Saturday, January 30, 2016 2:19 pm
Convener of the Change Ambassadors of Nigeria, CAN, and popular political analyst, Chris Nwaokobia, is not happy with the way some South-eastern Nigeria people are agitating for the Biafran republic. Nwaokobia, who played a major role in the electoral victory of President Muhammadu Buhari in 2015, instead lists what the people should struggle for in this interview. EROMOSELE EBHOMELE was there.
Q: Let’s know how you adopted the social media #One Kobo.
A: The truth is that the name actually struck because I was thinking about how we can give everything Nigerian some sense of value. I grew up in a country where one kobo could do a lot, I grew up in a country where I could buy my meals, while going to school, with one kobo, where I could buy groundnut with one kobo. And I wasn’t born in the 1960s but in the 1970s. If in the 70s one kobo still had value, for me it’s been just how I can contribute to country and make a sense of value in almost everything we do in this country and how we can challenge our leadership to making sure that they fix our economy. The truth is that if we are able to fix our economy, our currency will be strengthened and our children would begin to know, yet again, what one kobo means. It is a way of re-building some kind of patriotism, passion and love for country.
Secondly, in terms of values and morals, I also think that putting my writings under the #OneKobo is invariably trying to tell our people that little good things matter. If we, at every level do that which is expected of us; if you are street sweeper and you sweep well, if you are a cobbler and you make good pairs of shoes, if you are a tailor and you are good at what you do, the society would recognise you. It is not so much about the 100 of millions of naira, the billions of naira…in every little thing we do, we must be the best and give it our best shot. I am looking at how we can rediscover our values as a people and in terms of our morals and morality, economy, and as a nation.
I do not think those calling for Biafra have studied the full details. For me, it is a question mark on the collective conscience of federation. The reasons are simple: the South-east is the only region in the country that has five states as opposed to the other regions, some of which have six and seven. And you have three major tribes in this country, the Yoruba, the Igbos and the Hausas. And it smacks of some kind of inequality, inequity and unfairness in terms of allocation of states.
Q: Talking about recovering values, how did we get to this sorry state as a nation?
A: Interestingly, we got here because our founding fathers refused to entrench strong values in leadership. For them, it was: “let us keep going.” They didn’t create for us monuments of reference and deterrence, they didn’t create strong examples for us; so at every point, they were patching up things. The words: “let’s take it easy, change will come gradually” built up what I call ‘the tranquilising drug of gradualism’. We lost every fight for excellence. If you look at it, every time you asked for that which is excellent, they tell you: “let’s just manage what we have now.” So we built on very shaky foundations, we built our enterprise on a perversive mediocrity.
And so when people do what is wrong, rather than insist on correction, they say: “let’s just manage, things will get better.” Unfortunately for our country, that became a way of life. Those who had stolen…just like some arguments now where people are saying: “if corrupt people return money, leave them.” We are not mindful of posterity or the future. That’s how we lost it. It became a degenerating situation because our founding fathers did not build a strong moral or corrective situations. Don’t forget that even some of our founding fathers were indicted by the Willink’s Commission in 1957/1958, but nobody insisted on it.
And sadly, as you and I talk, a few days ago, on the 15th of January, the same people who were allegedly corrupt and for whose corruptive atrocity Chukwuma Nzeogwu overthrew the 1966 civilian government, are being repackaged as national heroes. I saw almost every Nigerian politician, including my brother, Pat Utomi, celebrating Festus Okotie-Eboh on the 15th of January. I saw Maitama Sule telling us how one of the greatest nationalist was Festus Okotie-Eboh. And then, the contrast is that you are talking about a country like ours. Okotie-Eboh was known for opulence and affluence. In the midst of plenty, his people were in poverty; and then you make these people heroes of Nigeria? We have a problem, we have a disconnect; people are struggling to immortalise individuals who did not do anything to entrench strong values in this country. We lost it when our national honours protocols became a batter and a bazaar for politicians, we lost it when every politician who occupied a political office, whether he ruled Nigeria well or not, got a national honour. And even when he is indicted for corruption, nobody takes away the national honour. And I think what we must do as a country is to begin to re-work our collective morality and values, we must begin to ask strong questions.
I think the call for Biafra is a call for equity, justice and true brotherhood, both those insisting on Biafra as a separate territory do not have my blessings, I do not believe in it. This is because, primarily, my brothers in the South-east must first look inwards. The South-east leadership has failed, sizeably in developing that space and this is point number one. Point number two is that those who think that Nigeria is a problem of the Igbo man are unaware of the present reality.
What we must do as a country is to start first by removing convicted people like Lucky Igbinedion from the national honours list. People like Tafa Balogun, Dipreye Alamieyeseigha, we must remove them from honours list. Anybody who has been indicted and convicted by a court of law for any wrong-doing should be removed from our national protocols. That is the first place to start with. You don’t have a country where a person like Bode George that had been convicted becomes a major political stakeholder in the party that wanted to return to power. It is an error, once you are convicted for criminality, corruption or untoward conduct, you lose your political significance because the people will brand you a shame. These are the things we must begin to do-create new values, paradigms, inspire strong faith in the Nigerian enterprise. For me, it does not matter where anybody is from. That’s why I have continued to argue that we must replace indigene-ship with citizenship, we must replace state of origin with state of birth. The reasons are simple, I have cousins who can’t speak Igbo.
They are from Delta State and some of them are 40 years old, but in these 40 years, some of them have not spent more than two years in Delta State; they were born here in Lagos and speak Yoruba better than they speak Igbo. And somebody says: oh! He’s not an indigene. It is injustice and unfair because they know nothing about Delta, all they know is Lagos. And every society that has moved out of poverty, despondency, and ethnic hate left it based on the fact that they inspire brotherhood. What am I trying to say? The way to inspire brotherhood is to put “place of birth” above “state of origin.
Q: You talk and act like a nationalist, but how do you place the current agitation for the Republic of Biafra with you stand on nationalism?
A: The call by some people for the Republic of Biafra, to me, is a question mark on the Nigerian federation. I do not think those calling for Biafra have studied the full details. For me, it is a question mark on the collective conscience of federation. The reasons are simple: the South-east is the only region in the country that has five states as opposed to the other regions, some of which have six and seven. And you have three major tribes in this country, the Yoruba, the Igbos and the Hausas. And it smacks of some kind of inequality, inequity and unfairness in terms of allocation of states.
I think the call for Biafra is a call for equity, justice and true brotherhood, both those insisting on Biafra as a separate territory do not have my blessings, I do not believe in it. This is because, primarily, my brothers in the South-east must first look inwards. The South-east leadership has failed, sizeably in developing that space and this is point number one. Point number two is that those who think that Nigeria is a problem of the Igbo man are unaware of the present reality. I once asked somebody: “if you think Nigeria is the problem, what was the problem between the Umuleri man and the Agwuleri man when they went against themselves for years and were killing themselves? It is almost like what happened between the Ife man and the Modakeke man. I think ethnic and clanish tendencies will not do us any good in this world that is gradually becoming a global bedroom. The world is removing from a global village.
If you want to advance a separatist agenda, you do it peacefully and get your territory understood. I have asked people talking about Biafra: “where is this new Biafran territory? They say the whole of the South-east and the South-south and the South-south man is saying: “I don’t belong to Biafra.” So even if you were to canvass an argument, you don’t have a territory. The South-east is alone and land-locked as it were, the South-south is saying it wants to remain in Nigeria. I think that what my brothers in the South-east must do is to canvass responsible and responsive governance.
I once asked somebody: “if you think Nigeria is the problem, what was the problem between the Umuleri man and the Agwuleri man when they went against themselves for years and were killing themselves? It is almost like what happened between the Ife man and the Modakeke man. I think ethnic and clanish tendencies will not do us any good in this world that is gradually becoming a global bedroom. The world is removing from a global village.
It was in the same South-east where my brothers are angling for Biafra that a former governor chased away all non-Abia people from the civil service. These are people from Imo, Anambra, Enugu and Ebonyi. He said the civil service was only for Abian indigenes. These are the same people asking for Biafra. It is laughable. Now, check out the level of cronyism. I heard that a governor of our ruling party has sacked quite a lot of workers and is not paying; and then you ask yourself: “is it in the same South-east where we cannot unite and love ourselves truly, the same south-east where you have our brothers selling fuel at the highest price as opposed to every other region that we would be talking about Biafra?”
Q: So what can be done?
A: What we must do first is to talk about brotherhood, love for ourselves and move from there to talk about a responsible and responsive leadership in the South-east, and then move from that to demanding justice within the Nigerian federation. I believe that the only people who have truly, and I say this advisedly, made this country their home is the Igbo man. So the few people who say they need Biafra are not in sync with reality. Go to Kano; after the indigenous population, the second largest are the Igbos. Come to Lagos, after the indigenous Yoruba population, the next highest are the Igbos.
These are people who have travelled in search of livelihood and advancement of commerce because they believe in Nigeria. And I know that 90 per cent of these people do not believe in the Biafran story and struggle. What is important, by my own understanding is that Biafra is a call for justice, equity and true brotherhood in the Nigerian federation. How well have we integrated, since the war, our Igbo brothers? How well have we accepted them much as they have accepted us? How well have we given them the opportunities to play? I think these are natural argument that proceed from the Biafran agitation. Outside that, the question that proceeds from the Biafran territory is absolutely not in sync with the realities of history.
Look at the argument, everybody who talks argues about Biafra is almost insulting another person. MASSOB leader will insult everybody who does not accept the concept of Biafra, then the Indigenous People of Biafra led by Nnamdi Kanu, will insult everybody and call Nigerians inhabitants of a zoo. And I do sincerely believe that the intellectual content of the Biafran agitation is lacking and that would tell you that those agitating for Biafra are not good students of history. I want to say, with the greatest sense of respect, that I believe in the Nigerian federation and believe that this country is Africa’s opportunity to rule the world, step to the height of global thinking and together, we can remove this country from poverty, disease, hopelessness and want to the amazing place of promise.
Q: You vigorously campaigned for President Buhari in the 2015 election. How will you assess his administration so far?
A: The simple words are clear-the regime is slow but steady. It is taking this country away from the business-as-usual tendencies, it is bringing new paradigms in governance and bringing moral margins in leadership. It is raising questions about governance and leadership must be accountable to the Nigerian people. The fundamentals are clear: after eight months, we see a new fight against corruption whether some people see as selective. I do not see it as selective. We have the ‘armsgate’ to contend with. So we cannot leave those who deliberately and directly refuse to arm the Armed Forces and allow our soldiers die in battle and leave our sisters and mothers in the hands of the haramists without proper probe.
For those saying he should start from other administrations, all over the world, probe of corruption in regimes begin with your immediate predecessor. So I do not think our dear President has done anything wrong. He is on course, the only advice is that he deals with those who are less enmeshed in the stinking politics of our past and surround himself with people who are able to tell him the truth at all times. I know that this regime will take us from poverty and sooner than later, our economy will pick up again because this government is boisterously pursuing the local content, driving our economy from within and ensuring that the Nigerian people grow wealth.
Importantly, we must ensure we do something about our power. That is the challenge our big brother, Babatunde Raji Fashola, has on his hands. I will disagree with the extent of increasing tariff for power when we have not increased power supply to homes. I think that we should ask the Discos to source for funds, get the prepaid metres around the country for the next one or two years before you begin to talk about increase in tariff. As for the issues of toll-gates, you can only toll rods that have been fixed. That is my advice.
As to the issue of whether the country will move forward, we can see that eight months into this regime, not one Nigerian territory is under Boko Haram control. I know that increasingly, the ability of the Haramist to carry out major damage has been brought down. I know that with God on our side, we will move away from this chord of poverty to the amazing place of promise.