Former President of the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, and leading pro- democracy activist, Mr Olisa Agbakoba, SAN, in this interview with Chidi Obineche x-rays the Nigerian federal structure, the new government of president Muhammadu Buhari, the Biafran Independence agitation, the political parties, among other national issues.
Who is funding this Biafra agitation and to what end?
What President Buhari needs to do is exactly what the late President Yar’Adua did. And I think that has been the most political master stroke ever in Nigeria’s history. He resolved the Niger Delta crisis so easily and unbelievably. He reached out; he developed a number of confidence-building measures to get those involved to the discussion table. That can be done with Boko Haram and the Biafra agitation. But it cannot be done in the context of a centripetal federal system where Abuja is the only landlord and local government chairpersons have to wait for the governors to come back from Abuja and give them their handouts. You wait for another month. That cannot happen. You first of all free the system which is in a logjam. The federal system is so constricted like a boa constrictor; nothing can happen at the state level.
A situation where it has been patterned in such a way that nothing can happen at the state government or local government level is not ideal. So, we need to see a new federal system. In doing so, we need to have a final conclusion to this process. My recommendation is that the president should propose a bill for an act or set up a small technical committee on national order. The first and urgent task of this committee will be to work on a Bill for an Act of the Union of Peoples and Nationalities of Nigeria. The bill must resolve the Nigerian fault lines and contradictions. We may consider adopting a new name the ‘Union of Nigeria’.
You talked about the late Yar’Adua’s approach to addressing the Niger Delta crisis; are you recommending some form of amnesty for the Biafra agitators, or financial inducement or what?
If that is what needs to be done, yes, because in putting down insurrection you consider certain realities. Oil price at that time has dropped by almost 50 percent and therefore you have to recognize that the insurgents have a lot of power and they knew it. In negotiation, you’ve got to look at the balance of power. Boko Haram has a lot of power. If Boko Haram transforms into an international movement, we’ll have a new crisis that we can’t deal with. We haven’t gotten to that point.
So, it makes sense to consider whether settlement helps the process. I don’t know if that would help, but if I were to take that decision and I know that financial settlement can help the process I would do that and that’s what Yar’Adua did and it worked perfectly. In fact, Yar’Adua told the Niger Delta militants that, “look I am not your problem, your problem are all your governors” and he gave them all the figures that showed that the governors had collected so much without developing the place which led to the establishment of the Ministry of the Niger Delta. That formula is on; if you go to the East it is clear that the place is war-torn and no employment takes place. So, you’ve got to know what you can do there. And this is not a new thing; America did it in the Marshal Plan to get Europe off the ground. So, we must do all we can to preserve Nigeria. I don’t know how many of you understand what will happen if Nigeria is balkanized. If you will have a war the type we had in Biafra today, Nigeria will cease to exist. If it would take some billions of naira, that the elite are stealing anyway, to resolve the problem, what’s the big deal? What is the problem with giving money to the poor people; money that the elite are stealing; there’s no problem about that; after all, the country belongs to everybody. (Daily Sun)