By Kenny Ashaka and Abdullahi Hassan
Spokesman of the Northern Elders Forum, a think-tank for the 19 Northern states, Prof. Ango Abdullahi may have unwittingly caused the settled dust of the need for Nigeria’s breakup into smaller units to rise and swirl around. In an interview with Sunday Sun in his farm in Zaria recently, Ango, a politician, professor of Agronomy, one-time Vice Chancellor of Ahmadu Bello University who attended four constitutional conferences in Nigeria threw a challenge to those who think that the North is afraid of Nigeria’s disintegration into more basic constituents, saying the North was ever ready for the dissolution and that the way to go about it was through the calling of a formal meeting with complete powers to terminate the legal relationships between the constituent parts in Nigeria.
According to him, If we agree that we should live together as a people and as a country, so be it, but if the general consensus is that Nigerians want to go their separate ways either on the basis of ethnicity, culture, history or religion, why not; why not, adding, “if anybody tells you that the large informed opinion in the North is against the dissolution of Nigeria, he is telling you lies.”
Ango holds strong views when it comes to matters of regional combination of parts that works together well, but he says, “the only thing we have not done which I prefer we do is Sovereign National Conference where the decision of the people will determine whether Nigeria stays as a country or people will go in as many separate ways as they choose.” He spoke on other topical issues as well. Happy reading.
The governors of the 19 Northern States held a meeting recently in Kaduna. The key word and part of their concern was the unity of the North. As the spokesman of the Northern Elders Forum, I wonder if your forum is not worried about the disappearance of the once monolithic North. It seems the fabric of the unity of the North has been weakened. Or how do you think?
This should not surprise you if you only go back to history. In 1960, you had three regions in this country. It was in 1963 that the fourth region, the Mid-West region came into existence and each region had a constitution, Eastern region, Western region, Northern region and later Mid-West region constitution. So, we had three regions, virtually autonomous regions in 1960 up to 1963. And if you look at the political set up at that time, what we had was a weak central formation called Central Government with certain responsibilities mainly having to do with Foreign policy, the Armed Forces and so on.
But most of the nitty-gritty in governance was left in the hands of the regions. There was the premier of Western Nigeria, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, the premier of Eastern Nigeria, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe and the premier of Northern Nigeria, Sir. Ahmadu Bello. Ahmadu Bello was the leader of the Northern People’s Congress, NPC, but given the importance of making sure that the North was governed properly, he gave up the idea of being the Prime Minister of this country even though he was the leader of the largest political party at the time that was controlling the federal legislature. They decided that Abubakar (Tafawa Balewa) should go to the center, he will remain here in the North. The North under Sardauna was as diverse as it is today, but it is a matter of style of leadership and of course, the constitutional arrangement in existence at that time made the North one, what you described as it appears to be monolithic because to everybody the rallying point was Kaduna.
You used the word it appears and…
(Cuts in) No, I said it appears…and it was true, at least politically and legally that there was one rallying point, Kaduna. This was where the seat of government was. This was where the premier of Northern region was. This is where the governor of Northern Nigeria was. This is where the Houses responsible for legislative work affecting the region were all here in Kaduna. So, every part of the North looked up to Kaduna as the place to solve problems affecting them, whether it was a local problem or a problem affecting the entire region. So, this is what made it…and of course, the style of leadership of the premier made sure that every part of the North felt North. And this is why all of us, irrespective of tribe and so on were referred to as Northerners. I went to the University of Ibadan, the only University available in the country at that time and your name whether you are from Plateau or Benue is just “Mallam,” just Northerner that’s all and we accepted it.
This is not to say that there was no diversity in the North. In fact, it was only in the North where you have, even during colonial times where you have active political activists operating in the region. You have the Middle Belt Congress, NEPU, Borno Youth Movement, all were political groups that were contesting elections and were winning and having members in the Northern House of Assembly. So it is not true that the North was monolithic in terms of its ethnic diversity or in terms of its political activities or beliefs. In fact, it was the only region where I remember in 1979 where you had four political parties forming governments in different parts of the North.
The problem started at the point when civilian government was disrupted violently in 1966. That was the beginning. And the beginning there was obvious. Even at that point, various parts of the country believed that the best way to go was to go our separate ways, including then General Yakubu Gowon himself who became the Head of State after Ironsi was kicked out. The basis of Nigeria’s unity no longer existed. This was the position. But some elders, particularly in the Mid-West area; one can recall the roles played by Chief Enahoro and quite a number of people like him who felt that there was still room for Nigeria to remain together and this is why they encouraged the Aburi meeting with Ojukwu and General Gowon and so on and so forth.
That was the beginning. When eventually the North and other parts of the country were broken into states, the legal and political cohesion that was known to be in the North began to wane because as I told you there was only one regional government, but by the time six states were created and six other states were created to make it 12 states structure, that was the beginning when some of the cohesion that was known to be Northern heritage, more or less, began to give way to some of these ethnic, cultural and religious issues and so on and so forth.
But even today when people like you talk, you still say the North, yet you are telling me here that…
Oh yes, the North has always been the North. It was the North before…I mean from 1914, the British created the North and created the South and later split the South into East and West.
That was up to a point
Yes, but as political units.
But even after the creation of states, you still talk as if the North is monolithic
Okay, this is your main concern. The North refers to itself as North. You will rather have us refer to ourselves as Northern States of Nigeria maybe.
But that is what it is
That is more comfortable for you.
But it is comfortable for people to say this is Yoruba Nation or this is Igbo Nation and so on.
That’s okay; but it’s not okay for the North to refer to itself as North. Is that not correct?
It’s like Nigeria’s sovereignty is negotiable from the way you are talking?
Absolutely, there is nothing sacrosanct.
But it is also clear that you are swimming against the tide of opinion of some other Northerners because they are also opposed to the negotiation of Nigeria’s sovereignty and her restructuring. Can you rationalize this?
No, no, no, no. I think all these appear to me as putting words into our mouth. If you agree with me, particularly in the history of nations around the world, you find numerous examples where countries started as one. India, 49 started as India; the following year it was India and Pakistan, another year it was Pakistan and Bangladesh; Bosnia recently, Soviet Union, super power, there are 15 countries now from what used to be one super power only 15 or so years ago. There are so many countries like that around the world. Britain, the so called oldest democracy in the world only two, three years ago there was a referendum that Scotland wanted to leave the union and so on.
So, this is a continuing thing and there is no such thing as a permanent nation even if that nation is made up of one ethnic group. There are very few nation states around the world today. Nation state means that they are both a nation mainly perhaps of the same ethnic stock, linguistic group, historical and cultural group and so on and so forth and yet a political formation, very few. See what is happening in United States. United States is an example of what happened in the recent election, but this is a country that is as diverse as when it was formed. As it is today it is more diverse. I was watching one of the demonstrations where they were saying “we are all immigrants.
Nobody in American will claim that he is an American except the American Indian that is an indigene of the United States; we are all immigrants, depending at what point we arrived here.” So you see, this is the same case here with Nigeria. When this constitution was fabricated…I attended four constitutional conferences in Nigeria. I was a member in 1986-87, 1995-96 and 2005, the Obasanjo political reforms conference. We refused to attend the so-called Jonathan national nonsense that he tried to do. So, I don’t agree that Nigeria is indissoluble.
I don’t agree at all Nigeria is a formation of people. If we agree that we should live together as a people and as a country, so be it, but if the general consensus is that Nigerians want to go their separate ways either on the basis of ethnicity, culture, history or religion, why not; why not. If anybody tells you that the large informed opinion in the North is against the dissolution of Nigeria, he is telling you lies.
Is the North really ready for dissolution?
Absolutely, absolutely, we are. It all depends on the selfish way people want to negotiate. I am 78 now and I also went to the only university in the country at the time in Ibadan. Nobody can tell me about the history of this country. I know a lot about it because I was very much awake and a grown up person to know what happened. The people who argued for the creation of states in 1966/67 are the same people today who are asking for the restructuring of Nigeria with particular preference for regional arrangements. The South-west wants preferably a region, a region that was at one time under the leadership of Chief Awolowo, unless, of course, you are trying to ignore all the writings, all the things that had been written, particularly in their declaration called DAWN, Development Agenda for Western Nigeria, then you can ignore this.
The Biafrans where you belong, for example, are saying the same thing. Chief Ekwueme is my respected leader. He was in the 1995/96 conference. In fact, he led the Igbo socio-cultural group to the conference and their proposal in that conference was for Nigeria to become a confederate unit. And of course, at that time, perhaps, there was still the feeling that some hopes still remain that Nigeria should paddle along and perhaps they will overcome some of these differences. His proposal for confederate arrangement was defeated in the conference. I was there. But when he got the opportunity to review the report of the conference, a committee was set up to look at the report of the conference.
He was the one who really worked for these so-called geo-political areas that is totally unconstitutional. They are not part of our constitution and this is one of the mistakes that the country is going through. Geo-political zones are not units in our constitutional arrangements. They are selfish conveniences of people who are perhaps clamouring for political positions, elective or otherwise, that are operating today to the detriment of good governance in this country.
Why is the North ready for dissolution? What are the indices?
The biggest indices other Nigerians do not want Nigeria; so I don’t see why the North should insist on having Nigeria. That is the biggest index I have. And this is on the basis of the recent statements. The Nigerian elite are the ones undermining the existence of the country and as long as they remain in the fore-front as elite and politicians, so long as we are going to have problems, so long will Nigeria not have the rapid development that we had hoped to when we got independence in 1960.
Have we statements that are calling for the dissolution of this country?
No, there are, there are, there are; the Nwabuezes of this world. We sat with him a number of times, we argued, he is vehemently anti-North, anti-Hausa/Fulani. I spoke to him and he cannot deny this.
What I know they have been talking about is restructuring, that the country should be restructured
Which restructuring? What restructuring do you want? Initially, there was a bloc country broken into regions. The regions were broken into states and today, there are 774 local governments, mainly in pursuance of so-called grassroots participation in government. What else is there? The only thing that we have not had…we had constitutional conferences so many of them. We had all these creation of states, which we were not able to do as civilians and we only waited for the military to come and do them and still people are saying that they are not satisfied with the structure as it is in Nigeria.
Are you sure you are speaking the minds of northerners because they will challenge you?
They are welcome. I am waiting for them. I am speaking my mind. I am a northerner and there are so many people who share my views and there are so many people who may not share my views, but I can assure you there are quite a number of people who share these views today. The indicators are very clear. The North appears as if it is the one that should carry the can for Nigeria’s unity and this is not acceptable anymore. If Nigeria is beneficial to all Nigerians, so be it, but Nigeria should not be kept while the North is being blackmailed and that Nigeria unity should be at the expense of the North. So this is not acceptable anymore. So, the North is ready for dissolution, anytime.
If that is the case, how do we go about the dissolution?
Well, we can…the only thing I was going to say and I didn’t say is that we had all the constitutional conferences that we should never have had from colonial to post colonial periods; constitutional conferences every day, Nigeria is not working, what can we do; we kept doing all these conferences and so on. The only thing we have not done which I prefer we do is Sovereign National Conference where the decision of the people will determine whether Nigeria stays as a country or people will go in as many separate ways as they choose. So there should be no more restructuring in terms of the geography of the country as far as I know that will make any sense, but restructuring politically, socially and so on …we made quite a number of mistakes.
For example I am one of those who don’t believe in presidential system. This is the first mistake Nigeria made, to abandon the parliamentary system of government and adopt this Karakara presidential system of government, which contribution to the Nigerian state is merely corruption, indiscipline and so on. For those of us who lived in the days of parliamentary system, we can say that there is more accountability in the system. You cannot be a minister unless you are elected from your constituency. But now, if you are a bootlicker and praise singer of the president, governor or local government chairman you are given a position.
But these conferences you attended were meant to address these issues you have raised. Yet the results of the sittings have not manifested. Why is this so?
This is the more reason why now we should have the last kind of conference which we did not have, Sovereign National Conference where the issues will not be tinkered with, just a simple resolution whether this is a country that we want to keep or whether this is a country we should divide in accordance with historical conveniences and so on and so forth. And this should be quite possible.
It would seem Nigeria is not moving forward because…
(Cuts in) This is the main reason. Because the political processes are still being controlled by the very leadership that failed us in the past and it looks they have reached the limit of their abilities and willingness to offer change.
Would that assessment be right?
Yes and no.
We have just talked about our founding fathers. They did very well. Do you agree?
Very well. The Azikiwes, the Awolowos, the Sardauna, they did very well for their regions and for the country for that matter. But the succeeding leadership that came on the basis of a major disruption which took place in 1966 is what we are living with today. The instability in political, economic, social, religious spheres are all consequences of those hard times that we went through. Having led the country through a civil war, you do not expect General Yakubu Gowon, himself now a special man of God, good pastor, he wouldn’t wish that the Nigerian state that he fought and perhaps could have died for to disintegrate. Talk to any of these former military officers.
But he wanted it earlier?
Exactly, if you also recorded him you might want to remind him that but you wanted it earlier. It is just the weight of leadership. If you ask Buhari today…if I confront him with my idea that this country is not sacrosanct, he would hardly speak to me because he would say the country which he fought on her side and nearly died will not die under his hands. He is a leader now, the same thing could have happened with Babangida and any former military officer, Obasanjo in particular. He talks about the Nigerian project all the time, but what did he do as president. Well, let’s excuse him during the military leadership he provided from Murtala to himself. It was all military, but he eventually became a civilian president. I was one of those initially…he may deny, but it may be difficult for him to deny I am not one of those who made it possible because when he declared for president I was sitting with him with his wife in Ota for his declaration.
He was not even a member of the PDP at the time. We have not recruited him into the party but we decided he should indicate his interest and that’s how they slugged it out under this power rotation, which we agreed on in the 1986 conference. I was the chairman of the power sharing committee and we agreed that for the peace of Nigeria, the democracy of one man, one vote perhaps needs to be modified so that everybody should be carried along at one point or the other. If it was on the basis of one man, one vote, of course, the North divided as it may seem to you could always vote in one place like it did in the last election. We mobilized and people never believed. Each time I gave interviews they say the North is divided and I will say no the North is not and you wait and see how the North will vote.
Are you saying it is the votes of the North that brought Buhari in as president in 2015?
Northern votes, seventy percent of the votes.
Is it not a combination of the votes from the South-west because this is one contentious issue and…
(Cuts in) There is no contention here. South-west added value in terms of spread. Buhari’s votes were not much bigger than Jonathan’s votes in the South-west. Go and check the votes in the last election. They added value in view of the fact that there is a provision in the electoral law that there is need for a spread, otherwise we would run into a run-off when those conditions are not met, the spread that you should get certain percentage of the votes in at least certain percentage of the states. So, to that extent, the South-west contributed, added value to the advantage that Buhari had to win the election first run.
If that had not come, what remains in the constitutional, legal or electoral law is that a run-off becomes necessary and a run-off means that even if you win by a majority of one vote, you have won an election and given the fact that the votes cast in the North was 70 percent, Buhari will still win an election with the votes in the North. He would have won the election, perhaps in a run-off. If the run-off provides that simple majority is enough, that’s why Buhari would still have won the election.
Without the coalition with the South-west that brought about the merger, would there have been a platform like APC that…
No, no, no. There wouldn’t have been. The coalition is between parties. It just happened that these parties were regionally based. If you take, for instance, the contributions we had in terms of parties from the South, it is ACN in the South-west and a faction of APGA in the South-east. The remaining parties, CPC-North and ANPP again, North; these are the major elements that went to form the structure that formed the APC today.
Are you sure if these factions split now, Buhari can win the 2019 election?
We are not talking about candidates now for 2019 elections.
I am just asking you because from your analysis…
(Cuts in) No, you cannot ask me whether it is Buhari that is contesting election in 2019.
Let us assume he is the person going to run.
Okay, we should assume that he runs…
(Cuts in) Are you sure Buhari will win if you remove the factions and you leave it to the North alone?
If you go back to the situation we had or we created in 2015 for Buhari to have the highest votes that made him president, assuming the same condition will exist in 2019, he will win.