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Our agreement to stay together must not be taken for granted, says Attah

By Ayoyinka Jegede
11 June 2021   |   3:37 am
My reaction is one of total disgust and repulsion. There was a time when it was possible to categorize these criminal acts as coming from Boko Haram; Herdsmen; Bandits and Kidnappers.

Obong Victor Attah

Former governor of Akwa Ibom State, Obong Victor Attah, advocate of Resource Control, shares his latest thoughts on state of the polity with AYOYINKA JEGEDE.

What is your reaction to the situation of insecurity in the country?
My reaction is one of total disgust and repulsion. There was a time when it was possible to categorize these criminal acts as coming from Boko Haram; Herdsmen; Bandits and Kidnappers. Now it is difficult to distinguish one from the other. Boko Haram teamed up with (ISWAP) and went all out to Islamize and stop children from going to school and they are succeeding. They carry out mass abduction of school children and the government reacts by closing all other boarding schools. So we will end up with a generation of children that were prevented from going to school.

Think of the evil of carting away people’s wives and young daughters, raping them, forcing them to become mothers at a tender age, interrupting their education and not allowing their babies to know any other life than that of bondage! Think of Leah Sharibu, it is far worse than the slave trade and I think the whole world should rise up against it unless, of course, the man has died in all of us.

At first, I felt some sympathy for the herdsmen whose cattle was being flagrantly rustled by bandits, though there was never any excuse for their criminal invasions and destruction of people’s farms. Then they decided to arm themselves and behave worse than the bandits. Now it is impossible to distinguish between the herdsmen and the bandits, whose stock in trade is ravaging other people’s property, raping and killing.

Kidnapping, which started in the south has not just spread but has translocated to the north. In those days, I would get in my car with my whole family and drive more than eight hours from my station in Kaduna to Uyo my state capital. Now such a journey would be a journey to eternity. I would hire a vehicle when Nigeria Airways would not fly and drive through the night from Maiduguri back to Kaduna but now I cannot go by road from Abuja to Kaduna. It is a very sad story.

As for those behind these repulsive acts, it is only the government that can tell us. The government said it knows those who are funding Boko Haram and the bandits and that they were to be prosecuted but it seems it is being done in secret.

As for the herdsmen, there has been no effort that I know of to apprehend or prosecute any. As for kidnappers, look at Evans; for how long now has he been in custody and his case is still dragging. Perhaps, it is true as Bishop Kukah says,
‘our leaders do not have blood flowing in their hearts.’

Cries of secession have taken over the polity. Is it a good idea for the country to break up at this stage?
I personally, totally, completely reject the idea of secession. Some people want to say that the British colonialists forced us together by amalgamation. But after a series of protracted negotiations, we all agreed to remain together and accept our independence as one united nation in 1960. So even if at the beginning we were forcefully brought together, in the end we acquiesced. 

IPOB is Igbo, Oduduwa is Yoruba, I do not believe that those are the only ethnic groups in Nigeria. They might be the most vocal and perhaps also the most visible but that by no means suggests that each ethnic group wants to be on its own. Look at how many ethnic groups there are! Even so, you cannot say that IPOB has the backing of the majority of Igbo People or is that true of the advocates of Oduduwa Republic.

Having said that, I must warn that the agreement to stay together must not be taken for granted. The idea of secession did not start today. It started in 1953 when the North, as a block decided it would secede rather than have independence forced on them when they were not ready. All these agitations for secession only point to the fact that nobody will agree to remain in a union in which they consider the terms and conditions as unfavourable.

As for breaking up, my conviction is that Nigeria will not break up. There is no sensible Nigerian today that can say that we are better off apart than together. We need to and must stick together but the terms and conditions of the union must be renegotiated and agreed to by everyone. Any attempt to impose, even by military force, can only end in a major disaster for everyone. The claim by the Senate that they cannot give Nigeria a new constitution is playing possum. They must not forget that first, there must be a country before there can be a Senate. There is a way it can be done and it must be done to keep the country together.

Many believe that restructuring is the answer; what form of it do you think will work and how can it be achieved?
I only subscribe to one form of restructuring and I believe it is what will work best for us. I have written and spoken elaborately at several forums and various occasions on this, so let me put it succinctly. The restructuring that I subscribe to and believe would work best for us is to go back to those foundational principles of togetherness that our founding fathers had painstakingly negotiated and agreed would work best for a multi ethnic, multi religious and multi-cultural people as Nigeria.

In my submission to the constitution review committee set up by the National Assembly, I made it very clear, what we need is to jettison the unitary system of government that we have been practicing since the military intervention in 1966. We need to go back to true fiscal federalism. We need to abandon the presidential system and go back to the unicameral parliamentary system of government.

How to achieve these? We only need to adopt the 1963 Republican Constitution of Nigeria. We can adapt it to our present reality by introducing some salient and pertinent points from the 2014 Confab.

So you are saying that we are not operating a true federal system of government; is that the root cause of our problems? 
With emphasis I say we are not operating a true federal system and there is no doubt in my mind that that, and that alone is at the root of our problems.

Do you support the idea of state police and regions?
Some people like to get themselves entangled in this business of regions. Regions were federating units. Today states have replaced regions and the number of federating units have increased from three to four and now to thirty-six with a Federal Capital Territory. That is reality. And, of course state police like resource control are inalienable elements or components of true federalism.

How can government deal with the issue of open grazing of cattle?
My view on open grazing is that it is inimical to good order. It is the only cause of the herdsmen/farmers conflict. It is outdated, anachronistic. For the health and the welfare of both the herders and the animals, it would be better if they were kept in a controlled and protected environment. We could start by resuscitating the grazing reserves in the North, which, I understand has a total of over five million hectares. Then we can follow with ranching.