From Paul Osuyi, Asaba
Chief (General) Joseph O.G. Achuzia is the acting President-General of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) Elders’ Council. He is one man who believes that the Biafra identity within Nigeria should not be wished away. As a retired colonel who fought in the Nigeria civil war, Achuzia believes that the National Assembly has no business amending the constitution.
In this interview, he also bares his mind on the long absence of President Muhammadu Buhari concluding that the national leadership of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) should be blamed for the controversies generated by the President’s health status. Excerpts!
Do you feel the National Assembly did well by dumping the issue of restructuring in the on going constitution amendment?
To me, the institution which Nigeria has and calls National Assembly is a charade based on the fact that they didn’t get legitimacy from the constitution of the people. Since the military coup in 1966, Nigeria has been operating a military constitution, we have not been given the opportunity for a civilian constitution to be put in place where people should be elected into National Assembly as true representatives of the people without being pushed in into positions based on fear which the military portends.
On the issue of constitution amendment, is the decision taken by the National Assembly in order, as it affects restructuring?
I will use a local statement which says that people from Sierra Leone used to say that any cry is good for burial, meaning that in the absence of legitimacy, any act that enables an issue to be laid aside is acceptable. In this instant, as I said, the National Assembly (NASS) with its array of personalities is not a legitimate organ for governance because of the constitution that gave rise to their being there.
In other words, the amendment is an effort in futility?
Yes! Everything they have been doing all this time are just efforts in futility, hence like they used to say that “Humpty Dumpty sat on the wall, Humpty Dumpty fell and all the king’s men could not put Humpty Dumpty back again.” The egg has been broken, all this attempts to try to scoop it up cannot lead Nigeria anywhere until they come back to their senses and do the proper thing. They used military fiat to order that here is a constitution we are giving you. The first thing to be done is to suspend or abrogate that constitution just as the military came in through the civilian constitution and carried out a coup, now the military brought civilians back through a military inspired constitution. Then the civilians should reinstate the constitution that was suspended by the military in 1966, amend it so that military coups will not be allowed to take place anymore within the civilian constitution. It is this constitution that they will now give the legitimacy to amend.
But NASS has taken a decision to dump restructuring…
… It is illegal.
Do you feel that such decision was instigated by a section of the country?
Of course, a section of the country was the one who benefitted from the coup.
Which section of the country is that?
The North of course, they instigated NASS, to dump restructuring. If you look into the present structure of Nigeria, the Hausa/Fulani are in two principal areas – the North-West and North-East. These are the two separate routes that the Fulanis entered the area we now know today as Nigeria. And the ones from the North-East came all the way from Sudan and ended up where we now call Bornu State. The ones from the Maghreb area that traveled all the way from Mali down through the coast of West Africa came to Niger. From Niger into the Hausa territory of Nigeria, they settled in Sokoto and Katsina. The Fulanis are a minority, it is the conquest into the Hausa territory which they annexed that is the middle belt area that gave them what they call numerical strength. And it is the coup that gave them the right to be at the helm of affairs and governance in this country. It is through this, that after the coup, the military took up positions and they at the helm of affairs decided to structure the country the way it is today, and made it a unitary system which is the lifestyle of the military. And they know that immediately you change the structure out of unitary system, they will lose out, and as such, they will not allow or agree to restructuring. What are you restructuring? Restructuring pre-supposes putting the skewed ethnic arrangement that has bedeviled the situation in the country.
The Northern Governors’ Forum has set up a committee on restructuring. Here in the South-south and South-east, the governors appear not to be bothered. Are you not worried?
No! The necessity for them to set up a committee for restructuring does not arise because the north already knew the structure in the south. The west of the south is dominated by the Yorubas while the eastern side of it. The River Niger and River Benue divided Nigeria into three segments, that is how the structure which the British left us with, is. The issue of 36 states was an effort to skew the country in favour of the north. Even in that north, the Fulanis have been able to subdue the Hausas sufficiently as to make a one north which they have been clamouring for all along. But in the South, the eastern region know themselves, so they don’t need to set up a committee to know the various indigenous groups in the area, so also in the West. And it is based on that the West has 6 states based on what they consider is their ethnic position. In the East you have East Central, one ethnic group, but because of the same fear that has propelled the north to interfere into the arrangement in the Eastern Region by creating them into states, that fear still exists because South-east alone is one ethnic group with one linguistic arrangement. But on what I may call political arrangement so as to disorganize the East, they were made into five states. Those five states were meant to dismember them. Unfortunately they are still bound by one linguistic language. What exists in the eastern region exists in the Western Region. The Ijaws were mainly based within the western region not in the East. The next place you find them is within the Southern Cameroon but within the mangrove area not on the mainland. But when the North wanted to gain advantage over the South-eastern region because of the activities of war, they wanted to control the southern water front, the Atlantic Ocean. They moved in, but they couldn’t stop this one linguistic group, so they had to on paper create a state; Rivers State because there is a port there. They wanted to control that port and deny the South-easterners the right of the usage of that port. There is another port that belonged to the South-east, that is the Calabar port. They automatically put their hands starting from the boundary of the Eastern Region which is near Ogoja area and carved out part of the Eastern Region, pushed and called the Cross River State. That gave them the opportunity to own the port and move in as if they were protecting the few indigenes that were inhabiting that area. The same thing happened in the West, but because they needed the alliance of the West, they did not tamper with the decision in the West. This is the structure and why the South (West and East) do not need to set up a committee over the issue of restructuring because they know what their structures are.
IPOB elders are presently in court challenging the 1914 almagamation which they contend has expired…
It is true that we are in court. The issues that led us to go to court were not originally based on the almagamation. Reasons we went to court are the vexatious issue of somebody within the military having an illegal leadership, and governance decided at the end of the war. Years later, a war that ended between the Nigerian government and Biafra government, they decided that the word Biafra should be expunged from both international and Nigerian lexicon. We challenged it on the basis that under human rights, the world over, no government has the right to tell a people what name they should bear. It has never happened. Germany fought wars twice, lost both wars yet they remain Germany. Japan lost wars yet they remained Japan. Why should Nigeria then change the Bight of Biafra which is there and still there in international map of the seas and coastal lines to Bight of Bonny. And when we say we are Biafrans, they use security agents to harass and arrest us and imprison our children. Sometimes they fire and kill them, maim them. That is what we went to court for, for the court to tell us who is right. Whether Nigeria is right to carry out such atrocities against us. Have we the right to say we are Biafrans? Because our dead heroes in that war could not be buried as Nigerians but they died for Biafra. The children they left behind are the ones now clamouring that they are Biafrans, that is what their fathers told them before they went to war and died. So the court has to adjudicate on it but Nigeria has been playing delay tactics since 2012. Because of it, we realize that we have to challenge the so called fusion of ethnic groups in 1914 that they called almagamation. Looking through the almagamation documents which we were able to bring back from Britain, we now found that there were clauses, a clause that makes room for termination. It states that after 100 years, the people can renegotiate an arrangement of either staying together or pulling apart, that is what brought that subject into part of what we sued the Nigerian government for, because we did not want a situation where another civil war will start. We either restructure and separate peacefully or restructure and decide how we would fuse together without being a burden to each other.
The call for independence by various ethnic nationalities gained ascendancy recently in the Niger Delta and South-east, and there is also a counter call for the unity of the country. Do you feel the Federal Government has done enough in these two regions to justify the call for one Nigeria?
A call for unity, an arrangement of unity that lasted for 100 years and within that 100 years, over five to six ethnic strifes had taken place culminating into a civil war. If you notice what is going on in Venezuela, the people have risen against a minority government yet a battle is going on, so many people die everyday, but they refused to call it a civil war because they have not divided themselves into two separate entities that refused to acknowledge one another. A civil war means that a country has lost their position and right to be one entity. One says you have no right to pull apart, the other says I have a right to pull apart. They were not negotiating how to co-exist anymore, it became a trial of strength. Nigeria fought a civil war and after the end of the war, Nigeria failed to do the correct thing even when every opportunity was given to it by Biafra to re-adjust. The first thing Nigeria should have done is reinstate the country back to what caused the civil war.
How has the absence of President Muhammadu Buhari affected the governance of Nigeria?
One doesn’t need to ask. American social media, television, CNN took a swipe at Nigeria by almost making fun of the type of governance that we have, posing a question that “of these four nations, tell us which of them is guilty of this, where their president is away for over two months and has never set foot at home.” In the end, they answered, that nation is Nigeria. It elicited laughter internationally. As of now, Nigeria is being governed by a cabal. We elected a president based on how we see the country in view of the political parties. The country, based on our constitution is not governed by the individual, we are the ones who are crediting an individual with powers that he doesn’t have constitutionally. The country’s constitution states that there should be a government and to be in government, it has to be through a political party. We have several political parties that contested for the right to govern this country, APC won the right to govern this country but the only right a human being has is that the constitution says the party can pick anybody so long as he is a human to represent it on election day. When election is won, it is the party that wins the election not the individual. The only thing the constitution failed to do is give the party the right to decide if an individual it picks fails to rise up to the occasion, that the party should automatically exercise its right of ownership of the seat of government. The chairman of the party is still responsible for what is going whether the government is right or wrong, not the nominee.
In this present circumstance, the APC national chairman should be held responsible?
Yes! The constitution, I can’t quote it, gave the right to contest election to the party. However, it failed in not addressing the issue of what should be done when the president is not well. For me, the onus is on APC to address the present logjam. You can see where some clever politicians, a cabal, close to the individual whom the party put there, have now sequestered the governance and there is somebody put there as deputy, but they have put aside that deputy…
Prof. Osinbajo is the acting president…
No! He was, but he is no more by that letter the president transmitted to the National Assembly removing him from Vice President to a coordinator, thereby, he is no more acting president. That is the right person the party nominated, and he has acted on it based on the advice of the cabal, his associates who wants to retain power in the absence of the president. So it is now for the party to query the situation and say no, we did not put you people that are handling the government there. We put Mr. A there and Mr. B as his deputy. Mr. A is not there, you have no right to remove B from the position. It is the party that should go and see if he is ill, it is only the party that can tell him that he cannot continue in the position, you did not meet our requirements.
The issue of the president’s health has generated controversy with some persons traveling to London to say that he is okay and another group contending that he is not. What do you make out of the situation?
That story is from the cabal, the party has not exercised its right. It is now for the people to now turn round to the election body and say we gave you a job to do based on the constitution to carry out an election that will lead to good governance. You told us that this party won the election and they took over the government. Now, tell us what the party should do because the party from our point of view is not functioning the way it should function. The person presented to be the president is incommunicado, we can’t find him, we can’t even see him.
IPOB has threatened that the governorship election will not hold in Anambra State. What is your take on this?
The IPOB, if you look closely, the members are the remnants of those that survived the Biafra civil war and their offshoots. As far as these remnants are concerned, they have elders. I will like to know if it is the elders that are saying there will be no election or the youths, because just bandying words freely is not the position of everybody. If it is the youths, are you trying to tell us that the youths govern the country? The youths of Arewa in the north have just issued quit notice to the Igbos, an ethnic group in the south. Their elders are telling us that they did not give permission for such to be issued, and the country is accepting it. Why are they still querying that? We say these are youthful exuberances and the youth made that statement. Why must people continue pressing and reading ulterior meaning into a youthful statement?
How would you describe Nnamdi Kanu?
He is one of our children, one of our youths.
Is he fighting a just cause?
I read something in the Internet some few days from Yoruba youths saying that as far as they are concerned the time for restructuring has passed, that they are demanding outright secession from Nigeria’s political arrangement. Their elders are claiming that those are youths that they are entitled to say what they like. Why then, must ours be different? We intervened in the incarceration of Kanu because to us, it was youthful exuberance. He is a youth born within and after the war, the only place he knew was Biafra. Consequently, he says he wants Biafra, good enough. As long as he is not carrying arms against Nigeria over it, the government has no right to try to stop him. Trying to stop him means creating friction.
This Biafra, where is really the territory?
According to the 1912/1913 world ecological map, when the Portuguese were mapping out routes linking the whole five continents by water, the Bights which means coastal, denotes the people inhabiting the mainland. Hence, the Bights of Biafra, the Bights of Benin, the Bights of Guinea all the way round Africa meaning that when ship leaves Europe or wherever, and in those days they didn’t have ships that passed through the middle of the ocean, they look for the shortest way of crossing and then travelled along the coasts. They said Bights of Biafra, they didn’t say Bights of Congo or Bights of Zimbabwe or Bights of Sierra Leone. It is because the people living there at the mainland are Biafrans. According to the inscription in the map which we also filed in court, that area was known as Southern Sudan covering from Benue, the right hand side of River Benue downwards where Zamfara State is now, that leads through the side of Cross River and ended up in Calabar into the sea. This side of the river up to where it ended up at Benue River and this side up River Niger down the ‘Y’ arm, which takes into account the Benue River and the River Niger downward the West and the East.
Which means it covered areas that was formally referred to as Midwest region?
Yes! That is why it was the National Council of Nigerian Citizens, (NCNC) that carved out that position that was known as Midwest. The River Niger was not the boundary of Midwest, Midwest went into where you call Ogbaru and that area now was part of Midwest before the civil war. It was after the civil war that the northern cabal in the army decided that River Niger is now the boundary between former Midwest and Eastern Region. Midwest was created by the NCNC and not Action Group. Action Group took care of the Western Region. Niger Delta was not there as at then, the issue of Niger Delta came as a result of the advent of oil wells and oil locations. When the drillers first came, they started from the mainland, all the wells drilled have capped up, and before the civil war there was oil well in the Midwest, there was oil wells in the Anambra River basin, Asaba all the way as you go, there are almost a thousand wells drilled and covered up with oil but when the military took over, the north being in charge under Gowon now made a law which was included in their constitution. First, that all land belong to the Federal Government, that all minerals in the ground belong to the Federal Government.
Since Oloibiri well was discovered on the shores, and the oil drillers now found that you don’t have to drill very far to reach oil they started moving towards the shores. And finally, they didn’t even bother about the shores. They go straight, because science has improved the capacity for drilling. So long as you are within the territorial waters of the people, you can drill in their area, and government now said that all the wells drilled on mainland are not to be touched, they are to be reserved, they call it their oil reserve. This brought about the Delta area. Delta means the water logged area of a territorial zone.