Onyekachi Monday Ubani is the former second vice president of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), and a social commentator from Abia State.
In this interview, Ubani looked at the various national issues ranging from the continued call for Nigeria’s restructuring, aftermath of EndSARS protest, and how President Mohammadu Buhari can gain back the trust of Nigerian youths, among other burning issues. Excerpt:
Recenty, MASSOB, a Southeast pro-Biafra group, said that the root cause of their agitation is because of the continued marginalisation of the Igbo in Nigeria. do you agree with them on this?
The truth is that previous, past and present governments have not shown some level of responsibility towards the Southeast region as a major tribe in the country. They still regard the Eastern region as a conquered territory in all their pronouncements and policies. When you’re travelling to the East, the number of security men that are on the road gives that impression, and they don’t even want to change it. Meanwhile, when you travel to any other region by road, we don’t see such police presence. If the police and army are there for the sake of security, then it makes some sense, but they are not, what they are there for is to extort residents and travellers. Secondly, when it comes to the distribution of basic infrastructure, the worst federal roads in the whole federation are in the eastern axis and it remains like that till today. Go to Enugu and Owerri federal airports and then compare them to what you have in other regions; you’ll notice that it is the poorest in terms of basic facilities. Then when it comes to issues of appointment too, in most key appointments, the Igbo are not considered; especially in this Buhari’s government. And some of the government policies, like the border closure, have affected Igbo traders mainly. The border has been closed for several months, and the government doesn’t care. So, I’m saying with sincerity that when you look at government pronouncements and some of the things they do with regards to Eastern region, you will know that there is maginalisation. Even the issue of the 2023 presidency they are talking about now, if a country is run on truth, equity and justice, then it would be very inequitable, ungodly for any other region to be clamouring for the presidency, when they know that tge Igbo have not taken that position since 1999 till date. It has gone round Yoruba, Hausa, Fulani and South-south region. Now, another tenure is about to start and another tribe in the South is positioning itself to sideline the Igbo because they feel the Igbo don’t count and are conquered people. Is that equity and justice? If Nigerians have a sense of justice, they will know that power would come back to the South, and to the Eastern region, not to any other region. But their wickedness and heart of evil and hatred for the Igbo, they are now manipulating to ensure that the Igbo never lead the country. So, if you’re an Igbo, why would you want to stay with people that don’t have a sense of justice? Why would you feel you belong to such a country? But I don’t like the strategy of both IPOB and MASSOB. They are tactless. The group is not even run by people who understand how to go about whatever they want. Look at what comes out of the mouth of their leaders; they are too crude and their leaders don’t talk maturely. I agree that we are marginalised, but there are better ways to go about the struggle, and get the great country we all dream about.
What better way would you suggest?
Restructure of the system; we had a restructured country from 1960 to 1966 when Nigeria was running a regional government. We had a proper federal system of government; each region was competing and they were living in prosperity. The mistake was made by the military, then evil forces against Nigeria, have seen that mistake and have capitalized on it. From 1966 to date, Nigeria has been running a unitary system of government, not federal.
But Nigeria is known and addressed as a ‘Federal Republic’?
No! We are not yet a federal state. Because if we are running a federal system, there should be federating units that have autonomy. We cannot have so many powers and police in the Exclusive list and that’s why we’ve not been able to make much progress. So, even when we elect the most brilliant president, he will still run into problems because of our federal structure is flawed.
But Buhari once said that Nigeria’s problem is not about structure, but process. Doesn’t that make any sense to you?
He knows that, but when they were campaigning for power, part of the promises they made was that they are going to restructure Nigeria. So, he has got power now and started speaking another grammar. What is the meaning of process? The point is that Nigeria needs to run a true federal system. We are a heterogeneous country and there are differences in religion, tongue and tribe. So, we cannot run it in a unitary system; it can’t work. The units must be allowed to grow at their pace. Let them control their police, plus their internal revenue, and then pay tax to the Federal Government, that is what true federalism is all about. And that way Nigeria would flourish. We have so many resources, states like Zamfara, Adamawa and several other states in the North are endowed with lots of natural and agricultural resources, which they will tap into. But they don’t want to develop their resources, they all want to rely on crude oil.
One of the main fears of those against restructuring of Nigeria is that it could divide the country. They allude that a region could become too wealthy, enough to grow a powerful army strong enough to wage war and then secede from the country. What do you think of this reasoning?
That is dumb thinking, that was also how they were saying that it is not right to have private televisions and radio stations. They were kicking against giving licence to individuals to own private broadcast stations. Their argument that time was that the private stations would be used to preach disunity; that’s the same argument they are putting up now. And that’s the argument they use to induce fear in the gullible minds to buy the rubbish they are saying.
In a federal system there are safeguards, using laws and people’s alertness. The federal controls the military and have their own police square too. Just like in America, they have state and federal police. The state of California is very wealthy than most states. So, have they gone to buy arms, saying they want to secede from America?
You have been very critical of the state government following the discovery and mass looting of COVID-19 palliatives at warehouses. The Nigerian Governors’ Forum and Presidency said the looting was fueled by greed and that palliatives were not hoarded because plans were on ground to still share them. Are you convinced by government’s explanation?
No! What they are saying about what happened to the palliative does not make any sense to me. I didn’t come from Mars, or from outside the country. I’ve been here. and I was here when the lockdown started plus when the so-called palliative was allegedly distributed, and figures were flying around of the amount of palliative they’ve given to Nigerians. I asked around from people who are poor of the poorest whether they got any of those palliatives, and they never did. I asked at the villages, in urban areas and other states of the country. I am a man on the streets and in all my interactions with people, nobody ever told me they received anything from the government. But I was seeing what the government of other countries were doing for their residents. So, when these things happen, our government kept telling all manner of lies about how they spent so much giving palliatives to the poor and people were asking, where are the palliatives? Who and who received? So, it was during this protest that it became very apparent that there was the hoarding of this palliative in warehouses across the states. What made me angry is that some of the discoveries that were made were that some of the items have even expired. There was a particular area that they discovered expired Garri. People were dying of hunger and government were keeping these things and when they were caught pants down, some of them came up with excuses like that they were waiting for the second round of the COVID-19 pandemic, others were saying that they were waiting for their birthday before they can distribute, others were saying that they have not formed a committee. You can see the manner of stupid excuses that they came up with, meaning that these people are supposed to be the ones to be charged, arraigned, and not these hungry Nigerians, who eventually took what belongs to them. The palliatives were given to state governments to distribute to hungry Nigerians, is it not? They didn’t distribute it, now the people found it and took it. Now, the state governments are threatening them that you’ll send police to their homes. So, they now know where their homes are, but you never knew their homes when some of those things were to be distributed; so, that is why we fault their logic. But I condemn those who looted private property, homes plus burning or vandalizing public facilities. Those were built with taxpayers monies. Those things that were destroyed would affect others and it’s a stupid act. It’s even worse that some that went as far as killing.
What’s your take on the whole #EndSARS aftermath?
In any civilised clime, people protest and press home their demands and every government must respect the demands of protesters even if they are in the minority. The complaints of the EndSARS protesters on police brutality and extortion were genuine and any serious government would have moved to address it instead of sending thugs to infiltrate into where the peaceful protest was going on. And before you know it, we started having a break down of law and order, it was just a move to call the dog a bad name so they can hang it. But now, I’m beginning to see a change in tune. The president in his first address ran down everyone, but now he’s saying that youths have a genuine complaint, and they should come for dialogue. So, why are you approbating and reprobating. If he had condemned them before, what has made him change his mind towards them? Which means PMB didn’t get proper information before his address. Government shouldn’t run that way, the government should run on proper information and genuine interest to redress injustice. You don’t condemn and then after making a U-turn and start calling for a dialogue; the youths won’t trust you, because in the first place, you didn’t have information on what you are supposed to do.
So, what can PMB do to win back trust in his government?
The point is Nigerians are the easiest people to govern. The only thing they ask from their leaders is sincerity and when they see that sincerity which is maximised in action you get their trust and support. If the government does some of the things these youths consider to be very noble, in terms of reliving certain persons from their posts, and then making sure that those who are involved in the brutalisation of civilians are brought to book, these moves would make Nigerians believe that the government is sincere, but when a government that came under a popular will of the people promising change, and you’ve not seen any change; instead, it is still the same impunity, lawlessness, disobedience to court order, trampling and violating peoples’ rights, so what has changed? it’s the same corruption going on in all the government agencies. Nigeria is a sick country, we have a problem. So, if the government does the right thing, they would not look for who to blame in some of their inadequacies and incompetence.
What is your advice to Nigerians going forward?
Nigeria can be a great country, if we can try as much as possible to get the kind of leadership that appreciates the modern understanding of governance and leadership. But then we can only get that in an election that is free and fair. So, we must also tinker with our electoral system and take into consideration the pecks of office. Because as long as what politicians get is so bountiful they would do everything humanly possible to compromise the electoral system. So, that it can never be free and fair. It is like a vicious cycle. The moment you don’t get your electoral system right, you cannot have the kind of leadership that would change the system for the better. Nigeria is going to be one of the greatest countries in the world, and it will happen in our own time. It’s possible, but we must try to get the kind of leadership that can make Nigeria excel.