Govt must address issues behind secessionist agitations – Moghalu

Prof. Kingsley Moghalu is a former Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and a former Presidential candidate of the Young Progressive Party (YPP). In this interview monitored on Channels Television, he speaks on rising secessionist agitations in the country, insecurity in the South-East and why Nigeria needs a new peoples’ constitution, among other issues. ANAYO EZUGWU reports

Do you think that President Muhammadu Buhari was able to sufficiently address some of the concerns, which are on the minds of the people, especially with regards to security in his recent comments on attacks on facilities belonging to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC)?

I heard him especially on the attacks on INEC offices and infrastructure and I think I can understand the frustrations of the country with the attacks on government installations. And when he was speaking specifically about the civil war, first of all, I think we need to know who exactly is behind these attacks. But to the extent he started speaking about the civil war, he was right up to the point where he was saying that the separatist people, who are demanding secession are may be being a bit aggressive about it, and are people who did not seen the war. I saw the war. I was a young child and I will tell you that war is terrible. It may sound romantic but it is not in reality Therefore, we must avoid armed conflicts and civil war in this country. But to the point he then said we will treat them in the language they understand; I did not think that was the kind of statement he should have made as the president of the country. Language matters when you are a leader and when you are facing a crisis because that language can be interpreted in so many ways. A lot of horrible things happened during the civil war because it involved several violations of international humanitarian laws. A lot of war crimes were committed during that civil war mainly against citizens of one particular side in the war. So, when you are saying that you will treat them in the language they understand, you are bringing up evocations that are very unpleasant. You can say that the government would take appropriate measures to protect the security and physical safety of government institutions. That is what the government is supposed to do. If I were the president that is what I would have said and I would not say that I will treat any citizen of Nigeria or any part of Nigeria in the language they understand, when that statement is made in the context of something terrible that happened over 50 years ago.

But when you look at the dangers it portends for the whole country and the current state of insecurity pervading the South-East, some people will say that the statement was not out of place?

I have told you what I will do as a leader or how I will say what he said. On the security situation in the South-East, I have condemned the killings and any violence that is unnecessary, unlawful and senseless. It doesn’t matter whether it is violence against policemen or security agents, it doesn’t matter whether it is violence by state security officials. There have been reports of unofficial executions happening in the region as well. It doesn’t matter whether it is the assassination of Ahmed Gulak, which was a terrible thing and very condemnable. We have to make every effort to restore peace in that region and other parts of Nigeria. Now, the point is this, there are many places in Nigeria that are theatres of lowlevel war at this point, especially, the North-East. We all know about what is happening in the zone. What happens is that when you respond to the rising violence in the South-East in a manner that shows a lot of muscularity and we know that the government has not been able to contain the full-blown terrorism and war against the country in the North-East and North-West, people begin to draw inferences of a double standard and this I think is what the government must avoid. Now, the whole question of secessionist movement there; the government is running a risk of making that movement mainstream by its response. I think that the government should be able to invite the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), Sunday Igboho and all the secessionists to a table because they are essentially political agitations. If you call them terrorists, that is your own prerogative but we know what terrorism means in reality. The Boko Haram people are terrorists, we know that. When people begin political agitation and you very easily throw terrorism at them just because they are mounting off and speaking in languages that nobody likes or insulting their fellow citizens; you bring them to the table and say what is the grouse, this country needs to be stable, this country needs to be peaceful, can we address your agitations? Don’t be afraid to address the core reason behind the agitation because they are crying out for justice. They feel marginalized. What is wrong with addressing that issue? I believe Nigeria should be one country and should function properly.

Are you saying that the government should confer some legitimacy on the agitators by inviting them?

Let me explain something to you; there is a way we tend to think in this country. In Spain, the Catalonian region wants to secede. In Canada, Quebec wanted to secede. In the United Kingdom, Scotland wants to move out of the United Kingdom. Everywhere in the world, you have this nationalist tendency. There is nothing new about it happening in Nigeria. It is about how you respond to it. You said you want a referendum but it is not in the constitution. So why don’t you go through the political route?

Some people will say that there is nothing wrong with the nationalist tendency but it is the how that is the question…

What I said to be very clear is this; if people are violent, then the government has the right to respond and protect the citizens of Nigeria and to protect Nigeria’s territory. If people are not violent, they are mouthing a political agitation; that should never have been made criminal. It is an expression of their view. The government should then say if this is gaining traction, then we need to sit down and talk about it.

Do you think words can be violent?

Of course, words can be aggressive. There is hate language. There is hate speech and I disagree with those things. I will never support hate speech and I will never support violence in any way. Sure, it is possible that words can be violent. For instance, there are people who will act violently and there are those who will speak violently or aggressively.

Let me tell you something, why are we avoiding the issues behind these agitations? Why do we always focus on the agitators themselves and on criminalizing them? It is just a lack of leadership. My position on approach is to go to the root cause of agitations. If people are feeling alienated anywhere in the country, reassure them and address the issue. Is there some inequity in the country in political representation or leadership opportunities? Is there some inequity in appointments? Is there nepotism going on? All these things; go and address their root causes. That is my point.

It is a very lazy way of addressing issues like these by always focusing on what the agitators are doing but you don’t what to address what their complaints are. I don’t think that is leadership. I think that is a failure of leadership. But I do believe that this country has a lot of potentials. It can work. Nigeria can work well because it is not the only heterogeneous country in the world.

Many countries are homogeneous; that is people of one ethnicity but there are many more countries that have a combination of it. And the best way to run a country like Nigeria is for it to have a proper federal system. That is proper federalism which gives people space to grow and pursue their aspirations within the same country. But there shouldn’t be over centralized control from the centre as we have today. That is part of the problems.

So, why don’t we address that root causes rather than just intimidating people? You said something about the constitution and federalism, some people will say that the conversation is happening at the appropriate time because the National Assembly is undertaking a constitutional amendment. What do you think are some of the things that hamper and hinder development in this current constitution that you would like to see amended? You cannot have a secure country like Nigeria today without state police; it is not possible.

The Federal Government is overstretched that is one. Secondly, you cannot have a prosperous economy in Nigeria today with resource control resting in the central government. That is a core breach of the principles of federalism. The oil in Alaska in America belongs to Alaska.

It doesn’t belong to Washington. So, in Nigeria, when you say that the oil in the Niger Delta or the gold in Zamfara belongs to the Federal Government and they will now take their share and allocate it to states or the local governments that are putting federalism principles upside down. It is the sub-national units that have those resources that are supposed to have complete control over them and under a constitutional formula, remit some part of their revenue to the Federal Government.

That is proper federalism. We have 68 items or so in the Exclusive Legislative List of the constitution; that is by far too much. It shouldn’t be more than 20 or 25 at any rate. Most other things should come down to the government of states or regions. The third problem is that in proper federalism, there should only be two tiers of government in the constitution, the central government and the sub-national government. Local governments are not supposed to be in the constitution. It is the sub-national governments that are supposed to create local governments as they wish.

These are principles of federalism everybody who is educated in constitutional matters or political matters understands but because we had many years of military rule, you find out that there is a very top-heavy approach to the power of the central government. And I think this is what is causing the problem, especially, in the area of security and the economy.

Nigeria will never prosper so long as we have this current kind of regime because it makes everybody lazy. All the money from oil goes to the Federal Government, so all the politicians fight for the control of the Federal Government. And you go to the Federal Government; there is nothing much productive going on. You find them waiting for oil to balance their budget and when oil prices crash, they go borrowing. That is why we are having the economic mess we are having because of the constitutional construct of the country.

How hopeful are you that the current constitutional amendment will address some of the issues you have raised?

I’m part of the school of thought that believes that Nigeria needs a new constitution. We need a peoples’ constitution because the 1999 Constitution was not made by the people. It was a hurried arrangement by the military when they were about to leave power in 1999. And given all the tensions in Nigeria today, I think it will be a much better approach rather than panel beating the 1999 constitution to create a new constitution. I think it is possible to manufacture that consensus so that we can agree on something everybody feels fairly and equitably treated. I think that would be a much better way to go to ensure lasting peace in our country.


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