Lieutenant General Alani Ipoola Akinrinade (rtd.), former Chief of Army Staff and chieftain of the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) has earned his place of honour and dignity as one of the heroes of the struggle for the enthronement of democracy in Nigeria. The retired general is, however, unhappy that 18 years into the current democratic dispensation, Nigeria has not made the desired progress. He is worried that the current rumblings in the Nigerian political firmament, especially the multiplicity of self-determination agitations and grandstanding are reminiscent of the tendencies that led to the unfortunate civil war. As one of the combatants who fought to keep Nigeria one, he does not want the country to disintegrate; and that is why he has become the chief proponent of the restructuring of Nigeria. In the ensuing interview with TheEconomy’s editorial team of Chris Ajaero, Dike Onwuamaeze and Michael Otogo, Akinrinade speaks on burning national issues and insists that restructuring Nigeria is an idea whose time has come. Excerpts:
Congratulations on the recent presentation of your book My Dialogue with Nigeria. What informed your decision to come up with the book at this period in the nation’s political history?
Some years back, I knew that people write memoirs and biographies and I intended to do one myself. So, I worked on it in the sense that when I see documents that are relevant, I keep them. And then, I did a little bit of writing though I knew that a lot of people will come and help me when the time comes. But, when they bombed my house, my library and everything went into blaze. I think the worst you can do in a biography is not to have authentic documentation because people will argue and some of the people you talked about may have died. So, you must have a real proof that this really happened.
So, when I came back from exile, I just gave up the idea. But my brothers and friends will always ask: “When are you going to give us your autobiography?” The pressure was too much. My brother Soji Akinrinade then decided to put together some of the interviews and lectures that he thought were relevant and interesting and used that as a bait. At first, I was opposed to it. But when the directors of MayFive Media Limited brought the files to me, I thought this may worth publishing. One big theme that runs through the whole book is Nigeria, which informed its title. I think that we owe a duty all the time, to speak up and be known for where we stand on any issue. We must be courageous enough to let people know our stand on issues. The major thing that agitates my mind is Nigeria. What can we do to make the country better? I think it is the business of all of us to proffer solutions. I just want the people to know what I am thinking about the country and where I stand on certain national issues. That is what you see throughout the book.
One theme that runs through your book is your strong belief in and unflinching support for the restructuring of Nigeria. Why have you now become the chief proponent for the restructuring of the country and what would you recommend as the best approach to the issue?
Those of us who were born in the thirties and forties who saw what happened in the late fifties and early sixties know the kind of hope, the elation and the pride that were aroused at that time. We had the kind of leaders who even though were not perfect, made us proud to say we are from Nigeria. So, hopes were very high and they were justified. But we have now reached an impasse, when we are not making the desired progress even though we are endowed with the human and natural resources and the world has changed a lot as technology and computers have simplified a lot of things. Is this where we have ended up as a country? This is not just agonising; it breeds anger for a lot of my generation. We should not be where we are now. It looks to me as if we are not making any new effort to even get out of the impasse. I think that is the reason we have to keep proffering solutions. I joined the restructuring train for a long time because I understand the reason we are demanding for restructuring.
I believe that the system, as we have it now, will never augur well for the country because we saw what happened between 1956 and 1966 – a period of just 10 years. A lot happened in this country to show that we were going somewhere. I lived in the Western Region, though I schooled for a while in the North. Then, you could see life looking up, getting better and giving hope to young people. There were wonderful things happening. Who knew about television? Even France did not have television when we had one in the Western Nigeria. The East, West and North were doing things according to their capacities, trying to copy each other. Once the Liberty Stadium was built in Ibadan, it gave birth to the Ahmadu Bello Stadium in the North. That is what it was then.
But, sadly, certain circumstances led to the enactment of the Unification Decree No. 34 of 1966 and then the 1999 Constitution, which is not different from it. The present constitution is not different from Decree No. 34 in its meaning, spirit and even the letter. The arrangement might be different but they are the same. And I think Decree No. 34 was the reason we went to war. That was where it started if you trace everything back. And for us to fight a war to abrogate an idea and after the war, that idea still holds sway means that we have a big problem.
Are you now proposing a return to regionalism or the practice of true federalism?
They are not mutually exclusive. When you talk about region, it is a matter of physical organisation of our people, land, resources and how we relate within each entity. Then, we were practicing regionalising; now we have federating states. I do not see any difference except that when we had four regions, things were much better compared to now we have 36 states, which we cannot maintain. So, would we really regard ourselves as smart for sustaining something that doesn’t work for us? The trouble, of course, is that this arrangement has given so much leverage and advantage to a certain section of the country. And that section of the country really was the one the colonial masters told us was amenable and the others were arrogant. So, it is better for them to rule the rest of us, so that the exploitation can continue. What did the colonial masters do to sustain this concept? They came up with the idea of population and land mass and gave it to that region knowing fully well that the East and the West do not have such land mass. The population census was also skewed to show that more people lived in the desert than in the rainforest. These were gimmicks which our colonial masters used to build a foundation that was very faulty for Nigeria. Now, we have tried to use it and it is backfiring. Shall we say we are smart people if it is impossible for us to sit down now and look at the system and say this stuff cannot take us anywhere? I know that when people have an advantage, they do not surrender it. However, it will be tupid of us that after one civil war, we have to go back to the field to sort this matter out. So, it is not just a matter of regionalism which is a physical arrangement. The crux of the matter is how we relate with each other in the context of one Nigeria. Federations vary all over the world. Ours can also vary. So, we can think outside the box and decide to design our own federation that will be peculiar to us and workable. As it is now, it is certain that it won’t work. We can see that it cannot work because many state governments cannot pay civil servants for about six months. It only shows that things are getting worse. Are we going to allow the country to collapse on our heads? I’m not sure we are smart enough to avoid it. Certainly, we can do better with a good structure. I have serious worries if we refuse to restructure. Disintegration is not as hard as some people think. The Nigerian system may even collapse due to forces outside the current sectarian agitations.
Do you share the view that other sections of Nigeria aligned with the North to entrench this system we are now lamenting about, during and after the civil war?
I think it is a long and complicated story. It is true that right from the beginning, the Northern People’s Congress (NPC) did not make any pretence that there was a nation called Nigeria. They never called it Nigerian People’s Congress. They called it Northern People’s Congress. They had no difficulty in their minds what it should be. It was the National Council for Nigerian Citizens (NCNC) and the Action Group (AG) which wanted Nigeria as a nation to be built. It is obvious that the core northern leaders had no illusion about keeping Nigeria as a nation. All they wanted is the North and the servile states it can exploit. So, it is reasonable to say that some people never really liked Nigeria. Chief Obafemi Awolowo also said that Nigeria is a geographical expression. That it is not a nation. Ahmadu Bello, the late Sardauna of Sokoto, said that they will never allow the south to rule them because they were infidels. As a matter of fact, it was Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe who thought that Nigeria is a going concern. All the other people didn’t agree with him. Notwithstanding, the East and the North went into alliance to form the government before independence in 1960. In 1979, it was the same eastern and northern alliance between the Nigerian People’s Party (NPP) and the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) that formed the government. It was the same story in 1999.The East and the North have always been in alliance while the West loves to be in the opposition and tormenting everybody with ideas they cannot even understand let alone utilise. So, the idea that the southerners have been colluding with the north to oppress themselves is very true.
It is now 18 years since the return to democratic rule in Nigeria.Do you think Nigeria’s democratic journey has made the desired progress?
I think we are all happy that the tug of war and activisms came to an end in one abrupt moment when General Sani Abacha died and this paved way for the return of democratic rule. I think we should congratulate ourselves for that, except that we were too hasty in jumping into the river without knowing the direction the current was flowing. For instance, there was no constitution that was proclaimed before the 1998/99 general elections. A lot of us were asking how can you have a democracy and you have elections without a constitution? How do you know what the powers are? What responsibilities did it give you? What are the limitations in discharging those responsibilities? That was the first mistake. But then the argument was that there was a fatigue, not just the material fatigue that people were not having any money but also that they were tired of sitting on the barricades. So, we thought we would endure more years of this if someone is offering us democracy in whatever form. The idea then was that once we get there, we will be able to adjust things. That didn’t happen. They forgot that they should have buried that constitution in Abacha’s pocket when he died, because it is a ‘caliphate’ constitution that is worse than anything we had seen before. It is a kind of constitution that put all the powers in just one basket as if we are running a military operation where the commander is the commander-in-chief. This constitution is even skewed against democracy.
The fact that our democracy has not lived up to the expectations the citizens had when they were voting with jubilation is traceable in that constitution. The constitution created the kind of monsters we are seeing right now. The federal government is a monster. The state governments are monsters. As a matter of fact, if we are smart people, one day all of us should refuse to pay taxes. We should lock up the whole of Nigeria and just sit down until these “legislooters” in the National Assembly or whatever they call themselves come to their senses. But this is not really possible. They are in Abuja and outside the purview of the people they govern. Abuja is a civil service town – the jobbers, the palace jesters and all the people who want to loot the treasury are there. So, who is going to shut down Abuja? Are you surprised that we do not feel the impact of our National Assembly in any way? Are you surprised that we are really tired of asking where our President is? Have you seen a country of 170 million people that has no sitting President that is working 24 hours a day? Even if he is not succeeding, we must have the understanding and the sympathy for him that he is working very hard only that these are very difficult times. But he is absent without leave. Okay, he took leave from the National Assembly. He wrote a letter. But let’s be serious, if I’m working for you and write to say I’m going on leave, you ought to reply and say alright but you have to be away for just two weeks. They didn’t tell us that they granted the leave. He just took it.
Recently, you asked President Buhari to quit if he cannot cope with the rigours of the Office of the President. If he should quit, would the country not be plunged into a political crisis?
No. Even as crooked and jaundiced as the 1999 Constitution is, it still made attempt to lay down the procedure for governance. Whether it is efficacious enough is not the debate now. But it does make provisions. I cannot see anything that can cause chaos simply because a President drops dead or he decides that he has had enough of governance and is resigning on health grounds because he is free to do all these. So, why should that cause chaos? The only reason we are saying this is because the federation is not working for everybody. Even those people we think are cheating us in the parliament are also victims. They do not know it but they are victims. It should not be a big deal who becomes the President. We should be worried about the quality of his or her ideas. I think these should be the worries in any country. But ours is peculiar in that people believe that it is only when their kinsman is at the top that they can make headway. But is that really true? I don’t think so. But, this is the country in which we have found ourselves. People will say ‘our nation’. We do not have a nation; we have nations. If we want to build a nation, it is an uphill task for a heterogeneous people that quarrel even on the ground of religious leanings. Who cares about your religious beliefs? How does that affect our relationship? But it has become a big deal now. Who is a Christian, a Muslim or an animist? All these are mundane things that should never come up in the horizon of a developing country or among any intelligent people. We do not have the luxury for that.
Why do Nigerian leaders in government turn deaf ears to the clamour for restructuring, but only embrace it when they are out of government?
The latest in that line of thought is former President Goodluck Jonathan. When Jonathan was there, I do not think he was experienced enough to really face the kind of gigantic problems that were in front of him because he could have done better in cleaning up Ogoniland. But he didn’t do it. I think that the power brokers have embedded some fear in the other people who get there. Obasanjo didn’t behave better than Jonathan. But because he has been a Head of State before, he had an idea of what was happening in that place. But he was not a free agent. It is as if Aso Rock is made and manned by northerners and their ideas. And their idea is domination and to have virtually everything and give the crumbs to others. They may argue that it is not so,but I insist that it is so. You cannot understand the agony Jonathan had to go through before he could hold the 2014 National Conference to debate whether we can make this federation to serve our people better. Had he taken the conference proposal to the National Assembly, I assure you that the northerners would have just voted it down. That is the way Nigeria was set up right from the beginning. The number of seats from the north far outweighs the rest of the regions completely.
Even the restructuring agenda which the All Progressives Congress (APC) put in its manifesto was like the opening glee of a play. It is the first thing you will see in the APC’s manifesto but they are now reneging on it. There is no corruption that is bigger than for a whole political party to write a manifesto for itself, present it to the people and after getting the votes, decides to renege on its manifesto. First, it was President Buhari who said there is no such thing like restructuring in APC’s manifesto and that he has nothing to do with the report of the National Conference. I think that is the height of arrogance and ignorance of what democracy, the rule of law and respect for the electorate is all about.
Then, John Odigie-Oyegun, the chairman of APC, came up and said that it is only Nigerians who do not know what is going on that will be talking about restructuring. But recently, largely due to the pressure from people like Nnamdi Kanu (leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), the Avengers, the rampaging herdsmen and the confusion everywhere, suddenly my friend Turaki (Atiku Abubakar) threw the first salvo that we have to restructure. Then, the APC governors who came to power on the back of a manifesto that opens with restructuring are now telling us that we have to do something about the devolution of powers after they have been there for over two years feeding fat on our efforts. I hope we are not going to let down our guards. We will pile up the pressure and tell the APC that come next election, we are going to vote them out without minding who will come in. I am not too sure that the generality of our people know that their fate is in their hands, not in some elected people who care only for themselves. We do not know how much they are earning. We don’t even know what they do with our money. They are arguing over the slashing of the money voted in the 2017 budget for projects like the Lagos-Ibadan expressway and the Second Niger Bridge. The deplorable state of the roads in virtually all parts of the country is one of the biggest eye-saws in the world. And we are talking about development? I think we are just jokers.
You were one of the major combatants in Nigerian Army during the civil war and recently, you said that you regretted fighting that war. Why do you regret fighting the war?
This is not a new position. That was exactly what I said the first time I went to Ife to deliver a lecture in 1983. As a matter of fact, I was thinking in terms of a confederacy at that time, not even a federation. Why? I saw a lot of things, which if I had comprehended them at the time I was experiencing them, my attitude would have been different. That was why I said that it wasn’t really profitable for people like me, who have witnessed first-hand the carnage and the destruction of lives you cannot replace. It pricks my conscience. Then, you think of the psychological trauma that was inflicted on people when the war was on and when it was over. Now, what was it all about? It looked to me that what triggered the civil war was the Decree No. 34. That was the reason the northerners lashed on when they killed Major General J.T.U Aguiyi-Ironsi and changed the government. But we have now gone full circle and back to something worse than that Decree No. 34. Then what was the purpose of killing one another? Even though we as soldiers and young people of my age at that time didn’t understand because we didn’t have the experience, our political leaders at the time like Chief Awolowo in the West, understood it a little more.
I must say that if Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu had not made the mistake of invading the Mid-West, the crisis would not have escalated. I was in the Army headquarters at that time and what we knew was that the Mid-West said that they did not want any war. It was the buffer between the South West and the war front. So, the Yorubas were relaxed on this matter and didn’t even know that there was real war going on. What the Yorubas called it then was police action until Ojukwu left the East, came to the Mid-West and got to Ofozu, crossed the bridge and got to Okitipupa. He was sending a column of soldiers to Lagos and one was going to Ondo towards Akure. That was when we were called together one afternoon and people were asking. Are the Easterners fighting a war? They said yes. It was only then that we said if so, we should not sit down and allow ourselves to be eaten like chickens. We started looking for ex-service men and guns from all over the place just to drive away the Biafran invaders. If you recollect, the Mid-West was part of the West. The Akoko-Edo and the Ishekiris were very close to the West. That was why the war was fought in Asaba. Left to me, the whole matter should have just been closed there. The Yorubas had no business going to Igboland to fight for a unitary government where some people will sit down and feed fat on others. What was the purpose for the carnage that lasted for three years? The best we can do for ourselves now is to get back to the drawing board table and redraw this federation and let people enjoy whatever they have and suffer whatever their idleness or lack of common sense brings them if we have to go that far. That is why I have kept asking: Was the war worth fighting? I don’t think so.
You were in the trenches not only during the civil war but also at the height of the June 12 episode. Would you consider yourself an activist or a patriot seeking the greater good for the country?
Wait a minute. Did you say patriot or activist? I will reserve the accolade — activist — for the late Professor Awojobis, the Olisa Agbokobas, the late Gani Fawehinmi, the late Beko Ransome Kutis and the Femi Falanas and even the Festus Keyamos. I will reserve this kind of description for these class of people. For me, as we advance in age, the least we can do is to let people know where we stand on any issue. This, for me, is not really activism. You just want to clear your own mind. The beginning of a debate is when an idea is put on the table. That is what I try to do all the time. It is true that I left Nigeria during the NADECO days (National Democratic Coalition) when Abacha was bent on killing me and I wasn’t going to die for nothing. I did that because I believe in the saying that “he who fights and runs away lives to fight another day”. I knew it was going to be a long fight that would take a lot of effort from people. I used to tell my people that it was not going to be a tea party. It was when I went around with people like the late Chief Anthony Enahoro that I knew what activism is all about. He was one of the nationalists who started activism before independence until he went into his grave. He was on the barricade all the time with ideas upon ideas. I think that the fact that we are no longer hearing the voices of such activists who championed the cause for the good of the masses could be traced back to the absence of people like Professor Eskor Toyo who lived and died fighting for a just and egalitarian society.
In recent times, the deadly attacks, abductions and other atrocities committed by the Fulani herdsmen in many parts of Nigeria have assumed a frightening dimension. It appears that one of their key targets in the South West is Chief Olu Falae going by recent events. Doesn’t this portend huge danger for Nigerian elite?
Up till today, Chief Falae has not told me how the ransom was delivered because they paid ransom. I’ve told him that it will be nice for some of us to know how this ransom was paid. Why is it almost impossible to trace the people who took the money? The atrocities committed by the Fulani herdsmen are worrisome. I have been wondering why a government that is not bothered by such atrocities will only go and fight a conventional war against Boko Haram but will neglect the safety and security of the rest of its population. I think this is irresponsible of the Federal Government. Could these have been happening if we are really a true federation in which case, every state will have its own constitution; its way of legislating for itself and also have the power to enforce the laws it makes? How do you enforce the laws? Through the police and the courts. These are beyond the purview of these people that call themselves governors today. As a matter of fact, they are not governors but mere administrators because the state legislators can make laws but governors cannot enforce them. If we had a state or local government police, what excuse would they have given us that people are flouting the laws and nothing happens to them? Fayose made a law, which should be universal in all parts of the country that you cannot wake up in the morning and find a goat in your garden because this is modern time. Whatever argument they put up in defence of the Fulani herdsmen is untenable. First, they claimed they are non-Nigerians. Excuse me, we pay our taxes. We have elected public officers and we have the police and they are still expecting us to go and fight somebody who went through our borders. So, it is untenable for government to say that it is people who collected arms from Libya that are now encroaching on Nigeria. Sadly, those in authority will not give a damn if the herdsmen are killing Nigerians.
Clearly, this shows that we have a dysfunctional federation. Do you think the tempo of kidnapping would have been this high if there was local police? I don’t think so because the local police would have apprehended them and stopped the madness. In Nigeria today, people don’t even have relationship with the police because they do not trust them enough to give them information. People do not trust the police because they are not local. You have police who cannot speak the language of the people and do not know their tradition and culture and how and when to step into peoples’ houses. That is not policing. That is why we need restructuring so as to create a structure that can benefit all of us. We need to put in place a structure that will ensure the welfare of our people, which includes their safety and security of lives and property. How is Fayose enforcing the law? Is he doing it illegally? He just told the communities and the vigilantes to take charge. But that is not fair. That could lead to anarchy. That was how Boko Haram started and then went out of hand. Somebody used them and later the situation went out of hand. I hope the outfits they are now putting together to combat the herdsmen will not metamorphose into another form of Oodua People’s Congress (OPC), Movement for the Sovereign State of Biafria (MASSOB), Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), IPOB or the Avengers. The implication would be that the arms would proliferate whole country which we cannot control. To address these problems, there is need for restructuring.
Successive governments in Nigeria have tried their best efforts to fast-track economic growth, yet the economy has refused to grow. Even without being an economist, what do you consider as the major reasons why Nigeria is still struggling to develop?
I think it has been so difficult for us to see the reason for restructuring until recently. I think, it is the same kind of difficulty we have in snapping out a rentier economy and I will give you one example. Oil is fading out. It is still there but it is costing us more to take out and the profit we are making from it is getting smaller. It was then that it dawned on us to think of harnessing our potential in solid minerals. But, what is the difference between that and the groundnut, cocoa and palm oil which we produced raw and exported and they came back to us as chocolate, Milo and what have you? So, as one rentier system is collapsing, we are looking for another. Instead of sitting down and thinking about how to work hard, Nigerians keep complaining about stress. It is only in Nigeria that you wake up in the morning and people will ask you that I hope you are not stressed? My answer to them is that idleness is the only thing that kills people. Stress from work doesn’t kill; it is idleness that kills. But a Nigerian will tell you not to work too hard while the white man will tell you to get busy. These are small languages but they make a lot of sense to the psyche of the people. So we are just looking for something that is easy to do but the world is no longer easy. The resources in the world are even dwindling. So, there is the possibility that one day, they will come and kick us out of this Africa and mine whatever is there for the benefit of human kind if we cannot do it. So, our problem is the rentier society we have created and sustained.
We have not really psyched ourselves up to the point where we know that we need to work hard and that we should start from where we have comparative advantage, especially agriculture. There is land everywhere to be cultivated. There is water everywhere even in the north where we are saying that it is an arid land; there are still rivers there that flow during the rainy season. My friend in Kano built the Kiga Dam. How many dams have they built in Kano since that time? I am talking about 40 years ago. How many have we done in my own state, Osun apart from the one that was built during Bola Iges era? Irrigation is crucial if Nigeria is to succeed in agriculture. This will enable farmers to cultivate crops throughout the year. There is no such thing as dry season. Technology has overtaken all that. So, agriculture is the way to go instead of the rentier side where we just pluck something and it becomes money just like that without any value added. The government should refocus the people’s psyche towards production rather than for civil servants to just be sitting down and collecting salaries at the end of the month.
How would you appraise the ongoing diversification of the Nigerian economy?
Well, I see a lot of people on television discussing economic diversification. Yes, it is true. But are they handling it correctly? I am not too sure. I am a farmer and there are quite a number of things which the government has put together in various places. But when you locate the Bank for Agriculture in Kaduna, and if someone from the South West wants to borrow money from there, it poses a lot of challenges. And if you have to bribe somebody before you secure a loan, then we are not serious. If you want to start an enterprise tomorrow, you have to go and get an accountant or a lawyer to register your company for you. He will tell you that you have to visit the Corporate Affairs Commission in Abuja. Why must I go to Abuja before my enterprise could be registered? These are things that we have to really decentralise and make it so transparent that people can use the system. So, we have to break this federation down into component parts that have the power to do things for themselves. They have to raise their own resources and blame themselves for everything that is wrong in that society and not to blame some distant government they haven’t seen. So, whether the economy will be revived or not will depend not so much on what the government does with economic diversification but the psychology of our people and how they approach production.
How will you react to the recent threat by Arewa youths to the Igbos to leave the North on or before October 1, 2017?
I have read a lot of comments and suggestions by people. I don’t think it pays us to be trading blames. I think we should be looking for why we did certain things and why certain things happened. We should find out how to make Nigeria better and how to stop the agitations and hate- speeches. To put an end to these tendencies and demands, we should first of all remove violence from them. The government has the power of violence. Legally, they control all the means of violence and if they rely on them to address issues, the society will not make the desired progress. Government must try to understand why people do certain things. Why on earth can one Nnamdi Kanu give an order to the entire Igbo people and they complied? Meanwhile, we have state governments in Igbo land; you have commissioners of police. How can one man and a small group of people override the influence and the authority of the people? We should start asking ourselves, why? Those are the ones we must solve first.
So, when that happened in the East for whatever reason, I don’t know why it became a problem for the North. Whatever it was, whoever gave the hate-speech in retaliation did a disservice to Nigeriabecause the situation has not degenerated to the extent where people from a section of the country should ask people from another section of Nigeria to pack their bags and baggage and go. Then you went ahead to threaten that you will seize all their properties.
But the question is, why did they do that? There is frustration in the land. This place is combustible. Instead of us looking at the situation critically, those in authority reacted by trying to enforce laws which are almost irrelevant. Kanu was running a radio station abroad and he came to the East and was nabbed and detained. Later on, he was released on bail and since then, he has openly and publicly violated all the terms of his release and even sitting governors have helped him to violate them. Are you going to arrest all the accessories, collaborators and not just Kanu now? Are you going to arrest all these governors and parliamentarians that aided and abetted Kanu’s ascendancy and encouraging him to do the wrong thing? We must keep asking, why?
But I must say that if the Igbos leave the north today, the dislocation that is going to happen will take a long time to repair. My attitude is that we should sit down and explain things to ourselves so that it does not degenerate to the extent that some hoodlums will take advantage of it and start burning people’s shops. After they have burnt them, the problem will recur then we will be asking ourselves what do we do now? That is why I am very unhappy about what happened in the north and I said so publicly because I saw two things that frightened me. First, when they issued the ‘get-out’ warrant, they attached it with the order to their governors and to their establishments to take inventory of properties that belong to the Igbos. That will mean you can drive your vehicle out of the border, but you cannot carry your house. I doubt if you can carry your shop either, and the property inside that shop before October 1. The attraction to the common people, especially the almajiri system, is the possibility of suddenly becoming a landlord in somebody’s house. You may say it is impossible but I have seen it happen in Port Harcourt. Then somebody went and put up two pictures of some gentlemen in full Igbo regalia and the caption says: ‘the Igbos should not go.’ These are the Fulani people trying to prove to them that we are still one Nigeria. For me, whoever cooked it up, even if it was photo-shopped, was very mischievous because it will be perceived by the Northerners that their people went to beg the Igbo people to stay. What is the difference between the scenery they are setting now and what happened between 1966 and 1967? They are very close. These two frighten me because they can have very big psychological effects. At least I have commanded the 1st Division in Kaduna. When the Almajiris go out, the Jinnee is out of the box. The damage that can be done in an hour in cities like Kaduna, Kano and Maiduguri will be difficult to repair in the next 50 years. So, those are the dangers and I have pointed it out to some of my cohorts that this is a dangerous thing. It should not be encouraged. A system must always ask why? That is the only way of solving any problem. Don’t just approach it legally by sending the police to shoot everybody down.That is my real fear because Igbos did not go to the North to execute the stay-at-home order.
It just shows how the amalgamation they did many years ago has put us in a vice grip. And that is why if something is happening in the East, someone is taking revenge in the West or the North. It shouldn’t be so.
Don’t you see this threat as a time-bomb which is capable of plunging the country into another civil war?
We are not going to nip it in the bud by just applying violence. Sending the police in the morning and the army in the afternoon is not going to avert it. It will only spread. It is the root cause that we must find. What is Kanu talking about? He said he wanted Biafra. Has anybody challenged him, as I challenged my friend Chinweizu in Ghana, to give us a map and boundaries of Biafra? First of all, if you want Biafra, define it. Give us the map of Biafra. Let’s publish it and let us give ourselves one year to debate it. Those who are inside that map who do not want to belong have a time now to organise themselves and say no, remove us from there. There will be boundary adjustment. Then those who are not in the map who love to go with Biafra should say so. We will settle this within a year. Then, we will ask the United Nations to help us conduct the referendum to avoid allegations of manipulations and rigging. If the majority want Biafra, then they can go. But before then, we have to come to the table to review matters and know who is owing who because we have been living together for a long time. But where the problem will start is with property because one section could give a property right that is not conducive, like we have in Switzerland where non-citizens do not have the right to own property. You have to decide on diplomatic rights. Are we going to keep hard border with visa or not? If the answer is a hard border, and you come with your own passport and if I am satisfied with your face, I will say come in. These are the intricacies. If we agree to all these, we sign the papers and shake hands. Then we send emissaries to you when you want to raise your flag and you become a country. If ECOWAS takes you, you will become a member. But all these must be done in a civilised way. And I will assure you that Nnamdi Kanu will lose the day we subject this to a democratic process. But, did he really say he wants to secede when he was talking Biafra? He didn’t say so. What is prompting the clamour for Biafra is the fact that we have a dysfunctional country and if you cannot stop marginalising us, then allow me to be on my own. I think that is what IPOB is saying and that is what the OPC is saying. That is what MEND was saying. We will find it difficult to develop Nigeria because the suspicion is too much. The acrimony is also too much.
Do you think that we learnt any lesson from the civil war?
The answer is yes and no. ‘No’ in the sense that we didn’t rectify the reason we went to the civil war. But, I think that it has left a scar on all of us which deters us from going into a second civil war. So, if that holds sway, then to ease the tension, we should now go back to true federalism that will be agreed to by all the nationalities that make up the country.
How will you assess the administration of President Buhari?
The cacophony of dissent and the acrimonious nature of Nigeria right now do not even allow anybody to do any constructive assessment of the administration. No one has done anything fundamental to change the attitude of our people. We argue over unnecessary things. We put red herrings on the way. Meanwhile, our people are dying of hunger. May be, we put too much hope on the Buhari administration and people were looking for miracles in a situation where there couldn’t be any. We were expecting a Buhari who will get there and once the anti-corruption war begins, every looter will go into his house and bring out stolen items rather than being harassed. This was what many people expected but they have now found out to their dismay that nobody gets convicted in the courts any longer. People are seeing a government that is not working. They see crooks who call themselves ministers in this government. And nobody is trying to debunk this by doing something dramatically positive.
I expected a different kind of leadership from Buhari. Maybe our expectations were too high. I wanted a hands-on President who would be on the road all the time meeting with the people and addressing their needs. But there is no such thing.We are not really seeing actions the way we need to see them.This may be because of his health and age and the fact that people surrounding him are less than forthright. I will not have people like that around me for too long who cannot face the people and tell them the truth. Buhari may not be in position to tell us about his health, but somebody among them is getting the doctor’s report. If he is that ill, the very first people who will be by his side are his wife and children. But we are not hearing such things. It is not normal. It doesn’t look tidy. But that is what is going on. It is very strange.
What would you suggest as the way forward for Nigeria to attain the greatness the founding fathers of the nation dreamed of at independence in 1960?
First of all, there is a short-cut simple solution. Let’s go back to the 1960 Independence Constitution. The Republican Constitution of 1963 was done out of acrimony and spite just to get rid of the Queen of England and the Privy Council because those who appealed to the Privy Council always won their cases there. That was the main reason we had the Republican Constitution. The real authentic constitution that our people negotiated was the one that brought us to independence in 1960. That was the reason all those regions were able to develop on their own by husbanding whatever they had. This made them to keep looking for new avenues of making money and ensuring improved welfare for the people. The West ran free education even before 1960. The East keyed in when they noticed its success. Awolowo took off as if he was the President of the West when the region was granted self-independence in 1957 because the constitution did not stop him from doing so. I think that we should go back to that constitution. Then we must have the courage and the sympathy for our people to look at this 36 states structure and know that it is ruining us. We should look for a way of tinkering with the 36 states structure. We have to find a creative and courageous way to whittle down the civil service and turn it into a productive system. The civil service is over bloated and that is why states cannot pay salaries.