Chief Mbazulike Amaechi, an elderstatesman, in this interview with Henry Okonkwo harped on the need for Nigerians to come together and renegotiate the basis for Nigeria’s nationhood. He expressed his views on the way the President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration has handled the Biafra and Niger Delta militants’ agitations and other national issues. He spoke with HENRY OKONKWO.
There have been renewed calls by some prominent Nigerians for the restructuring of the country. Are you for or against the suggestion that Nigeria be restructured?
Ab initio, the amalgamation of the northern and the southern Nigeria was an imposed fusion effected by the imperial government of Britain in 1914. It was not negotiated by the people and it was not by the agreement of the people concerned. This continued until 1957 when the constitutional conferences that preceded independence started. The leaders then were of divided opinions; there was a general agreement to stay together but the conditions were not clearly defined. The NCNC, led by Dr. Azikiwe believed in one Nigeria, that was why its policy was for one Nigeria. The Northern Peoples Congress (NPC) which was led by the Sarduana of Sokoto said that they were only interested in the North and they were not interested in the south not excluding the Eastern to the Western regions of the country. The Action Group led by Chief Awolowo had its own slogan and policy of ‘North for Northerners, East for Easterners, West for Westerners, and Nigeria for all’.
With these nebulous arrangements, the nationalist pressure and the need for independence was so strong that they said that anything could be brought together, and cooked up, but let there be independence in 1960.
And we got independence in 1960, the three leaders we had then did their best to keep the country together until the military intervention in 1966 disorganized the political equilibrium and balance in the country. The military continued in office for about 38 years led by northerners except for a short term of about three or four years by Obasanjo, -after Gen. Muritala Mohammed was killed.
There was a constitutional conference which produced the recommendations which were edited by the military government. Again, there was the second constitutional conference; every constitution in Nigeria today, is a constitution edited by the military.
As at now, there is no Nigerian people’s constitution for their country. All the constitutions are constitutions edited and imposed by the military. And who constitute these military rulers? The military rulers were all northerners. And so from what is happening now, the country had managed to remain together at the expense of a section of the country. For people like me, I believe in one great country. I believe in oneness of Nigeria but that oneness should not be at the expense of a section of the country.
Today with what is happening the Niger-Delta area, what is happening at the Igboland and what is happening even in the North-east, anybody who does not realize that there is an urgent and pressing need for a total renegotiation of the basis of the union, that person is far away from reality. There are urgent and pressing needs for negotiation and for people to come together to renegotiate.
But if the present government, which is more or less a government of the North ruling the country; this present government, as we have seen so far within the last one year is just the government of the North having the east as a colony and the west as a junior partner, who must take the crumbs from the master’s table. That is what is precisely happening now.
So there is a general discontentment in the South-east and the whole South-south. These are two powerful components of the country. The South-south being the hen that lays the golden eggs for the country, the base of the economy of the country.
And when they sprang up with agitations, you think you can just silence them by mowing them down with machine guns and bombs. You are far away from reality. If think you can just hush and kill Igbo youths who are demanding for Biafra, put Nnamdi Kanu in prison indefinitely against court order and so forth, you are far from reality. And the sooner they come to reality, the better for the government. This cannot continue for a long time there is need for restructuring of the country, for renegotiation of the union. The union is no longer holding.
About two years ago, I wrote a small book in which I asked, ‘this union is it working? Will it ever work?’ That was the title of the booklet I produced about three years ago. It was even during the President Jonathan’s era. I had foreseen this situation. We are not facing the realities in this country.
Alright, someone like the former vice-president-Atiku Abubakar has called for restructuring of the country. Every sincere person wants renegotiation and restructuring.
Many have actually questioned Atiku Abubakar’s sincerity on the call for restructuring because when he was in power for eight years he never made such a call. Can you guess why all of sudden, he started spreading the gospel ?
Well, I don’t know why he did not while he was in government. It depends on the policy of his party. Don’t forget he was a mere vice-president. He wasn’t the president of the country. And the then president was one that sees himself as a conqueror.
And like I said it, Obasanjo was a soldier. He ruled the country as if he was a military head of state; as a democratically elected head of state. The difference between the two governments is the dress es they wore. I have also said the same thing about the present ruler of the country. He is someone who overthrew a democratically elected government in 1983 and ruled the country as a dictator. Apart from Abacha, he was next to Abacha in cruelty, and cruel way of handling the country. Now, he is ruling the country as a democratically elected president. The difference is the dress he wore at that time and the dress he is wearing now. At that time he wore khaki, now he is wearing Agbada. But it is the same person wearing the two dresses.
Your call for a Nigerian peoples’ constitution could be disputed because some people believe that there is nothing particularly wrong with our present constitution?
But I’ve told you that the constitution we have now is not Nigerian peoples’ constitution; it is a military constitution! The constitution we have now is not a Nigerian peoples’ constitution. Yes, there was a constitutional conference where people sat and decided on some things. But the military edited it and put it the way they wanted. So it is not the peoples’ constitution.
But when you talk of agitations, we have always had it for various reasons and from different sections of the country…?
(Cuts-in) Yes, people have the right to argue. When people agitate, a good government listens to them. The mere fact that you listen to them assuages their anger. But when people say ‘we want this’ and you say ‘don’t mind them,’ ‘let them go to hell’, ‘shoot them,’ then the animosity grows. But when they say ‘give us this’ ‘we want this’ and you say ‘come let’s talk what is it you really want?’ and when they say ‘we want this or that’, your negotiators tell them ‘okay but look at it this way or that way’. These moves would at least satisfy the agitators that they are being regarded as human beings. Not when a section of the country; a very big and important section of the country say something and you say ‘don’t mind them. If they talk again, kill all of them’.
You will kill, and kill and kill untill you get tired of killing.
A lot of efforts have been made by different governments to placate the Niger Delta region. As a result, many argue that the militants have no basis fighting the government. Do you agree with this notion?
I am not saying they have a case. All I’m saying is that government must listen to them and convince them. Let your own negotiators argue and talk with them. There are people among them that have human feelings and would feel better that at least their humanity have been recognized. And that could make them soften their stance and then make a compromise on some of their demands. Don’t just tell them to get out and order that they be killed.
The militants are demanding full control of their resources, and at a point threatened to declare their own republic. Don’t you think they are being unreasonable with their demands?
When they are talking of Niger-delta republic and the south-east are talking of Biafra; two big sections of the country are talking of breaking away from the country. The Oduduwa people are also talking of Oduduwa Republic. They are holding their own secret meeting, the reason why they have not pronounced it is because they are part of the present government. But they are stronger in their demand for a republic of their own. So government should not turn a deaf ear to the people. That is what I’m saying. I’m not saying they are right. I’m not saying they should be given what they want. I still believe in one Nigeria, I still believe in one great country. As an Igbo man, I won’t even advocate the Igbos breaking away from Nigeria because Igbo are everywhere in Nigeria. In Abuja federal capital, apart from government buildings and buildings belonging to embassies and big businesses, 70% of all the buildings in Abuja belong to Igbo people. Go to Kano, it is the same. The Igbos are people who invest in foreign lands without even investing in their own land.. No sincere Igbo man would say that Igbos should go back home where they would be secluded and encircled in a tiny state.
But when the line of negotiation opens, we’ll have concession in this way or that.. I’m not saying that they should necessarily break away or that the south-south should be given everything they want. But government has to discuss with them. The entire country must come together and talk, and frankly too.
The last national conference made some recommendations. Why won’t you implement it? 500 distinguished Nigerians met for six months or more and decided on something. And you felt you could just throw the paper away.
Critics question the timing and sincerity of the previous administration in organizing that conference. They suggested that the conference was hurriedly put together to score cheap political points and that it had more of Christians…?
(Cuts in) Therefore, the report must not be examined? The prejudice is that there were more Christian and Southern delegates to the conference. Therefore, what was recommended even with the northerners must not be examined? But if the present government does not have confidence in the conference because of the composition, believing it was a political game played by the immediate past president. Then, let him organise something for people to come together under his own supervision. What I’m saying is that there is need for us to talk together in Nigeria.
How easy would that be since this government has come out to say that restructuring or national conference is not part of their party’s manifesto?
I didn’t study party manifestos and so forth. If it wasn’t in their manifesto, yes. But a great section of the country and some important personalities in the country are saying that we should come together and look at our situation and critically look at ourselves to find ways that we bring about lasting peace. If they can bring about peace with the barrel of the gun, good luck to them. I think that the peace negotiated is better, lasting and more satisfactory peace.