Time to Reclaim Nigeria
By Chido Onumah
African Centre for Media & Information Literacy, 2011
Nigeria is Negotiable
By Chido Onumah
African Centre for Media & Information Literacy, 2013
We Are All Biafrans
By Chido Onumah
Before it became the politically correct chant on the opportunistic lips of those who are currently mongering the phrase among the political elite, civil society organisations and social media denizens, one individual was sufficiently concerned about the vile state of his country to have earlier expended no less than a quarter of a century chronicling all that ails Nigeria, and the measures needed to restore her to good health. He wanted Nigeria reclaimed. He wanted Nigeria renegotiated. He wanted Nigeria restructured. And, urgently, too. This has been quite a tall call.
With a trilogy of books of essays collected and published between 2011 and 2016, Chido Onumah has stirred up a nation-awakening debate that will not recede any time soon. His passion to put a human perspective to the dry factual staple of reportage that the practiced journalist served set him on the path to essay writing. And this was rewarded with “Riding The Tiger”, his first article written for a national newspaper being published in the Punch newspaper on December 18, 1991. Since then he has written over five hundred essays for newspapers, magazines and online journals in Africa, Europe, North America and Asia, to expose the individuals, institutions and events that have leveled Nigeria its sordid present state.
The apt question posed by Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, Governor, State of Osun, in the speech presented on his behalf at the launch of the first book of the trilogy, Time To Reclaim Nigeria, is still pertinent: How do you begin to reclaim a nation you never owned? By the time one has navigated the heartfelt thoughts of the author in the first book, one is left in no doubt about Chido Onumah’s proof of ‘ownership’ of his Nigerianness. The same feeling described in different words by Derek Walcott thus: “Islands can only exist if we have loved in them”.
Are the currently divided Nigerian citizens across ethnic, religious and class divisions, ready to own and drive the process of remaking their respective nationalities into a greater harmonised and equitable federal union? Are Nigerians ready to tread this same path that was prophetically counselled long ago..?
Two hundred and eighty-eight pages, forty-six essays and three appendices after, the author discharged the responsibility of claiming ownership of his country by way of the intensity of his passion and commitment so genuinely felt in most of his nation-critiquing articles. If the number of readers whose comments are published in a section of the book is a fair measure of the significance of the book’s contents to national discourse, then fifty Nigerians within the country and across the world acclaiming the timeliness of Time To Reclaim Nigeria in 2011 is quite a hefty figure.
The biggest of the three compendiums and perhaps the one that stirred the biggest controversy when it was published and presented in Abuja in 2013, perhaps because of its title, is the second book, Nigeria Is Negotiable! The blurb on the front cover of the book also conveys the intents of the author in clear terms with the uncompromising words of Bola Ige, the assassinated Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the federation, and also former Governor of old Oyo State:
”There are two basic questions that must be answered by all of us Nigerians. One, do we want to remain as one country? Two, if the answer is yes, under what conditions?” One hundred and twenty four essays and two appendices after, the author leaves no one in doubt regarding his call to his compatriots from every region in Nigeria to start a fresh discussion on national renewal in the face of the cumulative evidence of state failure besetting the nation.
If the title of the second sounded rather militant and alienating to some, the third set of essays, We Are All Biafrans, rings more expansive and conciliatory. We. Are. All. Biafrans. What a dare to bury the ethnic stereotype attached to that ‘Biafra’ word, forever! What a deconstructive and inspired clincher of a title! And the nation suddenly went agog when the public presentation was held months ago at the Yar’Adua Centre, Abuja. And no less than the voice of former Nigeria’s Vice President, Atiku Abubakar, literally gave his imprimatur to the basic thesis of the last book of the trilogy: restructure Nigeria, urgently.
The front page splash the book event received in most of the major national newspapers and the widespread discussion it also generated across social media weeks and months later, finally vindicated the efforts of the author to awaken the nation to what needs to be done urgently to ensure national integration, stability and development in Nigeria.
I recall my first meeting with the author in Abuja in 2007 when, as pioneer coordinator of the civil society arm (Fix Nigeria Initiative) of the crime prevention unit, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), artists and cultural producers were drafted by his office from across Nigeria into the high-minded brawl against corruption during the Nuhu Ribadu days.
Chido Onumah is a Nigerian journalist. He has worked as a journalist and rights activist in Nigeria, Ghana, Canada, USA, India, and the Caribbean. He has been involved, for more than a decade, in media training for professional journalists, as well as promoting media and information literacy in Africa. He is currently coordinator of the African Centre for Media & Information Literacy (AFRICMIL), an Abuja, Nigeria-based pan-African centre dedicated to a fresh vision of media and information literacy as a key component in the education of young people in Africa.
I recall my first meeting with the author in Abuja in 2007 when, as pioneer coordinator of the civil society arm (Fix Nigeria Initiative) of the crime prevention unit, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), artists and cultural producers were drafted by his office from across Nigeria into the high-minded brawl against corruption during the Nuhu Ribadu days. I returned to Lagos after the event feeling moved by this self-effacing but highly committed individual.
By the time we met again in 2011, of course the affairs of state in Nigeria had deteriorated dangerously and he had left the EFCC. Chido Onumah has always been involved in personal and professional capacities to lift his nation from its prolonged season in a dehumanising abyss. And we were sharing random thoughts on the Nigerian polity at his home in Abuja, in the surrounding gloom ensured by the absence of power, that the idea of collecting his essays for immediate publication took up an urgency that drove both of us and the rest of the editorial team to get the first of the trilogy of books, Time To Reclaim Nigeria, published and presented after thirty days in Abuja.
The rest is the story of a nation-stirring trilogy that is still resonating nationwide. And continent-wide also, as the author has just done a trip to South Africa to present the third book, We Are All Biafrans. The theme of the third book is also the basis for the invitation he received months ago to deliver a keynote speech by a Nigerian community in the United States of America this October.
Are the currently divided Nigerian citizens across ethnic, religious and class divisions, ready to own and drive the process of remaking their respective nationalities into a greater harmonised and equitable federal union? Are Nigerians ready to tread this same path that was prophetically counselled long ago by the great Awo in his 1947 treatise, Path To Nigerian Freedom; and, also reinforced by Raph Uwechue in his sobering, “Reflections On The Nigerian Civil War-Facing The Future” (1971). A positive adoption of these heartfelt and pragmatic ideas, ultimately, will be the true historic achievement of The Chido Onumah Trilogy.
A Conversation Around the Chido Onumah trilogy
PT: If a nation is not merely a mosaic of myths and narratives that leaders and citizens alike mouth and recycle, then we may not be wrong to say a nation is what a nation does. Your trilogy on the Nigerian situation posits a thesis clearly that we are stuck with a predatory and repressive nation where the only order that endures here is disorder – from which your first book prays we should be reclaimed. That your second book pleads we have the good sense to negotiate ourselves out of. That your third book hopes we will bond together to restructure into a modernised and truly humanised new order in Nigeria? Does this random summary speak to what you have been about when you marked your 50th birthday with the nation-awakening book with an equally inspired title, We Are All Biafrans?
CO: Yes it does. I don’t know if it is my upbringing, my ideological persuasion and training or the fact that I have moved around a lot, interacted with people from different cultures, backgrounds, religions, etc., but I always find myself trying to understand why we are so insular. When I look at people, it is their humanity that I see. It may sound surreal, but that is exactly the way I feel. Mentally, I struggle very hard to compartmentalise people. I think that explains my fascination with the National Question in Nigeria. I don’t think we can modernise or make progress as a country until we deal with Nigeria’s existential crisis. To that extent, We Are All Biafrans speaks to that reality: that we are all humans in the space called Nigeria and we need to collectively deal with the challenges that that reality throws up.
PT: Your essayistic interventions are distinguished not only for their polemical tenor and thrusts against our nation’s unjust order, but also for making clear to every reader the class conflict involved with the macabre struggle of the ethnic nationalities for supremacy in the political, economic, social, cultural and religious spheres of the nation. Is this a fair rendering of your concerns in what I have taken liberties to call the Chido Onumah Trilogy?
CO: You have touched on a very critical issue in this discourse about Nigeria. There are clearly two dimensions to the crisis and I sincerely believe we have to approach it accordingly. Unfortunately, there are some on the Left who don’t want to see it that way. They argue that the problem is class, pure and simple. While I agree, for example, that the suffering masses can be found in every nook and cranny of the country, we can’t also deny the fact that even within the ruling class, there is a hegemonic group. To that extent, we can see and feel the difference and tension even among the suffering people. I would be happy to deal with our crisis as a purely class issue but the reality is that it is not. The National Question in Nigeria is real.
PT: The colonial intervention in every sense came through an external force, and, formally ended in 1960. Some would also say that was also the beginning of the reign of what the Italian cultural theorist, Antonio Gramsci, termed, “domestic colonialism”, which has not made national integration and national development possible. How do you respond to this view?
CO: This is a very touchy issue. Unfortunately, it is real and alive. The way our hegemonic power blocs and ruling elite have carried on since independence, there is no other way to describe it other than “internal colonialism” or to use Gramsci’s words, “domestic colonialism”. Look at the situation in the Niger Delta and the Nigerian state’s response to demands and agitations of citizens there. Not even the external colonisers would have behaved the way our “internal colonisers” are behaving. They seize resources, hand out crumbs to those in whose territories the resources are located and barely pay attention to the environmental crisis going on there. Take the issue of creation of local governments: Lagos that has more people than Kano has twenty local governments, while Kano has forty-four. Or even the issue of revenue allocation where land mass is a factor. There are many examples we can cite. It is this hegemonic reality that makes national integration and therefore development impossible
PT: In a 2010 keynote address, “What Nigeria Means To Me”, Chinua Achebe, in his typically frank prose said: “Our 1960 national anthem, given to us as a parting gift by a British housewife in England had called Nigeria ‘our sovereign motherland’. The current anthem, put together by a committee of Nigerian intellectuals and actually worse than the first one, invokes the father image. But it has occurred to me that Nigeria is neither my mother nor my father. Nigeria is a child. Gifted enormously, talented, prodigiously endowed and incredibly wayward.” He counsels later in the essay that this “wayward child” should be coaxed “along the path of useful creative development”. Do you share this view/and how should this “coaxing” be done?
CO: I share Achebe’s position completely. Nigeria is a nation of great potentials. But it has remained just that: a country of great potentials. How do we “coax” the country to unleash its potentials? It is a difficult question, one that goes to the very foundation of the country. My view is that we have to create a nation out of the contraption that was handed over to us by the colonialists. Once that is done, all other things, as the saying goes, will be added to unto us.
PT: A very pertinent question was posed by Wole Soyinka in his 1997 book of essays, The Open Sore of a Continent, which also connects with the thematic preoccupations in the Chido Onumah Trilogy: “When is a nation?” Would you say your three books have done enough in the collective search for an answer? And I have your second and third books in mind – Nigeria Is Negotiable and We Are All Biafrans. Second, do we become a nation the moment we recognise that we are all disadvantaged as isolated and mutually antagonistic tribes and will forever be if we continue to place the ethnic above the national interest? And perhaps, agreeing on new terms of bonding together might save the union?
I hate to sound like a broken record but we can’t do any of the things that will set us on the path of development if we don’t craft a vision of the kind of nation we want to build first. Do we want to build an inclusive and modern nation or do we wish to maintain a neo-colonial and neo-feudal society in the 21st century?
CO: Without sounding immodest, I would say the three books have covered almost all grounds in an attempt to understand and find answers to what ails Nigeria. And I don’t mean the details. I am focused more on the big picture because if we don’t deal with the issue of nationhood, we can’t deal with the specific, whether we are talking about education, health, etc. The books are not in any particular order. The first one, Time to Reclaim Nigeria is a clarion call for Nigerians to “reclaim” the country, to save it from the brink. I remember the governor of the State of Osun, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, posing the question in his keynote speech during the public presentation: “How do you reclaim what you never owned?” What he was referring to actually was that we have to deal with the existential crisis in Nigeria. And I think my response, though not deliberate, was the second book, Nigeria is Negotiable. The argument basically is that we have to collectively agree on what Nigeria means to us and reorder the country accordingly based on this new vision. And the last book, We Are All Biafrans, is to say Nigerians all over the country are going through one form of “marginalisation” or “oppression”. But we won’t become a nation by simply assuming that we are all “marginalised” or “oppressed”. What makes us a nation is the issue you raised at the end of your question: how do we place the national interest above the ethnic allegiance? We need to fashion out and agree on new terms of engagement. That is the only way to save Nigeria. As I noted in one of the essays in the last book, Nigeria was created in the image of the colonisers; we have to recreate Nigeria in the image of the 170 million people who call this place their homeland. It is going to be a huge challenge, but it is doable.
PT: The amalgamation of 1914 has accorded Nigeria an exceptional status within Africa and beyond, Ali Mazrui has argued. He gave some reasons for his thesis: population, three pivotal ethnic groups, etc… How far can we rely on this rather flattering statement against the background of all of Nigeria’s obvious failure to modernise and become a stable federation, a century after the amalgamation, and fifty-six years after independence from colonial rule?
CO: Mazrui’s analysis is spot on. It touches on the strength of Nigeria which if harnessed can make the country a global contender. But again there is the other side of the argument. I am open to be corrected, but I don’t know of any other country where you have three dominant ethnic nationalities. In a sense, it is the struggle for power and control among these three major groups that is responsible for much of the mess we have found ourselves. The same thing applies to religion. We have a balance of forces between the two major religions, Christianity and Islam. In a way, it is a good thing in that neither will seek to dominate. But in our own case, it has been a source of immense tension. Perhaps, the fact that no group can really dominate through and through without the support of other groups should help us wake up to the reality that it is time to make Nigeria work by building a stable federation.
PT: You would have thought that by now Nelson Mandela’s endearing words on Nigeria would have effected a positive change in the depressing state of the nation since he spoke with Hakeem Baba-Ahmed in South Africa in a December 2013 conversation. What comes to mind whenever you read these words from Mandela: “The world will not respect Africa until Nigeria earns that respect. The Black people of the world need Nigeria to be great as a source of pride and confidence. Nigerians love freedom and hate oppression. Why do you do it to yourselves?”
CO: What can I say? It makes your heart bleed when you realise the potentials of the “giant of Africa”, a country that ought to be the pride of the Black world, still on its knees. We have managed to fulfill every negative prophecy of the Black race or the developing world. It all goes back to the existential crisis in the country that I have spoken of and written about for more than two decades now. There is no way we can develop unless we build a nation first. We are afraid of one another. A fear and mistrust that was built into our history and psyche by the colonialists. I don’t I know of any other country where the evil machinations of colonialism manifested more than in this country. In Nigeria, the British colonialists overdid themselves in showcasing the infernal project that was colonialism. But hey, it’s been 56 years since the colonisers departed. We can’t continue to whine. We know what the problems are. We should face them squarely.
PT: “We can mark the beginning of another 100 years by devising a grand human development plan that will transform our most vulnerable communities and their citizens. We can draw up a human rights charter that vows to protect all Nigerians, and commit to ensuring that no Nigerian should ever have to live without access to clean water, habitation, basic sanitation and food. Every child should have access to routine immunisation and a school where they are guaranteed basic literacy and numeracy skills. We must include in our plan the creation and opening up of innovative job opportunities for all able-bodied citizens who want to work. We must commit to solving ethnic skirmishes using a bottom-up approach.” These words are from Fatima Akilu’s essay, “A Wasted Century”. Do you share the view in the title of the essay? And do you think her recommendations here have a chance of being realised within the present political context?
CO: Of course, I share Akilu’s views. There is always the fear that if you try to paint the true picture of the Nigerian tragedy, you are abused and called names. And I have had my fair share of people calling me names because I interrogate or insist that we must interrogate our current reality; a reality captured in the essay by Fatima Akilu. But we shouldn’t let that deter us. I hate to sound like a broken record but we can’t do any of the things that will set us on the path of development if we don’t craft a vision of the kind of nation we want to build first. Do we want to build an inclusive and modern nation or do we wish to maintain a neo-colonial and neo-feudal society in the 21st century? Unfortunately, we can’t build that new Nigeria of our dreams within the present political context, because it is a context that is divisive, exploitative, antithetical to development, wasteful and prone to corruption.
PT: “It is crucial to determine what will help change the tide against women and girls. Twenty years after the creation of a ministry of women affairs – a feat Nigeria was proud of achieving as one major milestone from the Beijing Platform for Action, it must be painful for those who fought and advocated for its creation to admit that things have not gone the way it was imagined. Having a ministry for women has not significantly improved the life of Nigerian women. At our most generous, the ministry has prevented things from getting worse.” This quote is from Ayisha Osori’s July 13, 2015, essay, “Being Female in Nigeria”. What in your view is the gender dimension to the idea of restructuring Nigeria?
At least, under colonialism, the colonialists knew they had to maintain a country for them to have a territory to govern and to call their own. In the case of our ruling class, which is also comprador, the country is taken for granted. They think or believe that nobody can push them anywhere like the colonialists. So they rape and dispossess with impunity…
CO: You have raised an interesting issue. It is one issue that seems to have been forgotten or pushed to the back burner of national discourse in Nigeria even among those on the Left. In the true sense of restructuring for development we need to deal with a number of questions: the National Question, The Gender Question and, of course, the Religious Question. There are so many encumbrances that women face in Nigeria, some economic, some religious, some ethnic, some political, some social, etc. As a nation, we need to address these challenges. Women constitute half, if not more, of our population and to make them adjuncts in the process of nation building will only spell doom for the country.
PT: In an essay titled, “Why We Have Been Restructuring”, that’s also a refreshing response to your third book, Dr. Jibrin Ibrahim, dropped what read like a timely reminder to all participating in this debate: “I am all for restructuring of Nigeria but let us all remember the objective is not restructuring in itself but, as Herbert Macaulay articulated at the beginning of the debate in 1946, RESTRUCTURING TO TRANSFER POWER TO CITIZENS.” Also, in an earnest essay, “The country we wish to see”, your great mentor Edwin Madunagu reiterates this need to focus on the long-forgotten citizens as the basis for preserving or altering the status quo: “I am passionate about the unity of Nigeria but not unity at all costs. It must be unity on the basis of the long-suffering, long-cheated and long-abused masses of Nigeria; not the unity of the cemetery or the unity of the predator and state robbers against the masses,” he wrote. The question remains: how will this ongoing debate being conducted among the elites and I daresay above the heads of the long forgotten citizens, not be another distractive exercise that will end up altering nothing?
CO: That is exactly my point. I don’t support restructuring for the sake of restructuring or for the benefit of particular ethnic nationalities. My sense of restructuring is to reorder the Nigerian society not just to avert the “internal colonialism” that is currently going on, but to give succour to millions of toiling and working people across the country. Dr. Jibrin raises a very important point. We have been restructuring for a long time. Unfortunately, the restructuring that has taken place so far has been done by the hegemonists for their interest. The new restructuring that we are clamouring for should not only be thorough but should be inclusive. The challenge, therefore, is how do we mobilise the mass of our people so that they understand and take charge of the restructuring debate that is going on currently for their own benefit. We can’t continue to throw around weasel words like, “The unity of Nigeria is not negotiable”. We can’t force unity or maintain it through the barrel of a gun. This is one very simple lesson Nigeria’s hegemonic elite has refused to learn. When every part of the country – and I don’t think there is any part that is asking for too much or more than its fair share – feels a sense of belonging, a sense of justice, then there would be no need to worry about the unity of the country. As long as we have what the late Odumegwu Ojukwu described as the unity of Jonah in the belly of the whale, we will continue to have crisis. The masses and working people, I believe, have an important role to play in reshaping this new narrative.
PT: Two important readers of your first book, Time to Reclaim Nigeria, seemed to have offered an instructive diagnosis and a self-indicting prescription on the present crisis. Harry Garuba says in his Foreword: “Reading through Chido’s pieces brought that feeling of perspicacity that hindsight provides, except that the catalogue of malfeasance neither seemed to have faded nor diminished. It was like returning to an old wound that simply refuses to heal or be cauterized no matter how you try.” And then, Ayo Obe, in her review: “It’s the people, the rubbish we put up with, the nonsense that we cheer and applaud, the crumbs we accept, our astonishment and gratitude that those whom we elected into office do anything for us at all, as if that is not what they are supposed to do. It’s us, the People.” How does the badly wounded populace understand that it possesses the might to alter this dehumanising status quo?
CO: That’s always the challenge. Some people have argued that Nigeria deserves the leaders it gets; that it is because we have allowed the “nonsense”, to use Ayo Obe’s word, to go unchallenged, that we have the kind of country we have today. In a way, those who push this argument are correct. But we must also understand the nature of Nigeria’s ruling elite, one far worse than the British colonialists, that has created the kind of society that has reduced the majority of citizens to supine animals whose daily preoccupation is to eke out a living. At least, under colonialism, the colonialists knew they had to maintain a country for them to have a territory to govern and to call their own. In the case of our ruling class, which is also comprador, the country is taken for granted. They think or believe that nobody can push them anywhere like the colonialists. So they rape and dispossess with impunity; they steal and acquire property as if there is no tomorrow. For them, there is nothing like enlightened self-interest. They appropriate money meant for education and health to themselves, which explains why over 10 million Nigerian children – the future prospects of this country – are not in school; it explains why Nigeria is in the company of Pakistan and Afghanistan as countries where polio remains endemic. But our ruling elite will be mistaken to think that this apathy will last forever.
PT: Also, two submissions by your well-respected compatriots and the reviewers of your second and third books, Nigeria is Negotiable and We Are All Biafrans, seem to sum up your long-running concern – restructuring Nigeria. In the words of Nnimmo Bassey: “The book wraps up on a very concrete note. It sees the planned centenary of the amalgamation of the nation as wrong-headed and suggests that it should be a most ‘auspicious moment to negotiate Nigeria’. We agree that there must be something basically wrong with a position that we should celebrate the day we were forced into a union and have since then been disallowed from even simply having a conversation about the nature, state, purpose and future of such a union.”
And in the words of Chidi Odinkalu: “Part of the reason for Nigeria’s failure in constructing a functional state, thirdly, is our collective tendency towards convenient amnesia. Nigeria, Chido Onumah, the author argues, “has not engaged with” those that it excludes. According to him, “Nigeria has not engaged with Biafra and there is a lot that is still unresolved about the civil war. But it’s not just Biafra and that tumultuous period of our history. There is a lot that is unresolved about Nigeria as a whole and about many aspects of our existence as a country. Nigeria has not engaged with June 12, just as we have not engaged with Boko Haram, to mention only two of the more recent episodic convulsions that threaten the very foundation of the country. In a sense, the Biafra experience could be a metaphor for the many unresolved problems that confront us as a country.
Chido Onumah, our prophet of nation-reclamation, of a re-negotiated and restructured Nigeria, how urgent is the urgency of NOW?
CO: I wish I had words to describe the urgency of now. Nigeria is in a very deep crisis and unless we do something, and urgently too, this country will end up like DR Congo or Somalia. Unfortunately, our rulers are fiddling while the country burns. We have been managing the Nigerian crisis for too long and I think we have really run out of options. I laugh when I hear some Nigerians say we are a resilient people, that we have survived a civil war and that we will survive any crisis, as if a nation is an eternal construct. They fail to understand the underlying architecture of the country; that Nigeria was rigged to fail by those who created it. That, in a sentence, explains the urgency of Now!
For me, a satisfactory outcome of a restructured Nigeria would be when our states function; when they are allowed to unleash their full potentials by allowing them to control their resources; when they are allowed to maintain their own electoral bodies; when states have their own police so that they can enforce the laws made by their state assemblies; when our local governments function…
PT: There have been several provocative responses to the equally provocative titles and content of your trilogy on the Nigerian condition. Can you share some of?
CO: The responses have been quite interesting. Some people have argued that there is nothing to reclaim about Nigeria or that Nigeria is not negotiable. I have been tagged an alarmist, an angry writer, one who has issues with Nigeria, whatever that means. Some friends, even comrades have referred to me as a “nation wrecker”, and I don’t know whether in jest – not that I really care though. You have to have a nation before you can wreck one. I think my role as a writer is to provoke conversation and debate around issues that I am passionate about; issues that I think are in the interest of the majority of our citizens. It is left for Nigerians really to decide what they want to make of the country.
PT: There are some of your readers, some of whom you have referred to as your longstanding comrades, who have not only deliberately misread your work, but have taken it upon themselves to keep obfuscating the serious issues you have been raising about the dire state of the nation. Do you sometimes think, maybe, they have a point?
CO: Not at all. But I still maintain the friendships. Just as I noted earlier, there are amongst my friends those who deliberately try to paint me in a different light; those who say, “Chido can’t be trusted.” The question then is: Trusted to do what? To keep quiet and allow our people to continue to go through the current indignities in the name of national unity or one nation? Some even say I have a hidden agenda or an ethnic agenda; that I don’t write or speak like a pan-Nigerian patriot. I have stopped responding to those people. I am not the enemy of Nigeria. These people, who think we live in a perfect society, are the real enemies of the country. For them, Nigeria is working because it favours them. I am fifty. I have taken this position for twenty-five years. There is really no going back. Of course, I am always willing to bow to superior arguments.
PT: Now, beyond the obfuscations, what in specific terms does restructuring Nigeria, NOT, mean? Can you name some?
CO: I am not sure my time permits me to do this. But I will name a few. And here I can only speak for myself. As you well know, there are many views on restructuring as there are ethnic groups in Nigeria. First and foremost, restructuring for me is not about balkanising the country; second, restructuring is not about creating new homelands for ethnic nationalities – Nigeria is no longer the sum total of its ethnic nationalities; third, restructuring is not a silver bullet – a cure-all for our problems; fourth, restructuring is not against any particular group; fifth, restructuring is not meant to favour any particular group. I could go on and on.
PT: In the interest of your compatriots who wish to give you a hearing, what, to your mind, would constitute the contents of a process to restructure Nigeria?
CO: What restructuring means to me is to alter the power dynamics in the country. We must understand that this country was granted independence in 1960 as a federal republic. The military did a lot to destroy the foundation of this country. And here, I am not talking about corruption, the abuse of human rights, and the destruction of national ethos. If you look around the world, almost every other place that the military intervened, except in Nigeria, they managed not to tamper with the structure of those countries. What it meant in those places was that at the termination of military rule, it was easier for some of these societies to pick themselves up and build institutions to counter the negative impact of military dictatorship. But once the structure was affected, it amounted to recreating the country. Unfortunately, for Nigeria the civilian governments that were put in place in the name of democracy, again by the military, as opposed to the votes of Nigerians, simply imbibed the military ethos and carried on without care. What would constitute the contents of a process to restructure Nigeria would be to destroy the current hegemonic power base at the centre and devolve power to the people, to communities, local council and the states. Allow states to create local governments, as they deem necessary.
PT: What, in your view, will represent a satisfactory outcome of a restructured Nigeria?
CO: For me, a satisfactory outcome of a restructured Nigeria would be when our states function; when they are allowed to unleash their full potentials by allowing them to control their resources; when they are allowed to maintain their own electoral bodies; when states have their own police so that they can enforce the laws made by their state assemblies; when our local governments function; when citizenships rights are recognised and protected; when there is no distinction between indigene and settler. That is the new Nigeria I dream of. And I believe it is possible!