•Our nation has collapsed
Despite the growing consensus by the majority on the need to restructure the country, not a few think that the nation needs more than that to move forward. One of those in that class is an environmental and human rights activist, Annkio Briggs. Even though she used to be one of the vocal advocates of restructuring, she now believes that only a referendum would save the nation. In this interview with WILLY EYA, she speaks on major issues of public discourse.
Nigeria is currently going through a turbulent period with tension building from one end of the country to the other. Among the people, there are all manners of hate speeches and echoes of disintegration. If you take a critical look at the development, what would likely be your conclusions?
I’m just exhausted in the sense that I cannot believe what is happening to us, a country like Nigeria with the quality and capacity of the people we have? I am shocked that the educated, exposed people all over Nigeria and particularly in the southern part of the country and specifically in the Niger Delta do not realize that it is not politics that is going to answer the question that everybody is asking today. What is going to answer the question is truth. We must speak truth to ourselves. As far as I am concerned, a southerner whether he is an Igbo man, a Yoruba man, Ijaw man, Isoko man, Ikwere man and so on must speak the truth to himself. If we speak truth to ourselves, then we have to answer the question of what do we really want?
Nigeria has already cracked and the cracks are very clear. What people are trying to do is to continue to patch the crack with cement and it is not going to hold. We must tell ourselves the truth and in telling ourselves the truth, we have to decide what we want as a people. Now, look at what our people are saying today; the Igbo for instance, I agree that not all of them are saying they want to go but some are saying they do not want to go. This is why there is a need for a referendum. In the Niger Delta, you have Isoko, Urhobo, Ijaw, Ikwere, Ogoni and so on, they do not all want the same thing; therefore you must give them the opportunity to decide what is it that they want. That is why a referendum is important.
The Yoruba must have a referendum among themselves; the Fulani must have a referendum, the Middle Belt must also have a referendum.This is because we started the struggle for justice and equity at different times. Late Adaka Boro declared a war that lasted 12 days before even the first coup in Nigeria took place. That shows very clearly that somebody somewhere felt that there was an injustice being done to his people.
Then you have the issue of Biafra, the annulment of June 12, 1993 election won by MKO Abiola and so many of such issues. All of these things put pressure on the unity of the country and the desire of people whether they want to stay in Nigeria or not.
We cannot continue to pretend about the fact that this country has 36 states with six geo-political zones arrangement and over 400 ethnic nationalities, and that this country is clearly divided by ethnicity and religion. We are pretending that we are one people; we are not. We must find a solution and that solution lies squarely in equity, justice and liberty. If we have all those things in place, we would not be hearing the issue of resource ownership, we would not be hearing the issue of restructuring and referendum. This is because if we have equity, justice and liberty based on truth and the fear of God, you would see that people would do what is in their best interest. That is the only way the country can survive. But if those three issues I mentioned are lacking, even if it is one out of the three that is lacking, you would continue to have problems. In a situation where you have a country where one side has 19 states and the other has 17; you have a situation where one side has more lawmakers at the National Assembly as their representatives; if you have a country ‑where one region has more local governments in a state like Kano that does not produce any revenue, there would be resistance and tension.
They are sharing in the oil and gas which is the only revenue that Nigeria is generating. Nigeria is not doing anything else except oil and gas. We are not exporting yam and bringing it to the centre to share. The exportation of yam is a personal business. So, the only people producing anything are the six oil producing states, then Imo and Abia states in the South East and Ondo State in the South West. If you add the three to those of the Niger Delta, that is nine oil producing states.
The revenues by Cross River state are offshore. Now, if you put all these things on one side, then you have a country that is sharing the resources of nine or ten states. And bearing in mind that what Lagos State is boasting of today is also coming directly from oil and gas activities, you begin to see that Nigeria is being carried sorely on the back of the Niger Delta states. That arrangement can no longer be accepted. If there are people in the Niger Delta that accept that, there are those that do not accept that arrangement. We have to resolve these issues.
Now, when you have a situation where Kano State is getting a share for 44 local governments in the monthly revenue coming from Bayelsa State and Bayelsa has only 8 local governments, it is no more acceptable. The revenue is also coming from Rivers State and the state has only 23, the injustice is no longer acceptable and that is why the tension and resistance are there. You have the Igbo who feel that after 50 years, they have invested in the North heavily but every now and then, their investments are at risk and their lives are at risk. They lose everything and sometimes including their lives. You cannot continue to tell those people that they should continue to take such risks in Nigeria. So, we must sit down and find a solution.
We must agree that the situation cannot continue and that we cannot sustain the unity of the country that way. I do not see why people are saying that people like us in the Niger Delta want to go or that the Yoruba are clamouring for fiscal federalism and regionalism. Look at the Middle Belt! They have been overrun by the Fulani people. These are people who are strangers in Nigeria. The Fulani are not originally from Nigeria. They came into Nigeria to meet people in places like Kwara State, Adamawa and all those places. So, if we want Nigeria to stay together, we truly ought to sit down and tell ourselves the truth. But if we cannot stay together, we must go our separate ways.
From the way you are sounding, are you in any way thinking that restructuring which is enjoying support from the majority of people today would not sufficiently address the challenges facing the country.
Ordinarily, if you look at what restructuring should mean and what it actually does mean, if you restructure, it is very simple. Why are we calling for restructuring? We are calling for restructuring because the arm of governance that should go with the federating units which are the states has been taken away by the Federal Government.
The Federal Government is the centre and ordinarily, the Federal Government should be looking after the external security of the nation to make sure that our borders are not compromised. They are supposed to make sure that the Fulani herdsmen that are coming from Niger, Chad and so on are stopped. That is part of what the Federal Government is supposed to do; to take care of immigration, Customs and such establishments. But for the states, they should make sure that their states are secure. For instance, I am from Rivers State, the power and right to secure Rivers State truly if we are practicing federalism should be with the state government.
The Federal Government has no business with the activities of the local governments to the extent of giving local governments, allocations every month. That is why the North created so many local governments for themselves. They left the true meaning of federalism and are running a military kind of federation. In doing that, they have taken away powers of the state and that is why people are calling for restructuring. The term restructuring is not complex and‑ers that the Federal Government has taken away. The states should build their hospitals, Universities, roads and whatever they like with their resources. What is restructuring? You leave the resources of Abia state for the people of Abia State, you leave the resources of Kano for the people of Kano. If any state wants to have 60 or 70 local governments, it can go on and have it. That is the problem of the state. But when you now create local governments to be fed by the centre and they are not equal, people would say no. Bayelsa State has eight local governments whereas Kano has 44. How do you justify that?
So, when people say restructuring, that is basically what we are saying. Some people say if you want to restructure, you go to the National Assembly knowing full well that by the 1999 constitution, which is really a military decree, you have locked down restructuring. This is because you are saying you cannot restructure unless you go to the National Assembly when you know that when the issue goes there, you have the number to turn it down. These are the reasons why it may not be possible to restructure. This is even as I have been one of the people that have clamoured for a very long time as far back as 2010/2011; I have been saying that we need to restructure the country, we need a new constitution. Even in the 2014 confab, that was the position I took and I was alone. My own people from the South South were in opposition because I was saying let us have restructuring and they thought I was tilting towards the Federal Government but the status quo was accepted. We have gone full circle that even the former vice president, Atiku Abubakar has joined in the call; it was last year that I heard him speak publicly on restructuring and even a week ago, I was on a panel that critiqued his position on restructuring. I believe that if he maintains what he is saying, he has more or less accepted that the country needs and must be restructured.
So, people like Atiku are the ones that are giving Nigeria one last chance of survival. Now, if we are saying that we would restructure, the question is, what does the Federal Government mean by restructuring. We have a situation where the All Progressives Congress(APC), during the campaign more or less said they would restructure and Atiku has also confirmed it. That is what they promised and Atiku recently went ahead to even say that the 1999 constitution was not what they agreed on as the constitution when they sat down to come up with a constitution.
So, what he is actually saying is that the 1999 constitution is a lie and a deceit because he was one of the people that put the constitution together. He said that when the constitution was signed into law, people accepted that it had changed. That is why I started this conversation by saying that the answer to the problem that Nigeria is facing today is telling ourselves the truth. We must tell ourselves the truth. The politicians are not doing what would keep Nigeria one. The politicians from top to bottom have to go. The reason Senators and governors are there protecting their positions is because of the way the system was set up; they want to protect their political positions. But very soon, they would find that there is no political position to protect because, come 2019, they would be very shocked to see that whatever they thought they are protecting today, they would never even have it in the first place. The deceit and the lies are ongoing and unless we tell ourselves the truth, Nigeria would come to a standstill.
Look, we are getting somewhere and there must be an end to where we are going. Sooner or later, we would meet that brick wall; there is a brick wall ahead. We cannot continue to run around; we cannot continue to have a situation where the herdsmen are running over the whole country and killing people; we cannot continue to have a situation where the Boko Haram is in control of the country; we cannot continue to have a situation where what the constitution says is one thing and what the people who have sworn to uphold the constitution are doing are completely different.
In the area of restructuring, my group, the Niger Delta Self- Determination Movement and so many other people who have keyed into the call for self determination at a very minimum within Nigeria believe that the time for restructuring is over. This is because the people calling for restructuring are not sincere in the sense that what they are calling for and what we are calling for are not the same. If that be the case, we would reach a clause in the restructuring argument where we would have to abandon it because nothing would come out of it. That is why my group has said that the time for restructuring is over. We are serious in the discussion and conversation of restructuring because we want to see it taken to its logical conclusion. Now, if we do not get it right, the next call is for a referendum. That is where we are now.
The Niger Delta Self Determination Movement and I as a person are looking for a call for a referendum. Let us ask the people, the Fulani, Igbo, Idoma, Yoruba, Tiv and so on, let them decide what they want. Somebody brought my attention to what was written where somebody said that the call for Biafra is actually the call for the Igbo nation. It is about ethnic nationality. At the end of the day, at the referendum point, you would find out that all these arguments and discussions from independence period and time of Adaka Boro,and even during the amalgamation till today, the argument on Nigeria has always been about the ethnic groups.
There is the argument that if you allow a referendum, Nigeria may disintegrate whereas, if we have one big country that would provide a level playing ground for everybody, it would be better for us. So, some are saying that rather than split into smaller groups, the ethnic nationalities should work hard to sustain Nigeria. Do you agree with this position.
Looking at that argument as a reality and a possibility, of course yes. But it has to be possible first before it becomes a reality. The question is will the people of over 400 ethnic nationalities where people have been so marginalised, abused and denied believe that we can sincerely have one country the way we have it today without the separation of powers. Will they believe that it is possible without restructuring this country and every ethnic group owning what is in their land and having the right to determine what their future would be like.
Are we saying that we truly believe that it is possible to have one united, strong, indivisible Nigeria where everybody is equitable, at liberty and feel comfortable?. I personally presume that it is not possible without giving the ethnic nationalities the sole right over their destiny. We cannot have a Fulani man sitting in Abuja deciding what is good for the Ijaw man in Bayelsa State. The Ijaw man cannot sit down in Abuja and decide what is good for the Idoma man in Benue in his farm.
The British people were the ones that told us that we can govern ourselves as a federation without our suggestion that Nigeria would be a federation, knowing full well that they would use a handful of Nigerians from a particular region to govern Nigeria. It is only now when the Yoruba, Igbo and the other ethnic groups started insisting that they also should have the opportunity to govern Nigeria that we started having all these issues. Those issues would remain and the more we prolong it, the worse it is going to get as we are today in Nigeria. We must accept what we are confronted with today which is that everybody is recognizing their ethnicity. It is very clear that the Yoruba man is first a Yoruba man before he is a Nigerian; for the Igbo man, it is very clear to the extent that some Igbo people want to go. The Niger Delta people are very clear about who they are. The Isoko man says he is Isoko. The Ijaw man says he is Ijaw, Ogoni man the same thing and so on.
You definitely cannot put all these things under the carpet. On restructuring, there is a possibility; if the APC government and the people that are in the government want Nigeria to stay together, there is no way they can stop people from getting what they want. We are asking for 100 per cent resource ownership so that we pay something back to the Federal Government. The Igbo people are saying they want to break away. Some Igbo are saying we have enough investments in the North and we do not want to break away. All these arguments, we need to address them. You cannot address the issue of Nnamdi Kanu and leave the issue of those who say they have investments in the North and they are ready to die in the North instead of going back to Igboland. We cannot abandon the argument of the Niger Delta people who are saying, we are the ones providing all the wealth in this country that is shared by everybody. We do not want everybody to share in our wealth any more. You cannot put all these arguments under the carpet and the only solution to the whole issues is for us to tell ourselves the truth.