Interview/Daily Independent/All Africa
KALU ONUMA, political historian, is the Secretary General of Ndigbo, Lagos. He champions the cause of justice in the country, but more importantly the cause of Igbo people. In this interview with Senior Correspondent, DANIEL KANU, the scribe of the Igbo socio-political organisation speaks on the state of health of President Umaru Yar'Adua, the Igbo nation and the nation's democratic journey so far among other salient issues. Excerpts:
We have had 10 years of uninterrupted democracy, what is your assessment so far?
Well, we have to congratulate ourselves for having seen 10 uninterrupted years of democracy in Nigeria as you have rightly pointed out. But let's not forget that it is coming at the same time when we ought to be celebrating 50 years of Nigeria's independence. And when we look at Nigeria from the perspective of our 50 years anniversary, you would find out that there is so much that needs to be done. So much that requires our analysis and equally progressive thought. But if I should summarise it in a few sentences I will say I am disappointed with our achievement so far.
In which area are you hinging your disappointment?
Well, there is so much to say about what has been the problem of Nigeria. But I think that leadership is neither here nor there in terms of looking at Nigeria and moving it forward. We have had some remarkable turns in this country but I will rather say that the whole problem of Nigeria hinges on our inability to create a constitution truly federal that would take into consideration all the diversities at the various levels and various competing issues that has been the bane of development for this country. I am under no illusion that if we get the constitution right, that is, a people's constitution from which will emerge the kind of leadership that we are looking for it will not be difficult for the various regions, like it has been tested and tried before, to pick up again and develop each according to its own ability and each according to its own pace. Without this, get a good leader, get a good crop of people and it will still be the same old story, because the instrumentality of carrying out what ever we have asked them to carry out is faulty and there is nothing they could do about it.
Many believe that even if you bring the American constitution wholesale to Nigeria that it will still fail because the problem is with the people, the operators and not the constitution per se.
Yes, I agree with you that the American constitution definitely will not work in Nigeria. The mode of government even in Republic of Benin or Cameroon, which are our nearest neighbors, however you look at it, will not work in Nigeria. Therefore what exactly will work in Nigeria is something that evolves from the people. We know that our history or histories as it were is not the same history or histories as the people of Republic of Benin or Cameroon or even America that you have used as an example. So what I am actually saying here is that the people knowing themselves, knowing the various confusions, knowing the various characteristics that make them up should be able to come up with the way of managing themselves. I will tell you this if you look at the microcosm of how villages and towns have been managed autonomously or collectively in the Southern Nigeria, you will realise that what we are actually trying to say for those of us who think that the constitution is the problem or the instrument of carrying this out is the problem or even the system of government that we are carrying out is the problem is that when you look closer these villages or towns run smoothly without hitches and it is only on very few occasions that issues come up here and there, and within their own system unwritten constitutions are in this villages but they still carry it out and know how to nip any problem in the bud. I am equally of the opinion that Southern Nigeria as it were divided into South South or South East cannot develop at the same pace with South West, cannot develop at the same pace with North Central or North East and so on. These are distinct geographical areas with different types of people, with different kinds of beliefs, and different kinds of cultural values and these values cannot be thrown as a blanket all over the country and expect them to develop at the same pace. We cannot continue in this path if we do not trace back ourselves and look at the constitution again and see how we can correct some of the problems.
There are some people that are even worried that the value systems of Nigerians are no longer what it used to be...
Nothing is constant except change itself. What you are actually looking at in terms of values each generation redefines its own goal, redefines its own values, try to build on the shoulders of those that have been there before, tries to borrow from different cultures and in an age, where the world has been so narrowed down, you cannot expect values to remain the same. What you are trying to refer to is a situation where you find that some of the norms that have held people are now beginning to crumble. In the real sense of it, life moves on, people evolve; people try to see how they readapt some of the things that have been before and manage to find tools to help them improve on tomorrow. Having said that, you cannot see what is bad and call it good, you cannot see what is good and call it bad. What is good in one generation flows over into another generation and what we should be looking at is to try to create a kind of atmosphere, where a symbiotic exchange happens between cultures, happens between people and some of those ones that are not good tested by the society itself will die their natural deaths, and some of those that are good will move on. Things naturally must change, today the gadgets that you are using now to talk to me is more sophisticated and there are a lot of improvements from the ones used by journalists 15 or 20 years ago. Previously, they come with their pen and paper and when you talk they have to probably meet up with what you are saying by using their shorthand style but shorthand is already out of the question now and many do not even remembers how it is done, except those who still go to commercial schools. But even at that it is no longer fashionable anymore, so we keep moving. Values are defined, each generation by the people living within that generation and what becomes good for us is something we collectively decide by trials and error and there is nothing we can do about it. And, it has not been without challenge to do distinctively with the political arena where there is so much confusion based on the fact that we have continually refused to do the right thing.
Let's zero down to President Umaru Yar'Adua's ill health. Some say he should resign while some disagree, what is your take?
We don't need to over flog what has been said I belong to the group that says it's time to call it quit. Even if he comes back it is absolutely impossible for him. He is a very sick person and Nigeria needs a very strong person, somebody with all the health that God could give will even break down under the weight of the problem that Nigeria carry. We need a leader with all the health that will give all the attention needed, if possible more than 24-hour attention to the problems of this country. He did in Katsina State and got away with it for 8 years, this is Nigeria. you are not talking about Katsina State here, you are talking about over 450 distinct tribes or ethnic groups each with its own values, problems, challenges, headaches all concentrated in the center, heaped on your shoulders and that should not be and this is what we have been complaining all the while. If Nigeria has been truly federal where the regions are independent, where the regions have the powers to do their own things at their own pace, the center will be so weak and so irrelevant that yes, we could excuse this President Yar'Adua's absence, but it is not so in our present scenario. He should, even as he is back, tender his resignation; continuing is more like deceiving Nigerians and he did promise in his inaugural speech that he was not going to deceive Nigerians that he was going to be a listening President and the great majority of Nigerians are simply saying thank you very much, you have done quite well but your health cannot allow you to continue thus far. That is all.
What are your views on the issue of Eze Ndigbo in Diaspora, which are been banned in some states like Lagos?
This is an institution that emerged from the desires and aspirations of Ndigbo living in the Diaspora. I am a bit confused by how this whole issue has been politicised, how some of our Ezes in Igbo land have gone about this matter as if the question of that institution could not have been agreed better, could not have been looked into better and could not have been really analysed and taken care of. My view is simple, the institution of who culturally holds forth for Ndigbo is something that we have to promote in Lagos, in Kano, in Kaduna, anywhere there are Igbos there must be a place where they come together to promote our culture, our tradition and this does not in anyway stand in parallel with our Ezes in Igbo land and the question is quite simple; if there are things that the Eze Ndigbo in Diaspora have been doing, which does not look right in anyway, it is only in conversation, sitting together with the people, consulting widely with the Igbo communities, town union associations all over the world that you will come to a resolution of the matter. You do not just enter a town, go to the indigenes and tell them that you are an Eze from Igbo land and that you have banned so and so people, it smacks some lack of common sense and it smacks some irresponsibility because it shows that you are not even in control of what you are doing. And who says that one person or groups of persons without consulting the people, the Oha (the people), who are actually the people that make the Eze important make decisions which are contrary to the norms of the people already living in that place. There are so many fine gentlemen like the late Eze Ihejiahi, who have been monumentally instruments of sanity, at very terrible times. In Kaduna, he has been a stabling hand in what the Igbo have done and achieved, same with Ohazulike here in Lagos, same with so many of them in the North where our Ezes suddenly have woken up and realised that they are important, where have they been all this while? So, the point I am just making is that the issue of nomenclature, name, and title should be looked into again. Whether the institution is required my answer is yes, whether they have played very important role in the socio-political and cultural live of the people in Diaspora the answer is yes. Whether they will be useful to us politically, culturally and economically in the future my answer is yes. What becomes the problem? How to now liaise between the Ezes in Igbo land and the ones in Diaspora we have to look at it again. There are so many Igbo communities in Mali that have no direction, that hardly comes home, that hardly visits home, same in Cameroon, same in Gabon, same in Equatorial Guinea, same in Lome; these people have families, they have children; most of their children don't even speak Igbo, most of them don't even know anything about Igbo values and cultures, some of their parents are even beginning to forget their own personal identity. It is only by creating such institutions that we will be able to start slowly and quietly but surely re-instill our Igbo-ness even in very consequential ways. I think it is important that we look at this question strongly again and find ways to resolve the matter.