A former Minister of Aviation, Femi Fani-Kayode, tells BAYO AKINLOYE that the only way to avoid a civil war is for Nigeria to be restructured
What do you think about calls for the restructuring of Nigeria?
It is absolutely necessary and it is the only way forward.
Some have argued that what the country needs now isn’t the restructuring of the country but good leadership. Isn’t that correct?
Those that say so have been saying that for the last 30 years and it’s been proved wrong. Nothing can change the fortune of Nigeria without restructuring. We must restructure this country – it is the only thing that can change the fortune of Nigeria for the better; to ensure that every single region, every ethnic nationality, every religion, and every individual, are convinced that they have a stake in this country. Unless we do that and ensure that we have true federalism – or, at its very best a confederation – Nigeria will break up. It is better for us to restructure and ensure that equity and fairness are established to avoid a messy, fratricidal civil war.
What exactly is the restructuring you’re talking about?
Let state here that we cannot be too specific (about the shape the restructuring will take) because you’ve got to understand that the issue is subject to negotiations. But let me tell you what the broad principles are: One, devolution of powers; that is, power should be devolved from the centre and the regions should have more powers – whether it is region or state it has to be debated. Now, some believe it should be ethnic nationalities. All this will have to be debated so that we can arrive at a consensus. It is something we can negotiate and agree on. But the basic concept or principle is to devolve power. Nigeria is not a real federation; it is a unitary state. We are only pretending; we’re lying to ourselves calling the country a federation. In the restructuring we can have regional police; things like resource control – 100 per cent resource control; allowing the various states or regions to manage their own affairs; develop at their own pace and the centre can be allowed to handle issues like foreign policy and so on – regional army; this is what we are talking about and this is what we insist on.
The only reason we will remain together within a federation is because people feel a sense of belonging – that we have something in common – because we can still have a united country. We can still have a Nigeria but power must be devolved from the centre. If we continue to hold power at the centre and treat the regions as slaves where every state has to collect a handout (from the Federal Government), where people who believe they are born to rule continue to dominate the country as they have been doing since 1966, Nigeria will collapse. It is also important to state that self-determination is a principle which cannot be denied in international laws or in any humane and civilised society. If the Igbo feel they want to opt out of the federation, if they feel they’re not being treated as human beings, if they feel they’re not wanted, they’re not loved, that they’re being marginalised, they’re being murdered day in, day out, you cannot deny them the right of opting out. Gone are the days when Nigeria will be held together by force – that’ll not happen anymore. People are enlightened; people are yearning for their freedom and the only way you can try to persuade them is to devolve power from the centre and allow power to reside with the people at regional or state level.
You talked about resource control, what sharing formula will you recommend?
When you talk about resource control, I believe there should be 100 per cent resource control. Everything you have in your backyard you develop for yourself and let the benefit accrue to local people. I don’t see any reason any region should live off other regions – it’s unacceptable. We reject this concept of parasitic existence where some people will be benefitting from the resources of other people and worst of all they give the impression that they were born to rule. That’s the bottom line of this conflict. People are fed up of being ruled over by people who believe they were born to rule. Obafemi Awolowo described Nigeria as a mere geographical expression and not a nation. We all know that he was right; that’s what we’ve been struggling with for the last 57 years. It’s (Nigeria) not just a geographical expression it’s actually a vassal state and a colony of slaves. Ninety per cent of Nigerians are slaves today. Slaves, because they’re in the wrong part of the country or because they the wrong fate and consequently they’re treated as second- or third-class citizens.
Since (President Muhammadu) Buhari came into power, they’ve emphasised that. They have terrorised non-Fulani, they’ve killed people that are not of the Fulani extraction and they’ve allowed Fulani herdsmen to slaughter Middle Belters, Christians, and southerners; none have been arrested. They have killed IPOB members; they have killed Shia Muslims. I must also emphasise that every single security agency in the country is headed by a Muslim except the Navy. Every single strategic command within the Nigerian military, every single commander that has a strategic command is headed by a northern Muslim. I didn’t say every commander that has a command; but every commander that has a strategic command – there’s a difference. Every single strategic command is manned by a northern Muslim in this country. And every security agency in the country is headed by a northern Muslim except the Navy. And, Christians feel completely overwhelmed and marginalised. This is unacceptable. That is why more than ever before calls for the restructuring are resounding – it’s irresistible and it’s inevitable. I say again, if those who keep saying no to the restructuring, if they continue to do that then they will have a Nigeria which will eventually break up. The cry for Biafra (Republic) will get stronger by the day; the cry for Oduduwa (Republic) will get stronger by the day; the same cry will be sounded in the Niger Delta and even the Middle Belt; and eventually, Nigeria will break up in a fratricidal, brutal civil war. Nobody wants that. We want to avoid that. But you cannot hold the people together by the force of arms against their will in perpetuity because eventually they’ll rise up. That’s why those of us who are responsible, sensitive and sensible are arguing – have been arguing for many years by the way – that we need to restructure this country in order to allow everybody to have a sense of belonging and feel they’re in control of their own destiny.
Going by what you said, are you in support of Nnamdi Kanu and the Indigenous People of Biafra’s agitation?
Nnamdi Kanu is a man I have immense admiration and respect for. I’ve worked with many leaders in the country; he’s (Kanu) one of the most profound, courageous people I have ever interacted with. I believe he is Ojukwu, Nzeogwu and Azikiwe all rolled into one. He has immense intellectual stamina. Whatever you think about him, he reflects the thinking of over 80 per cent of Igbo youths today – that’s the reality that you have to live with. It’s not a question of whether you and I like him or not. It’s a question of understanding where he’s coming from and try to accept the fact that what he represents we cannot wish away or dismiss; it’s a reality. You cannot kill them all; you cannot suppress them. You have to work with them; you have to talk to them; you have to understand them; and you have to pacify and negotiate with them. If you say you want to crush them, dehumanise them, suppress them, Kill them and think that the agitation will go, you’re making a monumental mistake.
My view is this: every human being has a right to make his or her self-determination and it’s not for me to impose my views on them. If they say they want to go, I am bound by equity and justice to say OK provided that’s what the majority of their people want. Then, I support their right to go. So, what I’m pushing for, what I believe should happen is for the Igbo to have a referendum. Let’s put it to the test; let them have a referendum. That’s what they’re asking for; give it to them. And, once that referendum is determined and if they don’t want to be part of Nigeria, let them go. If they say they don’t want to, let them stay within a restructured Nigeria. But, let me tell you this, and this is the bottom line, if you continue to deny them that right of having a referendum, or even entertaining the right of secession and exercising the right to self-determination because they are fed up with what they’ve been subjected to in Nigeria for the last 57 years, the agitation will get stronger and stronger. As a matter of fact, it’s not just the Igbo; the Niger Delta feel the same way, the South-West feel the same way and many within the Middle Belt feel the same way. This agitation will continue to grow throughout the country unless the restructuring takes place. If you insist there’ll be no restructuring, I assure you this country will break up at the soonest – and, it could be a very messy break-up indeed.
But Governor Nasir el-Rufai was recently quoted as describing many of those agitating for the restructuring of Nigeria as opportunists and irresponsible. What do you think about that?
The thing El-Rufai said in 2010, I think in an interview he granted ThisDay, was that restructuring was the only way for Nigeria. He’s saying that because he’s benefitting from this inequitable system that’s so insensitive to the plight of the non-Fulani within the country. In truth, people who are responsible and fair-minded will disagree with him. It’s not fair at all for my friend, Nasir, to call Afenifere, Ohaneze, the people of the Niger Delta, irresponsible and opportunistic. I’m not aware of a responsible and respectable southern or Middle Belt politician today that’s against the restructuring. We can take the insult but the truth of the matter is that some of us have been struggling for this for many years. It’s not a new thing. But it’s now urgent for it to be done – not for my sake, not for your sake but Nigeria’s sake. Those who stand against it like El-Rufai and others are, so to speak, standing against a moving train and they’ll be run over – and they’ll have nothing to say afterwards because they’ll be crushed. This thing is real, nothing can stop it. There’s a wind of change blowing in Nigeria. This is the real change. We want the emancipation of ethnic nationalities. We want to feel like human beings and not slaves. We’ll do anything to secure that. To keep Nigeria as one country, you must restructure and ensure that ethnic nationalities are in control of their resources. I don’t believe in arms struggle – I’m a pacifist unless it’s in self-defence.
Do you think the President Muhammadu Buhari government will initiate the process of the restructuring?
This government represents everything that is evil. This government is the most repressive, reprobate and oppressive government that Nigerians have ever known. We knew all this would happen and that’s why we campaigned strongly against Buhari. It’s a government of ethnic hegemonists. It’s a government of religious bigots. This government is absolutely retrogressive. They’ll never allow restructuring. Anybody waiting for the Buhari administration to put in place a programme for restructuring may as well wait for hell to freeze over. This government will never allow restructuring. This government stands for everything that’s against equity and fairness to the ethnic nationalities in this country – in the South and the Middle Belt. This government believes in northern Muslim power. That’s why they’re not comfortable with (Yemi) Osinbajo as an acting president with full powers and they’ll never allow it. We must not wait for this government. People must rise up and effect restructuring themselves – I’m not talking about carrying arms. We must put in place active resistance to the oppressive government of Buhari.