‘Nigerians need a country they joined hands to create’
Environmental and human rights activist, Annkio Briggs, in this interview takes a look at the state of the nation and concludes that Nigerians are yet to begin the process of nation building, hence the current challenges bedeviling the country.
How would you comment on the state of affairs in the country, which culminated in the call for President Muhammadu Buhari’s resignation by lawmakers last Wednesday?
The general overview of the state of Nigeria is frightening because the level of insecurity in the country has become a nightmare. And this is under a government that was most critical of the government that it displaced, which was the government of former president Goodluck Jonathan. If you compare the spate of killings, the activities of Boko Haram and those of the herdsmen under this administration to the era of former presidents Jonathan, Yar’Adua and Obasanjo, you will discover that what has happened from 2015 to 2020 is far more horrendous than what happened from 1999 to 2015. That is just the reality. The statistics are there to prove it.
It is appalling because this is a government that deceived people to believe that they would do better than previous governments. This is a government that prided itself during campaign, as one that has a retired general who is a specialist in security matters and so would do far better than somebody like Jonathan. Today, the very opposite is the reality of Nigeria. And going by the indices of international bodies that observe insecurity across the world, Nigeria is rated very highly as an insecure nation. We now have a situation where citizens are advised by their governments either not to come to Nigeria or to be extremely careful if they choose to come to Nigeria. So, in terms of security, this government has failed.
Don’t you think the politicisation of insecurity as reflected in your submission is one of the reasons the country is yet to overcome the problem?
We have not overcome the challenge for the simple fact that the political will is not there to overcome it. The intention is not to overcome insecurity. Actually, the intention in my opinion is to use insecurity to frighten Nigerians into silence. The intention is to terrorise Nigerians psychologically so that Nigerians will be afraid to speak against this government when it comes to insecurity and in other areas they promised that they would do better.
The reason anybody would want a change of government in any situation is either because you want a better government or because you want to see a worse government. In this case, Nigerians were told that there would be a better government and we have seen a government that is worse than the government that it replaced, whether it is insecurity, abuse of human rights or corruption.
So, if we say that insecurity is being politicised or anything as a matter of fact because our representatives like Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe got up and said that Buhari should resign, are we forgetting that even Buhari himself, Governor Nasir El-rufai and many others called on Jonathan to resign during his four-year tenure. There were many calls for Jonathan to resign. All you need to do is to search for it on Google and it will pop up. Now, these same people are being asked by Nigerians to resign. How does that amount to politicising anything? It is politically correct. If somebody is not doing what you employed him to do, it is very correct for you to say he should leave the job or you fire him.
So, I see no politicisation in the call for Buhari’s resignation if Buhari, Tinubu, El-rufai and others could say that Jonathan was not doing the right things and called for his resignation. Why should Buhari not resign? And if the Service Chiefs are overdue and should be retiring, then they should retire them. If the service chiefs are not performing, they should remove them and replace them with people that will perform. What is politicisation in such a call by Nigerians?
Do you think Nigeria can be sustained if the political gladiators continue on the trajectory you just painted?
If Buhari is not doing well and we call on him to resign like people called on Jonathan to resign because they claimed that he was not doing well, that is actually part of nation building as far as I am concerned. It is so because the people want an improvement. As a matter of fact, when we say restructure Nigeria that is part of the process of building a nation.
Nigeria is a nation that was created by a non-Nigerian for Nigerians. The man woke up one day and decided that for the economic interest of Great Britain at that time, it was better for the North and South to be joined together. And so in 1914, he joined the Northern Protectorate and the Southern Protectorate and called it Nigeria. So, when did Nigerians create Nigeria? Are the people that created Nigeria in 1914 Nigerians? They were British. So, Nigerians did not create Nigeria and that is why we are having problems with nation building. Nigeria has never been a nation that was built by Nigerians; and until we actually take the first step, we will continue to have problems with nation building.
Nigerians did not fight for independence; they negotiated independence. That is not nation building. Nation building is what should have taken place at independence because at that time, the government was in control of Nigeria. That was when they should have started nation building but they did not; they continued with the style and the mentality they inherited from the colonial government that granted them independence.
Now, Nigeria is overdue for nation building and we must start from zero. We have to first of all accept that Nigeria is our nation and that we want to build it. It is not by force. So, this pretense that we are building Nigeria that makes some people to get up and just come up with a constitution that favours one part of the country is not nation building. We must have a brand new constitution; we must have a nation that all of us joined hand to accept that we are part of. So, Nigeria is yet to be a nation and Nigerians are yet to begin the process of nation building. What we have is a highly artificial contraption that one man started and handed over to people who don’t truly feel that they are Nigerians because you are first an Igbo, Hausa, Ijaw, Ibibio or Yoruba before you are a Nigerian. Tomorrow if Nigeria does not exist anymore, and let nobody say that it’s not possible, the Ibibio people will still be Ibibio people; Isoko people will still be Isoko people; Urhobo people will still be Urhobo people and so on. For Urhobo people to grow above being Urhobo people to become Nigerians, they have to agree that that is what they want to be. And until we actually face this reality, we are not ready for nation building.
What do you expect the leadership of the country to do towards building a new Nigeria?
What to do is that I, as an Ijaw person, who is Niger Deltan, will first and foremost realise my Ijawness; then I will realise the Urhoboness of the Urhobo man; the Ikwere man’s Ikwereness and so on. Once we have done that, then we can decide that we are in one geographical area called the Niger Delta. The Igbo man also knows that he is Igbo and knows that a particular area belongs to the Igbo. He can then discuss with an Urhobo man as an Igbo man. It is from that strength that we can now decide if we want to collectively as Igbo, Yoruba, Urhobo, Tiv etc, agree that we can live together as a country.
What exists today in Nigeria is that there are many countries inside Nigeria that has been forcefully put together as one country. And until there is an understanding that is acceptable to all, Nigeria will not work. Even the people that created it knew that it would not work. There is something missing and that thing missing is the understanding and acceptance of the different peoples that make up this country to become one.
How can this agreement and understanding be fostered now?
We have to sit down and discuss. We cannot move forward unless we agree that we will listen to each other. I was in the 2014 National Conference. The things that are playing out now were what I observed in the national conference. We came together as different people from different backgrounds and different interests. We wanted different things. We need to sit down and implement what we have agreed that is good for people.
We are still working with the constitution that gives the right to the Federal Government to claim the resources that are in Rivers, Delta and other states as its right and then shares it among other people. These are the things we need to discuss. But I will prefer a situation where if you have gold in Kaduna, keep your gold and pay tax to the Federal Government. If you have oil in Lagos, keep your oil and pay tax to the Federal Government. The point, therefore, is that Nigeria has never worked as a country. And if Nigerians do not put Nigeria together by themselves, it will never succeed in working as a country. Let’s stop deceiving ourselves.