3 November 2008

Nigerian Problem Beyond Ethnicism - Kanu

Lagos — Rear Admiral Ndubuisi Kanu, a retired Naval chief and former ex- military governor of Imo and Lagos states, is among past leaders who are disenchanted with the current socio-political and economic condition of the country.

He traces the country's political problem to what he called Unitarism, which is the excessive concentration of powers at the centre, and expressed deep worry that if nothing urgent is done to restructure the system with a view to returning to the status quo, which is true federalism, the nation may collapse.

According to the former naval top shot, Nigeria needs cementing and fundamental dialogue by the different ethnic nationalities.

Kanu x-rayed the roots of the country's political problems while fielding questions from newsmen in his Victoria Island, Lagos, office. Senior Correspondent, Daniel Kanu and Reporter, Olisemeka Obeche, were there. Excerpts:

Sir, how would you assess the present Nigerian state where you grew up, and served under the military. Would you say that we have made tremendous progress

Nigeria needs some definition, because many may not understand, especially those who didn't have the opportunity to see the kind of Nigeria that was about to start in those good old days in the 1960s. Around that time, there was zeal to build a nation-state out of the country, Nigeria. It was a country with a lot of hopes, where one would love to contribute a lot to achieve your own aspiration. Over the years, in this country Nigeria, something has gone wrong. And, definitely I will say, without fear of contradiction, that this is not the Nigeria I was born into or grew up as a boy. A lot of things have changed, and I am not talking about infrastructure, but the core issues which is the matter of the spirit of the country: the spirit of the different people that make up the country.

It is no more the Nigeria that was to be exactly as was put down in that first Anthem, which I still strongly believe in: 'though tribes and tongues may differ, in brotherhood we stand.' There was a matter of unity in diversity, but the country has left that and gone into a quagmire of unitarism, which does nobody any good.

What do you think actually went wrong with Nigeria?

Various things; those things that are not insurmountable; those things which ought not to have happened but equally did happen; yes, but could be overcome in terms of their effect. If you look at the past, to be able to now look at the present, to be able to plan for the future.

What went wrong is that we had the aberrations of military rules. But equally I keep telling people that the very first problem this country had was when the Federal Government went to interfere in the affairs of the regions: it was a breach on federalism. In fact, if you keep looking at all that happened, you end up finding that even the matter that led us ultimately into this catharsis of war was an outcome of that breach of federalism. Even the ambits of military rule with all its shortcomings; we ended up with the worst of things - that is the matter of Unitarism.

Why I say this is that I try to analyse whatever I see as a problem to this country; it stands foreseeable and just comes down to one basic issue: the matter of Unitarism.

It is affecting so much in the country in the sense that when you look back to the last eight years, I don't know how you young men and women feel about the last regime; whether in real terms you may even wonder whether the eight years really passed or that it just disappeared. If you look further back, you can also start wondering, what actually happened, especially when Nigerians were fed up with the military under Babangida.

You talked about Unitarism as the major problem, and we all know that by virtue of the the 1999 Constitution, Nigeria should be practising federalism, but in practice, it seems to be Unitary. All appeals to the Federal Government to initiate a sovereign national conference have so far been ignored. Where do you think we are going from here? And what would be your advice?

The matter of the so-called constitution is a serious matter. Nigeria is addressed as a Federal Republic. But you cannot be a federation and have one constitution. It is not possible, because those who are federating have got constitutions of how they live and how they are now coming up together to join up with others. This country, Nigeria, didn't start with one constitution; and it could not have been a country if they try to have one constitution; no, there would have been no Nigeria. We started off Eastern Nigeria, Western Nigeria and Northern Nigeria. From there we had Mid-Western Nigeria; each had its own constitution.

The only way you get a Federal Government is that the federating units surrender some of their God-given rights to the central government, not the other way round. When you now talk about a federation where you created different people? No! You cannot, because it is peoples created by God that are coming together. In-fact, the United States of America is not a federation, because every American, apart from the American Indian, knows where he comes from including some of them who came from my village. Those who came from Poland, Ireland, and Germany and so on, know where they came from and know their homeland. I am an Igbo man and have no other home land anywhere except the South East.

Nigeria would have kept on evolving; there would have been other regions, even Ijaw region would have been there, Calabar, Tiv and so on. They would have been evolving each with its own constitution, coat- of-arms, even with its own representatives; and we would have been living better than what is happening now.

It is a deceit to talk about federal constitution when there are no regional constitutions. When I was the Military Governor of the then Imo State, edicts I passed derived their powers from the constitution of the Eastern Nigeria, as then suspended by the military regime. And when I came over to Lagos, the state derived its own powers (edict) from the Western Region.

Take for example, even land use decree of the Federal Government could override the land use edict of the Lagos State at that time. The Federal Government still had to come to negotiate with the Lagos State government for right of way to pipelines. They don't just come anyhow and decree that every water way or coastline was theirs. There are so many things.

Even the culture of our various peoples are being assailed by those things that are unitary. That is how you end up and come to local government or my community or ward and install somebody as my representative. They may even come all the way from Abuja and determine who will be the councillor of my ward. In most cases, the man or woman doesn't even understand the terrain or the problems of the people he or she is appointed to represent. Before we know it, we have people who have gone into the Assembly without understanding the place, and the people they are representing.

I am not saying that we don't have fantastic men and women in the Assembly. But we have also those who have gone in there without good knowledge of their places of representation; and they say is a federal might. It is the country they are despoiling, and also despoiling the composing areas and units.

Nigerians are rightly asking to sit down and discuss what, how to be a strong and united country. And the question I ask anybody opposed to Nigerians coming to sit down and talk and agree is ÷. Different people of Nigeria want to live together, but. We have been talking about it for the past fifteen, twenty years and nothing has happened. It just takes a little matter for the spoon to slip from the tongue. It doesn't take a whole planning or whatever. And the way and manner people's spirit are dying is very worrisome, and for me, we have come to a stage in this country whereby I like to be told which group of individuals - be it the Igbo, Hausa, Yoruba, Ijaw, Tiv, Ibibio, etc. - is not feeling marginalised. I don't mean individuals. If you go out there and ask some people, they will tell you that things are working out well because either they are occupying some places or the other. I will like to be told which of the geo-political zones or professional associations and other interest groups in the country is happy the way things are going on in this country.

You see, for a child who was 15 years in 1999, when the child started in 1999, there was 15 degrees of power supply in the neighborhood; in 2000, when he is now 16 years, it drops to 14 degrees, and by the time he is 20 to 30 years of age, there is almost zero degree of power supply. Therefore, the right thing that child is learning about development is that the rate of power supply must be reducing. It is the same way that crime is rising everyday. A child who was brought up in that system sees nothing good about the country except to make money and enjoy life. Thank God now that the world has become a global village that most young ones can easily have a glimpse of what is happening in the outside world by listening out, read out and reach out to people, otherwise if you look at the whole things, it has just been a disaster.

The 1999 Constitution, anyhow we look at it, so long as we keep delaying to go and sit down and quickly build it up; I repeat it, this country may break up. As far as I am concerned, the country is breaking up. The spirit of this country which is Nigeria is dying by the day; patriotism is dying by the day. It is not a matter of sentiment. Anybody, whether you are in governance or not, that is saying that things are going fine don't really love the country.

They don't really love the country, because if they love this country they are going to calm down and draft out basis that we are going to make the country achieve progress. And the basic thing to start with is that grund norm (the Constitution). We sit down and agree, and that is to return ourself to a federal arrangement which is what it used to be before the military struck, which is not what it is now. You have that goodwill to build upon, you also leave that room - for healthy competition and diversity to play their parts. So, we need to sort out how we will still live together, one neighbour after the other.

Are you advocating a Sovereign National Conference?

You see, people keep using that phrase, you can call it whatever you want. But it is a question of having all the peoples in Nigeria from various nationalities coming together and agree on how to live in Nigeria. We, the Igbo, want to live in Nigeria. So also are other ethnic groups, but they got to live there under agreed terms, not under a term you will come and dictate to me. So, whether you want to call it sovereign national conference or not, the fact remains that Nigerians have sovereign rights to be where God put them, without apology to nobody. Therefore, since we want to live with others, the best way to do it is to sit down and talk and agree.

You are sounding as if you are afraid of the future of this country?

I am worried about the present condition of this country, to start with, that is what I am saying, before you think about the future. And if you look at indices, we are going down the hill. Please gentlemen, if you are not worried about your car spinning down hill, I am.

With the lingering crisis situation in the Niger Delta, where do you think the country is gravitating to and what do you think is the solution to the age-long crisis?

The greatest bane and the source of all these problems is Unitarism, and the solution is going back to the federal country. What is going on in the Niger Delta is similar to what the Igbo were passing through in the past; and that is why I tell anybody that cares to listen that the Igbo never fought to break away from Nigeria. We were forced to take arms, and no two ways about it. The Igbo man is still being marginalised, which also means that Nigeria is marginalised. As long as they consider Igbo land as part of Nigeria, those who are consciously or unconsciously marginalising the Igbo are marginalising Nigeria.

Equity and justice have no colour, no taste; they remain constant. So, what would have been equitable for the Igbo would remain for the Igbo, so also for other tribes, otherwise it is not equitable. We are not talking about advantage, but equity. What was fought for then was a matter of equity, and you see where we are today. Empirical studies say that nations come back to a state of status quo, 15 years after confusion. But in this case, Nigeria has not come back because after it, we had so many aberrations coming on, and that is where we have ended up with the Niger Delta. Many talk about the criminal aspect of the Niger Delta struggle, but I wouldn't look at that as a matter of criminal issue. For instance, if armed robbers after robbing a bank and while going were throwing money on the streets and those who picked the money are running after stolen money - so they are criminals. Or there is a fire outbreak in a building and people are finding a way to put off the fire, you start chasing a thief who is trying to make away with something from the house.

The Niger Delta crisis is a big problem on the ground regarding equity in the place, that over the years has been boiling and building. The solution is to address the inequity, and the best way to address a thing like that is not through a master-servant relationship. You have to sit on matter of equality and bringing different peoples involved. So you are going to sit down with those who are from there and tell everybody, man or woman, who comes from different parts of the country to look at the issues and address them squarely. If you are any of these people, what would you do? If you were from there and you start also to maltreat other people or cornering there resources - you will have to ask yourself if you are in their shoe, how would you expect people to react to you?

So we have a problem at hand that requires being addressed by all of us. We need a cementing and fundamental dialogue by different peoples of the country to have a federal Nigeria. The country couldn't start unless it was federal; and it will not survive if it doesn't go back to federal.

What is your position on the condition of Ndigbo in Nigeria today?

I want to know which Yoruba man or Hausa is comfortable with the political situation in Nigeria of today. I don't even know who is comfortable with what is happening in the country today, even the president. The issues have gone beyond blaming somebody or the other; it is a structural issue which has gone beyond whether you are Igbo or Yoruba. But definitely as an Igbo man, I believe that my people will not accept to continue this way. We must solve it by demanding to sit down. Some people will tell you will they agree? This is a wrong thing in the country. The moment you have a country where people discuss 'will they agree'. we have a problem. It should be one in which there should be a collective wish of the majority.

How come there is too much faction among the Igbo?

You know, the Igbo are very much united. Quote me, anyone who is Igbo should not deceive him or herself into thinking that we are not united: we are strongly united. Please, it is a matter of men of understanding. Forget even the fact that we are republicans, every Igbo man and woman is united in one thing: virtues of truth, honesty and belief in God.

What you are seeing don't characterise the Igbo man, they are something created outside Igbo land. There is an Igbo ethos that makes us Ndigbo, just as the other tribes as created by God. God did not create Ndigbo to follow one man. And any day when we want to become like other people, where one man comes and dictates to the people, we will fail. People often cite the past problem of Ohaneze Ndigbo as an example, without actually knowing exactly what happened.

That somebody came from nowhere and went to Ohaneze leadership trying to grab its soul and spirit to go and support third term, and got them not to agree to follow the constitution we agreed to be abided. And in the spirit of Ndigbo, that move was criticised and they fought it to a halt. Please, as an elder statesman in Igbo land I want to tell you that we are solidly united, and the thinking that Igbo people are more money conscious are equally not true. There are other many things an Igbo man is capable of offering the country if given the opportunity. As to those that make this argument: which tribe is united in Nigeria today?

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