Elder statesman and Northern Leader, Prof Ango Abdullahi is sad about the Nigerian condition. He had therefore, he said, decided not to comment or be involved in national issues again, in what may be aptly dubbed “articulated withdrawal syndrome”.
On this very bright Monday morning, after a long-drawn hiatus, getting him into a conversation on the Nigeria project was a Sisyphean task. The moment he noticed that the conversation was stealthily moving towards an interview, he promptly and curtly stopped in his tracks before issuing an apparent admonition: “please, we are just talking. No press interview, please. I don’t want to talk again.”
The prodding and cajoling began amidst bawdy remarks, jokes and interlocutions for almost 20 minutes before he gradually began to acquiesce. Drawing in deep breath, the fifth Vice Chancellor of the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria (ABU) spoke in short gasps and cadences.
“Is there anything more to say that I have not said before? Some of us have already collected our boarding passes and will leave you with your wahala”.
The octogenarian convener of the Northern Elders Forum (NEF) bemoaned what he called the “excesses of the present generation, saying ‘it is time to decide whether to keep the country together or whether to disband it so that everybody can go in peace”. In pangs of regrets, he said the founding fathers must be shifting uneasily in their graves at what the nation has turned to. He blamed the elite for the squandering of the hopes, dreams and aspirations of the sexagenarian nation. He spoke on the diversity of Nigeria, and the predisposition towards disintegration. He said the current security measures to keep the country one is misplaced and wild- goosing. “Do they care about the root causes of the agitations?”, he intoned.
Finally, he gave his nod for the carving out of Biafra out of Nigeria, advising that clamping down on the agitators of the separatist enclave without addressing the root causes is delusionary and futile. He spoke with CHIDI OBINECHE
What is your candid view on recent developments in the country? Are you not worried that what you saw at independence in 1960 is not what you are seeing again?
You captured it succinctly. I was an undergraduate at the University of Ibadan when Nigeria gained independence in 1960. I saw the founding fathers, Zik, Saduana, Awolowo and their dreams and vision for the country. What is playing out now, given the excesses of the present generation, it is time to decide whether to keep the country together or whether to disband it so that everybody can go in peace. I belong to one of the elders’ group in this country and from time to time we sit down and discuss the country. We are really worried. The other day, I spoke to Edwin Clarke; he has not been really feeling very well. He was complaining, and I said, ‘why are you complaining’? I am complaining here, but I should ask myself why am I complaining? You see, we, particularly those of us who have been part of the earlier generation, I was an undergraduate of the University of Ibadan at Independence. I knew our founding fathers very well – Awolowo, Zik, Sardauna, Balewa and the rest. They used to come to our campus to speak to us and encourage us to help build the new country. They told us that the country had a future and it is our responsibility to make that future bright. But now, everybody is on their own. In their time, they worked together.
What made it possible for Nigeria to work at that time, but instead of building on the initial success, the country is steadily sliding backwards?
When you are talking about religion, tribe and where people come from, we are a very diverse country. There are different religions and tribes and it requires careful and intelligent management. And so, we cannot wake up one morning and start assuming what we are not. Okay, me as a Fulani man, I cannot wake up one morning and start speaking Igbo and be an Igbo man fully. It is not possible. The same thing goes for an Igbo man. He cannot wake up one morning and be a Kanuri man. It is not possible. What it says is that in spite of all these differences, generations should sit down first of all and understand that they have differences. If they have these differences and understand the differences; then, they should be able to work together. This is what gave us the first republic. They had differences, and they understood their differences and worked together for us to get independence and the successful post independence six years. It is really very unfortunate. Some us have already collected our boarding passes and will leave you with your wahala.(laughs)
You said you have collected your what?
My boarding pass. The problems are numerous. We are trying in our own way to do what we have to do. But nothing much has been achieved.
What is the best way or approach to get out of the cauldron?
It is for the elite to be responsible once more. The crises in Nigeria have to do with the elite. They are irresponsible. It is not the ordinary Nigerians that have created the problems for us. It is the elite. When the elite who are supposed to know, by virtue of their advantages in education and everything else, choose not to toe the path of decency and good moral standards, then there will be no solution.
Does it then mean Nigeria will keep going like this?
No. it cannot keep going like this. It will get to a point where it will stop and then we disintegrate. That is the direction it is going now. You can feel it. It is very palpable. It is very sad indeed. The founding fathers will be restless in their graves. They have laboured for us. They got nothing in return except the honours we give them. We keep honouring them because of what they did. But there is nobody who is going to honour our generation because we have done nothing. We are quarrelling among ourselves because of our self interests.
But the current regime is battling to ensure that there is no integration?
There is an ongoing security onslaught, especially in the South-East, to clamp down on agitators for a separatist state of Biafra.
This is where people misunderstand this term ‘security’. Security for what? Is it done physically? Are they looking at the causes of the agitation? Are they interested in the root causes? When you’re sick and go to the hospital, the doctor will not just give you medicine and say take this, this is for you. He will ask questions. What is happening to you? How is it doing you? The questions and answers will determine the root cause of your problem. Then, his prescription will be right and it will fight the problem or illness. That is not what we are doing in this case. We work from the answer to the question. For me, I have given up. We have tried. Now, listen to what I am going to say. Sometime ago, some of my friends and colleagues in class at the University of Ibadan; a particular one that was close to me in class , Prof Ngerem, he lives in Ibadan. I called him and said Linus, what are you doing about this situation? Let us talk to these boys. He said; we are talking to them. I said, go back home and tell these boys to behave themselves. He said, Ango, you see, your culture is different from mine. You can talk to your kids, do this and that and so on, and they will listen to you and do what you want them to do, and if they don’t do it 100 per cent, they will do it partly. In my own case, if I go home tomorrow, and it is reported that Prof Ngerem lent his voice for the boys to drop their fight, Ango, you will read my obituary the following day. Now, look at this issue again. My leader, former Vice- President Alex Ekwueme, you know he was the leader of G-34 of which I was an active member and we were very close. When Obasanjo was going for third term, I went to him. He said Ango, we have two people here working for Obasanjo and if you go against them, you are a dead man. I said who are these people?. He said they are two brothers. This was coming from a former Vice- President, Federal Republic of Nigeria. Then, I went to Ukpor in Anambra State, the village of the first republic Minister of Aviation, Mbazulike Amaechi. I don’t like the state of the road leading to the village of the elder statesman and nationalist. I saw him. He is the only surviving nationalist today. We spoke and agreed to convene a meeting of traditional rulers from the South-East and the North in Kaduna. He worked hard on it. He went to see Maitama Sule before he died. You know they were very young ministers in the first republic. All was set, and it appeared that things will work out. But before we knew it, these younger people appeared and said no, this is where and how we want to go about it. And this is where we are today. So, you young people can carry on as best as you can and when they say stop, you have to stop.
But the country has to be rescued one way or another…
Oh well, we are looking forward to that magic day. My younger brother Kingibe spoke the other day. That is why I say that it is the elite that are responsible for the problems of Nigeria. Who wrote the constitution of Nigeria? It is the British and we the elite that wrote it. Were we not the ones who did it? And we decided in our own thinking at the time that we should insert certain provisions that Nigeria is indissoluble, is indivisible, whatever, whatever, whatever, as if we were not the ones who created this. And we forgot the history of countries that started as one and ended as many. India started as one and ended up as four. Soviet Union, only some years ago was a super power. They are now 11 countries. So what is so sacrosanct about any country deciding to take another look at itself and decide what to do?. That is why I am amazed at what is unfolding today. That is why I told the vice president, Osinbajo I support Biafra when he called us for discussions. He said to me, ‘Prof Ango, what is your view’? I said, ‘Mr Vice President, with due respect, I support Biafra’. He was shocked. He said again, ‘you support Biafra?’, I said, “Why not”? He did not expect it from me. This is a people who want self determination, and the United Nations charter has made it absolutely clear that people should have the right for self determination. So, if indeed it is true that Biafrans want to have self –determination by having a separate country out of Nigeria, why not? All we need to do is to work out the modalities and have a referendum as it happened in Sudan. It is very clear. The Vice President said elders should not speak like that and I replied that that I was sorry, but I am not that kind of elder. This is the point. I have to speak the truth always. Kingibe’s analogy is very good, and apt. He said even in marriage, when they go to court or mosque and swear to oath that they will live together ‘till death do us part’, it doesn’t last forever. If you go to court, you see them seeking divorce. And the divorces are granted on good grounds. Why should we not look at it logically like this? A lot of what is happening now is for selfish reasons. That is why we have failed to really sit down and discuss our problems.