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Nigeria risks Syria type crisis if care is not taken, says Okonkwo


Ifeanyichukwu-OkonkwoRights activist and convener of Movement for the Voice of Democracy (MOVERS), Mr. Ifeanyichukwu Okonkwo, in this interview with LEO SOBECHI situates the present agitations by South East youth, saying that restructuring the nation’s polity holds the key to durable peace. Excerpts:
Biafra protest
One needs to look at social engineering, to have a perspective on the restiveness of young Igbo people who were born after the Nigerian civil war, now having nostalgia of a stillborn independent Biafra, for which we fought a thirty-month war. I guess what culminated to this in the threshold of our history was the failure of leadership in Igbo land. More particularly, in the last twenty years to be precise, leaders, the intellectual group, the business class and the youth have never had a meeting point. It is just the same like when there was a movement in the United States in the sixties, of young American intellectuals who decided to be communists because they had this utopian idea that communism would resolve all social inequalities.

In the Igbo situation, most of these young people were frustrated. Most of them who were ready to go to the universities could not get admission for upwards of ten years because of the disequilibrium in the admission policy of quota system. Most of them have finished their university education and they are still begging money daily from their parents because they cannot get a job. They felt that the present crop of Igbo leadership, most of whom are in their sixties and seventies, could not protect them and so, they want to go to Biafra.

This is a very serious issue; it is not a matter that Nigeria army can contain, because cyber warfare, intellectual espionage and all kinds of criminalities that were totally absent during the Biafran experience have surfaced.

The way out
A new intellectual group must emerge in Igbo land to provide leadership and accountability. There is a boiling point in the society. And this boiling point has also had preeminence in what you could describe as a breeding ground in the social media. So the discontent is what we cannot contain. It would look like Syria if we don’t take time, because very soon private armies would take over the streets.

Options before the government
The leadership in Nigeria is still the leadership that fought the civil war; they are not psychologically disposed to intellectual exchange. So they cannot solve this problem, they have to quickly soft-pedal; it is not setting up a police state. You need a meeting point; it looks much like a similar situation in America, when the blacks in the South were looking for emancipation. What the young people are saying, remember they were born post-Nigeria civil war; they were not in Biafra, they saw Biafra as an El Dorado, as a refugee situation. They are taking refuge in an ethnic or protective shelter they heard about, which would remove them from dominance and control of those who do not believe in competition, particularly the way Nigeria is moving without restructuring.

The main thing is that the APC (All Progressives Congress) government should move in quickly within the next few months to tell Nigerians where we are going in terms of the political restructuring of this country. I remember when former President Goodluck Jonathan was in power, he said Boko Haram was in his government. This people have infiltrated various segments of the society. You might think they are just Igbo youth, this social quagmire is spread across other ethnic groups, and there is frustration. Every year young graduates are thrown onto the streets, how can you build up society this way? Every time you are talking about probes, investigation; I don’t understand this type of psychology.

2015 elections and the renewed agitation
The general election was like an unfulfilled expectation. President Buhari has only one credential; he is telling them, I am clean. But it is not enough, he does not have the intellectual sagacity to confront national issues, he is not building leadership. He is like a garrison commander thinking that when you lock up the stores with the armaments everywhere would be safe. He doesn’t know about sabotage and that there could be drone and scientific things like that.

Consequences for the economy
One thing about the Nigeria economy is that latent energy is bottled up. There is no standard, there is no competition, and things are bottled up. The only thing you get is allocation from the states and when you are operating with those economic indices of one person sitting on top and then holding the key to the tap; really we need to unlock the potentials and avenues of production. That is why restructuring will create that opportunity.

You come to a place like Southeast, we don’t have state police but majority of the communities today have local vigilantes; people who are not trained, some of them are dropouts some have no clean records, but they are carrying weapons extorting money. They tell you they work with the police. Why can’t we create state police, employ them and give them proper training? So these are some of the bottled up energies, we are not creating wealth and we are not opening up the vistas for energy for people to produce and get the reward of their production.

Niger Delta Self-Determination Movement’s call for self-determination
All these are signs of the buildup of one issue of frustration where a certain group of elite, particularly from northern Nigeria feels that the only way you can build this country is when there is a strong hold on the source of power. All these things we are talking about, if you go to Abuja and see the way Abuja is expanding, you will know there is something wrong with this economy. There is nothing happening in Abuja. There is no industry in Abuja, why should it be growing beyond Lagos or any other city? So there is something wrong, it is a kwashiorkor kind of development, so everybody is moving to where the action is. Every centre of government institution is in Abuja, so there is nothing happening elsewhere. The states are chiefdoms for some other minor players.

So we need to restructure Nigeria that is the one thing that will take away the eyes of people from this false centre that we are building as the centre of unity. We need to restructure all the indices of power and then the National Assembly should be smaller, because if we remove all those enabling powers under the exclusive list of our constitution and now divest it, then the National Assembly will be smaller and there would be nothing to attract anybody to Abuja. There are people who live in America but have never visited Washington.

This is a very serious issue; it is not a matter that Nigeria army can contain, because cyber warfare, intellectual espionage and all kinds of criminalities that were totally absent during the Biafran experience have surfaced.

School enrolment and revenue sharing
All these things are just the mechanics of patching a leaking boat. If we restructure the country, so many issues will disappear and go to residual matters. Look at our judiciary. The federal judicial system became what it is because of what Abacha did with decree 107. And you find out that state High Courts are now bereft of any jurisdictional powers whereas it ought not to be. The federal police will arrest you and prosecute you in a state criminal procedure law; these are part of why nothing is moving.

Challenges before President Buhari
The basic problem we have with APC is that they have no philosophy of government they are interested in pursuing. Are they pursuing the purely global private sector kind of economy or are they going to have a mixed breed economy where certain strategic state institutions must be retained by the state. I don’t know their philosophy of government. But we knew that PDP was for wholesale selling of national assets and that was what brought about corruption and ineptitude in our economy. That was the same way Russia tried to diversify its economy and quickly had to reverse it.

So we need to learn from other older and bigger economies. APC government has not enunciated a policy programme; that you have replaced a corrupt government does not mean you have been able to resolve the issue of corruption. From the way our leaders are talking they are not good students of history. They think they can control the generation in today’s Nigeria with the type of mentality they controlled our parents. They are making a huge mistake. There is nothing else that will play out other than this social dislocation. And before you know it, sabotage will become the order of the day.

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