Why Igbo youths are very angry — George Obiozor
•Britain favours the north and tolerates the south
•Older generation losing control of the youths
Former Director General of Nigeria Institute of International Affairs, NIIA, and Nigeria Ambassador to the United States, George Obiozor, has joined his voice to the growing call for peace and increased national cohesion in the face of growing agitations and hate speeches in the country.
The diplomat in an encounter with Vanguard recently, pointed out that Nigeria is better united and urged the leadership of the country to restructure economically, politically and culturally, even while advising the Federal Government to engage Igbo and Arewa youths who have been issuing quit notices and ultimatums in a useful discussion for a more united and prosperous country.
By CHIOMA GABRIEL, EDITOR, SPECIAL FEATURES
There is tension across Nigeria. People are agitating for all kinds of things; some are agitating for secession, some restructuring and some referendum. Where do you stand?
I believe Nigeria should be restructured, and I’m talking about political restructuring here. Restructuring has become imperative in Nigeria. We must do that in order to remain one united country. The problem is that the federalism that Nigerian leaders used in getting the independence, that formed the constitution, which the governments at different levels were using to operate after independence was dropped.
That constitution that gave regions the legitimacy and the authority to act was wiped out by military interregnum, because the military could not operate the federal system of government. The military believes in the command and the unitary system and dropped the constitution which the regions operated and this has been the continuous feature of Nigerian governments since the civil war. Every regime has tinkered with the idea of restructuring Nigeria to make it governable and more harmonious to peaceful co-existence among Nigerians.
Are you saying that even at independence there was no unity?
There was unity but the unity recognised diversity and that is the federal system, where the regions were autonomous and were contributing to sustain the federal government with about fifty per cent of the resources they had. Their authorities and development priorities were with them, they developed at their own paces and each of them had principal products that they were distinguished with.
If you look at those who want resource control, it is clear that you cannot produce 100% and be given 13% and even at that 13%, you are being assaulted, abused by those who contribute little or nothing to that resources. That is the issue in Nigeria and that is what restructuring will address. Restructuring will make Nigeria more politically acceptable to the generality of the people and more stable.
You talked about restructuring but some people are asking for other things…
The issue here is that some are asking for restructuring, some are asking for self-determination and others are asking for secession and these have their own reasons. In fact, the problem Nigeria has today, North, East, West or South is the youths. The youths are saying that what their fathers are able to endure, they will not endure. So, they are fighting. Whether you are talking about IPOB or MASSOB in Igboland, these are young men who were not even born at the time of the Nigeria-Biafra war and the situation that caused the civil war at that time is still here with us and it’s bothering them.
These youths are therefore saying that what their parents and grandparents endured, they cannot endure and they want to fight it. They are looking at their own present and future generations. That is why it is no longer an easy business for MASSOB, IPOB, Arewa boys or the Oodua Peoples Congress, OPC. The truth of the matter is that the older generation is losing control of the youths. Like every generation, they want to fight to solve their own problem.
In the South-East, there is this permanent complaint about marginalisation…
You should know it. Look at the appointments in the country and you should see for yourself the issue of marginalisation. All these problems that you are talking about emanated from the failure of leadership and it has been the greatest problem of Nigerians. Great leaders in every country were able to handle crises such as we have because they showed capacity to rise above ethnic and regional prejudices. They maintained leadership that was able to uphold justice for all, equity and fairness and respect for all citizens. In all sincerity, Nigeria needs great leaders. Nigeria needs heroes because leaders have failed the country several times.
You are talking about past leaders?
Of course, some of them were abysmal failures. Some of the leaders could not transcend the ethnic or regional prejudices and it gets worse as the leaders get worse. You can see the whole situation. All these problems that we have today, many of them have been contained in the past but they are starting again. We have had occasions of chronic parochial leadership which must stop.
Like the Jonathan regime?
Definitely, not true. You can say whatever you like about the past administration but the issue here is that you have to look at the situation. You talked about whether Igbos are marginalised. You should look at it and see for yourself from the list of who is where and who is who in Nigeria.
Don’t you agree that some of the problems we have in Nigeria are caused by the elites?
The elites determine the destiny of any country. There are some incoherent elites that we have. These incoherent elites cannot even take care of their own interests, let alone take care of the interest of their own people. That’s why there is a vacuum created in the system. It’s really managed from the top by leadership. We need the leadership that is right, we need the leadership that is strong enough, fair enough, transparent enough and nationalistic enough to hold the country.
Now, talking about the Igbo question and the travails of the Igbo in Nigeria, do you think if an Igbo man becomes the president of Nigeria, the agitations will cease?
Who told you that if an Igbo man becomes president, there will be no more agitations. If the Igbo man is partial, if the Igbo man is parochial, if the Igbo man is biased, then the people will also vote against him. What Nigeria needs is a great leader, a good leader. In fact, Nigeria has reached a point where the leadership of the country is not determined by where you come from but your ability in terms of what you can offer to the country, what you can do.
If a leader is good, you don’t even ask where he comes from. Countries that have good leaders don’t even bother about where the leaders come from. But when a country has a problem such as we have and nothing is being done as quickly as possible as a response to the national crisis, then what do you think the people would do?
So in your ratings, the leadership in Nigeria today is not equitable?
How is it equitable when everything is lopsided. Take a look yourself at any institution you like and examine the level of equity in it. Look at the issue of federal revenue allocation. Have you read the publications of Ann-Kio Briggs? Look at the issue of revenue from oil and how it is shared. The details will shock you. Go and find the list of appointments in Nigeria in different areas.
The list will shock you. Go and see even the list of retirements in Nigeria in some of the agencies. The list will shock you. So, the instability we are talking about is emanating from the failure of leadership and insensitivity in the way we do things. Look at even the political restructuring that people are talking about. They want to tell you that restructuring Nigeria is anti-corruption.
Look at what is in place. You talked about the South-East, every zone has six states but South-East has five. Is that good? And if they speak ,you’d say they are talking about marginalisation.
A just leader will not leave things that way. If that visible difference is not marginalisation, then what is it? It affects everything else: revenue sharing, membership in the federal house, membership in the senate and everything affecting the south east.
When the people are complaining, a good leader should look into what is going on and redress injustice whether it is real or imagined. That’s how it is done in decent countries.
Many people think the civil war never really ended…
That is exactly the issue here. The average Igbo knows he is suffering because the civil war of over 50 years ago never ended. There is no doubt that the war didn’t end. It continued in other ways.
People are asking what Igbos want in Nigeria and I tell you, Igbos want justice. People who ask what Igbos want are so prejudiced and narrow-minded. What the Igbos want is unity, but not unity of slave and masters.
Do you think Igbo leaders are handling these problems the right way?
No leadership goes to the maximum of what is expected of them easily but the truth is, what instrument are they going to use to do the job? And some of those leadership are manipulated from outside. There are leaders and there are leaders.
The leaders are failing the people, they are not speaking with one voice.
People are putting the blame on them but you have to see that even these are victims of the system.
And what voice are you looking for? A people cannot speak with one voice when they have been intimidated and frightened as the people of South East. The South-East people have been frightened by the system. How can they control what they didn’t create?? The Igbo and their leaders are victims of the system they find themselves. That is the lopsidedness of the federal system and that is why we talk about restructuring. The citizens of South-East are in near-permanent disadvantage. So, you have to look at the situation in a wholistic way.
But many people still say they don’t understand what restructuring is all about.
What don’t they know? How many states do we have in the country? We have 36 states and Abuja. Nineteen are in the North. How many local governments do we have in Nigeria? 774. 416 of them are in one place. See for yourself that the general application of the law of decency does not exist in the governance in Nigeria.
There is no equity, justice and fairness. Throughout history, those denied justice have no interest in peace. People should stop talking about unity but should emphasise on justice, equity and fairness. Then unity will come on its own.
So, restructuring is political self-determination, control of one’s resources, development at your own pace, respect for the cultural and religions interest of the different people of Nigeria. Nigerians problem today is primarily due to the lopsided federal structure which is like a stick of dynamite waiting to be detonated.
It calls for immediate FG attention, not intimidation or use of force but the politics of healing of the nation.
Let’s look at it from the point of the north versus the south. The north does not believe in restructuring…
The north is the sole beneficiary of the lopsidedness of the federal system which is actually the creation of the military. There is no single state or local government in Nigeria that was created by a southern leader. We must look at what has happened.
If everything is in your interest, what do you do? Unless you are a statesman, unless you have a sense of equity and justice, unless you have a sense of fairness and you want the country to survive, because there is no way injustice will prevail.
We will get things right. We are already there. The ‘leaders’ willy or nilly have been doing very much to restructure and redistribute power in Nigeria. We need to produce a framework we had under Abacha, Vision 2010; three years ago, in 2014 , we had a national conference, one of the best.
Believe me, all these things will end in bringing a better structure in governance, both political and economic, social and cultural, so that the whole people in Nigeria will enjoy peace and genuine unity. Nobody wants to look at it. The report is there.
But there are people who it is in their interest that no restructuring will take place. That is selfishness that is not expected in a plural society like Nigeria. There must be some level of statesmanship in order to have a federation, tolerance and capacity to have empathy and see what the others are suffering.
But you cannot create stability by force. Governance by intimidation is over all over the world including Nigeria. No place in the world will tolerate what is happening in Nigeria. It is by negotiation, by discussion and certainly by good leadership. Every country has its own unique problem but then, it is left for the leaders to sort out what restructuring is.
People who say they don’t understand restructuring are being dishonest. The system we have before the civil war was a federal constitution.
After that war, nothing else we ever had was a federal constitution but constitutions done under the military regime which actually has its limitations in creation of democracy or a democratic society.
Nigeria needs political restructuring now because the federation we have does not suit a plural society. We’re too many people in one country whose specific aspirations cannot be met with the institutions that the military left behind.
We must restructure Nigeria in accordance with the reality and aspirations of the people. That will reduce the tension. That will reduce the agitations. That will create some sense of well being and make governance easier, that is what we are saying.
To be continued
- Previous Vice President Osibanjo to commission Edo fertilizer plant
- Next Cost of funds to fall as N193bn inflow is set to boost interbank liquidity