As you turn 70, what is the state of your mind, what are you thinking about?
I am thinking about Nigeria. I actually believe that Nigeria is an eminently savable society and that we still have a very good chance of returning to those great times with which we set out in the 50s into the 70s. In spite of the corruption and all the bad things you see around you will see that if we had a leader who is serious, it will take the snap of a finger for things to turn around.
Does that mean the problem with Nigeria is that of leadership?
I usually try not to reduce things to leadership, they are very particular. Those who say that they are thinking of the ultimate leadership, the head of the country. But that is not what leadership is all about. Awolowo is the example I usually like to give. All of us can’t be Awolowo. But if there was an Awolowo and there is no Awolowo today, a number of people can come together to decide that what one Awolowo could have done, we can do it. We can industrialise. We can build great cities. It is possible for us to measure up to any Western country today if we put our mind to it. The capacity of the average Nigerian to climb to any height is proved by the successes our people are achieving in America and wherever they go to. I don’t think there is any country that is more creative than Nigerians can be. I am not just bragging. We have a-can-do-spirit. When we entered independence, we almost immediately began to smash the basis of that Can-do spirit, because we must not forget that after the 1959 elections the man who should have been Prime Minister, Nnamdi Azikiwe had conceded 1 year before, in 1958 to become a Governor-General, without Executive Powers. Zik in my view did not quite realise how much he had given away.
He did not know that until 1964 when he tried to use the Army as Commander-In-Chief of the Armed Forces and he discovered that under our Parliamentary system, it was the only the Prime Minister who could order the Army. He did not know that when he started out. Then he gave a very inequitable share out of Nigerian Power & Resources, which enabled him as the NCNC region leader to take over virtually all the jobs in the Public Service. The Western region was the loser region and so their people were thrown into jail and exile, taken off the way. But 4 years later, he discovered that the senior partners in the coalition were not illiterate or stupid because the NPC and the North reaped the kind of benefits that senior partners reap. All the military installations were in the North, the Kainji Dam was in the North, all the railways’ extensions were in the North, virtually all the strategic jobs that were already in the hands of the Igbo echelon had people virtually understudying them, all from the North.
And then, the Iron & Steel industry which an International Consortium had said should go to somewhere near Onitsha, Balewa set up another International Consortium and it was taken to the North.
It was at that point that an election took place in 1964 and Zik refused to invite Balewa to form a government because he said the election had been rigged. There is nothing in our constitution which says Zik can refuse to call the Prime Minister to form a government. When that happened Balewa had to ask himself, what next? What next for him because a matter of using the army, Zik has put them under protective study in the statehouse. He had written a speech in the morning saying I won’t call Balewa to form a government, but after that custody, people had to tell him the kind of issues that will arise, for instance as Billy Dudley wrote in a footnote to his book Instability & Political Order they had to let Zik know that only 2 medical opinions were required to prove that he was not in the frame of mind to take any decision. By the time they told Zik that, he knew the game was up. He wrote another speech calling Balewa to form a government. But from that moment onwards every political party in Nigeria was looking for a means of changing the government illegally.
All that happened politically in the early 60s, especially after Independence is the kind of stories that every Nigerian child ought to be taught. The reason we got ourselves enmeshed in all the crisis that rocked Nigeria in the 60s is that we refused to design a means of just sharing Nigeria’s resources.
And so, it became a case of whoever can seize and control the Federal Government can do what it liked.
Look, by that 1964, those who took power were doing everything to make sure that the opposition and anybody who was not in power with them, could not get a good or fair hearing. While every political party was looking for a means of overdoing the other, you can imagine how it will look like.
It was on the day that Zik refused to call Balewa to form a government that Ojukwu went to meet Nnamdi Azikiwe to say let us carry out a coup. Zik of course refused. He said he cannot stand soldiers. I also know that if they had met someone like Awolowo too, he would have asked them to go to hell.
Once that became the way of the world, everybody was planning. Ahmadu Bello’s coup was supposed to have taken place on the 17th of January, so the January 15 boys moved their own coup 2 days back, in other to play a fast one.
I keep believing that its because they had to move their coup 2-days back, that all those rough edges showed which made their coup not to be welcome as the coup would have been.
Lets face it. The coup failed. But the coup succeeded because they smashed the civilian ethic in Natonal governance.
We didn’t need to have entered a civil war, but Ironsi, the military leader did not pay attention to governance. Many of his supporters or followers, especially in the civilian population did not realise that taking over a government is not enough, you must run a government.
They seemed to have put so much into roughening up those they had removed from power, than putting in place how to create a stable government. So that, while people were plotting how to remove them from power, Ironsi did not really know what was going on. That is to say Ironsi was Head of State but all the field reports from various military sources, he had no time for them. That was why, the pogrom, when it began, took them unaware.
I have said it several times that the pogrom was organised by friends of the Igbo in the North. What I have always said is that the planners and executors of the January 15 coup ought to have been arrested. They should have been dealt with. If they had been properly arrested and proper measures are taken to deal with them, it will have provided a basis for moving on.
So, the usual Nigerian way of doing things happened. Instead of blaming the coup makers who were identifiable and well known, all Igbo people were being blamed for that coup.
In the same way, all the people who planned the pogroms in the North were well known. If we had a system that believed in Justice, they could just have been arrested the way the coup-makers were arrested. But this is a country where justice does not interest people.
In both ways, whether against the North or against the East, you can say that those who made the coup happen are those who made the program happen. They committed virtually the same kind of crime. They should have been taken care off, But because they were not taken care of a whole nationality was caused wrongly.
Northerners were blamed, in the way Easterners and Igbo people were blamed. We are almost in that kind of situation today where leaders who are Fulanis in various power positions are putting all Fulanis in the world in trouble by insisting that they must take over Nigeria as a matter of entitlement. It is a mad scheme. And the Fulani’s in power who have allowed it to continue for as long as it has are loonies. They have no sense of how to build a society that will last. The truth is even if you succeed in pouring all those kids in trailer loads into the forests and urban jungles of Southern Nigeria, all they can create is chaos. The basis for building a better society is not in them, and it is not in those who are sending them to the South to commit mayhem that is still coming, apart from the ones that we have already experienced. One way to look at it is if Nigeria which is under a leadership that is nationally Fulani, cannot design a proper and healthy system to make sure that Fulanis live a good and healthy life, when are they going to manage to run a society that is made up of majority who are not Fulani and how can we trust them to take care of the rest of us, if they can’t even take care of their own people.
Because what they are doing to their own Fulani in Nigeria and the world, is a mad scheme. You are forcing them to go through so much indignity, throwing them into very precarious situation so that at some point in the near future, they will be in a position to create oddities for all other Nigerians.
There is no sign of hope of something positive that they mean for society. People who operate on that basis belong to a loony fringe of any society. It is wrong for such a loony fringe to be dominant at the centre of a country’s history but at the moment that appears to be the case. And the rest of us are supposed to be so self-understanding that, as they are telling the farmers in Benue. Somebody says: Your land or your life, and you say they should be embraced because we have to be nice to strangers. When the strangers have Klashnikors and you do not have a pin to reply, what kind of country are you trying to build? What kind of country can be built in an environment in which some speak with Kalashnikov and others are required to embrace the man who is not ready to embrace you?
In all of these, it is important that we don’t lose track of the kind of country that we wanted to build. We set out all believing that it was possible to build a multi-ethnic nation of nationalities. So many people have opposed the idea of a nation of nationalities because they think that to recognise ethnicity is to allow for permanent divisions. That is not true or correct. The truth is simply that if you have to build a nation of nationalities, it means that all of us will put what we have on the table and discuss and determine how to move in way that makes it possible for the whole country to be like a ladder moving towards some identified goal.
To refuse to discuss it, is to make it impossible for us to ever understand each other at all on any basis. And to make it possible for people to lie and use violence as a basis for relating to fellow countrymen and women.
It is simply not possible for them to achieve whatever they say they want because if you take over enough number of places by force, it means you will create in Nigeria, a generation of violent people whose villages, even after they have been taken over, will become sites of permanent anarchy and war.
What do you think will happen if people who speak a language different from you are poured into your village and suddenly you are a minority, your farms are taken over?
They no longer allow your people to go to farms, so hunger is confronting you and you are required to just sit down there and die of hunger. Common! Even animals in the bush, when they are pushed to that point, they turn and fight. We hope Nigerians are not pushed to the point where the only thing they think of when they think of their neighbours is to fight. No, because Nigeria was a happy country. We must remain happy people.