By Chukwudi Nweje
Tony Nyiam, a retired Colonel of the Nigerian army came to the limelight on April 22, 1990 when he and some other army officers attempted to overthrow the military administration of Gen Ibrahim Babangida in a coup. Nyiam was also a member of the Presidential Advisory Committee, (PAC) that packaged the 2014 President Goodluck Jonathan national conference. In this interview, he discusses insecurity in the country and proffers a way forward.
The Asaba Declaration of the Southern Governors Forum is insisting on restructuring of Nigeria if the country is to survive; now the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) has also taken the same position. How do you react that?
I completely support the position of the Southern governors and what they have done and I also support what the Middle Belt Forum has agreed and I go along with that. I think the best is that there is no choice to restructuring. Restructuring has to be the first and foremost and if there is no restructuring, I don’t think that there will be Nigeria.
It is two years now since president Muhammadu Buhari moved democracy day celebration from May 29 to June 12; however, there are still issues on democratic practice in Nigeria. How do you think we can resolve these issues?
I think the best thing to say is that there is no choice to restructuring; restructuring has to be first and foremost and if there is no restructuring, I don’t think that there will be Nigeria.
Despite positions banning open grazing, President Buhari during his interview on Arise Television favoured reinstating grazing routes, what is your take on that?
The President illustrated his mindset and his mindset is a very backward mindset in that he was insensitive to the killings of his own people by herdsmen; he is the grand patron of the cattle breeders association and it was very insensitive to have made that statement especially when governors in Northern Nigeria have agreed that they will stop open grazing.
What do you make of insecurity in the country?
The situation we have in Nigeria today is that in the South East, the Igbo are being killed, they are going through a lot; if you come to the South West, the towns are open and you have transnational Fulani herdsmen coming in attacking people and taking over their land. In the far North, Zamfara, Katsina and Sokoto, the Hausa are being killed; you may have heard a few days ago that Governor Aminu Bello Masari of Katsina State, that is the governor of the president’s home state crying out regarding the killings going on there. In Niger State, the bandits have taken over many local governments and of course, we have in the North East, the Boko Haram, who are now a window for the Islamic State of West Africa Province (ISWAP), those who killed the Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau, that is the most deadly of all. So, we are under heavy insecurity. Apart from these insecurity challenges, we have a demographic challenge that is population. If you look at many cities and states, go to Mushin, Shagamu, where I come from in Cross River, anywhere you go to today, you will see an influx of young people coming in and taking over. Take a city like Ikoyi for example, if you check the residents of Ikoyi, it is about one resident owner to about ten settlers not to talk of other cities in Lagos.
How do you think that the Federal Government should deal with the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), Oduduwa and other secessionist agitators around the country?
The issue is that the Federal Government has to allow for self determination of the people because the issue of IPOB for instance has a cause and the Federal Government must trace and address the root causes that triggered their agitation; the Federal Government has to allow people to express their feeling about the situations in the country. Nigeria is a country of many nations and this is always ignored. A few of us who have dual nationality will know that the British security architecture made it impossible to have English soldiers or officers in Scotland; the regiments in Scotland are all Scottish, the regiments in Ireland are manned by Irish people. Once a constitution doesn’t have clauses that devolve national security powers to confederating units, that constitution may be there but may not be obeyed. It is along this line that I think that we need to devolve our national security architecture. The first line of national security has to be anchored on the unconventional citizens’ arm of local government based self defence forces.
We are going through another round of constitutional amendment, what should we be looking at?
The National assembly can continue with the constitution amendment process, but the issue is that the issues in Nigeria have gone beyond constitution amendment. Nigerians want to restructure and as you would have heard, without restructuring, Nigerians are now asking to go their separate ways. The only thing that will bridge those who don’t want Nigeria to continue as it is and those who want to go their separate way is to restructure.
You were part of the 2014 national conference that was never implemented, today, there are agitations for another national conference, what do you think?
I think there are enough books of reference in Nigeria. The 2014 national conference and the 1960 constitution can be terms of reference which we will be calling a team of about 70 people to gather and discuss the way forward.
But that will not be a national conference?
It will be a conference of a sort, not jamboree and each member to that conference should come on their own expense.
How can Nigeria get that constitution that the people can truly say belongs to ‘we the people’?
A country is made up of people and people are sovereign. A nation-state is an agent of the people and there is a distinction between nation-state and government because at times, we mix them up. The nation-state is an agency of the people; it is not the other way round. The government is an agency of the nation-state. What I’m saying is that the people have the power but in Nigeria, we become so docile that we do not realise the power of the people. It is the power of the people that made the changes in Egypt and Tunisia. We need to understand that without appropriate national security architecture, a constitution can only be in paper because the constitution would not be enforceable. It is the national security architecture of a country that makes the government and the governed respect the constitution. If there wasn’t a proper national security architecture in the United States for example, former president Donald Trump would have taken over. It is the national security architecture that gave force to US constitution that prevented Trump from getting away with his plans. So, national security architecture is very important but at the moment, we don’t have national security architecture in Nigeria.
Are we talking about community based law enforcement?
We all cry for the state police. State police as the name suggests should not be seen as Lagos State Government Police or Oyo State Government Police. It should be seen as Oyo Citizens or Peoples Police as is the universal practice. The police should not be controlled by the executive, judiciary or legislature. The police should be controlled by the people. There is a necessity to have at least a 30-man platoon in each ward of local government in Nigeria; they will be the first responders to any crisis; for instance, the South West, the Agbekoyas can form part of this self defence forces in the rural areas and the OPC can be in the urban areas. That is the first line of security, the locals of each area should play a part in their self defence. The second line of national security has to be one that is partially conventional and partially unconventional. In the US, the states, not the Federal Government own the National Guard; we need such models in Nigeria because the call for state police is not enough to secure our people. In the South West, a better armed and better trained Amotekun can serve as a model of second-line defence of Nigeria. The last line and the third line of defence is obviously the conventional armed forces of Nigeria as it is. We need this revolution of national security powers otherwise we would have a constitution that cannot protect the people. For us to have a meaningful national constitution, that constitution must have clauses that spell out a proper national security architecture that befits the country.
What is your take on electioneering process in Nigeria, particularly with regards to the impartiality and independence of the Independent National electoral Commission (INEC)?
The idea of having a centralized national electoral commission undermines federalism. In any federal state, the people of the federating units are the ones who man the commission that elect the people. An over centralized electoral commission like INEC would be taking advantage as has been the case in Nigeria.