Barr. Uwemedimo Nwoko (SAN) is the immediate past Commissioner for Justice and Attorney General of Akwa Ibom State. In this interview, he speaks on the clamour for restructuring of Nigeria and other national issues. TONY ANICHEBE reports
Given the spate of banditry and insurgency in the country, is there any hope for the survival of Nigeria?
My perception and I pray I am actually wrong is that the concept called Nigeria has expired. Regrettably, up till now we have not summoned the courage to tell the truth as it is seen. We are kind of just dancing around the grave yard of Nigeria; Nigeria is dead. There is no government, no governance. It started when Nigeria started abdicating it responsibilities.
We discovered that over time there was no government to protect Nigeria. So, Nigerians started protecting themselves. Every home, virtually every home that could afford it had its own security, had its own water by drilling boreholes, while the villagers drank from the stream.
Every home that could afford power had its own power and every home that could afford hospital bill takes care of medical bills. And every home that could afford education did so. All the roads that were constructed in the 60s, 70s, and 80s have gone.
The places you use to see the roads, if you go there now, you will see mud. In some communities’ people have planted plantains in the middle of where roads used to pass, and somehow, we have taken for granted or there were no conscious efforts to revive Nigeria and then of course Nigeria died.
So, whatever we are doing now is just a question of self-deceit; it is mutual dishonesty. Everybody is being dishonest to one another, tribally, religiously, politically. I think at this point, it’s a business of trying to scavenge on whatever is left of the rubbles arising from the collapse. I don’t know how long it is going to last, but mark my words; this drama may not last for too long.
What is your reaction to comments by an Islamic cleric, Sheikh Ahmad Gumi, that he negotiating with bandits on behalf of Nigeria?
The emergence of people like Gumi and the utterances of a lot of the supposed leaders of this country, particularly from the North are clear manifestation that the practical aspects of a country, a surviving nation is gone. I think the Americans put it at 2015 and we said we have passed over 2015, but we are lying to ourselves.
In fact, Nigeria died before 2015. I want to tell you that the drama of people like Gumi, the utterances of people like the Bauchi State governor, Bala Mohammed, are similar to utousterances of people like Governor Nasir el-Rufai and the chairman of the Northern Elders Forum.
These are issues that clearly manifest when people begin to say that the whole land of Nigeria belongs to the North; that was said over three years ago and we were all living witnesses. In fact, they said that the oil in the South belongs to all Nigerians. What I am waiting for is the time when there will be courage to call a meeting and say on what terms do we agree to part ways.
Nigeria has gone beyond the point of even discussing about restructuring; there is nothing to restructure. That is like trying to raise a death horse. We should be discussing how we can peacefully part our ways, how we can create the dynamics that will bring about a peaceful disengagement.
Are you saying that if Nigeria is eventually restructured, things will still not get better?
If we are to honestly talk about restructuring and say let us restructure, which should have happened many years ago, there might have been efforts and something to rescue out of the collapsing Nigeria. Right now, Nigeria has never been this disunited; there is nothing left again. It’s like you have a car and the tyres of the car got punctured, the battery gone and the doors have fallen off and you are still managing to drive. You have not taken it to the mechanic to try and refurbish it and put it back on a motorable condition. We drove the country until it finally parked up and there is nothing left of the contraption called Nigeria that can be restructured. If I sound pessimistic, I will like to be proven wrong and I will be happy if I am proven wrong. I will like a situation to prove to ourselves that there is something to rescue out of Nigeria. For now I am not that optimistic.
Taking about separation, is there any hope that we can achieve this peacefully without going to war?
If the stakeholders of the variutous interest groups, religious groups and political groups come together and say honestly that we have reached the last bus stop. Everybody knows of a truth that we have come to the last bus stop. As it is now, it requires of our leaders to see the realities of the collapse of Nigeria but who is going to say it? Everybody is busy talking about restructuring and pretending. The All Progressives Congress (APC) came in 2015 and said they were going to restructure Nigeria, so they set up a committee headed by el-Rufai and that committee produce a report but where is that report today? I can tell you that in 2022, that report will come out and they will pretend they are going to implement it. That is part of the lies, falsehood and deceit. That report will be used as a campaign slogan in 2023 that APC will come and restructure Nigeria. They will bring it back just like the Second Niger bridge. That bridge is for 2023. If that bridge is completed before 2023, call me to remind me.
At what point did we as a nation started this decent?
It was during General Yakubu Gowon’s era with his ignorance arising from the confusion of the first military coup in 1966. He might have been too inexperienced to understand the concept of federalism. I don’t think it was deliberate. The confusion at the time overwhelmed him as a head of state.
But then, people like Chief Obafemi Awolowo should have known better before he aligned with the federal military government to crush the East. He should have also known that military decrees that were rolled out from 1967 to 1970, and which extended to 1973 and 1975 were constricting Nigeria and taking it out of the original concept of federalism. We were all there.
As at the time of 1976 to 1978, when the Constitutional Conference was set up, somebody should have been bold enough to tell the then federal military government that there has no power to tamper with the product of the Constitutional Conference that drafted the 1979 constitution.
What we got out of the 1979 Constitution was a product of military consciousness, the constriction and centralization of the power in Nigeria, instead of the original concept of the federalism, which the founding fathers of Nigeria agreed in 1958 and 1959 before the federation of Nigeria was formed in 1960. The total abandonment of the 1960 and Republican Constitution of 1963 left us where we are and it was a gradual decent. We were descending gradually every step and in every step the military was further constricting Nigeria.
Shamelessly and almost regrettably, it was convenient to argue that we must shape our own federalism to suit our purposes, but the question I asked is: In which dictionary in the universe did we find what is described as either Nigeria’s federalism or African typed federalism? Federalism is a universal concept; it is either federalism or not. You go to Canada, you have a federation; in America, you have a federation; in Australia, you have a federation and India, you have a federation.
That concept of federalism cannot be localised. But Nigerians put up a superior argument that Nigeria’s federalism can be restructured in such a way that will suit our local circumstances. That local circumstances are what you have seen today, where simple things like public holidays is a decision of the Federal Government; that the policing of Nigeria can be centralised and kept in Abuja; that somebody will sit down in Abuja and know the local problem of security in my village in Eka Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom State, and then the Inspector General of police will be the one that will deploy policemen to come and tackle little thieves around my community because the Divisional Police Officer is answerable to the commissioner of police who is answerable to the Inspector General. We forgot that every crime has a local content and it is the understanding of the local content of a crime that allows the owners or the community to be able to manage it.
There is no other place in the world where federalism is run the way it is run in Nigeria. And coming to your question of at what point did we get to this level, it was a gradual decent, but when we were going down the drain, nobody was honest enough to say it as it is.
The man from the South-South, South-West and North-East and South-West for personal reasons will not be able to look Buhari in the face and tell him the truth. Southern leaders are busy jumping to Abuja, they are decamping in droves to APC because 2023 is around the corner; they want to feather their nests because they want to get what they can get out of the collapsing structure.
What is your reaction to the statement credited to Sheikh Gumi that Fulani herdsmen are fighting an ethnic war?
I don’t blame him; he is a product of a rot. He is just eating his own conscience. From the day he opened his mouth to say that he is visiting and negotiating with the bandits on behalf of Nigeria, he should have been taken for serious questioning. Over the years, the North has a way of testing grounds; there is nothing the North does in Nigeria without testing the grounds. It is just like most of the time, the southerners either don’t take note because of personal interest or they take note of it but don’t have the courage to say it.
What Gumi is doing today; they have tested the ground, drop in and see reactions. So what we have seen today is a courage based on empirical evidence that nothing will happen in Nigeria. He is speaking from two sides of his mouth. There is no consistency in whatever he is saying. If you watch him, he said the bandits have to carry arms because they must defend themselves. That means there is no government in Nigeria.