Former presidential aspirant on the platform of Social Democratic Party (SDP), Prof. Iyorwuese Hagher, has said that 2023 election shouldn’t hold, emphasizing, “we need to amend the constitution through a national conversation to correct the asymmetry in our federalism.”
In an interview with VINCENT KALU, Prof Hagher, who had served two times as minister, twice as an ambassador and also a former senator, alleged that the federal government doesn’t have the political will to end Boko Haram insurgency.
Insecurity in Nigeria is getting worse by the day, how do you think the nation can arrest the trend?
Let me start by agreeing with you that insecurity in Nigeria is worsening every day. But let me quickly define insecurity in three words so that I am sure we are on the same page. Insecurity is feeling helpless and unprotected. This feeling is pervasive, incremental, and ubiquitous. Except for the five percent that owns this country economically and politically, the rest of us suffer different levels of insecurity.
Poverty in Nigeria is grinding people to death. For many citizens, their household incomes cannot secure access to food, health, and shelter. But worse than poverty, now, is the fact that we have become a fast-access-to-death society. There is no guarantee that the government, the police, or any of the armed forces can protect any of us from being robbed, kidnapped, or killed, in our homes, on the streets, or while simply commuting from point A to B. Criminals are on the rampage and the law is in retreat mode.
You ask me how this can be arrested. I say to you that we are past thinking about arresting insecurity. It is bigger than you think. It can’t be arrested or reined in now. Those to arrest are those most deserving of the arrest. Nigeria is at a tipping point. We are standing on the edge of the cliff and watching our destination in the Armageddon below. The choices are not good. We could be a state of anarchy, where the government might become fully, brutally fascist, or a state of total collapse when non-state actors dictate the pace of social life, and when the economy is ruined beyond resuscitation and the Naira’s free fall due to criminal market forces, reduces it to no more than toilet paper.
Growing up in this country in the ’70s, Nigeria’s trajectory to greatness was obvious as countries like China were trailing behind our GDP. But sadly, today we are ranked in the 2020 Fragile States Index, among 14 countries whose fragility indicates their precarious proximity to high alert failed states like Syria, South Sudan, Somalia, and Yemen. We have allowed our country to be driven by rancour, distrust, and deprivation. Where is that unity in diversity? Gone! Where have all the leaders gone that we are left with leadership toxicity, leadership inertia, and leadership deficit?
We are at war. Nigeria is at war; waging a war against itself. We are caught in a historical capsule of the slave trade era now. We are waging war on one another. And we are killing, kidnapping, and taking prisoners of war. Like the slave trade of yesterday, our present elite has assumed the role of new slave masters warring the citizens to break each one of us into obedient quisling slaves of a devilish system controlled by the military-political complex.
This complex is behind the genocide, terrorism, land expropriation, and wealth-grabbing, at a massive scale never seen since the slave trade era. We are witnessing governance as a massive crime scene, where all that is being done is to capture treasuries for looting. The only solution is to stop the war by reversing sail. Let us have more governance and lesser politics. Let us build democratic institutions to serve the country and its citizens and not individuals or the military-political complex. Let us have leaders whose love of country motivates them to be nation builders anxious to grow the country’s next great generation and to finally make Nigeria great, to be a fully heterogeneous society built on equality, equity, freedom, and justice.
In all these, do you see external plans to destabilise Nigeria?
I cannot say I see external plans to destabilise Nigeria. All I see is collusion between external forces and internal agents. Some of the forces like white supremacists foisted on Africa a racist war that crushed all resistance as European whites and Arab white racists warred against Black Africa. They enslaved us and then colonized us. This war is still going on. We have lost on the cultural front already. Our youths no longer have a culture. Our women are bleaching themselves white and their heads are covered with a racial death wish regretting and hating their beautiful hair. This is a pathetic state of culturecide when our young men and women are in a crisis of identity. We have surrendered to servitude. Yes, Wikileaks says Boko Haram is a CIA covert operation, but how is this possible without clueless collaborators in Nigeria and the Nigerian government?
Don’t blame outsiders. Nobody is going to make Nigeria great except the leaders and citizens of Nigeria. The decisions of our politicians, the business, and the private sector to create a culture of endemic corruption where stealing, indiscipline, and conspicuous consumption are the norm, are the pathology that destabilises us. We have been captured and imprisoned in the Nigerian territory as losers of the race war in economic, political, ideological, and cultural matters. The international system is skewed against Nigeria, which is greedily siphoning loans from China, which will soon ensnare us into an unpayable debt trap to threaten our sovereignty. IMF, the World Bank, WTO all push us into debt traps because the system enforces rules that prevent fair trade and transactions to Nigeria. For instance, Nigeria is being pushed to accept genetically modified crops designed to be infertile to destroy our rural agriculture. The sale and purchase of second-hand clothes is a big economic war against local industries in the production of cotton and textiles industries. We have lost this already. We could go on and on.
There are growing agitations from different parts of the country; some emphasise that it is restructuring or nothing, some say it is self-determination. Where do you stand on these issues and how can we have a common ground?
I stand a hundred and one percent on restructuring. Nigeria has always restructured beginning from the amalgamation exercise of 1914, which brought the different constituents of this country together to become Nigeria. The various government structures as spelled in the constitutions and the state creation exercises and the states and local governments creation exercises were all restructurings. The constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is a major document of restructuring. It spells the organs and institutions of state and the type of government being run. Unfortunately, the experiment with the present structure has yielded a diminishing return on democracy. The constitution is a flawed document that needs to be amended. The Federal Government in its present form has a center that is too large and unworkable and has usurped critical resources that are squandered by small parasitic elite to the detriment of the states. We need a restructuring where states control their Education, Agriculture, and Water Resources (which incidentally includes the river banks)
We need to rethink and reimagine a better Nigeria, where democracy means more than merely winning elections. Democracy should mean that the citizen is the king and not subject or slave anymore. We need to also pull away from the American presidential system, which even after 250 years of operation allows a president to become corrupt, oppressive and autocratic. We have seen where unchecked presidential power is a looming disaster, a barefaced autocracy and an assault on the people. I believe that we should restructure, retool, rejig and then stay together. We need to combine the parliamentary system of governance with the presidential system to make it easier to serve the people. Whether we like it or not, we are a nation that has survived for over a hundred years in the same territory evolving and building a common history. There is no reason to break up into smaller neighboring nation-states that are weak and vulnerable to greater bifurcation and distress.
As an elder statesman, is this the Nigeria of your dream, if not, how do we attain or realise the Nigeria of your dream?
No sir. This is not the Nigeria I dreamed about. My dream and other citizens’ are that we will live happy lives, where we will be treated as equal to any other person, with respect. We dream of living in a country, where peace and justice reign, where our desires to pursue a better life will not be obstructed or thwarted because of our name or religion or where we are indigenous. We dream of a Nigeria where peace, freedom, justice, and unity are secured. The present state of insecurity and the egregious relapse into virulent tribalism and corruption has diminished all of us. No sir, this is not the Nigeria I dreamed about. This is the Nigeria nightmare scenario.
In order to realize the Nigeria of our dream, we must look at the founding fathers of Nigeria. In the first instance, Nigeria was founded by Lord Frederick Lugard, who as governor of Northern Nigeria and the Colony and Protectorate of Southern Nigeria, amalgamated these two entities to become the colony and protectorate of Nigeria in 1914. As founding father, Lugard dreamed of the empire owning the new country he created and exploiting its human and natural resources for a long time. His dream was that long after the white man had left our shores, the new leaders of Nigeria would merely be indirect rulers of Nigeria since their education made them to be black-white men, fully brainwashed to hate their fellow citizens. To make the invidious brainwashing and indirect rule to be self-sustaining; the Nigerian military, which evolved from Lord Lugard’s Royal Niger Frontiers Force are trustees of the Nigerian state on behalf of their white masters. They have watched the horrific decline of life in Nigeria with perplexed and perverse indifference. They all live on a different plane of the cornucopia.
You wrote a new book, what is it all about and how will it help in nation-building?
My new book, The Conquest of Azenga, is a novel. It is set in the fictional country of Sofalia. I have set out to deconstruct the colonial past, to paint a scenery of where we are coming from, warts, lesions and all; and to point towards a reconstructed future, where we can roll out our hopes and deeper yearning for what matters most in building an inclusive society where the leaders seek to liberate and empower the powerless individuals rather than enslave and bludgeon them to mummified consent. The novel is a fictionalized memoir of a British colonial officer in West Africa, who confessed to the willful destruction of African civilizations through witch-hunts and genocide in the fictional country of Sofalia. The memoir describes the nature of colonial conquest and domination through the career of the colonial overlords and Christian missionaries in a historical epic, which shows the resilience of the Azenga tribe, the last egalitarian society on earth, and a natural republic against British imperial conquest. The main character of the novel, Lord Payne, explorer, mercenary, and administrator’s will is pitted against the survival instincts of the Azenga tribe when he set out to annihilate the tribe as revenge for their killing six British officials.
The novel relies on the old storytelling tradition to wake Nigerians up to the invidious nature of imperialism. I want Nigerians to know that they need to wake up and be conscious of where we came from and what is happening now with internal and external colonialists that are still rampaging. I want Nigerians to know that we are in this prison together and that we all need to seek ways through which we can achieve collective liberation from the slave and prison state we are in. I want Nigerians to take my fiction seriously because to write my first novel at 71 years old is not a joking matter. I thank God that after I ran to be president and failed in 2019 I made peace with myself and withdrew to my artistic corner to write fiction and through it continue with pedagogy of liberation.
Sixty years after independence and 50 years after the civil war, Nigeria is so much divided among ethnic and religious lines more than during the war. Why and what is the remedy?
Nation-building and national unity are laborious tasks. In Africa, the best example of a Pan- Africanist leader who forged unity was Kwame Nkrumah, who taught Ghanaians to think they were Africans first. Here in Nigeria, our founding fathers after Lord Lugard, were at each other’s throats trying to promote their tribes over and above others. We have had successive administrations promoting their tribes at the expense of national cohesion. We have had tribal coup d’tats and a tribal secession and now we are hearing a cacophony of tribal voices engaged in restructuring and self-determination conversations. The only solution is to restructure the country and remove impediments to national cohesion and to foster equality and freedom. We need leaders to clearly come out for national unity and cohesion. We must shun the ‘it – is- my- tribe’s-turn-to chop syndrome.’ We need to amend the constitution through a national conversation to correct the asymmetry in our federalism.
Where the presidency berths in 2023 is also overheating the polity. Some Northerners say power remains in the North, some Southerners argue that it is sacrosanct that power must rotate to South. The Southeast says, for equity, fair play, and justice, the region should produce the next president. What is your position?
Before the next elections, we should have a national conversation on restructuring. It is after that, that we can examine whether personality or geography should be the basis of our next president. The parties have failed to provide a level playing field. The citizens should rise and choose the next options for the Nigerian president.
Is the monolithic North still real or has it been demystified, as some people from Middle Belt, are craving a separate identity for the area, even joining the South in taking positions on national issues?
The North is arguably united by religion and a common lingua franca. In this respect, the North is politically a monolith, a forbidding colossus. The Hausa language is a great unifier. Most ethnic groups of the North including the Christians of the Middle Belt are Hausa speakers. What is new is the notion of some Fulani supremacists, who have hijacked political space and seem to be advancing the largest land-grabbing scheme in history through the Federal Government. This has angered people.
The Middle Belt is a sorry collection of the most brutalized tribes of this country. They suffered from the slave trade more than any other tribe; they have been severe victims of colonial exploitation, building colonial architecture in roads and bridges and mining the tin in the Plateau. They have in the past, traditionally allied with the far-north politically, except the Benue valley area, which includes Benue and Taraba states, which are largely non-Muslim and essentially non- Hausa speaking.
Are you satisfied with the way the federal government is fighting the terror war? Some are of the view that Boko Haram fight has become an enterprise and have called for the sack of service chiefs. What is your opinion?
The fight against Boko Haram is a strange fight. If only the Federal Government and the Army went after the sponsors of Boko Haram and starve them of resources instead of paying them from time to time for bad behaviour; kidnapping and raping our children, the war would have ended a long time. The war against terror has all the appearance of a cash cow for the military-political complex. I believe the war will not end with this administration, which has shown no political will nor backbone to end terror. The president cannot and will not sack the service chiefs. They are the best example of a winning team.