Anyaoku: We’ve Never Been This Divided

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Chief Emeka Anyaoku, the third Secretary-General of Commonwealth and former Minister of External Affairs, is an accomplished diplomat with enviable record in Foreign Service. In this interview with Gboyega Akinsanmi at his Lugard residence in Ikoyi, he provides the grounds to restructure Nigeria’s current governance architecture in order to defuse the tendencies, which according to him, portend grave threat to the corporate existence of Nigeria, if not quickly and effectively addressed. Chief Anyaoku, who looks forward to marking his 85th birthday on January 18, brokered the Abuja Peace Accord between the presidential candidates in the 2015 presidential election, a commitment that helped avert violence after the election. In the face of the hydra-headed challenges confronting the country after 57 years of independence, Anyaoku sees a ray of hope only if Nigeria is reinvented to reflect the order of the 1963 Constitution. Excerpts:

Nigeria is already 57. Is it a federation of your expectation?
I think we should celebrate the fact that we have existed as a sovereign country for 57 years. It is an accomplishment. But we must at the same time resolve to deal effectively with a number of serious challenges that we are facing at this moment. Some of these challenges are existential. They portend threat to the future existence of this country if they are not properly tackled. I do not want to go into these challenges. But I will just mention few of them.

We have armed insurgency in the North-eastern part of the country. We have some elements agitating for secession of the South-eastern part of the country. We have militancy in the Niger Delta. We have Fulani herdsmen wreaking havoc in many parts of the country. We are just recovering from recession. These are the challenges that we must tackle as a country. I do not think that there cannot be any denial of the fact that the country is not performing well as it should perform given its endowment, resources and human capital.

Since independence, some of these challenges have been recurring, though they now manifest in different dimensions. How then can they cost Nigeria its existence?
No, no, no. As a country, I do not think we have ever been faced with this number of agitations and militancy since independence. Since the 1967 Civil War, I do not think this country has ever been as divided as it is now in the face of these challenges. So, I am not so sure that the notion that Nigeria was always able to pull back from the brink will be valid under the present circumstances.

Why do you think the notion may not be valid now?
I am not sure, because these agitations, insurgencies and activities of Fulani herdsmen can lead to breakdown of law and order in different parts of the country at the same time. It may not be easy for our security forces to cope with all of them at the same time. Already, Boko Haram in the North-east is stretching our military. Now, the military is in the South-east for Operation Python Dance. And the same military is saying they may come to South-west and South-south for Operation Crocodile Smile. It is doubtful that they can sustain the efforts to deal with agitations and insurgency if they are to intensify.

How do you evaluate the Operation Python Dance in the South-east?
Ideally, in any country, the military should not be involved in domestic situations except in rare cases of emergency. Domestic law and order is a matter for the police. Of course, the military has to be involved in the North-east, because Boko Haram has been waging war against Nigeria. It is debatable that the military should be involved in the South-east. From all I have read so far, there has been no effort in the South-east to wage war against Nigeria. From what they claimed, there have been unarmed agitations and protests. Of course, the military has come in because the agitations and protests are based on secession. This has serious security implication for the country.

Before secessionist agitations became worse, did you speak with leaders at different levels on the need to address their concerns?
No. I have not intervened on matters of these agitations. What I have been advocating is that we must restructure our governance architecture. I believe that these situations that are threatening the existence of our country can be more effectively handled if we restructure the governance structure we have at the moment. In fact, I will say the root cause of many of the challenges we have at the moment is the inadequacy of the governance architecture that we have.

On the economic front, for example, the fact that we have 36 federating units means we spend up to 80 per cent of our revenue just on administration. No country has developed on the basis of allocating up to 80 per cent of its revenue to just administration. Secondly, among the 36 states, only Lagos and to some extent Kano can generate revenue to plan their development unlike what we had in the years after independence.

With the 1963 Constitution, Nigeria was a true federation of four regions. Each region had its own constitution. And each region is viable enough to produce to sustain its own development. We were making greater strides in development. Then, we had in the Northern Region the famous groundnut pyramid, vast plantation of cotton that sustained the textile industry and high quality hide and skins that were marketed abroad as Morocco leather. We had minerals like tin and copper in Jos, Plateau. The Northern Nigeria was making the real reasonable progress in development.

In the Western Nigeria, the cocoa industry was boosted by the Chief Obafemi Awolowo government to an extent that it enabled the Western Region introduce the universal primary education. The Western Region was the first to bring in television service in Africa. In the Eastern Region, Dr. Michael Opara was boosting the production of palm produce in the country. Then, Nigeria was the largest producer of palm produce in the world. In the Mid-West Region, Sir Denis Osadebe was boosting rubber production. We had massive rubber plantation in the Mid-West, which encouraged Michelin to set up tyres factory in Nigeria. Michelin has since closed down, because the 36 states are viable for economic development.

At the Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu colloquium five years ago, you started a campaign for six-region federation. But this campaign has gone beyond the media. Specifically, how have you been engaging the leadership to achieve a re-negotiated Nigeria?
I have taken part in some of the discussions that have been held under the umbrella of the Patriot currently being chaired by Prof. Ben Nwabueze. Let me say this, I have since then slightly revised my view on the federating units. Instead of the six federating units that I was advocating then, I am now persuaded by recent developments that we should have eight federating units. You may ask me which two federating units we should add to make it eight. I would say I am persuaded that the Middle Belt Region has a strong case of becoming a region of its own because agitation for Middle Belt Region, in fact, predated our independence. It is one of those agitations that have been sustained over the years. Also, I think what used to be Mid-West Region could be revived so that we have eight regions instead of the six geo-political zones we have at the moment.

And again, I should make one point on the political front about the present structure we are operating in the country. The present structure gives so much power to the centre. It is rarely a federation we are running at the moment. We are running a federation only in name. In practice, it is unitary system, because Abuja is the all-powerful element in the structure. The result of that is that the competition for the control of Abuja or the presidency has become so intensified. It is not only intensified, but has also exacerbated our four climes: religion, ethnicity, politics and economy.

The competition is motivated by each ethnic group and each religious group in an attempt to control the country. That is very destabilising. Whereas if we have regions that are reasonably autonomous in terms of development and in terms of internal security responsibilities, we will return to the situation we had in the years before and immediately after the independence. The Sadauna of Sokoto, Sir Ahmadu Bello who would have been Prime Minister, chose instead to remain in Kaduna as a Premier. And he then sent his lieutenant, Sir Tafawa Balewa, to Lagos to be the Prime Minister. At that period, the competition for the federal power was not attractive. He saw the Northern Region as the viable basis of developing the region.

The All Progressives Congress has set up a Committee on restructuring under the chairmanship of the Kaduna State Governor, Mallam Nasir Ahmed el-Rufai. At different public fora in different parts of Nigeria, the northern leaders have opposed the calls for restructuring on the grounds that it could break the country. Do you share their fear?
I do not think that restructuring Nigeria will lead to breakup. It is a valid statement. Indeed, restructuring will create the basis for greater unity of the country. The suggestion that restructuring will lead to breakup is totally fallacious. What will lead to breakup is if these agitations are not dealt with. The agitations include the plan of Boko Haram to set up a Caliphate System in the North and the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) wants to set up a state of Biafra. And the Niger Delta militants are saying if their views are not upheld, they would declare Niger Delta Republic.

We had talks at the summit in Ibadan and there were some elements that talked about Oduduwa Republic. These are symptoms that underline dissatisfaction with the present structure of governance in the country. A restructured Nigeria will bring back the sense of nationalism and unity that existed in the immediate years after independence. Then the regions were competing for development in a healthy manner. There was no threat at all. No person complained of marginalisation except the Middle Belt. The idea that restructuring will lead to disintegration is a false idea.

Indeed, a good number of national leaders have called for a restructured Nigeria, but they have not emphasised how optimal result is achievable. How does Nigeria restructure without conflict or breakup?
What I am saying is that we can restructure if the current pressure and clamour for restructuring is to be maintained. It is my hope that the Muhammadu Buhari Presidency will recognise the widespread nature of the clamour. Having done so, we proceed to set up a constitution drafting committee. I mean a constitution drafting committee that will be broadly representative of different sectors of this country. It will start with the cultural groups, which include Afenifere, Ohaneze, Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) and Ijaw National Council (INC) among others. Representatives of traditional rulers, representatives of youths, representatives of women, representatives of trade unions and some constitutional lawyers must be included in the constitution drafting committee.

The president can take the initiative to set up such a committee now. And that committee or constituent assembly will then take the 1963 Constitution and also take account of changes that had occurred in the country since then. It will consider reports of national conference that was organised by President Olusegun Obasanjo. And indeed, it will consider reports of national conferences organised under the regimes of former President Goodluck Jonathan, Gen. Ibrahim Babangida and Gen. Sani Abacha.

The committee will take account of all reports of the constitutional conferences and produce a draft constitution for a restructured Nigeria. And that draft constitution will be sent as an Executive Bill from the Presidency to the National Assembly. The National Assembly will be asked to consider it and also provide legislation for a referendum which does not exist in the country’s constitution. Once that is adopted, it would be put to national referendum. At the end of the process, we will have a constitution that can be truly described as we, the people of the Federal Republic Nigeria, have firmly agreed and solemnly resolved to…. This is very practical.

Good as you proposed. But what do you think are the consequences of not restructuring Nigeria?
I am full of fear for the future of the country. Already, Nigeria is listed in the rank of potential failed state. I find it absolutely unacceptable and totally worrying. I was in the service of my country when we all loved to say we were Nigerians. Then, Nigerian Passports were recognised and respected abroad. But now, our passport is treated with absolute lack of respect in many parts of the world. How did we come to that? We arrived at that point because of the current state of affairs in the country. And if that state of affairs is not adequately addressed through restructuring, the situation in my view will continue to get worse until possibly we become a truly failed state, which we all do not want.

What message are you getting from the international community?
First and foremost, we have a large diplomatic representation in Nigeria. The number of countries that have diplomatic representation in Nigeria is a large number. All the diplomatic envoys in Nigeria will be writing reports to their home governments, telling them what is happening in Nigeria. Already, there is evidence of Nigerians being deported so easily from many countries now than it used to happen. These are practical evidence to show that the international community is not unaware of what is happening in Nigeria.
I read in the newspapers recently that the European Union and the US Government did not regard the IPOB as a terrorist organisation. We give them cause to interfere in our domestic affairs. As an internationalist, I resent that. I resent foreign interference in our domestic issues. But at the same time, I acknowledge that we give them cause to interfere in domestic affairs. When things were running well like the years after our independence, no country would intervene in our domestic affairs. There was no country that made statements about Nigeria other than complimentary statements. But now, we have criticisms from abroad. That should be worrying.

At the level of Patriots, is there any plan to visit President Buhari on the need to restructure Nigeria?
Well, the Patriots have adopted the umbrella of Project Nigeria. People discussing have centrally been representatives from the South-west, South-east, South-south and some are from the Middle Belt. And the plan is to have a discussion with representatives of our brothers and sisters from the northern zones. And my hope is that after such dialogue between representatives from all over the country, we will have a plan that will then be put to the President. We will say to him, please, respond to this clamour for restructuring. I was very pleased to read a recent report that the President was not opposed to restructuring or devolution of power. If that report is correct, it shows that the president is aware of the widespread nature and the strength of clamour for restructuring. That is indeed a good sign.

With the 2019 general election less than two years away, can we still restructure Nigeria before electioneering kicks off?
I do not think restructuring will affect the election in any way. Rather, I think if the federal government responds positively to the clamour, we can begin to take the steps I have outlined one after the other as soon as we enter into 2018. These steps could be completed before 2019 general election. And the 2019 general election will be held under a new constitution.

You facilitated a peace accord that former President Jonathan and President Buhari signed before the 2015 presidential election. How did it happen?
The 2015 general election would have been violent. I was concerned then that if then General Buhari did not win the election, we would have violence not only in the North, but also other parts of the country. On the other hand, if President Jonathan did not concede defeat, there would be violence in the Niger Delta. That was why I strongly moved for the Abuja Peace Accord, which committed all presidential candidates principally to two things, first to discourage their members and supporters from employing violence during the campaign and secondly, to accept the result of the election.

Eventually, the country was saved. At the pre-Buhari inauguration banquet, you would recall that there were two speeches. Former President Goodluck Jonathan delivered the first speech. I delivered the second speech. I titled my speech: ‘Proposing the Toast to Democracy’. In my speech, I made two main points. First, I said the country owed a debt of gratitude to Jonathan for having readily and willingly conceded defeat to Buhari. The second point, which I made looking directly at Buhari, was to tell him that people voted for him not just on the basis of his campaign promises, but on the basis of people’s perception of his personal character.

I went on to list four attributes that attracted people to vote for him. First, they saw him a disciplined individual. Second, they believed him when he said he would fight corruption. Third, they admired his frugal lifestyle. I would say Buhari was the only Head of State who lived in a bungalow and who was not involved in ostentatious lavish party. Fourth, the people believed that he genuinely care for the welfare of the masses. That is why the masses fight and die for him. I expressed hope and expectation that his administration would be built with these attributes. I made these points in the speech I delivered at the pre-inauguration banquet on May 28, 2015.

More than two years after the pre-inauguration banquet, do you still share the view?
I actually know you are still coming to that. But I will not say anything again

Beyond all you have said, what then is your message to President Buhari?
My message is to the country and particularly to the federal government: Please recognise the strength and widespread nature of the clamour for restructuring and respond to that clamour positively.

Quote: As a country, I do not think we have ever been faced with this number of agitations and militancy since independence. Since the 1967 Civil War, I do not think this country has ever been as divided as it is now in the face of these challenges. So, I am not so sure that the notion that Nigeria was always able to pull back from the brink will be valid under the present circumstances