Professor Uzodinma Nwala is the President of Alaigbo Development Foundation (ADF), a body of the Igbo intelligentsia and one of the foremost socio-political organisations in Igboland.
Nwala, who is a former President of the Nigerian Philosophical Association, alleges that insecurity in Nigeria is jihadist agenda.
Governor Nasir el-Rufai recently said zoning should be discarded for competence in 2023 presidency, what do you think was responsible for that?
First, let us begin from the agitation for a quota system that was invoked in the 70s and 80s because merit, when applied meant that most of the positions were taken by Igbo people and other southerners who were more educated, more competent in the system and so on. So you had very few northerners in the system. Have you seen the video being circulated where Sir Ahmadu Bello was saying that they were not going to engage Igbo people in the public service in the North and that he preferred taking foreigners to allowing Igbo people to dominate their public service?
He was scared of the education and competence of the Igbo people, even in those early days. It was paranoia that led to the northernisation policy which excluded Igbo people. Rather, such positions were reserved exclusively for northerners whether they were qualified or not. Even in education sector, regarding admissions, they created their own admissions standards whereby they had Mature Student Programme in which people with very low level Islamic certificates were given admissions into institutions of higher learning, at times for shorter periods and they received the same certificates as those who had spent years and earned higher level certificates.
By the time the debate was ongoing over the 1979 Constitution, the North had succeeded in getting the South to agree on the principle of quota in employment, admissions and other areas. Incidentally, the quota principle was applied mainly to the senior cadre level selection but not at the junior level.
What this development meant was that a constitutional backing had been given to elevate mediocrity over merit and education. In effect, what this development meant was that there was no more competence, no more merit. Higher level positions were to be shared pro rata among the various zones. This is the philosophy and rationale behind the famous quota system in the federation.
And yet the quota system was on paper. As far as the North was concerned, power and resources were increasingly dominated by the North. By the time we came to the 1994-95 National Constitutional Conference, the issue of equity and justice was raised by the South and the Middle Belt (North Central) delegates, and we settled it finally with the provision of Federal Character as the basis for power and resource sharing in the federation. When we agreed on six geo-political zones as the basis for power and resources sharing, we firmed up the principle of Federal Character. So we then said ‘okay, positions should be shared or assigned to the six zones on equal bases’.
We didn’t even emphasise on merit at the time because it was obvious that no one was interested in merit or competence, not the northern leadership. In the end, the principle of Federal Character was affirmed in the sharing of positions that were multiple. But in the case of the Presidency and governorship, we agreed on the principle of rotation. The Presidency was to rotate among the six geopolitical zones in a South-North alternation. In the case of the governors, it should be rotated among the three senatorial zones in each state. At that time, there was grim determination among some of the statesmen at that conference, whose numbers came from different parts of the federation to try and save the federation from disintegration. The Federal Character principle was to be applied to the armed forces, in the areas of recruitment, promotion and even in the citing of military installations, etc.
Although the northern political hawks used General Abdusalami Abubakar to torpedo the patriotic decisions of the 1994-95 Constitutional Conference, when we formed the Peoples Democratic Party, many of us who were leaders of the G-34 and who had worked hard to see if there could be a genuine post-military political dispensation, were still determined to uphold those key elements we had agreed on, and in fact, voted for. One of such decisions was the implementation of the principle of rotation, zoning and Federal Character. You can see what is happening today; the principle of quota is gone, the principle of rotation is gone, the principle of zoning is gone and the principle of Federal Character has been thrown into the dustbin. Thus, all the basic democratic ingredients that could hold the polity together have been completely eroded. And Nigeria has truly become the estate of the children of Usmanu dan Fodio. Nigeria has fully and truly become colonised. But can we blame the children of Usman dan Fodio alone? I doubt if we can. When in 2016, (Asiwaju) Bola Ahmed Tinubu declared that zoning and rotation were the affair of the PDP and had nothing to do with the All Progressives Congress, I knew we were in for a very cold winter.
When people say that basic principles that should keep a multi-national state together no longer matter and should no longer be operational, then it means that you have dissolved the federation. Thus, those that have seized the federation are telling us how they want to run the state.
That is what Governor el-Rufai is telling us. What else do you want me to say? The Fulani have permanently taken over power. Fulani settlements have been established all over the place. (There are plans to have) RUGA, cattle grazing colonies and (there are) moves to take over all waterways, etc. They have taken over the executive, legislature, judiciary, security agencies and armed forces, bureaucracy, economy, foreign affairs, etc. El-Rufai is daring you to do your worst.
So you think the northerners might want to hold on to power beyond 2023?
What do you think el-Rufai is telling you? He is telling you that they intend to hold on to power indefinitely. And when somebody also said that they might even enact a law in the National Assembly to make Buhari President for life, do you have any doubt that it is going to be so with the way things are?
But even a southerner in this government, Rotimi Amaechi, once said the Igbo people cannot produce the President in 2023 for not voting for the APC, what do you think about that?
Who is Rotimi? I mean who is Rotimi Amechi?
He is the current ministry of transport.
Who does he represent? What does he represent? I am asking you.
What do you think about the state of security in Nigeria?
Well, you were not at Owerri the other day when we held the 2019 Igbo National Summit on Peace Security and Development, we discussed and eventually affirmed an agenda Ndigbo should follow if they want to survive in the present political and economic onslaught against them. There are basic things we have to do to protect ourselves; that was the essence of the summit. The summit has said that the governors, state Houses of Assembly should ensure the passage of a law against the roaming of cattle and other animals (in the region). It is against Igbo culture because we are an agrarian society; it is against our survival as an agricultural society and so on. They should do what Benue has done; pass a law against open grazing. Once it is passed, both the people and the law-abiding and law enforcement officers should be able to enforce and defend that.
The summit also called on all Igbo citizens, town unions and everybody to make sure that the community vigilance groups protect the people. You can see what the South-West people have done; they are now setting up security teams comprising the people to comb their forests and flush out criminals, marauders, and those who want to take over their territory. That is what we should do throughout Alaigbo (Igboland). Such a law should be passed and everybody should be part of it. It is not just an affair of the governors alone; everybody should be part of it. We can protect our place and defend ourselves. We don’t even need a presidential permit to set up such a security system in Alaigbo and that is the challenge we all have now. Everybody should be active in their town unions and other local organisations. Every town can defend itself and every patriotic citizen should support their town and bring out money to provide gadgets for their town unions and local vigilantes. That is what we should do. We should not sit down and cry. If there are Fulani colonies in our place and those illegal colonies threaten our security and make it difficult for our farmers to go to their farms or destroy their crops, they should be forced to close down. Nobody has a right to occupy our territory anyhow.
The South-East governors came up with a similar resolution after their meeting recently but in a letter they sent to President Muhammadu Buhari, they were begging him to accept their decision. What do you think about that?
Everybody should join in to make a call (to the President). The women and students should even demonstrate. Everybody should urge them to take advantage of whatever constitutional and natural rights they have. What the Yoruba governors have done is to strictly inform Buhari about what they need to do and there is nothing wrong if they tell Buhari the same, but strictly speaking, they do not need Buhari’s authority to do so. Our people should go ahead to enact the Anti-Open Grazing Law.
What do you think about the state of the economy?
You know that we don’t even have a functional government. There has to be an effective and democratic government in existence before you can talk about the economy. What economy are you talking about when one ethnic group has taken over everything? Someone told me the other day that what we are running is a Fulani economy. In our days as students, before even the tertiary education level, we were taught about the economic evil called monopoly and we can see it manifest glaringly by one of our billionaire businessmen from the North. Is it the Innosons, the Chikasons, the Ibetos and others that should provide jobs for our people? When you destroyed those businesses, what did you expect? And again, agriculture that people should face, there is a problem there because they can’t go to their farms. What else are you expecting? So we are saying that our people should act like men and take their destiny into their hands. Rather than playing the victim and blaming our youths for the rate of crime in our land, Ohanaeze Ndigbo should focus on these major challenges to our economy and our existence. That is what we are saying.
Why do you think it has gone so bad?
I think you have the answers yourself. Don’t ask questions you have answers to; let’s talk about other serious things. Some of these challenges are so glaring that every child can see them. You are talking about RUGA settlement in Enugu State when Miyetti Allah recently arrogantly announced that they were going around to inspect about 14 Fulani settlements in the state. I hear that they have a Fulani colony in Ukehe, the hometown of the President-General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo. What else are you talking about?
Why do you think the cases of kidnapping appear to have got worse recently?
It is part of the agenda to take over the federation. It is part of the jihadist’s agenda which (former President) Olusegun Obasanjo, Gen. Theophilus Danjuma (retd.), Femi Fani-Kayode and others have been warning about. And you know about the heavy influx of citizens from other West African countries. Fulani people from other parts of Africa and the Middle East are coming into Nigeria. These are the insurgents you refer to as armed Fulani herdsmen, who are highly trained in the use of sophisticated weapons such as AK 47. So when they come in here, they have to feed themselves and while they occupy a territory, they engage in all manner of banditry, kidnapping, rape and ritual murder.
They have to find a way of kidnapping our people to get money in other to maintain their system. The major assignment they have is to occupy the territory, eliminate the local population and render what is left as minions and slaves.
Although the Federal Government suspended the Ruga Settlement idea, the Senate President was talking about Water Resources Bill, what do you think about that?
I think the message should go to our members in the National Assembly. We should ask them what they are doing about these things if they are really representatives of their people. That challenge is for them unless they are going to the National Assembly to just collect the allowances and shut their mouths without protecting their people, fighting for their people and protecting their interests. It is now obvious that we have to prepare ourselves to get more involved in the politics of region; in the elections, to ensure that when our people vote, their votes count. Unfortunately, they control the electoral system that conducts elections and control the courts and tribunals that decide the legality or illegality of elections. So elections are foregone conclusions. Thus you have one ethnic nationality conducting elections, deciding who wins, who doesn’t win, when elections are to be held and when it shouldn’t be held. What else do you want us to do? It is a state of the declaration of war. We are facing a life-or-death challenge. But we must do something. That is what the situation calls for.
Some people, including Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, have said that many Nigerians have only been labelling Fulani wrongly and blaming the tribe for every crime, do you think the Fulani herdsmen have been made to carry too much blame?
I have done statistics as to what you can ascribe to the Fulani herdsmen and what you can’t ascribe to them but I know that many cases being reported like kidnapping, raping, farmers being killed are all ascribed to the Fulani herdsmen, most of them. I know we have criminals of non-Fulani ethnic group, but those are social criminals created by the poverty of politics and leaders in general. But we have political criminals created for the pursuit of political agenda. In this class, you have the Boko Haram, the Fulani herdsmen, insurgency and terrorism. These are strategic criminals, who are part of a political movement meant to overhaul and overrun the people and take over their land.
What can be done to really solve the problem?
I told you that anti-open grazing bill has to be passed. Open grazing should be banned. That is one important and inevitable step. Then communities should defend themselves. Our governments and individuals should empower their community vigilantes to protect them. This is another basic step. They are not just academic steps, they are important practical steps everybody, including you, should do. When you go to your town, make sure that the vigilance groups are working; contribute money to empower them and attend town hall meetings to make sure your vigilance groups are organised.
Then urge the governors and state Houses of Assembly that have not passed the anti-open grazing bills which the Alaigbo Development Foundation had sent to them since two years ago, to urgently pass them.
When this government came to power, the key things it promised were adequate security, better economy and fight against corruption. Would you say the promises have been fulfilled?
You should ask the people whether those promises have been fulfilled or are being fulfilled. You should go to the streets and ask people questions and report the feelings of the Nigerian people and not just the feelings of public figures.
Apart from the Boko Haram threat, there is also the threat of bandits, kidnappers, ritualists, cult members, robbers and so on, why does it seem like criminals have suddenly been emboldened?
I have no answer.
Recently, FBI published about 80 names of Nigerian for cybercrime and about 70 per cent of those people were Igbo. How does that make you feel?
You know, fake news reports are carried on social media. We have asked our people to confirm that story.
Are you worried about the increasing number of young people going into crime?
Don’t divert attention from the security problem we have in the country. I heard that an Igbo leader said our problem was what our youths were doing. We are not oblivious to the fact that there are regular crimes that take place in every society and the ADF is organising programmes – public enlightenment – to educate our youths to shun crime. But what we suffer from today is not just such crimes. We are encouraging everybody, including churches to make sure that they educate our youths but we should also make sure that they are given jobs. Ensure the ones who don’t have jobs are given bicycles, tricycles, taxis, etc., to use for commercial purposes as the northern governments are doing. We should know that there are great impoverishment and hardship in our place but that doesn’t justify the crime. We need to engage in youth empowerment activities – that is what ADF is working on and our people should invest at home. If youths don’t have jobs, you expose them to temptations. Our regional governments should provide jobs for them if they have denied our youths of the opportunities to get jobs in the Federal Government. We should come home and make the best we can from our local resources. And of course, if they deny our youths in the federal system, it means we are being asked to go and that we don’t belong here.
You are talking about coming home to invest but so many roads in the South-East are in terrible condition. Who will bring their business to the region when there are no roads and so on?
You know, that is what we suffer; deliberate neglect of Ndigbo by the Federal Government, which wants to squeeze the life out of Ndigbo but we should say no.
Must we wait for the Federal Government to fix our roads?
Those roads are federal roads and I heard that our governors are fixing some but they don’t get reimbursed. A time has come when our youths should take to the streets and demonstrate so that the whole world would bear us witness as we are being systematically asked to go and that we are not part of this federation.
People should come out and take their destiny in their hands; they should let the world know what is going on. Women and youths should come out on the streets; that is what people in Edo are doing. They did it the other day, blocking the roads and insisting that criminals should be flushed out of their communities. I don’t see our women and our youths outside. Catholic priests have come out to protest the killing of their colleague but they should also do it because of the things that are happening in our territory. The traditional institutions should do the same. The clergy should speak out from the pulpit, the teachers should speak out from the classrooms, and students should demonstrate; that is how it used to be in those days when we were still in university.
The Indigenous People of Biafra has been proscribed by the Federal Government, how do you expect youths to come out again in the region without fear of arrest?
The ADF condemned the proscription of IPOB. We condemned the declaration of IPOB as a terrorist organisation when the world’s number three and number four most deadly organisations – the Boko Haram and the Fulani Herdsmen – are roaming about, wreaking havoc. – Culled from Punch.