… Says they need Nigeria more than Nigeria needs them
Dr Junaid Mohammed, convener of the Coalition of Northern Politicians, Academics, Professionals and Businessmen, has called on Nigerians to allow Igbos to go, if they want to, saying that they need Nigeria more than Nigeria needs them. Speaking in an explosive interview with Ismail Omipidan of Sunday Sun, the Kano-based Russian-trained medical doctor turned politician, who described the Igbo as persons who could not be trusted with power and certain key positions in the country, however, said: “…I insist they should be heard and be allowed to secede, provided they are peaceful.” Excerpts:
Looking at the dimension the agitation for the sovereign State of Biafra has taken, should Nigerians and Nigeria allow the Igbos go or not?
Yes. My understanding is that in every society, people will have to be persuaded, to see the benefit of living together. But where that fails, I think people should be allowed to go their separate ways in peace. Now, this question should have been answered earlier, before the independence or even immediately after the Igbo coup of 1966. Directly, through their own actions, they organised a tribal coup in which political, business and even traditional leaders of other tribes, other than their own tribe were eliminated, leaving their own leaders intact. That shows who they are. However, I am one of those who believe that Nigeria is a very important project not only for Nigerians, but to the entire black race. So it will be a disaster if black people cannot live together in peace. There was a consensus within the generality of Nigerians that Nigeria has to be saved, Nigeria has to be preserved and in doing so you have to use minimum violence. It has to be used through persuasion for those people who don’t understand the essence of our being together. Now, unfortunately since 1970 when the war ended, and up till date, it has become a pattern of many Nigerians to want to agitate and use the agitation to threaten the corporate existence of Nigeria as a whole and people are saying, ‘look, anybody that thinks they can stay on their own, let them go. Let everyone go in separate ways.’ So, anybody who thinks Nigeria owes its corporate existence to them, should simply go.
Do you see the Boko Haram insurgency too, in the same light?
You mean those miscreants? Their idea that you can create an Islamic state within the Nigerian state is simply stupid. If they have had any form of education, they would have understood that. The only solution in the case of Boko Haram is to simply decimate them, they can be subdued and perhaps, remove the useless propaganda, especially among the girls and young men they have been recruiting as conveyors of terrorist bombs and what have you. Now the country should from henceforth after demolishing Boko Haram terrorism, fight poverty and see that the country has meaningful development. Most of the Boko Haram terrorists are illiterate in terms of education; illiterate in terms of Islamic education. They have tried so far to articulate a political agenda, what is it exactly they want, you don’t want. But even before Boko Haram, the miscreants in the South- South had done so too, though they have not quite succeeded but at least they were able to extract through blackmail and through violence certain political concessions from the Jonathan administration. The Jonathan presidency was simply a concession to blackmail. Next to the Boko Haram is the South-east terrorists, who have been on but very soon they are going to be demolished, like it is being done to Boko Haram.
Why are you referring to the South-East agitators as terrorists?
Now, tell me what they are, if they are not terrorists? What is the difference between what they are doing and what Boko Haram terrorists did or are still doing? As far as I am concerned, they are one and same thing.
But what do you make of the Igbo agenda?
The Igbos are simply coming with new agenda, they want certain positions, they want certain ministries, which if not given to them they are saying there will be violence, there will be Biafra again, there will be this or that. And the agitation was not in form of dialogue, instead they have used violence and they have decided who is a friend and who is enemy. They believe that all those who are not Igbos are enemies and all those who don’t belong to their Christianity denomination also are enemies and they have even gone to the extent, which of course, the Boko Haram started, bombing places of worship, they attacked a mosque in Port Harcourt and I think they did that in Aba and lately, they have gone to cause chaos in Onitsha which is a very unfortunate situation. So you can see the dimension this has taken. There we are.
So should the Igbos go?
Now I don’t believe I’m qualified to make a pronouncement on whether the Igbos should go or to be allowed to go or not. The generality of Nigerians must decide that. But I want to give the benefit of my own experience. One, as a result of change in government, they have the belief they must have Secretary to the Government of the Federation, SGF, they must be given some key ministries and they have also decided that in 2019 an Igbo man must be president.
Do you think that is feasible?
It will be difficult for Igbos to be satisfied because I don’t believe they have even begun to conceptualize what it means to submit themselves. If they continue like this, I don’t see how we can have an Igbo leader within next 20 years, which means that what we are shying away from confronting now is something we have to confront somewhere down the line. If we don’t confront this agitation now, we will certainly at some point have to confront it, so that if they insist they don’t want to be with us, fine, and then we will move on.
I think some of the people who write in the newspapers about the agitation are ignorant of Nigeria’s history because virtually everyone is supporting what they have been doing or saying what they are demanding is right and forgetting about the fact that we are in a democracy. They have refused to pay attention to all the histories and have continued to make a lot of noise about the past government, which is six months behind us.
What history are you talking about, the civil war or the Jonathan administration?
Well, there is a trace of history that shows why they are being denied position of SGF. I am sure you know the history of the last government, which is just six months behind us. They have always misbehaved each time they are given certain positions. In the history of Nigeria, there have been only two Igbo Army Chief of Staff. One was General Aguiyi Ironsi who was implicated in a tribal coup against other ethnic groups and he was also involved in refusing to try those who involved in criminal act of tribal coup in 1966. On the whole, he was the least qualified but was considered by the late Tafawa Balewa for political consideration and balancing. And we knew how he behaved. Incompetence and lack of education contributed greatly to the tragedy, which threw the country into the civil war. And then we had a man called General Ihejirika. Ihejirika is the one we will remember vividly because he was the one that came and introduced or reintroduced tribalism in recruitment, training and promotion in the Nigerian Army. Secondly, he was the most corrupt Army chief we have had in the history of this country. And people don’t want to remember all that. Given these two examples, people are very careful about giving Igbos any position of leadership. Again, there is the issue of Secretary to the Government of the Federation, which they insist, they must have, even though they knew, the PDP they voted for believes in zoning or rotation mantra, which is that when somebody from one region finishes, another person from the other region will come over. The gentleman called Anyim Pius Anyim was the Secretary to the Government of the Federation. Within the office of the Secretary to the Government, which is called OSGF, there are about 17 very important parastatals and I will give example. The National Population Commission, The National Boundary Commission, Revenue Mobilization and Fiscal Allocation Commission are under that office. The office of Permanent Secretary in charge of ecological matters is also warehoused there. I could go on and on like that. Now, when Anyim was the SGF, he established a system whereby each time there was a vacancy in any of those places, he made sure that an Igbo man occupies it. I will give you example of National Population Commission. Makama was the last chairman of the commission who came from Plateau. After he left, for whatever reason, somebody called Festus Odimegwu was appointed. Festus was reckless in his language, irresponsible in the way he treated other people including his own fellow Igbo men. You know he is from Imo State. His case was such that Goodluck Jonathan himself who came from minority had to desert him. Another Igbo man was appointed by Anyim and I can give you several other examples. Anyim also made sure that key directors in all the 17 parastatals were Igbo at the expense of other ethnic groups. Showing an open nepotism in what they do is their stock in trade. So people then say, ‘look we are not going to have these Igbo people as leaders because their nepotism is absolutely unbelievable. Once you give them certain key positions. They believe they have arrived and step on other people’s rights and responsibilities and Nigerians are not going to accept it.’ So this is what I thought would be a balance answer to the question you have asked, even though Nigerians generally don’t like being told about history. But history is very important in analyzing and understanding some of the issues we are confronting today.
Now looking at the scenario, some Nigerians have also argued, though not openly that if the Yorubas in the South-west could be compensated in 1999 following series of agitations, why not the Igbos. That probably was why they started early. I don’t know if you understand and share this sentiment?
I can understand where the sentiment is coming from. But I also believed that they have been very uncharitable to the Yorubas, just as they have been very unkind to them. One, by the time the former Military Head of State, General Sani Abacha died, the agitation in the South-west was defeated and I recall vividly what the late Bola Ige told me personally together with the late Bala Usman, and he had also made it public that by the time Abacha died, the entire South-west, Abiola and June 12 must have been crushed. Number two, they don’t want to admit that it was not the Yorubas who made Obasanjo the president. It was non-Yoruba elements in Nigeria who made him president. He lost his own local government in Ota where he comes from. It was other Nigerians who said ‘look, whatever is happening; we want Yoruba man to be president. ‘So, it was the rest of Nigeria, that took a man who was condemned and was in jail, take him out of jail, gave comprehensive package and later formed the party called PDP and made Obasanjo president of Nigeria. If Obasanjo had had any tribal support, he would not have been the president of this country. And even though after he had been president, he was caught up in this tribal thing, he would have been overthrown. There were two ways about it. That was open to some of us who are old enough to know what was happening, who knew the camp, who knew the area, and Obasanjo himself understood what the implications were. Now in the course of Obasanjo’s Presidency, Segun Osoba and some others decided to say ‘okay they were now going to treat him like our own, that he is no more a prodigal son and make him part of them.’ That led to sweep of South-West States by Obasanjo’s party except Lagos. I recalled that Tinubu, in his capacity as governor of Lagos State, was the only person that refused to be part of Yoruba alliance for change meant for everybody. Luckily for him, Lagos has become big in terms of commercial activities, in terms of what have you. Now, many of the governors came back to join his party (ACN). He also financed and sponsored some boys who became governors. Fayactivities, in terms of what have you. emi and Aregbesola are the products of this struggle. So, these are the problems the Igbos did not want to understand. But look at APGA; they say it is Igbo party, how many Igbos are there? The East-Central State was formed with less population and land mass compared to the old Kano State. They have benefited more than Kano. Kano State has now only two states; main Kano and the state carved out of Kano called Jigawa. But they have five states. When you look at the demography of Igboland, you can see that they have no land and whatever land they have is not fertile. They are very enterprising, no doubt, and that is why they are exceptional traders. Now in the words of the late Chief Dennis Osadebe, the first premier of Mid-Western region (now Edo and Delta), he said, ‘the civil war was a tragic mistake because, according to him, the Igbo need Nigeria and will still need Nigeria because they have nothing in terms of endowment to break away from Nigeria. On the other hand, he said they depend on Nigeria for everything they have.’ If you go to our neighbouring countries, like Chad, Cameroon and Niger, you will be surprised at the magnitude of Igbo presence there, which ordinarily would not have been possible if not because of Nigeria. Without Nigeria, they will not be acceptable there.
What will be your call to Nigeria’s President on how to handle the current agitation?
As far as I am concerned, the President of Nigeria is the president of everybody including the Igbos. But Buhari as president will have to make some strategic decisions. One, he should listen to all Nigerians’ grievances because they have their right to be heard and they should be heard. If, however, they are trying to continue to be unreasonable, I will ask Buhari to simply switch. But in politics, you do not get tired of engagement. If somebody wants you to talk, you talk to the person. But their political inclination of trying to blackmail him for whatever reason would simply not work. I will never advise him to concede to their blackmail. So, if they continue to be unreasonable, in this case insisting on getting some key positions or telling Buhari how to run the government, then he needs to take the right step by confronting them, especially when they are trying to threaten the country or trying to threaten other people in the country because other Nigerians have to be protected. And if they continue with what they are doing, they should know there would be repercussion because for every one Kano man who lives in far Igbo State, there have been 100,000 Igbo people living among us. We should know that we don’t owe them anything. They tried it in 1966, 1967, when they returned home en mass. If it is business, Kano people are also businessmen. We can run Kano well without them. But I insist they should be heard and be allowed to secede, provided they are peaceful.
On a final note sir, how would you assess the Buhari administration so far?
I have not had a discussion with him but from what we hear, it is really hearsay, I believe that it is not too late to have a rethink on some announced policies and some of the portfolio appointments that have been made because I hope they don’t become a challenge to us. However, I am fully in support of his fight against corruption. And I believe also he has been much retrained in what I see in the media. It is good for democracy to have a vibrant media. I believe he’s doing very well. Thirdly, I also believe that his refusal to give certain positions to some people, who demanded for such positions, is a welcome development because only the best is good enough for us. But if in the process of rethinking anybody found wanting should be thrown out and move on because I don’t believe that this set of people in the cabinet will be there for the next four years. It is not going to be realistic. If the country is willing to listen to him and give him time so that he moves the country forward, I believe he will succeed.