One of the conveners of the Nigerian Indigenous Nationalities Alliance for Self Determination, Prof Yusuf Turaki, has warned that Nigeria’s breakup is inevitable if the country continues with the 1999 constitution, which he described as, ‘apartheid constitution’.
In an interview with VINCENT KALU, the Middle Belt leader painted a poignant picture of the plight of his people in the hands of the core North and stated that they can’t continue with Hausa-Fulani domination. According to him, “Nigeria is already on course to fall off the cliff. It is not a matter of may. If Nigeria does not change; if Nigeria does not do away with the contrived 1999 constitution, it is going to implode. Not that it is going to implode, it has already started imploding. There is no government today that serves the interest of the people. Nigerian government today serves the interest of the political elites, but it doesn’t serve the interest of the common people in the country.”
Sixty years after independence, and 50 years after civil war, Nigeria doesn’t seem to be at peace and almost overstretched to a breaking point. Why?
This is the question I have been asking myself right from the mid 70s and I have been involved in serous research concerning this country. What I have discovered on what is happening to us today had a historical foundation, which was laid down by empire builders or social reformers. I traced myself back historically. To answer the question, how did the British Colonial administration set up the country that we call Nigeria? That led me to do serious studies, which were based upon these questions: What were colonial policies, what were colonial administration practices and what was the colonialists’ attitude towards Nigerians and I narrowed my studies to Northern Nigeria. That is: How the British set up the socio-political social order of Northern Nigeria and Nigeria itself?
In the North, I decided to study two ethnic groups or people groups – the Muslim group and the non Muslim group, and I wanted to look at how British colonial administration developed its policies, administrative practices towards the Muslim group and the non Muslim group in Northern Nigeria. I came out with my doctoral thesis at the end of my research and my doctoral thesis was based upon this research topic: “The institutionalisation of the inferior status and socio-political woes of the non Muslim group in the hierarchical structure of the Northern Region of Nigeria: A social ethical analysis of the British Colonial Legacy.” That was the title of my PhD thesis in 1982 at Boston University, Massachusetts, USA.
I wanted to look at the long-term consequences of what the British had done, especially to the Muslims and the non-Muslims in Northern Nigeria that has ramifications not only in the North, but also in the entire country.
So the chaos, the conflicts, the lack of direction that this country is facing right now is rooted and placed upon the foundation which the British colonial masters laid upon Nigeria. But people are surprised and ask question about what is happening today, why do we have ethno –religious conflicts and crises in Northern Nigeria, as well as other parts of the country? They try to give answers to these issues, but their answers do not go back to the foundation, which had been laid down by the colonial masters. Usually, the solutions or answers that Nigerians give don’t address the foundational issues – how Nigerians were set up against each other by the colonial system.
As Nigeria is presently constituted, do you think that the foundation can be corrected?
Yes. In my research, I looked for the solution. The solution is that if Nigerians will be willing to go back and address the fundamental issue, which is a threat to Nigerian state. In my research through my life, I have proffered solutions on how to address the issues that affect Nigeria as a country.
You are talking about Nigerians, that is everybody. If the foundation is faulty, definitely some people are benefiting from it. That being the case, do you think the person or group benefitting will allow it to be corrected?
Yes. However, the way the British set it up, you find out that some groups in Nigeria are the beneficiaries. Let me give you a historical background of what I call, the development of negative social values that affect Nigeria. This is the summary of the question, which you raised about issues that are affecting us – the crises, the conflicts, the lack of unity, insurgencies, banditry, things that are happening today. Let me go back to the background. The social structure and the values of the British colonial social order were berthed into Nigeria. The first is that the British colonial social order, called Nigeria was characterised by the following: the establishment of districts, provinces and regions based upon racial and tribal inequality and the patterns of dominance subordination relationship between ethnic groups and regions. Secondly, Nigeria’s social order was characterised by differential or preferential treatments of ethnic groups and regions. Therefore, Nigerian society was characterised by a stratified inequality in political, social and economic spheres. Fourthly, Nigerian social order was characterised by the creation of new ethnic hierarchies and tribal social units.
The long-term consequences were: they institutionalized socio-political conflicts among ethnic groups and regions. Secondly, is the development of historical and social advantages or disadvantages of ethnic groups or regions in the colonial and post-colonial systems. Thirdly, is the continuity of the unjust colonial structures and values in the post-colonial Nigeria. Coming after this, is the setting up of unbalanced political system for the centre, for the regions and within regions and the introduction of the politics of population, domination and representation. Then, the social and political policy and administrative practices and attitudes of the colonial administration towards ethnic groups and regions were based upon the following: Social, cultural and religious differences of the ethnic groups; secondly, it was based upon the concept of racial, ethnic inequality of the tribal and religious groups. Thirdly, is the colonial justification of racial, cultural and religious differences of ethnic groups in implementing its colonial administration and practices.
I have examined to find out the negative values that govern our nation and it is very serious. After independence on October 1, 1960, instead of Nigeria to develop common national values, standard ideal, morality and ethics, they modified primordial ethnic and religious values that have become the major source of crises and conflicts. Example, why Boko Haram, why Niger Delta militants etc?
The first thing that is happening in Nigeria is simply the practices of inequality and injustice, especially the current regime today, from 2015 to present. Today in Nigeria, we have seen practices of inequality and injustice in government in the governance of the leadership of this country. Persecutions, discriminations, marginalization of people based upon ethnicity, religion or region and these abound everywhere in Nigeria.
Nigerians are crying of persecutions, discriminations, and marginalisation and these are based upon these three things – ethnicity, religion and regionalism. Social practices of inequality and injustice have affected us very badly, especially Christians in Northern Nigeria. Christians in Northern Nigeria face discriminations, persecutions and marginalisation; they suffer these things based upon ethnicity, religions and the areas they come from.
Is this why eminent Middle Belt leaders, as well as Southern leaders came up with Nigerian Indigenous Nationalities Alliance for Self Determination to declare the 1999 Constitution a fraud?
Yes, the 1999 Constitution is a fraud.
But President Buhari, not quite long said the 1999 Constitution was fair to everybody. According to him, a small state like Bayelsa has the same number of senatorial seats with Kano, a large state?
How was that constitution formed, and who did it? The preamble of the 1999 constitution says that, ‘we the people of Nigeria…’ Did Nigerians develop that constitution? The answer is No. It was developed by the military regime; the soldiers. Who has the right to develop a constitution for the people, it is not the government; it is the people. Nigeria is not a homogenous state; it is multi ethnic, multi religious, multi cultural. For you to make a constitution for Nigeria, you have to call these ethnic nationalities that comprise what we call Nigeria. They are the people that will sit down and negotiate on how to formulate and create a constitution for the country. That aspect was never done. Our will was never consulted. John Lock talked about the social contract; the government is formed by means of social contract, that is, the people who formed the state are the same people who will sit down and say we surrender our wills in creating a state or a government that will rule over us and manage our affairs. That 1999 constitution was created by a military clique and imposed upon Nigeria. The constitution that has been imposed upon us is like a trap that Nigerian ethnic nationalities have been entrapped. This constitution does not represent their wishes and it does not represent their conception of how Nigeria is to be governed and that is why Nigerians are crying. This constitution does not represent the interests of the ethnic nationalities of Nigeria.
Anybody who says the 1999 constitution is the best instrument for Nigeria that fellow is using this constitution that has given him or her an advantageous position over all others in Nigeria and that is, we repudiate that this constitution is a product by a military clique imposed upon unwilling Nigerians. Nigerians are very angry about what is happening in the country because the constitution doesn’t represent their interests and wills.
The way things are going, insecurity everywhere, and agitations here and there; don’t you think that Nigeria may implode anytime if care is not taken?
You are saying that it may? Nigeria is already on course to fall off the cliff. It is not a matter of may. If Nigeria does not change; if Nigeria does not do away with the contrived 1999 constitution, it is going to implode. Not that it is going to implode, it has already started imploding. There is no government today that serves the interest of the people. Nigerian government today serves the interest of the political elites, but it doesn’t serve the interest of the common people in the country.
If it implodes, what will be the consequences?
Haven’t you seen the consequences today? The Niger Delta took up arms for what reason? It is to correct the 1999 constitution that took away all their resources and bastardised their lands. The oil extraction has destroyed the land of the Niger Delta people. Today, you have Boko Haram, what is it doing to Nigeria? It is killing and destroying communities, villages, and towns. What is happening today in the North, where you have what they call, bandits? It has the same background, value as Boko Haram. They are Islamic militants who do not respect your religion, your ethnicity, where you come from. These militants, Islamic groups destroy people, they destroy Muslims and anybody. This is what is going on because of the faulty 1999 constitution, which has given extensive power and authority to people in government who run government as private or personal estate and that is not what Nigerians want.
There is something most Nigerians find difficult to add up, before it was one North or monolithic North; but these days, we are seeing a new entity, Middle Belt, that is relating with South and not with the core North. Is the Middle Belt expressing loyalty fatigue to the core North or Hausa/Fulani?
Middle Belt had been in existence before the creation of the Nigerian state, which the British started on January 1, 1904 in the North and the amalgamation of Nigeria in 1914, both done by Lord Lugard. What the British did was to bring all the ethnic nationalities in the geographical North and placed them under what they called, the Northern Protectorate or Northern Region of Nigeria. Northern Nigeria is a society that you can actually reduce to two broad based societies. In the far North, it is predominantly Muslims – Hausa, Fulani and Kanuri. The Southern part of the North, we call Middle Belt comprises various ethnic groups of over 250 ethnic groups. The Middle Belt wanted to have its own region as Western Region, Eastern Region and later Mid- Western Region, which came after independence. The people of the southern part of Northern Nigeria, Middle Belt wanted their own region, but the British in trying to decolonize Nigeria didn’t finish the decolonization of the North and they denied them the creation of Middle Belt region.
I did my studies on how the colonial government in Northern Nigeria and Great Britain, London connived and denied the Middle Belters, the ethnic nationalities in the southern part of Northern Nigeria the creation of their own region. After independence, the Mid-West was created out of the West in order to fulfill the yearnings of the ethnic nationalities that comprise all the Mid-West. In the North, the British denied them the creation of Middle Belt region. In the East, the British denied them the creation of what they called the COR – Calabar, Ogoja and Rivers. It was when the military came after 1966 coup and in 1967, the COR was carved out of the Eastern Region by the military. The military that came on after 1967 carved out the COR out of Eastern Region. In the North, the Middle Belt region was not created. The decolonization of the North was not done by the British and was not done by the military and that is why the ethnic nationalities that comprise the geographical area called Middle Belt are still agitating their own political independence. They want to preserve themselves because their culture and way of life is different. When people talk about North – the huge, big geographical North, but the ethnic nationalities of the North are crying to Nigerians that they want their own region; they want to control themselves; they want political independence. When people talk about agitations that some people are advocating in the Middle Belt, it has historical imperatives. These ethnic nationalities existed before the Nigerian colonial state. They have their own historical freedom, which was given to them by God. This is why Nigeria ought to be sympathetic to their plight. They want to be part of Nigeria and to participate freely.
What the British did was to bring all these ethnic nationalities that were at the beginning non-Muslims and subordinated them and handed them over to Muslim to rule. That was what they protested, that was what they rejected, but the British were adamant and refused to create Middle Belt region.
Your group, Nigerian Indigenous Nationalities Alliance for Self Determination gave ultimatum, but some Northern elders say you people are trying to destabilise the Buhari government. If the ultimatum is not heeded, what next?
That conception is not correct. What they are saying is not what the proclamation is all about. The proclamation is not against Nigeria government, it is not against politicians who are in office; we are not against them. What we are against is the fraudulent 1999 constitution and Nigerians can peacefully remove it without jeopardizing the government of Nigeria and without jeopardizing politicians who are holding key positions. We are simply saying that the government of Nigeria can create an enabling environment where we can peacefully as ethnic nationalities in this country sit down together at roundtable to chart the way forward.
South Africa before 1990 was ruled by apartheid system, which was established in 1910. When the South Africans realised that apartheid system was not good for all, they set out a mechanism whereby some Africans came together, the Whites, the Blacks and the Colours at roundtable to discuss how South Africa was established by the British and when they succeeded in forging the unity of the present South African units, that was how apartheid system was dissolved.
The present 1999 Constitution of Nigeria is similar to the historical apartheid system. Look at how Nigeria is being run today; look at all the top key government positions in this country, they are held by one group of people. Northern Muslim politicians and the military hold the majority of key powerful positions in this country. So, the 1999 Constitution is the apartheid system of Nigeria. Do you know that Nigerians don’t have rights of their own? For example, our people in the Middle Belt don’t have rights to our historically given right by God; today we don’t control our lands. Invaders have evaded our lands, what are they doing – they have been killing our people, taking our lands and settled on our lands and nobody is doing anything because the 1999 Constitution protects them and that is apartheid.
What happened to South Africans prior to 1990 is exactly what is happening to us in Nigeria. Before 1990, I visited South Africa and presented a paper on something that related to apartheid. At that time I couldn’t talk about apartheid but I took the example of what the British did in Northern Nigeria and described it to South Africans. Their response both Blacks and Whites was, yes, ‘the British were here also and that’s exactly what they did.’ The British set up what is known as uneven development of Nigerians or separatist arrangement. My book, “The British Colonial Legacies in Northern Nigeria” will tell you what is going on in Nigeria now and tomorrow, which I called earlier, long term consequences of colonial policies, colonial administrative practices and colonial attitudes towards Nigerians. However, Nigerians are now battling it out themselves. When we got our independence in 1960, that was a great opportunity for Nigerian leaders; they didn’t ask themselves how do we create a Nigeria that over 400 ethnic nationalities will feel at home with, with three or four religions where each of them can feel at home and say, ‘Nigeria is my country.’ They didn’t do that. All that they as politicians were busy with was to struggle on which colonial shoes they were going to put in their legs.
Nigeria remains the last experiment of the British government; the East Africa broke into Kenya, Tanzania, etc; India, Pakistan and Afghanistan broke away and formed separate countries. As the country is being overstretched, don’t you think that it may also fragment if care is not taken?
Yes, of course, if we continue to use the 1999 apartheid constitution, what you have described is inevitable. If Nigerians should breakaway by themselves without negotiating how to go out by themselves, it is catastrophic. Nigerians will kill themselves for no just cause. They will kill themselves as a result of ignorance; as a result of their self –centredness and pride, greed and lust, fears and anxiety. These are the things that would consume Nigeria. Let Nigerians come together and create an enabling environment where all the ethnic nationalities, religious groups, cultural groups come together on one roundtable and negotiate how to create a new Nigeria. Nigerians have lived together under this contrived British colonial set up and they have interacted with each other, engaged each other and have developed national affinity or relationship with each other. I believe Nigerians may not want to go. Nigeria can only break apart if Nigerians cannot surrender their self-centeredness, pride, greed, fears and anxiety. These are the things that will be taken care of at the roundtable. As human beings, we can create a better Nigeria.