By JIDE AJANI, Deputy Editor, LEKAN BILESANMI & ANTHONIA ONWUKA, VANGUARD
*Says true federalism is the answer to Nigeria’s problems
*Reveals how Lagos negotiated right of pipeline way with FG
*‘What Igbos want for Nigeria’
We will not bore you with any introduction to this interview. Admiral Godwin Ndubuisi Kanu, former military governor of old Imo State and Lagos State,was a National Democratic Coalition, NADECO, chieftain.
But you would only need to feel his frustration at what is called the Federal Republic of Nigeria,which is not federal in any form. Excerpts:
THE Federal Government of Nigeria is, again, proposing to deregulate…?
(Cuts in) I have kind of got to a stage whereby there are so many things I consider distractions and the matter of deregulation for me is distraction and that is without prejudice to all those who can solve or complicate the matter and they may want to do so either in the interest of all of us or to the detriment of all of us. Why do I say that? This is not the first time we are talking about deregulation. Almost every year we talk about it. Each time it appears there is some posh poll towards keeping some heat on the polity. The price may go up, fuel may be scarce: This may happen; money may be saved to put into the infrastructure and all kinds of reasoning. I don’t think there is nothing you and I have not heard before, rightly or wrongly. I have heard enough of it, I don’t know about you. For me now it is a distraction.
If it’s a distraction, you probably consider some issues more pressing than this, what are these issues?
For me, the other pressing issues, at the risk of repetition, at the risk of sounding like a broken record is for the full realization of federalism. We have no choice. What are the burning issues? There is something wrong – in fact so many things should be right but something is wrong and things are just getting wrong. In this day and age, this is not when this kind of a country where the people, the young ones, the aging ones like us and the much older ones above us should be discussing deregulation or otherwise in a country like this. We are in a country where we have groups of people who are highly endowed to live together but still different people, and we are trying to run them like one village. For me, both empirically and historically, I am saying unless we do some things we have a big problem on our hands. The first and major thing to be done is to take this country back to the only way it became a country and the only way it can continue. I will not be surprised even if some people reading this now do not understand what I am saying.
Admiral Ndubuisi Kanu...the matter of deregulation for me is distraction
There were not many skyscrapers around then, there were not private jets around then but there were some things that were really intrinsically different and better for the growth of the country towards nation building. If we want things to improve, we have got to go back to federation which we are not and which is not being run right now, we only answer that in name. We are running a unitary system of governance in the country.
You were once military administrator of Lagos State, what was it like then and especially within the context of the military which struck in 1966 and buried federalism?
Lagos is only a small portion of the country called Nigeria and Lagos is a small portion of Yoruba land. We are all here in Yoruba land. But to take the issue of Lagos in isolation, a Yoruba land and isolation with the country Nigeria does not solve the issue, it does not address the problems, the fundamental dimension. Yes, not by choice, I was appointed the military governor of Lagos before then I was military governor of old Imo State. Military rule is an aberration and uncalled for. I do say to people that even when I was military governor of old Imo and Lagos States, there was still what I was something like federalism. The edicts I passed in Imo State derived their powers from the constitution of Eastern Nigeria as amended by military rule. The one I passed here in Lagos derived theirs from the constitution of Western Nigeria and Lagos colony.
Despite the military administration, we were running a federation like Eastern, Mid-West, Western, Northern, those areas aggregated the different peoples of this country but equally when Mid-west was carved out of Western Nigeria, some parts of Yoruba people in the then area of Kwara, Yoruba people in Cotonou side, what was left of Western Nigeria was Yoruba region, full stop. And people, Yoruba, Igbo and Hausa were living there but that does not still change the fact that it is a Yoruba region.
It had its own coat of arms, constitution, it didn’t stop the lives of people that were not from Yoruba land but it helped the enhancement of the development and I don’t mean infrastructure but the development on the man and woman and the development of patriotism towards a nation state to be grown called Nigeria; this is because so far we are just a country not a nation. In fact, the issue of withholding fund for Lagos State would not have arisen if this was a true federation. Federal government, mind you, had no business withholding anybody’s money, no. In any case the money for the federal government job was money contributed, it didn’t have money to distribute but where we are now, as we talk, governors in your state, my state, our states and Lagos but most states are counting how much will be given to them at the end of the month, that is not how it should be and I want to tell you that in those days when I was governor of Lagos, federal government would come to negotiate for pipeline right of way. General Buhari and I would sit at the opposite end of the table, the NNPC boss, we would negotiate, what we agreed upon, we told them. That is federalism. We have got a stage now that at one stage every river in your area is now declared to belong to a nebulous something called federal government.
What are you, advocates of federation, doing to actualise this push, apart from discussing it like this?
What we are doing at the moment is to try to let people know that it is important to avoid what would then happen if we don’t get to tell everybody. It is not as if we are a group of people trying to pursue it. It is a function for all of us. Why I am saying what I am saying is for you, your readers to try and understand and for all Nigerians to be focused that if we want to build a country to a nation state, there are some things we have to do. If you make peaceful change impossible, you are just directly, there are no two ways about it, you are encouraging violent change. So long as we increase the indices for peace, you reduce indices for disorder and violence. If you look at the country you will see that there are some things happening. Some people think of change and the next thing they think about is the violent Niger-Delta. Nobody supports violence but you have to go down to why. Boko Haram, is that what they call it? You have to ask why? There is no need arresting and all of that, no no no. Ask why. Violence is not good but ask the why. When you look at insecurity ask the why.
If you look at other things ask the why. I don’t know about your own assessment but that is my own findings, and that is, last year is better than this year and if I go by the way things are looking now, obviously, you stand to reason that this year will be better than next year. If you are in a situation like that, it calls for sober reflection and commitment. We have to look at all the issues and the most critical is that there is need for us to have a constitution.
Kanu...If we want things to improve, we have got to go back to federation which we are not...
This country had before, at some points, constitutions – Eastern, Western, Mid-western, Northern Nigeria. Right now as we all know that it is being said that the National Assembly wants to amend the constitution. Which constitution? We have something we are using but it should be seen as just a working document, as a passing phase and not a constitution of Nigeria. More so when you say Federal Republic of Nigeria you can’t, therefore, not amend one constitution because it is a federation. In fact when newspapers come together to form association, you did so because by being an association you gain more than being an individual operating alone; if you are going to lose why would you join an association? But in the case of Nigeria, there are different peoples. I am Igbo man without any apology to anybody. You are Yoruba, you have no reason to apologize to me for being one. For the country, the only thing is to be a federation whether by colonial or amalgamation, we were all brought together but in bringing us together, that is where we now say what do we want the centre to do? Some will say there is too much power in the centre or return some power. No, it is not a question of gift.
At what point in time would you say Nigeria started getting it wrong or was it just a sudden change for the worse?
For me, I will say within the second stage of the General Babangida tenure, things started going that way. It increased in intensity under the maximum ruler that followed, hope you know who it is because sometimes we forget, General Sani Abacha of blessed memory. Don’t forget that Nigerians – civilians, men and women – who were scheming for, applauding, in order to have five leprous fingers of the same hand, were prepared to work towards his becoming a civilian president. Then we moved from there to what you call brief interregnum, same military and still in the same zone, Abdulsalami, then we ended up with Baba and in that process, it was a question of cementing the process even though he wanted to cap it up with third term which would have made the matter worse.
So in terms of time, that is what has happened but the same is happening the same way you can see I keep asking, whether it is men or women, any of the ethnic groups in the country, which of the professional bodies in the country is happy the way the country is going? For me, I will say there is none. And when that is the case, it creates its own problems. In the past when baba was there and did his eight years, a child who was 15 years then would have been 23, I wish you can tell me what you have seen positive in the body politic of Nigeria? Instead we have been advancing from assassination, kidnapping, insecurity, militancy. Then we have vision this, vision that, budget will be made, everywhere will be made Eldorado, within those eight years but if you look back, may be some of you will say there is GSM, that is not what I am talking about.
Recently, you and some people together with General Akinrinade came up with Change Nigeria. What do you have in mind? Is that going to kick start the process of achieving that dream you are talking about or is it one of those talks?
Yes, not only in terms of actualizing it. From all sober analysis, we are fully convinced that it is something that has to be pursued by all of us. For some of us there is the sense that we had a chance to see a Nigerian country of hope towards a nation state and we are seeing one. Somebody may say we are alarmist, there is a danger that you may now have a situation in which whatever left over of patriotism towards building the Nigerian country to nation state, would have reached a point of dissipation and death where by you can’t revive it and if you go to other places that should run like a federation but fail to, you find out that it is not usually a welcome thing and it appears we heading there. Yes, what we have come up with is what we believe should be the solution. And in any case, what we have come up with is what inevitably we should do. And to appreciate that matter is for the country to go back how it started. Infact, permit me to say that our first national anthem which says: Nigeria we hail thee, though tribes and tongues may differ in brotherhood we stand … That Nigeria we hail is a country but to build a nation, that is what we should be, but the way and manner it is going, it will be such that in years to come if we go on this way, it may not be too far from now that it, you then would have those who will not be thinking about building that nation. But we have to change Nigeria at the moment and we are saying that there has to be a federation because it is better to do so quickly and that is to realize that there are peoples living in accordance with United Nations or otherwise our local situation which if you don’t take time you now find out that there will be fissiparous tendencies, even from unexpected quarters.
How do you reconcile the unity of Nigeria and the Igbo call for the presidency?
I know that Igbo want a federal Nigeria right? For the interest of all of us, one thing I will say is this: Igbo have never met, at any point, past or present, discussing how to cheat any other nationalities in Nigeria and let us also say the fact that they are the people you will find in the most remote nooks and cranny of the country. The Igbo want federal government through Nigeria . Next, somebody has to be president of the place. There are no reasons why an Igbo person should not be. Look, if it is good for the country for an Igbo man to be president, you are only delaying the good thing for the country for another 50 years when you say you don’t want him to be. But we Ndigbo are not prepared for that either. Enough is enough. But the Igbo presidency should not be on the altar of federalism, no.
It is not to have our turn either, no. If it is to have a turn, then we can as well go to everybody particularly where you once had the presidency. Tell me who after his turn has made everybody happy. As of today, nobody can tell me that in Katsina they are all happy because Yar’Adua is from Katsina. There are things to be done throughout the country. It is not a question of having our turn. That is not what we are talking about. If you shift from that and talk about MASSOB, then I will tell you that there are some people that, at the mention of the name MASSOB, they get worried. I will talk about MASSOB because you have to listen to what they are saying and what are they saying? We want the sovereignty of Biafra. For me, I will say let us go back to cause and effect. What they are saying is equity and just and equity and just doesn’t know Hausa, Yoruba or Igbo man, it doesn’t know any ethnic coloration.
How did you find yourself in the Navy because your mentality and the way you’ve spoken does not tally with the typical military mentality of unitarism?
I went into the military as a profession and we loved the profession and definitely I will finish my tenure because it is a profession in which you do your best and come out of active service.
when I was governor of Lagos, federal government would come to negotiate for pipeline right of way...
I am an admiral, not retired admiral, I am admiral retired from active service of the Nigerian Navy. If you look around the world, even the countries we refer to as America, the real democrats all over the place are also ex-military. When you finish what you are doing, we are all political by nature. Everything about politics concerns all of us. Concerning your other question, of course a lot needs to be done to really mobilize people, mobilization including even making people understand because surprisingly because of so many years since the first military intervention and there after going on slowly to the point whereby you find from your backyard and mine, there are people who all they care for is getting into the system and see what they can get from it. But in the long run, some of them get it but also see the futility of it all. I want to make an appeal to them through you that we are available for discussions on the matter and whenever we do come out which we will be doing consistently now, nothing to do with self aggrandizement, we are not looking for any office.
How can Nigeria, in concrete terms, achieve true federalism?
We need the nationalities to go back and draft their own constitution and that is not a difficult thing to do. Many times it has been tried but many times cut short. Abacha’s national conference with full constituent powers would have been our best option but what happened on the long run? The last section of the decree says when you finish you pass your deliberations to the Provisional Ruling Council. From there you pass it to Abacha to approve or amend and that changed the whole issues. Obasanjo called his own national political reform committee which really could have led us to that. The opposite of not going back to federalism is dis-amalgamation. I am one of those who used to be very annoyed because of this issue of federalism.
You are already sounding angry?
The anger I am sounding is the anger that we should be better, far, far better than what we are now, that is the only way we can get there.
During the war, what single most significant event would you want to recall?
It will be a question of so many events and circumstances. At the end of the war, General Gowon announced no victor no vanquished, two days to the end of the war, Igbo were traveling all over and when the war ended there was no guerrilla warfare going on. Igbo didn’t fight to break away from Nigeria. If you look at our young men and women all over the country from the 70s to the mid 80s, you can see that there was a build up of a nation state whereby you could see where people that were Nigerians who are now aging like me but much younger than I am, you could see that build up of what you can consider as their common purpose.
Matter of equity
If you put it across that there was a war, they will tell you then that that common purpose, there was something that made it and, therefore, I go back to them regarding the war and the cause of it, it was a matter of equity and justice. And that equity and justice is only actionable, feasible, workable only under a federal arrangement. It was when the system tried to get away from the federal arrangement that problem arose .
What led to you relocating from your house during the NADECO era to another place during the Abacha era?
It was an era that no Nigerian of whatever tribe or whatever geographical area, of whatever profession should wish and pray for a repeat. I think every Nigerian from whatever tribe, whatever ethnic village should play a part to see that it does not happen again. Some people will say one is alarmist if you say it will happen again but if you let it happen it will happen again. It does not have to be military. You can’t wake up Abacha, it may even be one Okoro, or Ogedengbe or Abdulahi. Regarding change of venue but you see you have a system in which some people think they are even pleasing the power that be or the system that be and even commit worse thing that they were not supposed to commit. It was a tough time but then it was the almighty that keeps all of us. Yes, we were having the meeting. I have heard here and there whatever happened but it was a question of whenever it was more prudent to shift venue, we shift venue. There were times when we would be assembling and somebody would call in a very sarcastic way to indicate they were there. Definitely it is a story of its own. Anybody who was mature would have felt the cringe of that era.
You were lucky to be alive, some of your colleagues were not, some even lost property?
First and foremost, it was God. I know once I had goose pimples because then, I was driving myself even though I had a driver. I reached a point there at Onikan, as I was passing the stadium, I saw a 505 Peugeot. As I got to Awolowo Road, I still noticed the car but I just went on to where I was going. I don’t know how and when the vehicle passed ahead of me. I was on one side of the road when the car came close to me and somebody in the car shouted to me, Admiral Kanu, how are you? I just waved back to him but it was a very remarkable face until I saw the face years later on television. I had goose pimples, but what made him change his mind from shooting me, only God knows.
Who was that?
Somebody. Then talking about property, you know people have their own way. You know you can’t carry a house away. You can take off the roof but the land is there. I am one of those that property means nothing to. I am not saying this to please anybody. In terms of those who lost property, I don’t bother about that because on the long run even as years pass by, you will even need less apart from the air you breathe in because you never take more or less and you can never store it. As big and small as you are, that Okada rider breathes the same as you are. That leper does the same thing. In fact he is also busy messing the air as you are. You see, the day you think you are so powerful, then you can get somebody to sleep for you, eat for you, but the day somebody will bathe you, of course you know you know you have no power because you are old.
Would you say on percentage bases, ratio bases 1 to 10, that the people of Nigeria were supportive of the opposition, say during Abacha days?
My answer or surmise is that majority of Nigerians didn’t like what was going on during the Abacha days, that is what is called opposition. If for instance most Nigerians liked what was happening, no matter how long we shouted, it would not have worked. But then if we were the ones holding the reign of power, we may even be the ones who are the opposition to Nigerians. I am not a political party person but when we talk of opposition, those who may, I have used the word may, it is left for you to read whether will be or have been, those who may be in position of authority may be the ones who are really in opposition to the peoples of Nigeria.
In terms of governance, which of the successive governments would you say was better?
As I sit here, I am not judging any government. Issues for me have gone beyond judging government. What does it profit this country to start judging this one or that one. We have problems on the ground. I have said it before and that is, the structure we have in Nigeria is such, if you like put a genius, combined with an angel, if you bring Obama here, he will fail, if you don’t change the structure. I am not judging anybody on governance. I want to say that the structure is the problem because it does not even enhance goodness.
Kanu...Igbo have never met, at any point, past or present to discuss how to cheat any other nationalities in Nigeria
Views on re-branding Nigeria?
If the minister of information was here, this is what I would still be saying. If the president was here, I would not say anything different because when you talk of re-branding, what are you re-branding and what brand are you heading for? Here is a country which you could hold your head high, there are people from different parts of Nigeria who are outside there making waves in all fields of human endeavour but who are now feeling bad at what is happening in their country. It is not a question of preaching, it is a matter of what can be done and those things to be done I repeat myself we have been going backward, going forward and all that, if we don’t return to federalism in which the centre is dependent on the common goodwill of a group of people called Yoruba, Hausa, Igbo, Ibibio and many more. So, the first port of call, you restructure Nigeria, not federal Nigeria and that restructuring is not developing something new but to go back to basics.
Would you say the NADECO to which you belonged made a strategic error by not seizing the moment at the commencement of the Abdulsalami transition?
What NADECO was pursuing was the real thinking and desire of Nigerians from all over. Nigerians wanted to end military rule, why? Anybody can go and deceive himself to say Abiola did not win the election, if you like continue to deceive yourself to prove. That is your business because you know you are deceiving yourself. Abiola won the election and I must also say that NADECO was not there just for Abiola to become president, no, no. A major plank for him to even win was that this country would go back in the interest of everybody to federation. That was supposed to be the first thing of the Abiola government. In the process, the man died. Hope you know the one I am talking about, not the one of Wole Soyinka. Then, you had Abubakar and people heaved a sigh of relief. That issue of don’t say ill of the dead, Nigerians jubilated, that is the truth, even in his compound. We became one in the same process when the other man died, though his own death is with quotation. That created a different scenario, and of course those who had to maneuver did but again within all this, one must remember General Obasanjo was given all the chance and goodwill by Nigerians. Why? Because they just wanted that change to take place which of course was squandered by going unitary. If he is here, I will say the same thing.
There is clamour for additional states particularly from the Igbo states, what is your views?
My view? There are various zones in this country. There is one called South East. There was a time we had one called South Eastern State. Now all the zones have got six states each while one has seven up there. Igbo need one more to balance up. This matter of creating additional state in Igbo land does not change what I said the Igbo want a federal Nigeria. Part of what is not federalism is you allocating money, that is not federalism. In federalism, you contribute money. You seize their money, even local government money. For me it is not a question of south east wanting additional state. It is a balance of states. If you create one in south east and go create another one somewhere else, you have to add one more to us. We are asking for additional state in order to make the balance and this is without prejudice to federalism.
How about what is happening in Anambra State? Is it not a reflection of what is to come in the general elections of 2010?
What is happening in Anambra, some people will say what is happening with these Anambra people? There is nothing wrong with the Anambra people, in fact there is nothing like Anambra people, they are Igbo people. Anambra is purely an administrative and geographic area of Igbo land in the country Nigeria. The only people who can describe themselves as Enugu people are those of the south. There is nothing wrong with the Anambra people. If a political party any one, comes out with 500 candidates, that is their business. There is nothing wrong in that. Some will say they are not together, what for? It is the party issue, I don’t think one should make so much noise about that. The important thing is that will they ultimately go through the democratic means? But again, I ask what democracy means. There is nothing happening in Anambra except the political parties, that is all. You see, changing the electoral laws as you like, bringing out the best practices in the world and adapt it here, it will not solve the problems without going back to federalism. Because under unitarism there are many functions, security and others which are also accumulated and fixed. That will not let you have a free and fair election. Tell me who after his turn has made everybody happy. As of today, nobody can tell me that in Katsina they are all happy because Yar’ Adua is from Katsina.