From Walter Ukaegbu, Abuja
Udenta Udenta, ex- National Secretary, Alliance for Democracy (AD) and former Director of Conflict Management and Resolution, Institute for Peace & Conflict Resolution (IPCR), in this interview spoke on the need for leaders from all parts of the country to condemn the call for Nigeria’s disintegration, declaring that no meaningful restructuring could take place outside the country’s constitution.
You have been away from politics for a while now; can you tell us what has been happening?
Yes, I have been off the scene for quite some time now. I will like to talk about our current project, known as the Patriotic Movement of Nigeria (PMN), a platform headed by my good friend, Mallam Bello Abdulkadir, a Nigerian patriot to the core. I bought into the empowering vision of this platform because of my commitment to finding the means and ways of reducing the upsurge in ethnic agitations sweeping across the land and in rechanneling these agitations to more positive directions. In so doing, our movement will be working with critical national stakeholders in resisting the slide into anomie and the tragic prospect of national collapse.
Yes, I have been virtually silent for more than two years and that is because, as a serious minded person, it is not everything that occurs that you talk about. I know some people want to be everyday media superstar, pressed to engage with every issue, mundane and noble, from who caused the sun not to set in time and why it took the dawn so much time in breaking. That may be their style; mine is to lend my voice when it’s in the supreme national interest to do so, to engage with patriots in the discourse space on existential national challenges and not just on everyday anecdotal political inanities. More so, since I left active politics in 2001, I only engage in projects that are patriotic in nature, like this current campaign.
What is your take on the call for restructuring?
We will restructure as an integral part of the effort to renovate and retool the structural and institutional foundation of the nation state but this effort must go hand in hand with the process of salvaging it, battered as it is, by the foul wind of incestuous ethnic self love driven by some selfish elements scattered across the federation in the name of North, South, West and East supremacist agenda. People are speaking less about been Nigerians and more about their singular identity, an anti-intellectual and primeval binary construction that transcends class, gender, faith, professional affiliations and inter-generational tensions.
If we don’t recover the nation state, even with all its crippling disabilities not least been an unloved, deeply flawed constitution, and decades of hurt, privations and marginalization, even the geostrategic coherence and functionality of the federating units is doomed from the word go. And that is what the Patriotic Movement for Nigeria is out to achieve; to privilege a new, totally different narrative, drawn from the strength of the nation’s ethnic formations, class alliances, professional affiliations and inter-faith forces so as to first recover the nation.
At a personal level, my experiences over the years richly prepared me for this kind of noble effort. For somebody like me who have suffered privations and regime violence, and had gone into detention five times under the military as a major player in the Eastern Mandate Union (EMU) and National Democratic Coalition (NADECO)- led pro democracy agitation of the mid 1999s, I will not keep quiet and allow these loud noises of agitations and separatism that are shorn of philosophical and ideological clarity, that lack any coherent programme of action and that have not even contemplated the how question speak less of given it any meaningful consideration, overwhelm the nation and possibly leave in its wake chaos, anarchy and disorder.
How would you react to the October 1st ultimatum by the northern youths to the Igbo?
Hate messages across board should have been more powerfully and forcefully rejected and condemned by the elders of the nation, not just from the North and the South East. It is even mischievous for anybody to reduce the crippling contradictions in the polity to a North vs East regional diatribe or inter-ethnic animus. Condemning the eviction notice will be just the beginning of reaching a common ground. It should have been followed up with a well developed early warning and early response strategy rather than the same elders- who are the biggest beneficiaries of what our long suffering nation has had to offer- being more concerned about their regions and ethnic domains.
We of the Patriotic Movement of Nigeria have decided to host town hall meetings in Abuja and in all the six geo-political zones and states of the country with the youths and other stakeholders as part of our broad based process- led Framework for Strategic Plan of Action already in the early phase of its implementation. One of the key features of our presentation will be to identity those things that unite and separate us, and how we can overcome them, as well as illuminating the fact that the pure water seller at Onitsha head bridge shouting Biafra has more in common with the poor talakawa in Kano shouting Arewa and an Alaye in Lagos shouting Oduduwa and less affinity with the exploitative and oppressive classes in an imagined Biafra, Arewa and Oduduwa republics.
Don’t you think that what has given rise to these agitations in the country is marginalisation, especially of the South-East?
I am Igbo and very proud to be one, but I am still prouder being a Nigerian. Mind you, I went to detention five times under the military because of the marginalisation of the East. This is no joke and only very few people have suffered more than myself in the struggle to restore democracy in Nigeria and de-marginalise the East, structurally and institutionally. If there are many of them out who want to dispute my claims let them step out and engage me openly. Of course, I fully appreciate fellow kindred spirits in the struggle- my leaders, elders and colleagues; Dr. Arthur Nwankwo, Chancellor of Eastern Mandate Union, Admiral Ndubuisi Kanu, Cdr. Ebitu Ukiwe, Dr Patrick Dele Cole, late Dr Chuba Okadigbo, Dr. Chukwuemeka Ezeife, late Sen Francis Ellah, Hon. Dubem Onyia, late Etubonm Bassey Ekpo Bassey, Sen. Liyel Imoke, late Ken Saro Wiwa, Hon. Phil Agbasi, Chief Emeka Ugwu-Oju and several others. So, I am not just talking theoretically. We set up the Eastern Mandate Union and we fused EMU’s de-marginalisation agenda with the restoration of electoral mandates, including the de-annulment of the June 12 Presidential election which MKO Abiola won.
All I do know was that in 1998, Abacha and Abiola died and a new constitution was born which politicians did not scrutinize. I have said elsewhere that even as the National Secretary of AD, I wasn’t even sure if I saw or read it. All we were concerned about was to send the military away. I challenge any politician who said he or she saw or scrutinized the constitution critically before it was launched to come out. That constitution did not specify which ethnicity to be targeted and the principal beneficiaries of that new democratic order were Presidents Obasanjo, Yar’Adua, Jonathan and Buhari who are proud Nigerians from determinate ethnic and faith backgrounds.
So what is your view about restructuring?
My view about restructuring is that it is an exercise that has to be done on the basis of the constitution which I agree we love to hate and despise. What I am saying is that there is no way we can restructure outside the terms set by the constitution. You and I know that the 1999 Constitution is deeply flawed but we have to reconstruct its text to suit our federalist imperatives incrementally. To do otherwise will entail overcoming or overpowering the constitutional state. The how question is one which we of the PMN are deeply interested in and profoundly committed to and it is clearly spelt out in our programme of action. This rational inter-subjective deliberative process is radically different from the pompous cant being spewed out by all manners of ethnic champions with very reductionist insular agendas.
What about the report of the National Conference of 2014
That document can generate executive bills that would be submitted to the National Assembly and that is the best profitable way to salvage its content from being a historic waste.