yet, we hate each other, because of the hatred that exists they will not allow an Igbo man to do the things that need to be done. I am not saying those who are trying should not continue to try. The way I look at it, I ask, will there be Nigeria to govern by 2023? Okay, they may allow somebody from the East to come and pick up the pieces after they have destroyed the whole place. They go behind and agree with Boko Haram to go and kidnap people and demand ransom and they take the money that was supposed to be used to buy arms to pay them, they release the people they have captured. This is what is going on and you think we are going to sit down like this and they will continue to fool everybody?
Let’s zero down on what is happening in the Southeast now, particularly the mayhem that happened in Owerri and in some other places within the state (Imo). There has been allegation and counter-allegations…?
(Cuts in) Well, I am here in Lagos and I don’t have any privileged information. It is when the newspapers write and other news media I piece the issues together. I have a right to interpret what I read.
So, how have you interpreted this one?
They said in the papers that the Owerri bombardment of the prison and the police headquarters took about 2-3 hours. Do you believe that? Now, if it took 2-3 hours and the governor’s office is just about a kilometer or less away from it and the army barracks in Obinze is just about three kilometers away. Did anybody alert the army or the governor or the police and say, some people are here attacking the prison. In all the things that you have read or written in your paper, do you have any hint that anybody alerted any of these authorities as to what was happening? Okay. If nobody alerted them and they waited and it finished where did the IG of Police get the information that it was IPOB? Within an hour after the event he announced that it was the IPOB that did it, and the Eastern Security Network (ESN). When you read things like that, you don’t know whether to believe that it is IPOB or to begin to see it as set up against some people. There was a time Rochas Okorocha was the governor of Imo State and two trailers were said to have carried able bodied people from the North and they were told to just go to Imo for training. It was published in the papers. I read it either in The Sun or Vanguard, eventually they said they asked them to go back. Did they? Then another group was carried in a trailer and they were going to Port Harcourt and they were stopped after Aba and they said they were going for training, where are those people who came down right now? What kind of training were they coming to get? And who was to provide the training? When you read some of these things you start connecting the thoughts and then you begin to ask yourself, what is really going on?
Do you have any fear for the country the way things seem to be going?
I have no fear for Nigeria because Nigeria has collapsed. My hope is that people of goodwill will follow what I just told you earlier and let us start the arduous job of putting it back together. There was a time I was afraid Nigeria might collapse, but it has now collapsed, so the task before us is to look for people of goodwill who will come together and will discuss about the whole concept of Nigeria. Do we still want to continue with this British project called Nigeria? Remember the project Nigeria is a British creation. They didn’t ask us the groups in the land whether we want to be a Nigerian. They came here to do their trading and then they cut a plantation and named it Nigeria, but that plantation had people living in it. After some years the people are realizing that what is happening is not healthy for their development and they want back their land. We must have a say in what we are doing. They way we are going, I am sorry, we have lost it, but we can make amends and correct things with genuine restructuring.