Hausas, Yorubas, Igbos, Kanuris…Are Doomed to Live and Die In Nigeria – Ordia Ofeimun

 

    Mr Odia Ofeimun is a former private secretary to one of Nigeria’s founding fathers and the first Premier of Western Region, Chief Obafemi Awolowo. A poet and polemicist, the author of many books of political essays and on cultural politics, he is passionate about the creation and survival of Nigeria as a country with equal opportunity and justice for all regardless of their size, language, belief and ideals. His idea shines through in this interview with Thisage, in which he maintains that Nigeria is inescapable for the people and it is time the leaders and people seat and talk about resolving the crisis plaguing the country before it dissolves into a Somali type of crisis. Excerpts:

 

When I called you to book this appointment you expressed disenchantment by saying ah, this country where nothing works. What do you mean by that?

Nigeria has everything to make it a country of proficiency, where things work, where goals are properly delineated and pursued because we have the means to pursue them. At the same time it is a country where nothing is allowed to work because vested interests have overcome all possibilities of efficiency and are almost bragging about it. That is to say those who actually pursue the non-viability of Nigeria are braggarts who can almost look you in the face and say yes, we have done it, what can you do? It comes out in the exposure of, shall we say, the old Kaduna Mafia, which has come back to power through President Buhari’s election.  It is a group that never truly believed in Nigeria. Before Biafra seceded, they had already seceded.

Eh?

Yes. Nigeria became for them merely a price to which you apply a conquerors logic. It is done not in favour of the North, but in favour of a small clique in the North. Now, when you look at the supervening authority they have over almost every aspect of Nigerian life, you wonder what qualifications they have to make it function in a modern sense. Properly speaking, those who tried to act as overlords always manage to claim a certain superiority, either of intelligence or of civilisation. Unfortunately, those who dominate Nigeria are exemplified by their greed, incapacity for goals setting and a complete refusal to develop the forces that would make those goals possible.

I mean, the British colonisers could claim that they were bringing civilisations to Africans. Those who are dominating the Nigerian political space at the moment do not make any such claims. Their only claim to authority is the monopoly of force. It is not because they have bright ideas that they wish you to abide by, they are not even good enough as Ahmadu Bello used to be, to say I want to convert you to a  religion of peace, through force. They are not philosophically strong enough to make such claims. Their one qualification for rulership is that they can impose their will through force, which is precisely why all the responses to the establishment in Nigeria tend towards the application of force. You see, when you do not have a right to rule but you are in power or you are in a position to dictate to others, there is always a tendency for you never to allow history to work, you prefer falsehood to truth and you are most likely to want to destroy what can bring out that, you know facts of history, which, well,  you never really cared about any way.

Looking at Nigeria from that standpoint, every policy that you wish could change Nigeria for the better is under the thumb of a group that does not believe in policy. All they are interested in is power and how to use it to destroy other peoples advantages so they alone may apply the advantages available.  Now, because Nigeria is already an ethnically fractionalized society, when discussing Nigeria in these terms, we must never forget it that a people who have over the decades managed to get a way with murder would always imagine that they can always continue. So that even if you make a distinction between those who are progressive and those who are conservative in the north, they have found common ground in seeing Nigeria purely in terms of a conquerors logic: You take over what does not belong to you before you find out what theories or philosophy you can bend to defend it.

 

Ofeimun

 

When you said the mafia seceded before Biafra seceded are you speaking in terms of the statement credited to General Gowon during the civil war that the was no basis of unity? He has since denied it as a clumsy paragraph in a statement meant to refer to unitary government and…

No, no, no. Gowon does not even need to deny it. The truth is that Lord Frederick Lugard created Nigeria as two countries and wished to run Nigeria as two countries. The Amalgamation (of Northern and Southern Protectorates in 1914) was a hoax to make sure that the part of Nigeria that he conquered for the British Empire would always be on top of the other. Nigeria was created by three British forces; one was the Colonial Office, two was the British Parliament and the third, Lugard who was financed by the traders. The British Parliament pulled all of them together and gave Lugard the imprimatur over them. But each part of Nigeria, following Lugard’s dictum should have been run like two separate countries. Remember that until 1950, the North and the South never met. It was in 1950 at the Ibadan Conference that the North and the South met for the first time. You can almost say that for more than 36 years, Nigeria was run as two separate countries. Sometimes we blame ourselves too much when you hear some people say the colonialists left many years ago.

But they did?

No. The colonialist never left. They were always here and are still here. They have managed to build up a crop of Nigerians who serve their interests on a regular basis and who seek their advise whenever there is trouble in Nigeria as to what to do next. Because of that when you are struggling for progress in Nigeria you should always remember that your opponents are not only those so called conservatives, who would want progressive positions to be downgraded or degraded. You are also standing up to a European flank, well, add the American flank, that wishes Nigeria to be in such a state that it is malleable, it is controllable and to that extent easy to cheat.

The picture of Nigeria you have painted seem to contradict a recent statement you were quoted to have made to the effect that Nigeria will not or cannot break. Were you quoted right? 

Yes. I do strongly believe that Nigeria cannot break.

 

Ofeimun

 

Are you discounting the realm of possibility?

I say Nigeria cannot break. And one of the reasons I say that is because of the things that hold this country together. Nobody actually wanted Nigeria the way it is, not even the British. It was an accident of several collocating events. Now, if you begin from what most people usually talk about, that is to say the ethnic differences across Nigeria, you find that is actually what would make sure Nigeria won’t break. The ethnic differences have an internal logic, call it a hidden polemic, that ensures all the ethnic groups are interfused and intermeshed in all manners of ways, unbelievably. I start with the most open declaration of differences in recent times: Nnamdi Kanu (leader of Independent People of Biafra, IPOB) and his claim to be a Jew and that all Igbos are Jews. I have heard people dismiss him. Kanu is not to be dismissed. Anybody who has read Cheikh Anta Diop, (a historian, anthropologist, physicist, and politician who studied the human race’s origins and pre-colonial African culture. ) will remember, very early in his books, that Israel was originally occupied by Black people, Phoenicians who handed over to Egypt much of the culture that made Egypt great.

According to Anta Diop, white people who were not as civilised as those Black people joined them and intermixed with them. Diop does not tell you that the people who mixed with them were Jews. But if Canaan was originally occupied by Black people and subsequent struggles and wars forced them to a dispersal then it tells you where most African populations come from. Actually, those who study migrations will tell you that those dispersal from the Arabian peninsular flooded much of Africa and went around literally down to Southern Africa and back before you had late in the day, you had King Mzhilikazy moving away from Shaka Zulu right to modern Zimbabwe. It is generally believed a branch of that migration moved back again towards West Africa where they originally came from. That story is actually the story of many of the nationalities from the Wollof in the westernmost fringe to Ogoja; they all share certain common features. The easiest assets to those common features lie in the languages they speak. If you look at the languages they speak right from the Zulu in South Africa to West Africa, you will find that there are too many common root words in them. It tells you that even if God was such a mathematician, he would have needed a special deal to put those words in the mouth of the people. You can tell some of the words have suffered from distance, I mean, moving from a savannah to a forest can change a lot of things, including the music. That is how very many of these transitions take place. There is a book on how Igbo and Yoruba became different languages.When you look at both languages, you don’t need to be a linguist to know that they have many root words in common, not just the words omi and imri (water), so that if Kanu is trying to prove the difference of the Igbo and the Yoruba, he can be proved very easily to be wrong.

And when you look at all the nationalities in Nigeria, they all claim to come from the Middle East, which is very interesting. The areas they all claim is the same area such as, Mecca in Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Egypt and you would find that in the movement within the area at one point, the Canaanites were in control, at another point other nationalities within the area took them over. Iraq, where Baghdad still subsists, is where the Bayajida, the one who gave birth to the rulers of Hausa land, claimed to come from. When he came he met people here. And we must never forget that. Anybody who claimed to have brought  civilisation from wherever else met civilisation here. All ethnic groups in Nigeria are children of the Lake Chad and the Niger- Benue confluence. Irrespective of where they came from, they met people here and fused with them and therefore it is quite possible to say there is a sinuosity of relationship between them that cannot be broken so easily. As Kaduna Nzeogu (A Major in the Nigerian Army who led the January 16, 1966 Coup) once told them before Biafra came that even if you succeed to create a Biafra, one day the young people would feel so incensed by it they would knock the place together all over again.

 

Ofeimun

 

But history has shown that nations rise, nations fall and so far there has been no exception to this dynamic logic?

Even if we succeed to break up Nigeria there are too many things to make sure it does not work. In other words God has so done it the Yoruba and the Igbo and the Hausa speaking Nigerians cannot leave within their geography, it is impossible for them. The Yorubas cannot leave within Yoruba land, they must travel. Yoruba is a travelling language which is why up to Togo, for instance, the Yoruba culture is very strong.  In the case of Hausa, much of West Africa is very much Hausa. The Kanuri are not just in Nigeria but also outside Nigeria. The same for the Igbos. If there was truly a logical way to do it, the Nigerian border would be into Chad and Cameroon, right from here to Togo, because inside what became Nigeria, the interfusion between the ethnic group is unbelievable. The Edo, for instance, gave the Yoruba their ancestor, Oduduwa, just as the Yoruba can claim that the 800 year- old dynasty in Benin was given to them by Ife. That kind of interfusion means that when you are narrating your history or your mythologies, you are dealing with interfused philosophy that if you break them, you would break the core of the cultural geography that they all share. Now, in modern society, the economic links between all the groups has taken such a turn that even Kanu, the so called secessionist is already saying that even if Biafra breaks away, Biafrians would still be in Nigeria because he realises there is no way the Igbo people can leave Nigeria. They are doomed to be Nigerians till they die.

Don’t you think those you say are plunderers of Nigeria can split these various groups by plunging the country into repeated crisis and soon enough the victims too would come to adopt the wilfulness of their oppressors?

Now, the best example I can give you is Europe. The armies that crisscrossed Europe found people who spoke different languages. Latin was all over the place until the indigenous people in various part of Europe started developing their own languages and then over the centuries they just realised that the only way they could maintain peace between themselves is to have common market and now common political system. All human beings would always gravitate in that direction, irrespective of where they live, because human beings travel, languages travel and because all of us are made the same way, our nervous systems are structured the same way and so on, it is almost impossible to build a path for yourself that is not also a path for other human beings. Actually, the greater deal for a Nigeria that really wishes to be a serious country is not to see the number of Nigerians we have at the moment as the only people who would be in our country. What we need to design is a political and economic system that makes it possible for as many people as possible to join us, which is why those who are insisting that federalism is the best system for Nigeria are not thinking stupidly. They are actually the most rational Nigerians. If you have a system in which every local government is self sufficing, self-governing, it therefore relates to the next local government on the basis of an agreed principle and you spread it like that, you would find that it is possible to have a Pan-African government that does not degrade your sense of citizenship simply in the name of unity.

There is no way any of those ethnic group in Nigerian today can live and thrive as a single entity, even if you divided Nigeria into all the states we are asking for; they are bound to be forced to have to live together. Look, there was no Nigeria when kolanut was trading across the whole place. Kolanut is grown in the southwest but it the north where there is no kolanut tree chews the two-lobed kolanut more than all of us. The west and the east chew the three-lobed and four-lobed kolanuts. You did not have to have a government, but that trade in kolanut was over the place long before colonialism came. How did it happen? The languages did not have to change. Many people think that if you don’t have a common language, the system doesn’t function. They did not have a common language then, but they were able to trade with one another. It is about learning to arrange human relationships. If you do not arrange it well, irrespective of whether you are small or you have only one language or what ever, there would always be a crisis. We need to build an arrangement for every individual and group to feel like somebody in self-governance. And the only way you can do it is to have a democracy within a small area which negotiates and gets to be governed under a common principle with whoever is around.  .

 

Ofeimun

 

But for how long would Nigeria continue to move from crisis to crisis and survive?

But you would find that with each crisis something new comes out that advances the cause. One of the reasons I have found the restructuring debate very exciting is that restructuring has been the cry since 1914. Nigeria was not yet amalgamated when the Yorubas in Ilorin were fighting to be allowed to join their kith and kin in the southwest or in the Western Region then. Now when you look at it from that angle, you would see that it is like a hundred years war that has not ended. Nigerians have been fighting for restructuring from the beginning of time, which means the colonisers imposed a system that the natives did not accept and it means that they managed to create a system of permanent subjection for the people that had not change. Each attempt to change it is defeated, but it moves forward in the sense that much of what were not accepted at the beginning are now possible.

Like?

Oh, the north has moved mightily in response to the south. So much that was not allowed in the north has been happening. You know, the emirate system predated colonialism. Colonialism hardened it and Richard Palmer who was the Resident of Katsina before he became Lt. Governor in 1924 was the man who actually created a conference of northern Residents which built up a solid north against the rest of Nigeria and nothing was supposed to happen in the north that could be influenced by those loud mouths and lawyers in Lagos, who could at that time even take the colonial government right up to the Privy Council and defeat them in law courts. Now, you could not have talked about lawyers in the north at that time. When Alhaji Ahmadu Bello had to go to court, he needed a proper lawyer and he came to the Western Region to pick one of the Action Group lords, Bode Thomas, to help defend his case. That would tell you how things have moved. We may not believe it. The idea that a Goodluck Jonathan can be establishing Almajiri schools all over the North whether the  people wanted it or not is actually an advance. In the Western Region, it happened like that. The people in the Western Region did not want education in the way it is today. Chief Obafemi Awolowo had to send riot police to all the villages in the Region to make sure they paid the 10 shillings levy that he insisted they must pay. In Yoruba land, the Alaafin of Oyo was a terror, but the age of democracy disciplined that terror. In the north, from the moment Ahmadu Bello could throw out the Emir of Kano, he started a system that followed Lugard’s deposition of several Emirs.  Once you can get to the point where constituted authority through democratic means can eliminate traditional rule, we are moving. Nigeria is moving but too slowly.

 

Ofeimun

 

How can you explain that?

What is missing, properly speaking, is a system that puts all of Nigeria in one basket so that nobody can escape. One means of doing that was to have had every Nigerian child at school, acquiring the same kind of education, having the same kind of aspiration for defending their land against any encroachment from outside and they would be intermarrying and interfusing at every level. This was what the idea of one north against the rest of Nigeria has prevented, the idea that all children are children of God and must have an education. Now, a system has started in the north where all the leaders used the money belonging to their region to send their own children to schools abroad while the children of the poor in Katsina, in Kano, in Sokoto, in Maiduguri, name it, are left hollow. They actually create public school system deliberately aimed at giving poor people poor education so that when their children who went abroad returned they would remain the masters of the land. It won’t happen. Boko Haram is actually a part response to that idiotic system, which says when those who travelled abroad to acquire education come back they would be bosses; they would not be bosses but under the nozzles of the guns pointed at them by those whom the system miseducated and what is also happening across Nigeria is actually the same form of response so that those of us who are asking for restructuring are saying unless we change that system, a bloody future awaits the rest of us. You cannot deal with it by pretending it does not exist, by preaching an ethnic code because within the ethnic groups in Nigeria the same philosophy exists. As it exits in Katsina so in Edo or Anambra and Ogun. I mean a common culture suddenly grew up across Nigeria where governors in power and their deputies will take enough money to have paid the pension of all the pensioners in the country and walk away, one man would do that, Speakers are also asking for their own. They are criminals. It does not matter how long it takes them to spend that money. The day we have a proper government in Nigeria, those who took the money away, if they do not return it, they will go to jail.

You talk about the bloody future that awaits us if we do not correct the system as it is now, which means that Nigeria would eventually collapse?

No. That is actually the point I am making. It won’t collapse, it would just became a riotous, chaotic space. And what would make it chaotic is that unless there is a generalised philosophy provided by sensible people across the land, you would be having war lords in various parts in Nigeria.

Just like in Somalia?

Like in Somalia. Frankly, we are already there. Boko Haram was sponsored by all the governors in the north. They paid monthly stipends to Yusuf until President Umaru Yar’Ardua came to power and stopped it.

What facts do you have to support this statement?

You think I am manufacturing it? All the governors of the north gave stipend to Yusuf. It was Yar’Ardua when he came to power who stopped it. It was when Yar’Ardua stopped it that they started hunting for sponsors all over the place. The people who have sponsored Boko Haram may not be people we can identify very quickly, but what Yar’Ardua ban ought to have told everybody is that Boko Haram was not invented by foreigners. It was merely developed by foreigners. And the atrocities that Boko Haram has committed across Nigeria have living politicians in power as accomplices, if not direct sponsors. You know, they said WAEC insisted that the examination in Chibok should not take place, but the governor insisted it should go on. Why has nobody ever bothered to ask the governor of that state how it happened.? He has never defended that action in public to my knowledge.

Somehow he has?

He dances around it. Why? Now, there are books been published by some Nigerians which insist that the governor of that state met with Susan Rice, the American Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs at a time, just before the kidnap took place. We do not even have to go that far of identifying Susan Rice with the capturing of the Chibok girls. The way the Chibok girls campaign was carried out was a very American type of campaign.  Many Nigerians simply refused to think through it because they have been made to hate Goodluck Jonathan so much that every lie told to them was believable. So they were prepared to swallow rubbish, anti-nation rubbish, just because they did not like Jonathan. What Jonathan was opposed to which made the Western world to hate him so much are things every serious Nigerian leader should oppose.

 

Ofeimun

 

What was that?

Goodluck Jonathan refused to sign the Economic Partnership Agreement. The agreement simply says we are manufacturers, we shall lend you money to buy from us. Any Head of State in Africa who signed that agreement is a slave and about sixteen signed immediately and have decided to turn their people into slaves. If that is the only thing that Goodluck Jonathan refused to do while committing other crimes in power, he did a great job because there are other things tied to it which was the independence old agreement, that is to say an agreement that is as old as Nigeria’s independence, which simple said we do not want foreign troops to stamp their foots on Nigerian soil. Now, in consonant with that position Goodluck Jonathan had resisted every attempt to bring foreigners in. I remember that General Victor Malu, when he was head of the Nigerian Army, resisted it to the very last. That is a proper patriotic position to take. No foreign army is a friendly army, none. They go anywhere to serve their country’s interest. In any case, if we are discussing how to prevent Nigeria from going in the wrong direction, we must start from there. Don’t let foreign boots be stamping on your soil and do not accept that ugly position which says that all you have a right to do is to borrow money to buy from those who sell to you. Haba, that is a way to say we do not want to be a people, we do not want to be human beings but under a system that makes you wait for goodies from abroad and when they do not come you seat down with patched throats waiting. No, that will not be a country. And I am sure that is not the kind of country any Nigerian wants.

You talked about an agreed principle to make democracy work. In Nigeria now there is no such principle, we do not have a common vision as to who we are, where we want to go…?

Put it this way. Nigeria is  a very leader centred society. If you say we do not know who we are and where we are going, you should look at how the leaders confuse the values that are rock solid in every Nigerian community. And when I say rock solid, I mean it. Even the most self-bastardised community in Nigeria shares certain common principle, that is why I say those who remember that we migrated from common sources are not wrong. What they are not saying well enough is that each of those migrant groups carried with them certain solid views, philosophies about how to live a life. The Europeans did not teach us how to farm, how to mine iron, how to mine copper. We did these things without them. Then suddenly the slave wars began, five centuries of slave wars, which the Western world masterminded and have been describing as inter-tribal wars. These are the things that fractured our capacity to make the knowledge available within and between the various communities. The fact is that in the process of running away from predators very many communities lost their capacities for invention and for spreading knowledge from one generation to the other. We need to take it back.

How can this be done?

That means the predators they have helped to create amongst us should be defeated.

 

Ofeimun

 

That is the problem. How can you do that without an organisation and philosophy?

But wait. You see the Biafrans became Biafrans because they were running away from pogrom organisers. Today, you can see that with each attempt at annihilating any one group, more and more groups get sucked into the system. Odumegu Ojukwu flunked his battles because he refused to abide by a common human principle. He wanted freedom for the Igbo only but not for children of the minorities around them. The civil war happened because Ojukwu refused to allow the creation of states. When they went to Aburi (in Ghana for pre- civil war peace talks), all the majority group people simply imagined that once you allowed resource control and gave the minorities regional autonomy, there would be peace. When they returned from Aburi, all the minorities looked at themselves and look at that agreement, discovered that the agreement was against them and they smashed it.

No, was it the minorities that smashed it…?

Oh, they did. And I will tell you how it was done. All the minority leaders, Anthony Enahoro, J.S Tarka, Wenike Briggs and all other minority leaders across Nigeria, north and south, came together and agreed they must resist it. It was Erediauwa Solomon Akenzua, then a permanent secretary in the Cabinet Office, who wrote the memo to General Yakubu Gowon that smashed the Aburi Accord. Every Nigerian is important, if you ignore them and do not take care of them, they have every right to protect themselves. The Accord was strongly against their interest. The creation of state that took place had to happen in any case because it was possible to put the fear of God in Gowon’s heart. Gowon was a bloody minority like the rest of them and they knew he would see why it was necessary to create states.

Where do we go from here?

But the point is that today people are asking for another Aburi Agreement in the name of regionalism. They do not realise that is what they are doing. When they ask for the 1963 Constitution, they are actually asking for the Aburi Agreement in retrospect, but they do not realise that is what they are doing. The 1963 Constitution was not good, that is why by 1964 it had collapsed. The question we should be asking is why do people want to go there? Just because of one little principle, that every region could take fifty per cent of what it has; rubbish. That is not enough, just taking fifty per cent.? We should actually be aiming to take absolute control. The residual powers in the Nigerian Constitution should allow states to control land, oil and other minerals, everything within your area. That is to say just as every local government should be self-governing, every state of which they are part should be self-governing. All the local governments should be democratic, independent units relating with other local governments on an agreed democratic principle within the state structure and that state will then relate with other states on the same basis.

Is that you proposal?

My proposal is that 60 per cent of all they produced should be retained within the local governments and within the states. There is nothing wrong in one local government getting richer than the other. At the end of the day that 40 per cent that goes to the centre becomes a means for correcting the imbalance. And where a state gets to be too rich there should be a rule that beyond a certain percentile such a state should relinquish so much to the centre because if you do not do that you are likely to be creating a predator amongst the others. The fact that we are not seating down to think and to talk is why we are having these crisis today. Look, I did my youth service in Katsina state, a part of it that used to be in old Kaduna. And I like to identify inside my head with that area anytime I am speaking about Nigeria. If you are looking for a revenue allocation system or a state structuring system that will favour that area, I can almost tell you that it would work the same way in Kankia, as it would work in Esan. When people know that the knowledge they have or the level of the education they have and how they can plug into agriculture and industry and that is what determines how their life would go, they are more likely to favour it than any system that gives power to a centre which can be controlled by anybody. We should build a system that is generally good for every one such that even if your brother is not in power, you should not feel threatened. And that is why the talk about restructuring would go on for another hundred years until we do it and when I say until we do it, I am saying we are going to have running battles until it is done. If you created so many countries out of Nigeria tomorrow, we would still need that arrangement so that those who are thinking they are seceding are seceding nowhere because even if you created a Biafra state today, it must reach certain economic and political decisions with all its neighbours in order for them to thrive like normal human beings. Nigeria is inescapable.

 

Ofeimun

 

Now there is the argument that as a people we are too impatient, that it took countries like America two hundred years to be where they are today and that we are just 57. But must we reinvent the wheel?

No. The better country to use is Great Britain. Britain had existed for so long but the division between England and Scotland never ended. When there was colonialism and they could send a number of Scots and Irish people to help in the governance of so many other countries in the world, they could export their crisis and chaos to the rest of the world.They organised themselves in such a manner that it was possible for a stubborn Scot to be sent to India to help quell a riot. That was how Great Britain exported its own chaos to the rest of the world and made sure that in every country they governed they created a chaos that would always be in their interest. They did it in every part of the world they governed. What they did in Nigeria is not different from what they did in every other country that the Britain governed, so don’t lets think that the rest of the world was ever free. This is 2017; Chief Obafemi Awolowo used to say since 1946 when he wrote the book, Path To Nigerian Freedom, that Britain would become a federal state because it was an unnatural unitary state. He said before the end of the twentieth century it would happen and it did.  Now, you have a Scottish Parliament and you have a Welsh. At the end of the day if care is not taken, Scotland may become a different country altogether. But that is because they have refused to play by the rules because there are rules you deploy in the creation of a federal society that makes people feel they have a taste of self-governance that they no longer care a hoot unless the centre overreaches itself. In Nigeria, the centre overreached itself long ago. It a centre built by a fraction of the Nigerian politics which had consistently behave in accordance with a conqueror’s logic and so long as that is the case what began long ago will remain because do not forget that the struggle for independence in Nigeria is not what all of them are saying that it came on a gold platter. It did not come on a platter for the minorities in this country, they fought and the British and the majority ethnic groups bounded together to make sure it did not work according to their wishes. But they never stopped fighting and they would not stop. The Biafrans got it wrong because they did not see that if the Igbo people got freedom every other Nigerian would want freedom. No Nigerians should be allowed to be treated as second class citizens. In this regard, I would like to give one example that cannot be faulted.

 

Ofeimun

 

With Nigeria?

It is about how not to maltreat a nationality. And the group I have in mind are the Gbagi, because their case is the most pernicious in Nigeria.

You mean the Gwaris in Niger state or Plateau state?

You see, that is exactly the problem. You are now saying are they in Niger, Plateau. They are is six different states. When Luggard wanted to create a capital for the North, he moved from Zungeru to Kaduna. Kaduna was a Gbagi territory. When 76 years later, Nigeria decided to move the Federal capital from Lagos, they moved to another Gbagi territory, Abuja. Now, the Gbagis or Gwaris as they call themselves are scattered over six different states.  And therefore you need to ask yourself what crime have they committed that in the discussion of the creation of states nobody has ever considered having all of them in one state. The reason is if they have one state they would become a very powerful group. Nobody wants a powerful group in any place. So all Nigerians have conspired to make sure that the Gbagis are not allowed to come together. The fact that they are not together shows that Nigerians are wicked imperialist when they are. Look, Luggard started the business, because when they sent for groups and started their forced labour system during colonialism, they started putting strangers over Gbagi people to govern them. They revolted. Luggard sent an expedition and the Gbagis defeated them. And because the expedition was defeated Laggard rearmed and went and smashed the place. Gusoro, the capital of the Gbagi people was completely destroyed and the people ran away. They later regrouped and started rebuilding. Now, the question we should ask ourselves is why don’t we want that group together?

When you meet the so-called progressive northerners and southerners, they will tell you to stop using these ethnic examples, eh?.  Your own ethnic group are together, speaking their own language, hearing themselves on radio and television and you don’t want others to have the same luck. So you find a situation when they will not like ethnicity when it is other people who would be wronged. They like it when their people have the advantage. No. Let allethnic groups, if they are not big enough to be a state, live in the same local government and be self-governing in such a way they give only 40 per cent of what they have to the centre.

 

In the light of what you have said, don’t you think even our founding fathers, like Governor Nasir el-Rufai said recently, were ethnic war lords because every one of them wanted to govern their enclave?.

No, that is not true. Chief Awolowo was not an ethnic warlord. Awolowo wrote Path to Nigeria Freedom before the North and South met in 1950 and in that book, he stressed the need for every ethnic group to be self-governing. Later on when he was in prison, he wrote another saying that on the basis of an ethnic principle we can create eleven states but that there are others that may be too small and unviable and should be grouped together in another seven states and make it a total of eighteen states. But we have entered an era when those eighteen states do not appear to be enough. People wanted to share other people’s wealth by splitting ethnic groups that speak one language. groups, Awolowo did not oppose that because that because his own theory allowed for that possibility in that you could divide Yoruba or Igbo land into different states but each state must be properly self-governing. Which was why during the civil war when they took over all those items that are now part of the exclusive legislative lists, they were offending the principles of self-governance because they removed from the states all those elements that should have be left residual for only the states. They did it just because they wanted to have money to play with at the centre. The civil war provided an excuse. But after the way, the lands, the minerals should have been returned to the local governments and the states. And the idea that local governments have to be created for states to govern is asinine, silly. You can create units for other people to govern. The Federal Government is therefore using the local governments to destabilise the states. It should not happen because local governments should be instruments with which the states pursue development. When local governments develop a programme, they should take it to the centre and debate and agree on how the states should implement it. That is what should obtain, but the federal government is intervening at the point of each state and that is dangerous. At the moment what is happening is that the state governments steal powers that belongs to the local government and the federal government steals what belongs to everybody.

Ofeimun

 

I can see that as private secretary to Chief Awolowo you would defend him. But why did he not allow the assets of the Western Region to be shared when Midwest Region was created out of it?

Do not go there, please, don’t. People in Edo do not like to talk about it and those who know the story do not want to talk about it because they want to create permanent friction between the Edo and Yoruba people. So they believed in the rumour and the lie rather than face realities. General Osaigbovo Ogbemudia, (late military governor of the Region, renamed Bendel state after the creation of state exercise in 1967) because his military bosses were Arewa people, always liked to tell the story wrong. And I can tell you how many people who got promoted by lying about the relationship between the Edo and the West. You know, three attempts were made by leaders of what was known as the old Midwest to collect what they regarded were theirs. On each occasion they discovered that it was not true and that the system of funding in the old Western Region could be traced step by step, because Awolowo never did anything without laying it out on paper. They discovered that actually they were getting more than was due to them. That was why they backtracked but the Ogbemudia government allowed it to lapsed. They stopped to talk about it in public, except when they want to make big political speeches and want their godfathers in the northern Nigeria to look at them with smiles

You know what, the Western Regional government had a principle; if we were going to tar five kilometres of road, we would take each province and tar five kilometres round and each round tarred had a given number of road workers every five kilometres so that if that part of the road is getting spoilt you know whom to hold and blame. Now, they broke down that thing so that if you want to trace spending, you can do so.  I actually had it somewhere, a break down of year by year spending. When you look at it, the Midwest people who were pursuing that story had to let it lie because they knew that if they pursued it, it won’t get them anywhere. The matter actually came to a head with the discovery of oil, when the Midwest part of the Region became the big money earner. But that was preciously when Bendel state was created. But properly speaking, before Midwest was created you could never make that argument. I have heard this argument and because I was Awo’s as private secretary, I am supposed to be shy when presenting the story but I know Chief Enahoro would not seat down and let it happen, no way, at all, he would talk.

Can you say our political parties are redemptive enough to lead Nigeria out of the woods.

No. The political parties we have are not proper political parties. That is part of the problem. A political party ought to be know by a body of ideals which they share in common. Modern political parties are not really supposed to be philosophically united. But they are supposed to be an organisation, internally consistent enough to pursue the common goal of taking power. You can say that as power driving machines they seem have done very well, but done well by not following the rules. A party system that has no rules guiding election finance, campaign finance in general and donations to political party, they are likely never, ever to behave like proper political parties. They are just like kins of robbers barons.

Ofeimun

 

So it is Nigerian phenomenon?

No, it is not a Nigerian phenomenon. Very many political parties tend to be like that. In America and Britain they used to sell seats, I mean actual haggle and sell. Corruption was so built into the system that the idea of political machines in American history was an open secret. However, all political systems, if they want to thrive must develop the legal constraints on political organisation. We have what looks like such constraints in our Constitution but they are useless because if you tell a governor that he needs only ten million Naira to run for an election and you know that just taking his own car alone and going round that state will cost him three million, you know it is folly to inveigh. So the Nigerian laws are so unrealistic and they are deliberately unrealistic so that all political parties would be agreed on the need for corruption. All political parties in Nigeria today are run on the basis of corruption. When Muhammad Buhari first came to power as Head of State, he jailed many politicians for enriching their political parties. He gave some of them sixty to seventy years jail term. What people should ask him today is where he gets the money from in running his own political party? Pure corruption, nothing else. If he has found another way, let him tell Nigerians. Since he jailed all those politicians, why has he not provided a formula that should enable us run proper political parties; he has never given it a thought and none of the people around him seem to have done so. If you don’t give it a thought and deal with it, it means you are not fighting for democracy and corruption. And if the government is doing it the way they are doing it now, they are wasting our time. Nigeria needs to move fast and all the answers are available and as an Awolowo man, I can tell you they are there. It is even good that Buhari is in power because the problem of changing Nigeria is actually a northern problem. Any other person who tells you otherwise is a self-deceiver. The old Awolowo principle that every child must go to school should apply in the north.

For me, there is one good decision, Buhari has taken that makes me smile and laugh. He has insisted that the railway should get to Daura because Daura was not like a part of Nigeria. And one of the ways to make Nigeria is to have railways crisscross this country, not export promotion lines like the British built. We need synergising lines that bring all the old provinces together in such a manner that if you want to go to Maiduguri, you need to know where to change your train. A country as big as Nigeria cannot run on road transport. It is self-debasement to do it. And when you look around this country, it is such a marvellous country and nothing can beat it if we developed it well so that other countries will be begging to be part of it. We ought to create a federal system that all others country would join like an African parliament, which we hope would save the rest of Africa one day. It is possible.