Second Republic Minister, Dr. Paul Unongo, has said that contrary to views held in other parts of the country that the North was afraid of restructuring, the region is ready for a sovereign national conference.
Dr. Unongo, who is the deputy leader of the Northern Elders Forum (NEF), in an interview with VINCENT KALU, advised those agitating for a state of Biafra to bury such ambition, as that will never happen. He also stressed that the North cannot allow the county to breakup.
What is your view on the state of the nation?
We must know what Nigeria was yesterday to know the state it is today. Yesterday, things were more certain. People were certain about their being received. People accepted Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, as the father of the nation; people accepted Chief Obafemi Awolowo, as the leader of the Yoruba and a progressive mind, who brought federalism to the forefront. People accepted him as the Premier of the Western Region, and people also knew Sir Ahmadu Bello, a prince from Sokoto Caliphate, as the prime person and they expected him to protect the people of the North, because he was always thinking about, “ my people are not ready yet; my people are not developed, give us time”.
So, people anticipated their leaders, and they knew their leaders.
Use that and come to our days today, we don’t know what is happening except that the patriotism we noticed from these old leaders, and the decision and extreme interest in developing their country to a modern nation state, as Awolowo thought about seems to be absent today, whether in the legislative or the executive arm of government.
Majority of the people who are brought in to be agents and pushers of development look at their personal interest first, the interest of people who are their friends, business or political associates come second, and then the nation comes a distant third.
The consequence of this type of behavior, is that the younger generation has not seen any need for serious patriotism because it is, everybody to himself; everybody struggling to develop himself.
There has been explosion in the population. During our time, Nigeria has about 30 million people, but the country is getting up to 200 million people, and so the competition has become fierce and everybody is to himself and that is not good for this country.
Not only have we lost the sense of mission that we had, when we were going to school in those days and graduated, we were so excited to join the rank of Azikiwe and other progressives, like Awolowo, who appeared very concerned about his tribal people; he was the father of federalism, and insisted on federalism as the form of government for the Nigerian nation state. He believed firmly that a nation with such ethnic groups should be federalism. So, he had a goal.
We were fighting for something then, but today, we don’t know what we are fighting for.
Since Buhari came and articulated his own fight, the rudderlessness which resulted in Nigeria having a ragtag army of bandits laying claims to Nigerian territory, as Boko Haram did, and taking hold of a large chunk of our territory, and there was no response from the government has stopped.
Buhari came and said what I would do, I would fight corruption and take action to retrieve some of the monies that people have stolen, and secondly, I would uproot these bandits who have taken a chunk of the nation’s territory, and at the same time, develop the economy of the nation.
With the coming of Buhari, at least we had an agenda, which was being pursued, and from the mid term score, there has been improvement on the three- point area that he said he would concentrate. Nationalism has lost. There is no leader in Nigeria today who is talking about the patriotism that Azikiwe or Awolowo used to talk about. Today, everybody is talking about his tribe, his little place.
All the problems of Nigeria can be summarized to this deceit of the leadership, that you can have a nation state and still pursue the little goals of ‘my people’, my tribe.
We should be educating our people that we are not the first people that came from a primordial background of tribe, that leadership emerges, and people should stop talking about their tribes and talk about common interests and common good for the greatest number of people within the amalgam that the British put together, called Nigeria.
I’m depressed. I pray that God will help the younger generation to know that nations are built by deliberate action of people and not by God, and we have great men in this country.
After the Kaduna declaration, where some youth organisations from the North gave Igbo living in the region quit notice, and you dismissed them, but, the spokesman of Northern Elders Forum, Prof Ango Abdullahi came out to support those youths. Is it that NEF is polarised?
Prof Ango Abdullahi is not the leader of NEF. Ambassador Maitama Sule leads it, while I’m the deputy leader.
Northern Elders Forum never sat down, and took a decision, and I do know actually that we will never sit down having gone through Nigeria, having watched Nigeria, having participated in building Nigeria, having benefited tremendously from Nigeria, we will not even dream that we are going to push our people back to the days of jokers, thinking that we don’t have a constitution.
We are trying to create a constitutional government and we have so created it with our blood; we shed our blood in a civil war that was fought with ferocity that we cannot even daydream of fighting a war again. This Nigeria of today is not Awolowo’s Nigeria that he said was mere geographic expression. This is Nigeria that has passed through the crucible of warfare, where we killed about three million people on both sides of the divide and nobody is going to fool us again.
Nobody can stand up and say that, “I, Paul Unongo, cannot go to Anambra and ask the government for a piece of land to farm or create a ranch. If I don’t go to Anambra to ask for it, but some people from Anambra come to me in Benue, Northern Nigeria, and say they want a piece of land to build a hotel, and then some nuts wake up one day and ask them to pack and go because he is called a northerner, it is not possible, it can never happen because the Constitution of Nigeria is sacrosanct and firm. We passed through warfare and we gave ourselves the constitution through the military. It gives everybody the right to settle anywhere. If I’m not able to settle in the East, that is my business, if I’m not able to settle in Yoruba land, that is my business. If a Yoruba man decides to settle in Tiv land, Nupe land, etc, he is so welcomed and is allowed by the constitution, and is no less a citizen than a child who biologically is born in that place.
We are a constitutional government. It the weaknesses of our governments that these types of statements that are likely to cause a lot of dissension, anxiety in the minds of our people are continually being made.
I understand what the children from the North are doing. I understand that they are responding to what Nnamdi Kanu is doing in the East, calling for the balkanization of Nigeria.
I do know that we cannot have another Biafra war. We fought a war for three years about Biafra and we slaughtered about three million people and ended the war, with the federalist winning. We cannot sit in an air conditioned house taking a look at the three million people that were sacrificed and then begin to share Nigeria and say – lets go back to Biafra. That can never happen. I’m not a child; I’m not a joker. I participated in that war. I know actually that these people are touting, doing politics, whether it is the young men in the East who are shouting about Biafra or the ones in the North.
They are talking and I have always supported that the Federal Government should give an opportunity to people who feel that our elders didn’t do it right, lets have a dialogue. The dialogue must be within the Federal Republic of Nigeria; it must be within the constitutional framework of the Constitution of Nigeria, because we bought this for too high a price to joke with it. I know war; I saw war. These people didn’t see war. Anybody who is about 50 didn’t see war. The ones making noise in Nigeria are between 30 and 40 years old. The war started in 1967.
I know that Kanu is not going to get people who are responsible, who saw the war like, Ebitu Ukiwe, Dr. Alex Ekwueme. Why would they want war? They saw it.
We saw Ojukwu, who said he would overrun Nigeria, and what happened to him at the height of the federal troops, and we saw when the time came that he left the country.
Nobody should look for war.
These children must be told firmly that we the elders -there are people like Ekwueme, Ben Nwabueze and others who saw the war, they should tell these young men making noise about war. They never saw it and they didn’t know what happened. There are people in the North like me, who also need to tell our boys.
I was performing my function as an elder who saw it all. No country can go through two civil wars. We will sit down here and talk. People make caricature that the North is afraid of restructuring, let us define what we mean by restructuring. Lets hold a national conference. Even if it is a sovereign national conference, the North will go there, but if it is a conference to dissolve Nigeria, we will never allow that to take place, and there are many Igbo, many Yoruba and Hausa, who like me, a Tiv will say they can never allow these young men to breakup this country that we sacrificed three million men to keep together.
I’m all for whatever they call restructuring, if it is for how best we can live in Nigeria, I’m for it; if they are talking about how to create that, amend that, I’m for it, but if they are talking of break up, so that everybody form their little African principality, I will never support that.
After the Kaduna declaration, the Niger Delta militant groups also directed all Northerners living in the region to leave, and the Yoruba Assembly is mooting the idea of referendum, and rejection of the 1999 Constitution as the basis of Nigeria. What is the way out of this?
It is for the government to show leadership. We have a constitution that has created people who are supposed to speak on behalf of the people of Nigeria. Our people are talking supposedly on behalf of everybody else and if we listen to that too much, we may forget that we have a constitutional government that has been functioning.
However, we elected the representatives in to various assemblies. If the representatives of the people say that the cry of the people from my section is that they want a National Conference, we should make our own views clearly to the government for a national conference, and all the people will be represented for them to talk on the type of Nigeria they want.
I’m for a sovereign national conference, and I do know that Northerners that I speak with and the one that I represent as the deputy leader of the Northern Elders Forum, and I can say categorically that we are not afraid of having a national conference and we are very ready for sovereign national conference.
The only thing all of us are not ready to accept is another attempted break up of Nigeria because we don’t want another war. I know that none of these mushroom organisations has a right to issue quit notices to the citizens of Nigeria, as guaranteed by the constitution – freedom to stay where they want to stay.
The best thing to tell Nigerians is to ignore these ultimatums. If the government is not able to guarantee safety to the people, then it has lost its credibility, and it should be removed.
Furthermore, if the government knows that its primary responsibility is to uphold constitution and within that constitution that people have inalienable rights, including the right to free movement and to live anywhere they want, and some crack nuts to come and tell them to get out, this cannot be tolerated.
If the government should discover that the statement of threat by these people is heating up the polity to the level that people should be fighting, those people should be arrested, prosecuted and dealt with according to law. Nigeria is not a Banana Republic.
When the Kaduna declaration was made, the Kaduna governor, el-Rufai called for the arrest of the youth involved, likewise the Inspector General of Police. Till now, no arrest has been made?
The governor doesn’t have the power to go and arrest people. The only people who have the power to arrest people for alleged breach of peace is the police, and they have directives that they follow. Nigeria is the freest human beings.
The youth said it was what Kanu did that provoked them to issue that quit notice order. Kanu was calling for Biafra, as he doesn’t want Nigeria. Before these young men from the North got incensed and decided that they should respond, instead of responding to what Kanu said, they went beyond it; they went to issue notice, but in all respect, Kanu was speaking for himself. We waited for their elders, nobody from the South East condemned him. When he was released from detention, they were treating him like a hero. It seems this is the position of all the people from the East, especially the Igbo.
Therefore, is this what they want and if their children are doing something bad and they don’t see anything wrong with it, we don’t want to disturb them, let them go and let them start leaving from our place. That is anarchy.
Kanu is not government. Nobody in Igbo land is beginning to leave because Kanu gave instruction. While nobody old enough or with all the knowledge of the elders of the South East, laid a condemnation, there was this tendency from the youth in the North to believe that the Kanu group has the blessings of the elders. I was not going to make the same mistake that the elders of South East made. I’m an elder in my own right, and proud to be a Northerner, a Tiv, and 82 years old, and I saw the war and I know that hundreds of thousands of my people died in the war, so, I was not going to keep quiet. The children that came from my part of Nigeria when they issued the supposed quit notice, I quickly responded.
As I was calling them, rebuking them, I noticed that some colleagues of mine whom we have been friends for over 63 years and who is not a child, Prof Ango Abdullahi made a statement that supported these children. I said that there must be a clear statement from the North by someone from the North who went through the war and saw the war, who lost hundreds of thousands of relations of both sides of the war, and nobody was more qualified than myself, Paul Unongo. I know what happened to the Tiv people in the civil war and I know what happened to the Igbo in the civil war, and I came out and said no, this statement is not representative of the people of the North.
We love Nigeria, and this statement from Kanu, I also know is not representative of the Igbo. We don’t want war. If we want to talk about how we can organize this country so that everybody can be happy, lets dialogue. So, I condemn the northern boys and also condemn Kanu and other agitators.
You mentioned that the North was ready for sovereign national conference, and you said they would not allow discussion that will breakup Nigeria, but in this type of conference, there is usually no go area, how can you reconcile this?
Secondly, for the first time, the National Assembly has called for the 2014 Conference report, but northerners, who went to Confab, like Junaid Mohammed vowed that the North will never allow the report to see the light of the day. How do you reconcile all these?
That was not a national conference. Jonathan sat down and called his friends and dashed them money, and they wrote something and then he said that was a national confab. Who elected them?
I have gone through including, the 1957 and 1958 Constitutional Conference of Nigeria, I was with my boss, the late Joseph Tarka.
I have always been elected to go and represent my people at all the constitutions written in Nigeria.
Jonathan didn’t see Paul Unongo, as being qualified to come to his chosen people conference. It wasn’t a national conference but a conference of Jonathan’s friends; people who agreed with the type of dream of Nigeria that he had. He didn’t want any serious debate; they debated among themselves and came out with that report and they were dashed money for doing the job.
When my friend, Prof Ben Nwabueze called me that we should make the arrangement for this conference, and called Prof Ango Abdullahi, I told him that we cannot be so arrogant to sit down with Jonathan and decide what would be at the conference, what can happen, and then choose the people that would come and for Jonathan to issue invitation to them and they will come and he will dash them money and tell them this the Nigeria I want. Then when they finished we shall say this is the national conference, which is not. If you want to call a national conference, let the National Assembly enact enabling law of representation, give the people of Nigeria whether by tribal basis or by local government basis, or by whatever basis that Nigerians can decide, let these people be elected by their own people, and when this is done and is properly coordinated, we can invite the United Nations to be observer, and it is legitimate. That is national conference. The decisions reached there become fundamental law of Nigeria. Anything outside this is a joke.
Jonathan had a meeting of friends, they wrote something for him and he dashed them money. It was not representative of the Nigerian people. I analyzed the composition of that conference from interest groups, from the point of religion and from the point of tribe. Whatever angle you look at the representation that Jonathan made for that conference, it was not fair. So, lets get proper representative sovereign national conference, and give for ourselves a true sovereign constitution for the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
I’m praying to God for a time when Nigerians will love one another; will trust one another, and be as we were. I’m looking forward to that Nigeria. Whatever that is left in my life, I will work for the emergence of that Nigeria. When it emerges, I will go home happily to tell my master, Rt. Hon. Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, that, “my father, I carried on with your dream and we realized it”. This was his dream that Nigeria will be a happy place, a place that will be run by the rule of law, that there will be friendship and brotherhood. He wanted a union government, but Awolowo came with federalism and he agreed and wanted a very strong country. He remains the only leader that can be called the father of this nation, and we owe him to make Nigeria one.