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Nigeria more divided than ever, Anyaoku warns


Emeka Anyaoku

• Decries loss of dominance in regional blocs, seeks true federalism
• Buhari congratulates former Commonwealth scribe at 85

Nigeria is now “more divided than it had ever been,” former Commonwealth Secretary General, Chief Emeka Anyaoku, has said in an exclusive interview with The Guardian.Anyaoku, who turns 85 today, spoke at his Ikoyi, Lagos residence.

His contributions to the nation, meanwhile, received praise from President Muhammadu Buhari via a statement by spokesman, Femi Adesina. The president extolled Anyaoku’s patriotism and commitment to unity and progress and prayed that God would grant him longer life and more fruitful years of service.

Anyaoku regretted that wrong socio-economic and political choices have created a cache of internal problems and impeded Nigeria’s foreign relations, forcing it to lose influence in blocs like the African Union (AU) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).


He also condemned the country’s penchant for a governance architecture that fosters corruption, poverty and violence.“I believe quite strongly that the current state of affairs in our country should be a cause for serious concern, in view of the security situation in Benue, Taraba and the rest of the country,” he said. “Look at what is happening in the North East. Look at what is happening in Kaduna in terms of kidnapping and in virtually all parts of the country.”

He noted that the rising spate of violence and militancy betrays the nation’s faulty governance structure, which, according to him, should have been based on true federalism, as successfully practised in the early 1960s.“Look at the state of agitations and militancy, whether it’s the IPOB people wanting Biafra, or the Oduduwa Republic being mooted, or the Niger Delta Republic.”

Anyaoku had remained consistent in his call for an ideal federal structure with six regional governments as federating units. But he told The Guardian that based on emerging trends, he has readjusted his position and included two new regions: the Mid-West (Edo-Delta States) and the Middle Belt. He considered the eight-region structure as not only a near-perfect political solution to ongoing agitations and cries of ethnic marginalisation but also an answer to Nigeria’s development questions of the 21st century.

He decried the poor state of the country’s roads, education, health and power sectors, and the fact that “many civil servants have not been paid salaries for some months.” Anyaoku said the eight federating units would be able to plan their development and handle their security better. “These regions will develop at their own pace with inter-regional links and links with the Federal Government,” he said.

The Federal Government “will still be one, looking after federal institutions. Defence, Immigration, Customs, Foreign Affairs and Monetary Policies will still be Nigerian national institutions, and the sense of unity will become more strengthened.”He stressed that restructuring would usher in greater peace, political stability and enhanced development, “because what we have, now, promotes intense competition for control of the centre. And that exacerbates the divisive factors in Nigeria. There is religious and ethnic competition to control the centre.”

“I’m 85. And when I think about my younger age, the high hopes we had for this country, I remember when our Prime Minister, Tafawa Balewa, went to New York to address the United Nations on the occasion of Nigeria’s admission. Everybody in New York was looking up to this emerging black power. Nigeria was so respected that when the United Nations Secretary-General, Dag Hammarskjöld, decided to send a UN Force to the Congo, he came to Nigeria for a commander of the forces.

“So, Aguiyi Ironsi was the first African to command a UN peacekeeping contingent anywhere in the world. At that time, there was hardly any United Nations or Commonwealth Initiative in which Nigeria was not a part. Look at that and compare it with where we are today, starting from the continent. The OAU, which has now become the African Union, has its governing body, which is a Commission of 10. Nigeria is not a member of that commission. Nigeria stood election in February last year and was defeated.”

Anyaoku also expressed concern about Morocco’s effort to join the ECOWAS. At a meeting in Liberia, where the Moroccan bid was made, Nigeria had, reportedly, supported the intention in principle. It remains unclear whether or not Nigeria plans to actualise the move. Anyaoku, however, believes that Morocco’s incorporation would destroy Nigeria’s dominant influence. “Both internally and externally, we are not doing as well as we used to,” he said.

And “the main cause of these troubles,” according to the former Commonwealth scribe, “is the governance architecture we have. We have a federation in name only. But in reality, it is a unitary government. And this country, given its multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-cultural character, cannot survive as a unitary state.”

He reminisced on Nigeria’s “true federation” of four regions, describing agitations at the time as “little pockets that could be managed.” He said: “Economically, the country was doing much better, even before oil in commercial quantity became the main source of revenue. At that time, I remember that in the East, Nigeria was the biggest world producer of palm. In the West, Nigeria was ranking with Côte d’Ivoire as the biggest producers of cocoa. In the North, Nigeria was ranking high as a producer of groundnuts, and hides and skin, which were of such quality that they were being marketed abroad as Moroccan leather. And there was tin production in the Jos Plateau. But now, we have an economy that is hobbling.”

Asked how Buhari could address calls for a more inclusive Federal Government, Anyaoku, who as Commonwealth scribe had been closely involved in the affairs of 54 countries, said it was important to give the sections a sense of ownership and participation. That is what it would take to successfully run a multi-ethnic and multi-religious country like Nigeria, he said. He stressed that Nigeria could borrow a leaf from Canada (a developed economy) and India and Malaysia (both developing nations).

Canada was on the verge of being torn apart in 1958, following breakaway calls from one of the country’s ‘provinces’, the French-speaking Quebec. The then French President, Charles André Joseph Marie de Gaulle, had gone to Canada on an official visit. In Quebec, he made a speech that came to be regarded as extremely damaging and supportive of Quebec’s independence. Months after, English-speaking Lester Bowles Pearson, the Prime Minister of Canada, gave notice of retirement but went out of his way to peacefully forestall secession. He jumped all the senior English-speaking politicians in the Liberal Party and chose, as successor, young Joseph Philippe Pierre Yves Elliott Trudeau, whose experience in parliament was only three years and whose experience as Minister of Justice was just 18 months.


Anyaoku said: “That was how the clamour for the independence of Quebec was killed for a moment. One of the first decisions of Trudeau’s cabinet was that one-third of the permanent secretary positions in the Federal Government be reserved for the French-speaking people.

“Before that, almost nine-tenth of the positions were English-speaking. The English-speaking permanent secretaries, in order to ensure continuity, were retained up to a year. Secondly, his government decided that every official (government) speech must have a French version. So, they had English-speaking ministers learning at least one sentence of French, to be able to deliver their speeches. That was how they gave a sense of belonging to every Canadian. Today, every Canadian grows up bi-lingual.

“India, a developing country, is a true federation. The Indian cabinet and Indian governmental institutions are planned and manned in a way that gives every part of India a sense of belonging. That is a way to take care of a multi-ethnic and multi-religious country. Go to Malaysia, it is predominantly three tribes – the Malays, the Chinese, and the Indians. The Malaysian government has representatives of these groups in government and government institutions.” (FULL INTERVIEW TO BE PUBLISHED LATER)

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