Benin — The demand for the restructuring of the Nigerian federation, which has gradually taken on a global dimension judging from the wide support it has garnered, got a fresh impetus of billionaire businessman and philanthropist, Chief Gabriel Igbinedion, who however condemned the call for the creation of State Police.
As the call for restructuring of the Nigerian federation gets more strident with many more patriots joining the large crowd of agitators, billionaire philanthropist and Esama of Benin Kingdom, Sir Gabriel Osawaru Igbinedion, has added his voice to the demand.
Coming from a non-politician who is not known for making frivolous contributions to national debate of this nature, the call by the Benin Chief, who is celebrating his 83rd birthday today, has underscored the magnitude that the request for redefining Nigeria as a nation has attained.
With Igbinedion's public support for the call, which came via an interview he granted as part of celebrations for his birthday in Benin yesterday, many non-politicians who are great stakeholders in the Nigerian project, are expected to make their positions on the issue known.
According to the businessman who had blazed many trails in Nigeria's private sector, venturing into hitherto unexplored areas like aviation and private ownership of educational institutions, with experiences in how the two sectors, private and public, can compliment each other and how government policies and structures can either make or mar the relationship, "restructuring will correct the anomalies in the system."
He disclosed that the idea of restructuring the Nigerian federation was actually muted before the emergence of the current administration of the All Progressives Congress (APC) during which it has now assumed a global dimension and that it actually came out of a conversation he had with the late Minister of Information, Professor Dora Akunyili back then.
He said, "Restructuring is to amend the wrong. My late daughter, Dora Akunyili started this thing in my sitting room in Abuja. I gave her that idea. It was my own. When I was speaking, she bought into it. If you are dealing with people, leaders who rule the country, they know better than us. It is a very good idea. Restructuring Nigeria is overdue. Like the constitution is also stale. They need some changes. That is what the people are yearning for but whether the people are interpreting it wrongly I do not know."
While he threw his weight behind restructuring of the polity, Igbinedion, a former police officer, however disagreed with the creation of State Police, which is one of the cardinal issues in the current agitation alongside fiscal federalism and devolution of power.
According to the Benin Chief, who obviously spoke against the background of the atrocities that the politicians used the local police to commit in the crisis-ridden First Republic, "I vehemently object to State Police. We that saw State Police will not pray for it to come to this country again. Do you know what it took us to uproot State Police? Do you know how the politicians used them to their advantage? Please, write with your ten hands against it. The politicians, they think they are there today but they do not know that they will not be there tomorrow. Anybody that agitates for State Police does not love this country. What native police did to this country in the 50's, 60's even in your life you will not want them to come up again."
Igbinedion also canvassed for increased nationalism and loyalty by Nigerians to the Nigerian State saying, "First of all, they have to condition the Nigerians' mind to love their country. If you see an America man, he will tell you that I am an American. It should be like the way the Americans inculcated America into their people's minds. If he is a British, he will proudly say I am a British. Until Nigerians accept that they are Nigerians, all these we are saying, are a waste of time.
"The government has not really sat down to pinpoint where the error is. I hope one day, we will see people who will truly demonstrate such a great love and be proud of his country, Nigeria. We have lost so many brains like Bola Ige, Alfred Rewane and many others."
In his call for inculcating nationalism into the psyche of Nigerians to see the country not from regional, ethnic or religious perspectives, Igbinedion also urged the government to protect local investors with economic and monetary policies that will shield them from the vagaries of global financial politics and unfavourable international business climates to engender development of the country and its people.
His words: "Take my airline as example, there are some people who do not want some people to progress. In the business today; when the naira was being devalued, I was lucky enough to stay with one white person in the plane. He called me and said they want our naira at N60 to a dollar. It was N5 then. I never believed it, N60 to $1? He said they have taken decision and today, we are no more talking of N60 but N500.
"There is still lot of slavery but no more charcoal. They now come through visa. We are being controlled; the currency we earned somebody is determining how much it would be. It is like you are selling pineapple and I go to say this pineapple, I am going to pay N1 that is what it is. Only Mugabe rose up to say Zimbabwe must use dollar."
Speaking on the failure of various governments since 1960 to lift Nigeria to the level envisaged by the country's founding fathers, Igbinedion said, "I do not want to delve into politics. Anyone that was born before 1960 is a senior brother to Nigeria. In the 40's, the British were colonizing us before we got independence. In 1960, I was in Ogbomosho as a police officer. I have my Opel Accord WEG 243; look at the car there, blue. We struggled for the independence.
"I was an orderly to Awolowo's wife. I was given to Awolowo but his wife snatched me. But if you travel outside, Nigeria has done well. Man is never satisfied. The only thing I will not like to say is that I wished we had gotten somebody who does not ask for wealth of life, who wore Agbada.
"You know, Agbada, there is another one on top of it, if you wear Agbada, it is for the country, the other one you wear inside is for the state. This your trousers, whatever is left for you is enough for and your family to take care of yourself.
"I thank God for Nigeria today, but I am praying that God will deliver this country. He will bring a man who has the fear of God. How can we, from 1960 still be looking for one thing, light and we cannot get it? I will not like to delve into politics please. If I have to talk about it, it is so deep but in everything, I have eyes opened, I have my connection and I have people."
Speaking on his journey to being a successful businessman, the Benin Chief said, "The only thing that I can tell you is that all the people that we started with, I am still here today by the special grace of God. When I was being given an honorary degree sometimes ago, the Speaker said that there is nobody that God does not speak to. It depends on if you are listening at the time God is speaking to you.
"I heard God's voice, I win some and I lose some. I did not pass in all but no one in this country has taken the risk I have taken to dig on unknown ground. When I was growing up, I was working for Leventis, one Christmas time, I was in the motor section, I was driving past Sapele road, I saw a Greek, Socratus who asked a gateman to mix red mud into a bucket and start sprinkling it to people there on their Christmas wears because they were scrambling to buy soft drinks from him for Christmas.
"I got annoyed and I went to him, I dealt with him and I said I will compete with you. On the 3rd of January I left to go and bring Canada Dry and I put it opposite them. That was how I laid my life for Nigerians. So, I do not like people to suffer. I have tried my best."