As Nigerians look forward to the commencement of legal fireworks over the N50 billion suit filed by the Southern leaders against President Muhammadu Buhari, Prof Banji Akintoye, the Yoruba leader, has declared that the court action is a mere palliative, insisting that only a peaceful dissolution could end the myriad of problems facing Nigeria as a nation.
What do you elders in the Southern part of the country intend to achieve with the N50 billion suit recently filed against President Muhammadu Buhari for the perceived marginalization of the region?
First of all, to direct the attention of Nigerians and the whole world to the injustice that has been going on. This is a court matter and not a political statement. The world needs to know this fact. The second thing is that Buhari should know whether what he has been doing is legally sensible or not because there is a great deal of impunity in the management of the affairs of Nigeria. It is not limited to Buhari by any mean; it has been so forever. But Buhari has taken it to the highest limit unimaginable and he needs to be told that it is becoming an illegality.
Is this another way of achieving restructuring?
I believe our leaders from the four zones; Afenifere from the Southwest, Ohanaeze Ndigbo from the Southeast, PANDEFF from the South-South and Middle Belt Forum from the Middle Belt, who have put this forward, believe that it is a way of compelling Buhari to do, at least, some significant reforms of this structure. I think they believe so.
So, it is a subtle way of achieving the same desire?
Many Nigerians have gone beyond the point of demanding for restructuring. But we respect; we even honour those people who are asking for restructuring. We have nothing against them; it is just that we think that Nigeria has passed the point of restructuring. Restructuring is no longer the in-thing. It is too late. As you already know, there are many Nigerians who feel like that.
You mean restructuring is no longer a solution to Nigeria’s problem?
Yes, it is too late. We have passed beyond the point of politics. A section of the country is actually trying to conquer the other part of the country. That is no longer politics; that’s war. Restructuring is the argument of politics. It is not a response to war. The point is that restructuring cannot stop war. Restructuring cannot stop people who have invaded our lands, destroying villages, killing people and driving them away from their means of livelihood as farmers. Local criminals hide under the invasion to increase the tempo of their activities. I don’t think restructuring is the answer to all of these. Many Nigerians do not think restructuring is the answer to this invasion and the consequences of it.
And you think that court action is the best way to deal with the threat of invasion?
The legal action points a finger at a particular malice: the impunity, disregard for constitution in the appointment of people. But it is no answer to the problem of invasion from another part of the country. There is no way restructuring can handle that. I repeat; demand for restructuring is a response to political situation. But the position in Nigeria now is not about political situation; it is a situation in which a section of the country is invading other parts of the country. That is not politics; that’s war. And the people in the part invaded are finding ways to defend themselves.
Beyond court action, what is the way to stem the drumbeat of war?
The way to respond is to defend yourselves.
From available reports, more and more armed herdsmen from the neigbouring countries are still infiltration into Nigeria, especially from the Northern fringes. Isn’t that a bigger threat to the security of this country?
Some leaders in the North say Fulani from other parts of the world can come into the country at any time without visa or anything and they are coming. That is an attack on the constitution of Nigeria and even the existence of Nigeria itself. The answer to that should be specific. The answer is for different nationalities to stand up and defend their own people and their homeland. The sovereignty of Nigeria has been thrown aside. So, you have to defend the sovereignty of your own nationality within Nigeria. That is a legitimate thing to do. I don’t think anybody can take that away from anybody. No law of the land gives you that right, God gave you that right. Whoever says anybody can come into Nigeria has abrogated the sovereignty of Nigeria.
Will it be safe to say that the National Assembly too has abrogated its responsibility if the legislators cannot call the authorities concerned to order on a sensitive issue such as this?
That is the duty of the National Assembly, but they have their own ethnic and political reasons for not wanting to do that. It is now left to the various nationalities to decide what they want.
It appears that Nigeria is losing its respectability, especially considering by the way and manner the country’s High Commission building in Ghana was recently demolished?
(Cuts in) It is not going down, it has gone down. That is not an isolated thing. Things similar to that have been happening in other countries. You can see the way our citizens are being killed in South Africa. Africa used to have a great deal of expectations of Nigeria. They used to believe that Nigeria will lead Africa in the world. But today, there are serious-minded people, who are saying there is nothing to fight about here again, let us do the final action peacefully without killing more people.
You mean peaceful dissolution?
Yes, that is what a lot of Nigerians are saying. And that is what a lot of foreigners are saying.
Isn’t it possible to change the narrative with a more proactive leadership?
Most people don’t agree with you that it can be saved from the precipice. Most people don’t think Nigeria is on the edge of precipice. It’s already rolling down the precipice.
As someone who is very passionate about Nigeria, it’s not funny at all that this is coming from you. How has the country come to this sorry state?
I have spent my adult life being very passionate about Nigeria because I thought we could do a great thing for Nigeria. In the years after the civil war, I was ready to step out of my academic career to join a group that could do it: The Unity Party of Nigeria. I was part of the intellectual makers of the UPN and ultimately wrote the manifesto of the party. And I travelled around the world; Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Brazil, Argentina etcetera, on my own without asking for any money from anybody. I was sure we were on the verge of building the Blackman world power of the modern time. And I used to say it; I used to teach it to my Nigerian History class. Even as a student leader, I had come to the conclusion that Nigeria was the answer to the African problem. But when I won election into the Senate in 1979, I saw the country being dragged down slowly. And when Buhari, Babangida and so on took over as military heads of state, for me to retain my sanity, I decided to go away. I went to take up academic job in other universities abroad. But I cannot die in foreign land, that’s why I came back at the age of 80. But here I am, seeing Nigeria going further and further downward with the light of civilization being extinguished slowly. I am one of those who believe that we need to find a peaceful resolution of this thing; otherwise, we will continue to kill one another and in the end the country will break up.