Spokesman of the Northern Elders Forum, Prof Ango Abdullahi has declared that the North is fully prepared for Nigeria’s break up if that will make component parts agitating for separate countries or restructuring happy. He explains his position in details in this interview with ABDULLAHI HASSAN in Zaria, Kaduna state.
Some South East leaders have accused Northern Elders of sabotaging efforts to restructure the country. What is your reaction to this?
You see the issue of restructuring is one of the fundamental issues that shape Nigerian history from 1914 up to 1960. In fact, we are not aware of any sabotage, may be the South East leaders were working on assumption. But if restructuring will save Nigeria, I think it is a matter that affects every Nigerian including those in the North and we are ready to engage in it to correct the anomalies in Nigeria starting from 1914.
How do you see the agitation for the creation of Biafra Republic?
You see, the issue of Biafra is all part of the discussion of restructuring Nigeria. Yes, if Biafra means negotiations, yes, it’s all a matter of discussion, if it means Igbo want to have a country of their own separate from Nigeria, it means a matter of discussion and we are prepared for the discussion.
This is all I have been saying that if Nigerians are tired of staying together, they should be prepared to accept divisions instead of remaining in agony and disappointment of one another.
Are you saying that Nnamdi Kanu is fighting a just cause?
You see, what I am saying is that every Nigerian should be able to speak his opinion about the state of the country, and the country has laws. If it is discovered that the law of a country is violated, that some somebody has gone beyond his fundamental rights, the law is very clear on this . What perhaps government is concerned about is that violence was part of Kanu’s agitation, to realize his dream by force, I think that is what government is trying to tackle to my understanding. What do we mean by restructuring Nigeria? Restructuring Nigeria may mean adjusting the country to serve better interest of the people. So if Kanu is talking about Biafra, he is free to talk about Biafra and everybody is free to talk about his understanding of the Nigerian state. We are always talking that the Nigerian state is not working and how can we make it to work? And if the best option, is to call for separate countries, why not?
What is the stand of the Northern Elders Forum on this?
Well, if you read our communiqué in Kano recently, we categorically stated that the Northern Elders Forum is prepared to engage in any discussion with any group that is supporting restructuring of Nigeria, so, this means that we are fully supporting restructuring.
Does this represent the interest of the North, despite the fact that there are many Northerners who are against the idea of restructuring Nigeria?
Yes, I am not saying that all Northerners are supporting restructuring Nigeria, I am not claiming that all what I said was supported by all Northerners,. I am not saying that at all. I ought to speak only as spokesman of Northern Elders Forum, which can not deprive me of my personal opinion or my personal conviction, so most of what I said are my personal opinion.
What can Nigeria benefit from this restructuring that we have not benefited before?
You see, one has to ask what are the benefits under this current arrangement, which put together had not been benefited before? If we are saying that Nigerians have no benefits under secular arrangement, that is a simple matter, it means if Nigerians are still complaining after many years , it means they don’t benefit much, and there are options that can be considered which include separating the country on the basis that people are living together but not happy with one another.
What kind of restructuring are you agitating for at the moment?
Our concept on restructuring was based on Prof. Ben. Nwabuaze’s position on restructuring Nigeria where he said that Lord Lugard made mistake in 1914 by bringing North and South together. This is the starting point on restructuring which should include that the country should be divided between the North and South for the good of the people . You can see many people are now agitating for restructuring on belief that Lord Lugard made a mistake by conquering nations and bringing them together without consulting Nigerians who they occupied their territories. The other way you can look at the issue of restructuring is perhaps by forgiving the past mistakes by going where we were from 1914 to 1960 and go back to regionalism. Because in 1960, when we became a federation with only three regions , each region was independent with its own constitution.
The regions were serving Nigeria better with very small states. But now, many want to eat their cake and still have it. You see I am 80 years old, and I know very well what happened in those days, when Gen. Gowon was under pressure to create more states, though he eventually created 12 states, we later moved to 19 states, to 23 and 36 states. With all these states, yet we are not happy. So, we believe that these are issues that we can discuss, by the various groups that relate with each in the country.
Do you think the operators of the current power structure, the three tiers and arms of government in the country will support this idea?
It is true nobody wants to relinquish power on his own .If you go back to history now, to the first person who created states in Nigeria, my elder brother, Gen Yakubu Gowon, who led the country through civil war, believe you me, he will be the last person to accept that Nigeria should dissolve, he will never agree to that. The same with other Nigerian rulers and military Generals who fought the civil war, especially Mr President, they will never like to hear that Nigeria will disintegrate. But if you look at it very carefully, many in position of responsibility; governors, senators, ministers and local government councils chairmen, many of them are between the ages of 35 and 50, so they are not familiar with the history of Nigeria because they were too young when all the mess of civil war happened.
The country passed through difficulties especially the Igbo. If you look at that experience, you should be able to appreciate the progress or lament the problems the nation is into.
I think that is what the Igbo want to address, which perhaps by separation they would have consolation and progress fast just like the arrangement of 1960.