As the clamour for restructuring and implementation of the 2014 Confab report gains more ground and support from eminent leaders across the country, erudite scholar and prominent Igbo leader, Professor Anya O. Anya, has come out with the things President Muhammadu Buhari needs to do to tame the wave of agitations and save the country from possible break-up. Speaking with VINCENT KALU, in Lagos, Anya who is the Pro-Chancellor and Chairman of the Governing Council, Michael Okpara University of Agriculture, Umudike, Abia State, also spoke on other major national issues.
Nigeria seems to be on edge, with crises and agitations from various quarters. How did we get here?
Nigeria ought to be on edge, because there have been cumulative injustices, cumulative unrighteousness, and we are now in the time of judgment. But the good thing is that this year is going to mark the change from our ignoble past to a brighter and better future. We have to pay the price for it. Take the Nnamdi Kanu phenomenon that is fully and completely created by the Federal Government for example. He has been running his Radio Biafra, and nobody paid attention to it, and he has been coming and going and nobody paid attention to him.
Then suddenly, this time he came, you pounced on him. Not only that, you get to the point where not only one time, not two and three times, court said, release him, but you didn’t do so. That served two purposes. One, people took notice of him, because you have been unjust to him, and the human mind reacts to injustice, which is why we tend to sympathize with the underdog than the big man.
Second, Nnamdi Kanu is only a symptom of a larger malaise. Let me give you example of the so-called Northern youths’ quit notice. According to them, the reason for the quit notice order was that the whole of Southeast was obeying Nnamdi Kanu. Again, I say, the government created the situation that made it mandatory for people to sit at home.
These boys have been going on non-violent protests all over the places. It happens in the history of any nation, there comes a time when the youths are not satisfied and they show dissatisfaction in peaceful protests. But each time these people went out for peaceful protest, the military would be there to welcome them with bullets. It happened in Aba, Onitsha. Some say it also happened in Asaba and Port Harcourt, and the people were buried and that was the end of it.
I was in the village in the Southeast and I was to travel back to Lagos on that day, but I decided to travel the next day for just one simple reason.
I asked myself, traveling from Abia State to Onitsha, to Asaba, am I likely to find groups of youths protesting because it’s what they called Biafra Day? The answer was, it’s most likely. If that is so, it meant immediately that the military or the police would be nearby and if they start shooting, it would be a collateral damage and I didn’t want to take that chance. I’m sure greater majority of people in the towns and villages of Southeast stayed home in order not to run into government’s problem in the attempt to rein in the youths.
Instead of blaming the aggressor, you now blame the victim; the victim being we, the ordinary people, going about our businesses.
When you have a situation like that, something is bound to give.
There is a fundamental and spiritual dimension to this. This is 2017, it is exactly 50 years from 1967, which was a year that one crisis led to another and we ended up in war that lasted for three years. To the Christians and those spiritually minded, they will recognise 50 years, as what we call the Jubilee year. It is a year deep things are bound to happen in the spiritual realm and they will manifest in the physical realm.
When I said earlier in an interview that this year was pregnant, that was sometime in March, then everywhere was peaceful, but now look round the country, the things that people said must not be done are the things people are saying must be done – call it restructuring, call it fiscal federalism, call it true federalism, the important thing is that people are saying that the structure of Nigeria, as it is cannot carry its burdens, and so it has to be changed.
Between now and October, some momentous situation will take place, whether we like it or not, it will force down the hand of everybody to now get back and say this country has to be fixed, what do we do.
You may say because I’m part of it, but the truth of the matter is that you cannot ignore the report of the 2014 National Conference and think you have peace in Nigeria.
The reason is simple: It was the first time that the selection of Nigerians cut across all ethnicities, all religious groups, all professional groups, etc, they sat together to look at the problems of Nigeria.
It was the first time also that no government said don’t go here, don’t go this way or that way. Nobody interfered. All the problems that the conference chose were the problems that everybody contributed in the conference as they see them.
At the end, there were over 600 decisions. These 600 decisions enjoyed the kind of majority that no group has experienced in Nigeria. When we started, in a constitution matters, usually, it is two-third, but some people insisted that it must be 75 per cent (three-quarter); ultimately we used 70 per cent as a compromise. When that happened there were people who jubilated because they thought that they were likely to have their way in frustrating the outcome of the conference, but it didn’t happen.
Some people faulted the composition of the conference, saying it was not representative
There was this Committee on National Dialogue that toured the entire country. Nobody teleguided us and nobody made any suggestion to us.
It was headed by Senator Femi Okoronmu. If you know Okoronmu and you think you can go and impose anything on him, go and try. He can be cantankerous when you dare try to bend him. So, no government will like to dictate to a committee like that. However, there was a group in the country that didn’t want the conference to hold.
At the National Dialogue, we went to all parts of the country, and the information we got was clear on what people wanted.
If you remember, then Governor Adams Oshiomole, we met him in his office in Benin, and he gave us his views and we went to the Town Hall, having finished with us we thought that he wasn’t going to come, but he came, and when he wanted to say those things he said in private, he was booed by his own people, which meant that the ordinary people knew what they wanted and the type of country they wanted, and that was what the committee recommended to the government.
When it came to the composition, Jonathan said he didn’t want to have a hand in selecting who came into it and we should do it. Not in terms of persons, but in the criteria that we would use.
All the ethnic formations, Arewa, Ohanaeze Afenifere, etc selected or elected their own; all the professional associations – Nigerian Academy of Science, Nigeria Bar Association etc, the civil society organizations, all the governors including APC governments selected their delegates. I can go on. There was no major stakeholder group in Nigeria that was not represented, including traditional rulers. When you have a group like that, how can you say it was not representative? All the major stakeholders chose who they wanted to represent them.
That certainly is more legitimate than your sham elections, where politicians distribute money and do what they wanted and you say you have elections. So, let anybody tell who was excluded and should have been there that was not there.
It’s an argument people make. Unfortunately, ignorance, you will be surprised, is present even at the highest quarters in Nigeria. We have to change the story; we have to change the way we think.
Those who are reorganizing and saying that we don’t want it were in the conference. What they say is wrong, why didn’t they bring it there? I can name them, but it is not necessary. On every issue they raised, they lost. What they did not know was that even in the North there are people who wanted these changes that some of us want.
In Bauchi, there was one person who got up and said, let the country be divided and let everybody go his way. From the same Bauchi, somebody got up and said, ‘ you people have been saying that the North has been in charge and he said that his life is worse now despite the fact that the North has been in charge for 42 years out of 52 years. That line of thought is there in the North, but people pretend that those problems don’t exist, they exist, but they have come to a head. There is no way to dodge and there is no way to hide any longer.
How does the confab report get implemented when President Buhari, who is at the helms of affairs appears not dispose to it?
He happens to be the president, so I should not use the kind of proper word to be used when a man expresses that kind of view. The first principle, which is why God gave us a brain, is to think through situations. You cannot think through what you have not seen. So, that is where you start from, and then you can then underline the things that you don’t agree with, and make the basis of discussion.
When you just say, ‘I will not’. Are you God, did you create yourself?
In many ways there are things I respect Buhari for, because I have sat side by side talking with him, and like I said in an earlier interview, his passion for Nigeria is not in doubt, but it doesn’t mean that he knows everything. Indeed, if you line up those who have ruled Nigeria, he may not come up the first half in terms of the knowledgeable ones that have ruled Nigeria and that is reality. We have seen him before and we are seeing him for a second time.
My prayer is that God will spare him and let him survive his present travail and get well and return to Nigeria and see the new Nigeria that will emerge, while he is still alive.
You are talking of 2014 Confab, some are talking of restructuring, others are also talking of true federalism and fiscal federalism, where do all these dovetail? Also, there seems to be no clear -cut definition of what restructuring is. The last time I interviewed Alhaji Tanko Yakasai, he said as much?
Tanko Yakasai is a man I respect, he is one those who have been consistent from NEPU days, but he is also an elderly man and you do not expect him to remember everything. Saying they don’t understand restructuring and what it means is subterfuge of the ignorant.
Restructuring means that when there is structure and you want to make changes to it, whatever the changes are, they are restructuring. Even those who say they don’t know what it is, when they make suggestions as to what they think should be done, they are already contributing to the debate on restructuring.
When you take the decisions of the confab you will find that the decisions fall into three groups.
There are decisions that have political implications, and there are suggestions to amendments and changes in the constitution; there are others that you can take care of by enacting laws; and there are also others that you can take care of by change in policy. They fall into these three groups.
Take the ones that have constitutional implications. The secretariat of the confab did a fantastic work by taking thos e decisions that have constitutional implications and lined them up serially, and they then took the 1999 Constitution and lined up those areas against what the conference decided and they invited the legal draughtsmen of the Ministry of Justice, and asked them to reconcile the two and they did.
The document that emerges from that exists really, and it reflects what Nigerians said they wanted from the National Dialogue/Town Hall meetings throughout Nigeria. They equally reflect what Nigerians wanted from all the people you gathered from all parts of Nigeria across ethnicities, political parties.
By the way, it was only APC that didn’t send the two delegates that each political party was supposed to, but all the state governments sent.
APC cannot claim that it wasn’t there, because majority of the APC decision makers were there.
When you take all that, you know that the people were not serious, because if they were, they would go back to the beginning and ask, of all these things we have agreed, where did I differ. I don’t argue with lazy people, because if you are not lazy you go and find out what the other person said.
Will the confab report not conflict with the current popular clamour for a return to regionalism?
There are even people who are saying that we should go back to the Republican Constitution of 1963, because that was an improvement on the Independence Constitution that the British gave us. From 1960 to 2017, have there been changes in Nigeria? Therefore, anything you are putting forward on how to govern Nigeria, which means a new constitution, must reflect some of the experiences we have gained in the last 57 years. So, to that extent, how can you now say, return to that era? You can’t return, because there have been changes and you must reflect the experiences we have had living together. These problems that are coming from east, west, south and north, we now have enough experiences to reflect them on how we can live together. We have been living together and we have gained experiences and we should reflect them. So, it cannot be a return to the old way, it must be a return to what has worked in the past and has been tested over the years and in addition, those things we have learnt out of our experience of living together.
In your opinion, what should be the federating units of the Nigerian federation- the 36 states or the ethnic nationalities as some have canvassed?
Nigeria is not a federation. I don’t like people who asked questions without providing possible answers. If you look at the report of the confab, if you also look at what people are saying in the newspapers, it is clear that the states are too weak to be federating units. When you have 36 states and only four or at most six can pay their bills without help, then something is wrong. In a federation, powers flow from the bottom up and not from top down, as we have now. At the local level people give you ideas on how they want to be governed and then you go the state level, then to the regional level and finally to the national level.
The military made it so and Nigerians have been avoiding the regional groupings. Nigeria being a multi -cultural society, a multi religious society etc, and when you look at Nigeria, some were kingdoms before the British came; some were republics, some were just free range or freelance people before they were brought together. The people must agree on what suits them. When they agree on that, you then reflect it in your constitution.
You cannot ignore the regions. Actually the regions exist now, the only thing is that, Nigerians like to live in denial, we are pretending that they don’t exist. What are geo-political zones? They are the regions of Nigeria. People don’t want it be given the powers and authority they ought to have as a regional grouping. That is where the problem is. But whether they like it or not, it will happen.
At the National Conference, that issue came up, but we handled it by saying that the various states should either merge, regroup themselves or divide themselves, but whatever they do, they should have certain things in common and work together along those lines. Why don’t we stop pretending and give them responsibilities? They are closer to the states than the Federal Government is, and they are more likely to take into account the realities at the local level, which the Federal Government is not likely to know and should not bother itself about. All these problems have actually been looked at. If you want, you call another conference to look at those specific issues, but don’t pretend there is nothing.
Is the National Assembly likely to support restructuring, given fear that members nurse that it may likely affect them?
Naturally that is the way human beings are. That which affects me first, and every other thing can wait, because they are benefiting from it, even if the country they pretend to be representing is dying slowly. Nigeria is dying slowly and unless you face these problems and give new live to it, it may die. Out of their selfish interest, they say, no, we are the ones elected. Who elected you? The people who elected you are the ones saying this is the way we want things to be done.
If you are doubtful, take the draft document of the National Conference for a referendum by the people who elected you. When that happens, we will then know what the people want. The truth of the matter is, where we are now, and because Nigerian politicians have proved to be so shortsighted, to be so self- centred and to be so selfish, nothing really that is in the long interest of Nigeria should be entrusted to them, because they have tunnel vision.
Did the 2014 conference address the question of Sovereign National Conference that many had clamoured for?
Sovereign National Conference is where all the stakeholders of Nigeria meet and they say, this is what we want; this is the relationship we want to maintain. That has happened already. If there are other people who have strong feelings on other areas, let them bring them forth and we can look at those areas. The people who hold that view don’t understand what Sovereign National Conference means. Sovereignty lies with the people and not with the government.
Whenever you have a group of people representative of all the formations you have in the country meeting, sovereignty lies there, and therefore, it is already a Sovereign National Conference. There is no prescription to what a Sovereign National Conference will be, just as there is no prescription to what a federation should be. The important thing is that once you respect the principle that power flows from bottom up and you now put in checks and balances at each level, and you make sure that they do not interfere with the other levels, that is a federation.
But each nation organises its own federation to suit its own history and circumstances. Example, United States is a federation, but the rules that apply there are not the same with Switzerland, which is also a federation. It is not the same rule that applies in Canada, a next door neighbour of the US, which is also a federation. That’s what works for a nation, so long as it recognizes the principle of federalism that power starts from bottom up and not the other way round because bottom is where the people are and they have the sovereignty.
Once you recognise that, you then tweek those other areas to fit the circumstances of your history and circumstances of your cohabitation. Nigerians were living together before the British came. According to the renowned historian, late Prof Adiele Afigbo, the Igbo had relationships with all other ethnic groups and we were all living peacefully, each one respecting the other and it was peaceful until the British came and put us in one straitjacket.
For almost 57 years of independence, when we were supposed to have emerged as a nation state, we are still grappling with how to move forward, and like Bishop Kukah said, Nigeria has not been as divided as it is today, even during the civil war. Why?
It is not quite true that we are grappling with problems. We understand the problems, except that there is too much hypocrisy in Nigerian politics. There is too much pretending in Nigerian politics, because there has not been justice, and where there is no justice, truth can never thrive. Because we have come to a head and like I said earlier, the beginning of the change that will make Nigeria the pride of the world is starting now, because we have come to the point where all sorts of subterfuge, pretensions have ended, and whether people like it or not, there are problems we must now face, including problems that we have been talking about in the last 57 years, which we have never faced.
The basic principle of federalism – resource control. What people are frightened is the word, ‘control’. I call it resource management. Wherever I am God has put me there, whatever that is there, God has given me the right to look after it.
So you can’t from anywhere come and interfere with it, but because you and me have to coexist, there are things you have that I want and there are things that I have that you want. We sit down and agree on how I can give you a bit of mine and you can give me a bit of yours. That is what federalism is about.
You can’t come and pretend that this land is no longer mine. You can no longer pretend, as the Federal Government has been pretending, that everything under your land belongs to her. When God created the people, was there Federal Government? People must be fair. God has told us to be our brothers’ keepers; the challenge now is, how do we make sure that you and me can share this thing, so that fairness and justice is done to all sides?
What happens if the government doesn’t buy into this restructuring?
It loses legitimacy. If you are in government you should listen to the people who put you there. Right now, whether in the North, East, West and South, people who had never expressed opinion on this subject are expressing the opinion and are in support. Even traditional rulers are in support now. If you are a government of the people you cannot ignore what the people are saying now.
What should Igbo do, especially those living in the north, against the backdrop of the quit notice by Northern youths, bearing history in mind?
Igbo should not live in fear. 2017 is not 1967. Things have changed. The people who are threatening have no capacity to do the things they said they wanted to do. The reason is simple: Whether we like it or not, there have been fundamental changes in the way things are run in the country. The question is where are all these problems coming? They have always been there, but they were better managed than this government is managing it.
When Buhari came along and said his responsibility was to look after the 95 per cent of people who voted for him and not the five percent that voted against him, he was undermining the basis of his own authority as the President of Nigeria, because when you are president, you swear to do good to all manner of people- those who voted for you and those who voted against you; those who abused you and those who praised you, they are all your citizens. When he said that, people recalled the long line of injustices.
At end of the civil war, Gowon pronounced the 3Rs- Rehabilitation, Reconstruction and Reconciliation, and none of that happened. You have a problem; the unfortunate problem in the Northeast and the National Assembly quickly passed a bill for rebuilding the Northeast. The East suffered war and nothing has happened.
Do you expect, not just Igbo, but the rest of Nigerians not to have taken note? And in taking note, they realized that this government is not being just, and justice is the foundation of any government that God approves.
You notice that in this period unlike in the past, non-Igbo have jumped to defend Igbo more than ever in our history, why is it so? Because Nigerians are responding to the demand of justice and fairness.
Igbo should go about their businesses, look for nobody’s trouble, but also anybody who comes your way, offends you forgive him, because ultimately non violence in this situation will win over the violence promoters.
The Kanu phenomenon we mentioned is an example. If the government has not adopted violent means to suppress it, he wouldn’t be where he is. Somebody that nobody really knew or cared about has suddenly become a superstar, and it’s a creation of this government. Igbo have nothing to fear and they are capable of defending themselves, because God is there to defend them.
What Igbo went through… I was in the war, I played active role, and at the end of it, I was one of the last to be given what they called security clearance. At the end of the day, the people who have clean hands, God will always protect. God will not only protect the Igbo, but will teach them how to build goodwill with our neigbhours.
In doing this, we start the dialogue of how we will live together in peace with everybody. Another thing I want to say in relation to what the Igbo should do is that all the prophecies about Nigeria… I’m a scientist, but there are areas of life beyond science and that is where prophecy comes, because it belongs to God.
All the prophecies that have come say that Nigeria has a special role that God has assigned it for the end time event that will bring God’s own kind of government.
Before that, God is going to give Nigeria, what He calls David, a man after His heart who will govern this place in righteousness and justice. Igbo have a major role in that new Nigeria that is coming.
From Senate comes a relief for gunshot victims
At the end of 2008, there was a tragic story in the newspapers about a young 8-year old boy that died from a single gunshot wound that could have been treated.
The story was about a bank robbery that happened in Lagos, which culminated in the death of eight civilians. However, the death of the eighth casualty, the young boy, who was hit by a stray bullet, could have been easily avoided. This is because when the child was rushed to a nearby hospital by passersby, the staff of the hospital refused to treat him without a police report. Needless to say, in the time that it took for the police report to be requested for, written out, and transported back to the hospital, the 8-year old boy bled to death.
Issues like the aforementioned story are rampant. We hear about them everyday; read about them in the news; and watch news reports about victims that could have been saved.
However, based on current legal practices, many lives have been lost. This is why, this week, the Senate fast-tracked the passage of the Compulsory Treatment and Care of Victims of Gunshots Bill. The Bill, which was sent to the Senate for concurrence by House of Representatives, seeks to ensure that all victims of gunshot wounds receive necessary treatment from medical workers and assistance from security agencies.
The Senate President, Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki, was right when he stated after the passage of the Bill, that with the Compulsory Treatment and Care of Victims of Gunshots Bill, the Senate has moved to ensure that everyone is entitled to medical treatment irrespective of the cause of the shooting. This is because so many lives have been lost in the absence of this law.
As things stand, innocent victims who have been shot by robbers, must first be rushed to a police station to secure a police report, before they are rushed to the hospital for treatment. This situation, creates victims of people who would otherwise be survival. This is because having a system in place that forces both the good and the bad people who have been shot to first request police reports before going to the hospital, makes the innocent people among them victims of circumstance (i.e. robberies, or stray bullets); victims of the hospitals, who refuse to treat gunshot victims without police reports; victims of the police, who oftentimes do not process these requests in a speedy manner; and victims of Nigeria’s current laws that make police reports mandatory for both law-abiding citizens and criminals alike.
By the passage of the Gunshot Victims Act, the Senate has moved Nigeria one step forward to saving tens of thousands of lives each year. This law has addressed several inadequacies — like ensuring that society has a burden placed on it to ensure that there will be no unnecessary loss of lives.
Moving forward, based on certain provisions of the new law, every person, including security agents must render every possible assistance to any person with gunshot wounds. This assistance includes ensuring that the person that has been shot is taken to the nearest hospital for treatment.
Additionally, the Bill preserves the fundamental rights of gunshot victims by mandating that no person with a bullet wound shall be subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment and that no person with a gunshot wound shall be refused immediate and adequate treatment by any hospital in Nigeria whether or not an initial deposit has been paid or not.
Finally, the Bill takes the approach of several nations, that have a ‘treat first, ask questions later’ mindset. This is because it specifies that it shall be the duty of any hospital that receives any person with a gunshot wound to report the situation to the nearest police station. This amendment puts the horse back in front of the cart, because saving lives must always come before due process.
Moving forward, Nigerians must commend the National Assembly for the passage of this Bill, and urge that it is signed into law by the Acting President. On top of this, the Presidency and the Executive arm must properly orient officers and men of security agencies to comply with the dictates of this law. Doing this, will show the world that we have society that values the lives of our citizens, more than we value the ‘perception of adherence’ to the rule of law.
I rest my case.
Onemola is a Legislative Aide to the Senate President