- Says N’ASSEMBLY, COUNCIL OF STATE CAN’T HANDLE RESTRUCTURING
By Omoniyi Salaudeen
Torrent of reactions has continued to trail the hard line position of President Muhammadu Buhari on the agitation for restructuring, among other national questions. In this interview, a former governor of the old Anambra State, Chief Chukwuemeka Ezeife, declares the president’s statement saying that Nigeria’s unity is not negotiable as an idle talk, warning that the country is already on the fringe.
President Muhammadu Buhari in his speech on Monday said the unity of Nigeria is not negotiable. How do you see the statement in the light of the mounting agitations for a reconfiguration of the present federal arrangement?
I was very happy when I read in fake news on WhatsApp that he mentioned political imbalance in the present arrangement and promised there would be restructuring. I was happy because I thought he showed some understanding of the issues. I had read that one before I saw the real news which didn’t contain much. The fact is that Nigeria is a great country destined to be a super power for Africa. But the same Nigeria, which is a great country, is very close to disintegration. It is now our choice to allow Nigeria to disintegrate or we take advantage of the resources, human and material, which God has given us to achieve that greatness.
“If we had got things, we should go and sit down and picture a federation that would give us no pain and which would work and ensure economic development faster. How can the North be against that? We are against behind the scene attempts to re-introduce secession and civil war as an act of politics. We did that 50 years ago. Nigeria will be a very stupid country if every 50 years we go back to the jungle to fight a war. What kind of human beings are we? If that is what is restructuring, we say no”, he remarked
What is it that God has not given us? Is it climate or endowment of resources, animals, plants, minerals, human beings? Nigeria is destined or planned for unmatched greatness to make the Blackman happy and to be a rallying point and big brother for Africa by developing into a supper power. It is our government that is messing up God’s plan. But the will of God must prevail over the will of man. So, I believe those who don’t want to see will see. It is interesting to note that those who are bringing Nigeria to disintegration are among the greatest gainers in one restructured Nigeria with justice reigning. This country is great and it will become great in prosperity. It will be among the rich nations of the world. Although there is no mention of restructuring in his speech, we thank God that he survived and he is back.
But he did mention that it is only the National Assembly and the Council of States that can look into the agitation for restructuring. What’s your take on that?
That is nonsense. In the first place, the National Assembly itself is a candidate for restructuring. You saw how they dealt with power devolution. You don’t give such power to a body like that. The Northern military rulers of post civil war Nigeria dumped too many advantages on the North. They gave them 19 states plus Abuja and by implication more senators, more federal constituencies and more members of the House of Representatives. Again, out of 774 Local Governments, they gave North 419, leaving 357 to the South. And we are sharing money to all on the basis of this. The restructuring we are talking about, though language may be big, only means going back to the agreed Nigeria, the Nigeria agreed upon by our founding fathers, which was a federal Nigeria based on regions and federating units. During the Biafra war, the military decided to isolate the Igbo from the rest of the East in order to win the war and therefore created 12 states, six in the North, six in the South. After the war, without proper consultation, the same military started creating states and local governments bringing us to where we are now. That was why 2014 national conference recommended 18 more states to correct some of these things. If that had been done, we should have 54 states plus Abuja by now. The issue now is: Are we going to go back to our original idea of regions or 54 federating units? It appears some people do not understand what we mean by the word restructuring. We are not talking about any grammar here; we are talking of what is already there. We have the 1963 constitution of federal Nigeria consisting of both regional and federal arrangement. We also have recommendations of the 2014 national conference.
Already, some groups in the South-west have planned to organize a rally in September to press home the demand for restructuring. What is the way out now since the president has foreclosed the possibility of any dialogue on the oneness of Nigeria?
There are no two ways about it; we must restructure to survive. Whatever the West is doing is what the Southeast is doing, is what the Middle Belt is doing. We are together on this.
What do you think the President meant when he mentioned in his speech that he met the late Ojukwu in his Katsina country home and they both agreed on one Nigeria?
Even today, I agree on one Nigeria. But we must restructure and let justice reign. I don’t know where he met with Ojukwu. But wherever they met, Ojukwu didn’t tell him that one group must dominate. Nobody in his right mind wants Nigeria to break up. But it appears that people who will lose most from a break up of Nigeria are the people pushing for the breakup of Nigeria. Therefore, those of us who understand and love our neighbours like ourselves must save our neigbours from the actions they are taking that may be ruinous to them.
What modality would it take to restructure?
The raw materials for work are already available. The raw materials are the federal constitution of 1963, the regional constitution and the report of 2014 national conference. There are many available reports. We have even had other conferences before 2014. The principal reports are the constitution of federal Republic of Nigeria, the constitution of western Nigeria, eastern Nigeria, Northern Nigeria and mid-western Nigeria. We can even adopt the line of least resistance and use existing six geo-political zones. In doing that, we allow the states in each zones to meet and formulate the constitution they can live with so that no state will feel like going back to Egypt. Then, we go to a body with sovereign power to declare the view of Nigerians. The alternative is for us to conduct a referendum. That referendum will be pregnant in the sense that any group of Nigerians who rejects the outcome of the conference goes on its own to found its own country. Those who agree to stay will form a new Nigeria or look for another name. I am not being sectional in saying this; I am only trying to work out a permanent Nigeria that works and makes us manifest our destiny. That is, to clean away from the faces of the blackman the shame of slavery. But many people don’t understand. The issue goes beyond Kano having 64 Local Governments, while Lagos has 20 or Bayelsa having eight Local Governments. It is about the blackman and how to raise his voice, raise his respect among comity of nations.
Are you suggesting the convocation of a fresh national conference or adoption of the 2014 recommendations?
The 2014 national conference did not go far enough. The final thing to complete the action is going back to the agreed Nigeria based on true federal structure or regions. We can adopt the line of least resistance and adopt regions as federating units.
You also said that any group that does not agree to the outcome of referendum can opt out of Nigeria and form another country.
Exactly, that is a peaceful way of going away.
You are saying in effect that the breakup of the country is possible. I am right?
Who says the breakup is not possible? If you don’t make a restructure that satisfies people, people will go. That is no magic about it. The laws of the United Nations allow it. It is idle talk for anyone to say that the unity of Nigeria is not negotiable or Nigeria is indissoluble. Those are words of those who don’t want one Nigeria. Those who want unity of Nigeria are saying: Do what will keep Nigeria one.
In a very clear term, do you believe that a restructured Nigeria would put an end to all these incessant separatist agitations by groups like the IPOB?
No group of Nigeria whether large or small, Igbo, Hausa, Fulani, Edo, Ijaw or any group you can think of gains from Nigeria’s breakup. Every group of Nigerians, especially the North will gain massively from one Nigeria properly restructured with justice reigning. I say this with certainty of knowledge. There is no question about it except short sightedness. Today, the country is held down and all of us are sharing in poverty. If we restructure, Nigeria will begin to explode in growth for everyone to enjoy and nobody to lose. Going back to our homes oh Israel is not good for Nigeria. There are people who are autochthonous Nigerians. And there are people who are visitors to Nigeria. Where do they go? Nothing in life is permanent. I think the poverty we are suffering most end. If God allows us to see and appreciate the future, we find out that a restructured Nigeria with justice prevailing will make Fulani a better person, make Hausa a better person, make the Igbo a better person.
There are some things that make dissension moral. I must say that I have some evidence of some behaviours of my people, Igbo, that may be causing the problem because people are not thinking big. Our people are audacious; they are not diplomatic or manipulative. They come to a place, develop it and build palaces for themselves better than the owners of the land. That is what our background gives us. Where you live you make. And because of our audacious nature which is something we are doing but not to hurt anybody, we ooze out more confidence than the original owners of the land, while the original owners of the land become jealous and from jealousy to hatred. We Igbo, we must learn to respect our host communities, we must make friends with our host communities, we must respect the do’s and don’ts of our host communities. And our host communities don’t have to be jealous, if they understand that our behaviours are not meant against them. What they can do is to emulate us. Now, we will adjust and understand them more than they understand us. We don’t hide anything we are doing. We do it in the open. Therefore, people can emulate and dub our development and progress psychology and achievement motivation and develop their own people. Some are doing that already.
On a final note, the president has threatened to deal with any group that foments further trouble in the form of agitation. Is that the way to achieve an enduring peace in the country?
Agitation arose from the South-east because the president in making his appointments at the beginning of his presidency appointed more than 40 people from other parts of Nigeria and not one was appointed from South-east. Agitation arose because not the least of the six principal protocol officers, which is Secretary to the Government of the Federation, was given to the east in a six geo-political zones. Protest arose because in the National Security Council not one person from the South-east is there. Protest arose when the military personnel from South-east were retrenched. Protest arose when security services are dominated by the North without representation from the South-east. These are the reasons for the protests. Worse of all, people who were carrying Bible to go and make memorial service for their dead ones, people who were not even carrying sticks in Aba, in Onitsa, in Port Harcourt, in Asaba were massacred by the Nigerian soldiers. That was the cause of the agitation. I thank God for the recovery and the return of Mr. President. On matters of health, only the will of God matters. And it is very dangerous and questionable for any human to wish death for any other human. We were created by God; nobody helps God by killing a fellow creature. Nothing in the Bible and the Quran justifies any person killing an innocent person and saying he is doing it for God. The same way we should not wish a human being dead.
FG SHOULD CONVENE NATIONAL PEACE MEETING – TANKO YAKASAI
Alhaji Tanko Yakasai, elder statesman and First Republic politician, is a popular voice on national discourse. In this interview, he reflects on his fears and hopes for Nigeria in the light of a number of threatening and disturbing developments, urging the Federal Government to be decisive in handling the drivers of hate speeches as well as to demonstrate, beyond words, a determination to check any attempt by any group to forcibly evict any Nigerian from his/her region of residence. He also stresses the need for the Federal Government to initiate a national peace meeting to attempt to fashion out a peaceful and harmonious way forward. He spoke to Desmond Mgboh at his residence in Kano. Excerpts.
Sir, there have been various quit notices issued to Nigerians by various regional and ethnic groups. First, there was the quit notice issued to Easterners by some Hausa “boys’ and only last week, there was a similar ultimatum issued to Hausa and Yoruba to leave the oil rich Niger Delta area for their home regions. What is your take on these quit notices?
Well, in the first place, honestly, I don’t think anybody has the right to ask any other Nigerian to move from wherever he has decided to stay to any other place, except he himself has decided on his own to go. So, all these notices, in my opinion, are threats. The only thing is that in a situation where the political atmosphere is politically charged, anything that is capable of bringing about disharmony between one section of the country and the other should be cause for concern to every Nigerian. I think those in authority have the responsibility to deal with this situation in accordance with the law. These threats are not part of what is expected of any law-abiding citizen in any country.
How do you see the management of these threats, whether it’s the eviction notice by Hausa youths or that of the Niger Deltans asking Hausa people to leave their land, or the hate speeches and the anti Igbo song already in circulation?
Let me say that this anti-Igbo song, I never heard it. I have heard people talking about it, but I never heard it. I never heard a single word in respect of that. But hate speeches, I have been reading from left, right and center and they are very dangerous. It was what happened in Rwanda that ultimately led to the death of so many people. It’s a reckless attitude and it should be highly discouraged. My concern is; you see when an infraction is taking place and those in authority decided to ignore it, it’s an encouragement for other people who are law abiding citizens to begin to think that if Mr. A can do such a thing and get away with it, why not me? And this is what is happening in Nigeria. We have reached a situation where people go against the law and those in authority would ignore them. We have now reached a situation whereby those in authority ignore some of these things. We now have a situation where hate speeches are coming from different parts of the country. But if only a firm action had been taken right from the start, we would not have reached the level we are today. I think those in authority have the responsibility to deal with issues like this promptly before they start to get out of control.
Sir, it has been argued that the present day hate speeches were actually nothing but the antagonism that began in the run up to the 2015 elections and that to a great extent, the political class and governance actors of today were the originators of hate remarks in the polity. What is your view?
Yes I know; if you remember that on the eve of the last presidential election, the then president, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, approached a group because hate speeches were mostly being made here in the North at that time and the president at that time, approached some notable Northerners for their support, to go round and talk to the traditional rulers, religious and political leaders in the region to intervene so that the situation could be brought under control. The people approached at that time promised to do what they were requested to do, but after collecting the money, they disappeared. Consequently, I was invited by somebody on behalf of the then President Jonathan to undertake the same task; to talk to people who can bring sanity into the situation. I agreed that I would help and I was requested to nominate people who would help me do that which I did. Eventually, we undertook a tour of the whole of the 19 Northern states and Abuja and we were able to cover 17 out of them. We were in Gombe, talking to opinion leaders with an appointment to pay a visit to the Emir of Gombe which would culminate in our stay in Gombe and from there off we went, but as we were waiting to see the Emir, Boko Haram attacked the town and we were hurriedly consigned to our vehicles by security operatives and we were led out of Gombe in a hurry. But we did our best. We started with a visit to the palace of the Sultan of Sokoto and we went round the whole of 17 Northern states and met their traditional rulers and the political leaders. And the result was that the tension was reduced up to the time of the elections. And also, thank God, through many interventions, Jonathan himself conceded defeat when he did not win the elections. So, all these problems came again after the elections. They started before the elections but they subsided. The new development, I don’t think they have any direct connection with what happened during the elections.
What then do you think triggered the recent bursts of hate speeches from all regions of the country?
Well, I don’t want to appear as if I am not trying to quench the problem. But all these problems have their beginning and those in authority know the beginning. They were there, they should have taken steps to bring the situation under control and they did not. I agree that the Vice president, Yemi Osinbajo, when he was the acting president had initiated meetings with leaders and he should continue to do that. But I think that it was a little bit too late.
Generally, be they Northern, Eastern or Western elders-don’t mind me, I am going back to pre- 1967 divides of Nigeria. They say these elders have not demonstrated sufficient sincerity to help the younger generation appreciate the need for unity in Nigeria. That very often, these elders hide in the shadows, using the youths as proxies in their regional war. Correct?
When you talk of pre-1967 elders, you are talking of elders like me….
…And the new recruits in the rank of elders, people from 65 years upwards…
You see the trouble is this. Once there is a disconnection; you run into problem. All these problems have their origin and the origin is military intervention. All these talks about restructuring and so forth and so on, honestly, the people are just trying to look for excuses. But the real problem or the cause of the problem is the dismantling of the structure of the political leadership in Nigeria as a result of military coups. Military coups brought about indiscipline in the society and the military themselves were fighting one another – we are all witnesses to how many times a military man overthrew a regime led by a fellow military man. It happened on several occasions and as a result, you find that when people come to power they are more concerned about their own welfare than the welfare of the people. So, this is the problem. Military rule brought about indiscipline in the society; it brought endemic corruption in the society, they brought about dislodgement of political leadership in the country and they destroyed the bedrock of the civil service in the country.
So, you are absolving elders of any blame in the way the country is going?
After the elimination of the first set of political leaders, the only time the opportunity presented itself was in the Second Republic and just as the politicians were trying to prepare the ground after years of military rule, then all of a sudden, the military came back. And note that up till today, Nigeria has been under a military ruler, either in uniform or in mufti.
From the feelers, Easterners in the North are discomforted by the quit notice. The same experience of fear and trepidation is the lot of many Hausa people resident in Port Harcourt and other parts of the Niger Delta. They are jittery. What is your advice to these Nigerians whose only ‘sin’ is that they are living in places of their choice?
My advice, first, goes to those in authority – the Federal Government and all the agencies that guarantee peace and peaceful coexistence in this country. The Federal Government should mobilize its forces to ensure that those who feel uncomfortable are given assurances, not only by mouth but also through practical demonstrations that the government is prepared to protect their lives and property. You see when somebody is fearful, there is no amount of talk that would ease his fear until you take practical steps that would convince him that he could stay in peace and tranquility. He wants to see that you are practically serious and ready to protect him. Unless you do that, he cannot have the peace of mind that he is safe. So, the challenge of the quit notices is in fact a direct challenge to the government, the Federal Government for that matter. The Federal Government can do a lot with the cooperation of the state governments and political leaders, but essentially it’s the Federal Government that needs to take the initiative and thrash out these things.
In the public domain today, there have been talks about the sanctity of Nigeria unity side-by-side contrary talks on the need to discharge this unity. Given your vision and wisdom, what are your fears for Nigeria?
Well, I am a confident person. I observed through experience that Nigerians need one another. We support one another. The way God created Nigeria; I don’t believe that Nigeria is just a creation of the British. God used the instrumentality of the British colonial administration to create Nigeria. And I have said it before that even if the British did not come to Nigeria, there would eventually have been something like the Nigeria of today. If you consider that more than half of Cameroon was part of Nigeria, half of Niger, half of Chad and half of Benin Republic were; they were all people related to Nigeria or lived with Nigeria. There could have been invariably the emergence of a nation like Nigeria or a nation that is bigger than Nigeria in this space we are occupying today.
So, Nigeria came about through the instrumentality of the British colonial administration by God Almighty and He made it in such a way that we are complementing one another. I have said it many times and I gave practical examples on how different parts of Nigeria are dependent on one another. The Northerners are dependent on the Southerners and Southerners are dependent on the Northerners. The manufacturing industries are situated in the South West, but the market is all over Nigeria. If there were no Nigeria, that market would disappear. The business of trading is in the hand of the Easterners, but the Easterners need the market and this is a market of almost 200 million people. This market is serving well the interest of Easterners who are traders by nature and who are resident all over the country. We are dependent on one another. The Northerners, apart from the oil money that all the states of Nigeria are benefiting from, need the South at least to reach out to the other parts of the world. We need access to the sea for us to export our commodities and for us to bring in goods. So, we are complementary to one another. And even if there is no Nigeria today, one thing is certain, these needs are still there and they would forge a new understanding on their own.
You mean something would still bring the people of Nigeria together?
Yes, definitely, except that we would now suffer in between. This is the reason I am really feeling bad. If young people, who were not part of the sufferings to bring about the country Nigeria, speak carelessly, it is understandable because they did not sweat for it. But if people in their late 70s and 80s are talking or threatening the unity of Nigeria over small issues, it makes me very unhappy. I know we are very few, people like me. This is the assurance I have in my mind that in any case, people like me, who are 90 and those who are immediately coming behind me, we are very few. We are on our way out. The best we can hope for is to live another 10, 15 years. We would disappear.
But if we, people like me, are speaking the language of carelessness, then we are not giving a good example or good leadership to our children and to the coming generation of Nigerians. This is my concern and I don’t know, I really don’t know, but I think the Federal Government needs to initiate a national meeting and not like the 2014 Conference, it should not be confab. It should be a peace initiative that should be attended by political leaders, religious leaders, traditional rulers, the academia and the business community- all the stakeholders. Bring the leading elements among them together to discuss. The mere fact that faces would be seen together in a meeting, searching for peace, would send a very good signal to the generality of Nigerians that their leaders are trying to bring about peace in the country.
But what about the implementation of the outcome of this meeting that you are proposing? Drawing from experience, will the government have the will power to implement outcomes of meetings of this nature?
The Federal Government that would initiate this meeting should commit itself to tackling the main issues that would assure everybody and implement them.
There is the argument that when emotions are charged, consensus becomes difficult. Look at the issues of devolution that was killed even before arrival. Do you still think that we can achieve a reasonable middle road at a moment like this when each and every person and region is charged to a boiling point and has reverted to his or her ethnic conclave?
Well, I am glad that you mentioned the issue of devolution. Devolution issue was given a wrong interpretation. People painted it wrongly. Devolution means transferring items from the exclusive list to the concurrent list. What does that mean? It means that if you do that, you will be enabling the states to partake more actively in their destinies. Take the issue of electricity generation that is exclusive to the Federal Government. If states would be given the opportunity to generate power in the country, it would surely help. Where the Federal Government can do, the states could as well do their own bit. It does not mean that the Federal Government would be deprived its own role in the process. Any item you transfer from the exclusive list to the concurrent list means that you are leaving the Federal Government with its power and you are taking part of that power and allowing the states to do their own bits. It does not mean that you are removing powers of the Federal Government. Today, items under concurrent list are legislated by the federal and state governments. So, that when you transfer power to the concurrent list, it’s the same thing that would happen.
My concern, so far, is that the performance of state governments so far does not give room for confidence that if you give them more powers they would do better. If you look at the 36 states of the country today, those who owe their workers salary are in the majority, including states that are getting derivation revenue. So, to give them more powers? Yes, give them more powers! But, I don’t think that they have the capacity to handle more powers. But let them have the powers. I don’t have any quarrel with that. The picture given of devolution is as if it would deprive the Federal Government of its powers or authority on those items that you are transferring from the exclusive to the concurrent list. It is not the case.
Who is opposed to this devolution? Is it the Federal Government or the states or..?
So far, I don’t hear of anybody that is opposed to it.
Then why did it fail in the Senate?
They said they didn’t bring it one after the other. Didn’t you listen to the Senate President? He said that it was presented to the Senate in block and so people did not understand it. And if even they did, it would have gone one way or the other. We should not quarrel with them. I think my quarrel is with those who are advocating for devolution for their failure to do their homework because a lot of them are now talking of restructuring and they have not explained what restructuring means. When you are talking of restructuring a country, be it Nigeria or any other country, I think the people of that country are entitled to know what would be their fate when the country is restructured. There would be fear, the fear of the unknown. Those who are advocating restructuring should address the issue of the fear of the unknown so that everybody would be assured that there is no sinister motives behind the agitation and this is the impression that is being created, because I don’t see why people should be afraid of coming out with their own blueprint on how they expect Nigeria to be.