By Onyedika Agbedo
Civil war hero and Second Republic politician, Chief Guy Ikokwu, believes that Nigerians must avoid fighting another civil war at all cost. He sees the agitations across some sections of the country as strong call for the adoption and practice of a true federal system of government within one Nigeria. In this interview, he declares that ‘Biafra’ has become a collective project of all sections of the country, warning the Federal Government not to wait until things get out of hand before doing the right things.
Recently, former President Olusegun Obasanjo raised the alarm that the country has become fractured like never before. Both of you fought in the civil war. Are you alarmed too?
No, I am not alarmed. Obasanjo’s statement was part of a realistic assessment of the state of the nation. Obasanjo certainly knows more than others because he has been within the system for many years. So, he knows the causes, remote and recent. People don’t know that Obasanjo was a very good friend of the late Major Kaduna Nzeogwu and Major Usman Katsina. They had served together in the North and various segments of the military. People also don’t know that when Nzeogwu died in the civil war, Obasanjo was taking care of his (Nzeogwu’s) mother in the present Delta State until she died. So, Obasanjo has been right within the Nigerian fabric and the Nigerian project.
The cries we have today are not for disintegration; the cries we have today are for restructuring of the country. The proponents who are fighting for a just cause are in the majority in Nigeria today. From the South-east to the South-south, North-east, North-west, North-west, South-south and North central, there is a consensus of opinions that Nigeria should be restructured. Leaders and members of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) also share the view. So, it is not a question of political difference, it cuts across the politics of the day. It is in the APC manifesto that Nigeria should be restructured. So, it is not a glib talk; it is not something that started last night.
The Emir of Kano, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, is one of those who had seen it all from the academic and economic side of it. He recently asked, ‘how can out of the 36 states in the country today, 28 of them cannot pay salaries. All the 36 states have 36 governors and 36 deputy governors with millions of aides, 36 state assembly speakers, 36 deputy speakers, and state assembly committees of all sorts. In the National Assembly it is the same thing.’ Sanusi said when you go down to the local councils, you would see how much money that was spent on salaries and allowances. He asked what then was left for the development of Nigeria as a nation.
As a former CBN governor, he was telling the truth. He knew it all; he had seen it all. You can have a reserve of $100 billion but if out of your $100 billion reserve $90 billion is used for recurrent expenditure, what then is left for capital expenditure? Capital expenditure is for development so what are we leaving for our children? How do we give proper education to our children? High level education is what any nation needs to develop. There must be productivity in your technology and in your science if you must develop.
So, Nigeria has hit the bottom, a situation where virtually all the governments in the country cannot pay salaries. If you don’t pay salaries of workers that you hire, how would those workers feed and maintain their families? What of the multiplier effect and index?
Now, look at other countries that have used their natural resources properly for the development of their country. See where they are now since 1960 and compare it with where we are now since 1960. I give you an example. Malaysia came here to study how we grow palm trees and produce palm oil. Today we are importing palm oil from Malaysia.
So, calls for the restructuring of the country are very realistic. It is not something that is just a figment of the imagination. Obasanjo said what all of us know. A majority of our citizens, both low and high level, know that we have been in a crisis of productivity and governance for a long time now. The difference is that it is now on the table of the ordinary man. It is now that the ordinary man is agitated because he can’t afford one meal per day.
How can we turn the ugly situation around?
The situation can only be turned around if we change our system. All the countries that have made progress in the last 100 years have done so primarily because they have a system that is able to harness their natural God-given resources. The ones that don’t have such God-given resources fell back on their intellectual manpower. Singapore is in this latter category.
Meanwhile, these countries are federations, not unitary. They have diverse ethnic and religious groups just like Nigeria. Nigeria is an amalgam of a lot of diverse interests but it is an amalgam, which if you harness individually and properly, could give rise to more beneficial productive aspects of the land. However, the military deceived Nigeria by saying that we had a federal government both in 1979 and 1999. It is a lie! What we have is unitary federalism. And our historians and constitutional eggheads say that such a contradiction is a fallacy. The constitutions that the military gave to us right from the Gen. Aguiyi-Ironsi era were military constitutions. These military constitutions are absolutely illegal. They are contradictions of what we call normal constitutional tenets. Sovereignty belongs to the people, not to the military. Therefore, the issue of system is that we need a truly federal government. We need a true fiscal federation so that there would be sustainability and the ethos of development.
In a truly federal system of a parliamentary nature, you find that the head of government is not a one-man show. And because it is not a one-man show, he is subject to party discipline. Today, there is absolutely no head of government in Nigeria that is subject to party discipline. It is not so in a parliamentary system. A minister or commissioner in a parliamentary system can take over from the president or the governor if the president or governor loses a vote of confidence. Therefore, the president or governor in a parliamentary system is very careful so as to retain the confidence of a majority. This majority are delegates of the people who have the sovereignty.
So, the kind of restructuring in your mind is a return to the parliamentary system?
Yes, we should return to the practice of regional governments in a parliamentary system in Nigeria, which was the system in place before and after independence until the creation of the 12 states structure by General Gowon shortly before the civil war. Under the system, Nigeria had more rapid development. In fact, when they started, Eastern region was less developed than the others. But within a very short time, the East overtook the others and was developing at a minimum of 10 per cent per annum. It was just like China which developed at the minimum of 12 per cent.
The new system should be in such way that the regions will be contributing to the centre, not the centre contributing to the regions or the states. Today, all the states go cap in hand to Abuja every month to get some palliatives. Have you ever heard of the centre bailing out the states so that they can pay salaries until now? It is ridiculous; it is a contradiction of federalism. It never happened when we practiced the parliamentary system under regional governments. This current system encourages corruption. But the parliamentary system will reduce it and there will be more growth. Now, how would there be more growth? This is what we say should be in the new constitution of Nigeria. The new constitution must have a clause which says that any appropriation bill should have at least 60 per cent for capital expenditure and 25/30 per cent for recurrent expenditure. But today, the reverse is the case because there are constraints. If we go into the details you will find that we are in real mess.
You mentioned that the present system encourages corruption. What is your take on the anti-corruption crusade of the current administration?
Unitary federalism, which we are practicing encourages corruption because it allows for very little accountability. It is a system that is dictated by one man so there are no checks and balances. If you go back to the last 16 years of governance in Nigeria, the Executive lobbies the Legislature to pass the budget. But as soon as the Legislature passes the budget, it becomes the property of the Executive. At the federal level, it is the property of the president and his wife. It is in their bedroom that they will deal with oil blocks, infrastructure, and make disbursements. Ditto at the state and local council levels. No minister or commissioner in that government can query the president or governor. If the EFCC should probe all the governors across the political parties in the last 16 years, there is hardly one of them that it would not find to have embezzled billions of public money. So, if President Buhari wants to wipe out corruption, it should be holistic. Some of the suspects, in order not to be probed, have decamped to the president’s party so they can be protected. The EFCC knows them, so why are so many of them not being probed? Why have those already probed not been fully tried? Why have they not been sentenced? Why has government not collected the monies that they stole? That is what the ordinary man is asking.
President Buhari basically has two agenda. One is to fight against insurgency. We support him 110 per cent. Buhari also has a penchant inbuilt in him to fight corruption. His election slogan was that if we don’t kill corruption, corruption will kill Nigeria. We support him on the issue but the methodology is a different matter. The theory is correct but how to implement the theory is a different thing. If you want to wipe out corruption, there is no country in the world that can wipe out corruption 100 per cent. What you do is you reduce corruption by dealing decisively with culprits in accordance with the law. Therefore, any issue of corruption must be dealt with holistically. We applaud him for being determined to deal with the corruption of the last administration. But he must also deal with the corruption of the previous governments and we have records that go back to 1979. The people are still alive and the money that they accumulated corruptly is still around us, further corrupting our system. He should order the anti-graft agencies to take those people on.
Do you think the National Assembly has the capacity to effect some of the reforms you have advocated?
The National Assembly (NASS), to some extent, can do it. The issue is now on the front burner and the hue and cry is everywhere. I’m still talking about restructuring. The media has helped, and the media is still helping by putting it on the front burner and not waiting for the latter day because the latter day is total disintegration. So, it should be done; there is no excuse. Obasanjo knows this; Gen. Akinrinade knows this, likewise Prof. Bolaji Akinyemi, Tanko Yakassai, David Mark, Atiku Abubakar and many others that have voiced their concerns. Let me add that even President Buhari also knows this.
Former President Goodluck Jonathan placed the report of the 2014 National Conference before David Mark, the former Senate president (never mind Buhari says the report is in the archives; it is in his own bedroom archives). The National Assembly has made copies of the report available to members in preparation for the planned amendment of the constitution. Recall that the 7th NASS amended the constitution but the amendments were not implemented because Jonathan refused to sign the document. So, those former amendments and the report of the 2014 National Conference should be taken. Then any new proposal on the basis of what we have seen or what we are learning that is applicable to us as a people should also be added to them and discussed during the new amendment process. The NASS should also involve the civic society for their input. It’s only when that is done that we can have a semblance of what the people want in the country called Nigeria.
Don’t you think that representatives from the northern part of the country where there is no consensus in support of restructuring will frustrate any motion towards that on the floor of the NASS?
We have been fighting Boko Haram for how many years now? Boko Haram is from the North-east. It started from there but it is the resources of the whole country that government has been spending to fight them. Has it ended? The answer is No. Is the NASS not concerned about what is going on? They are very much concerned because it is our resources that are being depleted. If oil price goes down to $20 per barrel, how would members of the NASS get their money? The price of a loaf of bread now is from N200 upwards. When a loaf of bread starts costing N1000, there will concerns. You can’t shut your eyes to realistic issues. Whether you are North, East, South or West, all of us would be victims. The people who might not be victims are the so-called billionaires who can buy a loaf of bread for N5000. So, when the concerns become universal, there would be a collective search for solutions. It is a question of time. Sovereignty, which means real action, belongs to the people. When the people say enough is enough they mean it.
You are a respected elder statesman from Igboland. You are talking about restructuring but the agitation by members of the Independent People of Biafra (IPOB) is for total separation. What is your take on that?
If Nigeria disintegrates there will be Biafra. When I say Biafra I don’t mean the old Biafra of the late Chief Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu. Biafra means (and those who don’t know it should know now), conscience. Like Noble Laureate Wole Soyinka said recently, Biafra is an attitudinal matter. Biafra is self-determination. What the South-south people, the Niger Delta Avengers (NDA), are talking about for their self-determination is Biafra not territorial Biafra. People should understand that. They are talking about Biafra of the conscience, Biafra of justice, and Biafra of self-determination that sovereignty belongs also to them and that they should get their own side of it. Go to the South-west, what Afenifere is talking now is Biafra. Afenifere is saying that if Nigeria is going to disintegrate, they want their own Biafra; they want their own self-determination. So, Biafra as self-determination, applies to South-west, South-east, South-south, North-east, North-west and North central.
When the late Saudana of Sokoto, Ahmadu Bello, was governing the entire Northern region as premier, he used proceeds from groundnuts to build great universities. Then, the North had economic sustainability. In the West, the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, used proceeds from cocoa to build the first television station in Africa. And Nigeria can still produce more cocoa than Ivory Coast, which survives on proceeds from cocoa, or equal them. In the East, we had rubber and palm oil plantations. Today, Michellin has gone; they had factories here, but they don’t produce tyres anymore in Nigeria. But we have the rubber, we have the raw material. We can start exporting it or we will establish factories that will manufacture better tyres for our vehicles. Why do we have to import virtually everything we need in this country?
So, when you have a system that encourages the economy of self-reliance of all the component parts of Nigeria, using the mineral resources available to them to do exactly what God says they should do, that is Biafra. During the civil war, we were refining crude oil into petrol in the bush for 30 months and distributing to cars and whatever. For aircrafts there was an element that was added during the refining process to get aviation fuel that the jets used. This was done sustainably by a part that believed in itself, in its own technology and in its own advancement for almost three years. So, if all parts of Nigeria can exercise their right to self-determination, there will be healthy competition and sustainable development.
Do you think this is achievable under a united Nigeria in the face of growing separatist agitations?
The separatist agitations are against unitary federalism as our system of government. The separatist agitators are calling for a true federal system of government within one Nigeria. The Afenifere of the West is an army of the Yorubas. Are you deceived by it? It is an Oduduwa army and security apparatus. You have it in IPOB, the militants in the Niger Delta and so on. Are you waiting until everybody starts fighting each other before you do the right things? The country would go into abyss if that is allowed to happen.
So you believe that IPOB, for instance, is not serious with its quest to have a country called Biafra?
They are our children. Ohanaeze Ndigbo is one imperial institution of all Igbos; it doesn’t matter who you are. Ohanaeze believes in justice, equity and fair play. Ohanaeze believes in the autonomy of federating units and that these units should subscribe to the centre for what the centre should do for the country. What are the things the centre should do for the country? They should be in charge of foreign affairs and protection of territorial integrity. They should also have a central police, but the component units should be allowed to have state police with the two complementing each other. That is what operates in the U.S. and it makes them to grow rapidly. Nigeria can also move fast if we do the right things. Last year, Nigeria was ranked as the largest economy in Africa. Last week, we heard that Nigeria has gone below, that South Africa has taken its place. The next you will hear, if care is not taken, is that Nigeria is below Egypt. And before you know it we will be fourth or fifth on the ladder. You see, we are going down. Is it when we reach the drains that people will begin to ask what happened or how did we get there?
Today, most Nigerians who have their thinking faculties say that the price of Nigeria’s crude oil should not rise to $100 in the immediate future. When we reform let it go up. Let it rise when we know how to use our cocoa, rubber, cotton, etc. We are dormant because we run a mono economy. Everything depends on oil and yet the communities where you get the resources are not benefitting. Let the economy remain depressed for the next two years so we can recycle Nigeria and move forward as a country.
You witnessed the build up to the civil war and eventually went to the battle front on the side of Biafra. What do you expect leaders of the country to be doing at a time like this?
Ojukwu, before he died, said ‘please don’t fight another civil war. Do all you can to rectify any anormaly. Shout and protest but don’t fight another civil war’. It’s on YouTube and we have shared it with members of the IPOB. That is why the disobedience of the boys is very civil and not armed. But you see some people provoking them by killing them and so on.
Only recently they started releasing some of them that were being incarcerated. Some are still being incarcerated even when the courts have granted them bail. We do not believe in another civil war. We believe that civic actions will eventually lead us to a solution, the aggregate of which would come from the people. Restructuring used to be a dirty and innocuous word a year ago but it is no longer. I now hear it everywhere. There is a thunderous yes to restructuring everywhere it is mentioned now. When you have that kind of hilarious cry, people who say they are deaf their ears will open. And their ears will open more because the economic situation is bad. They can see it with their own eyes. Many world powers are now advising Nigeria to change the system because the people want it. Any government that doesn’t have good ears would soon hear.