Prof Ihechukwu Madubuike, erudite scholar and two-time minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is a journalist’s delight any day.
He does not only answer your questions, but also gives you a deeper perspective, perhaps, that is unknown to you on the issue.
He speaks on Nigeria, the journey so far, where we got it wrong and what to do to salvage the country from the precipice of destruction, among other critical issues. Excerpts:
What is your take on Nigeria at 59?
Nigeria is supposed to be a great country, there is no doubt about that, but we keep getting things wrong. Today, there is a betrayal of the zeal that inspired the fight for national independence. Some may argue that we have made some improvements. Perhaps, but if we compare ourselves with many who started the race with us we are lagging far behind. This is not where we should be. We have not been true to the national pledge. We have not been our brother’s keeper. There is increasing hunger, population explosion, bandtry all over, unresolved murder, kidnapping, insecurity at home and on the streets. Insecurity has become incestuous, especially when governors now negotiate piecemeal peace with known criminals. Our country is dying gradually and it is almost becoming a cliché to say we have no other one to call our own. Peace is not only the absence of war; it is the presence of order. There is still hope, yes, but even that hope may turn into a nightmare unless we re-order our society now. I have great fears for Nigeria of today.
Fears like what?
The sorry aspect is that at this stage of our development, we should have overgrown the fear that trailed our coming together as a nation, fears that made our leaders describe Nigeria either as a mere geographical expression or as a mistake. Unfortunately, events, triggered largely by over-centralization of powers, seem to be justifying these fears. Perhaps, the only day Nigerians were happy was the day Nigeria hoisted its green white and green flag to displace the British union jack – ushering the new dawn, the independence of the largest black country in the world, with a lot of fanfare, glitz razzmatazz, and promise. Every day, after then, the promise and hope have been progressively dashed because of the seed of mistrust that came with the reluctant withdrawal of the British. Not even the Republican Constitution of 1963 could stem the tide completely. By 1965, ‘Operation Wetie’ exploded in Western Region, leading to the imprisonment of Chief Obafemi Awolowo and the subsequent intervention of the military through an aborted coup d’état in January 1965, by young army officers from all parts of the country, but wrongly tagged an “Igbo coup”. The Igbo have paid dearly and are still paying dearly for that misnomer and misadventure. First, there was the July 29, counter-coup against the Igbo, in which the Igbo in the North were selectively murdered in their millions and then the secession of the Eastern part of the country. Then followed the civil war, which claimed the lives of millions of Nigerians, especially of the Igbo. We have not seen the end of these anomalies in the country. Nigeria, like some other African countries, seemed bound to violence, a question of blood begetting violence.
You spoke of seed of mistrust, can you expatiate a bit?
I will try, but it’s a long story. But let it be stated that before the British traders arrived in what is today Niger area, the aborigines, that is the autochthonous communities, were separate and equal potentates, republicans or communities with their own way of living. They separately traded freely with the British and signed treaties in this regard, not as Nigerians, but as free agents representing their individual or communal interests. The white foreigners traded under the name of a company. This British company later sold these treaties of the indigenous communities that traded with it to the British colonial power for a paltry sum of money. Britain took over the administration of these trading communities under the leadership of a man called Fredrick D. Lugard. The rest is history. Lugard and his girlfriend named the new acquisition Nigeria. Full colonization began with the amalgamation of the Northern Protectorate and Southern Protectorate together, in 1914, against strident opposition from the Southern elite. It was very clear that Britain, through Lugard, nurtured sympathies for the Muslim North and disdain for the educated Southern elite because of the latter’s perceived libertarian concerns. For a longtime Lugard made it difficult for Christians to penetrate the North and indirectly encouraged Koranic education. He also felt that southerners were animists or pagans, while the North, although Muslims, shared the belief in one God with the British. Theocracy, as I said elsewhere apprehends a specific God, which other religions may not apprehend, especially when men no longer seek the Kingdom of God, but the Kingdom of men. Lugard clearly mixed politics and religion of self-interest when he averred as follows in His Dual Mandate and I quote: “Both the Arabs in the East and the Fulani in the West are Mohammedans and by supporting their rule we unavoidably encourage the spread of Islam, which from the purely administrative point of view has the disadvantage of being subject to waves of fanaticism, bounded by no political frontiers”. There were other subversive and manipulative policies by Britain. Before independence, the census count was meddled with by British agents. So also was the pre-independence election, for before the counts were over Sir James Robertson, the outgoing Governor of colonial Nigeria, announced Tafawa Balewa as the Prime Minister, leaving the opposition from the South with grudges and bitterness. Britain clearly implanted a caliphate view of society, and the beneficiaries have held on to this born-to-rule view. The Ruga and the National Livestock Transformation Plan fall within these manipulative tendencies. Look at the humiliation Nigerians are getting outside the country, for instance, look at the treatment in South Africa because they are escaping from an injustice that has been projected into the system. It’s sad.
What do you think is the solution?
A true federation that can come through the restructuring of the polity and conferring of more powers to the sub-nationalities (the states or zones) and less to the centre.
What is your take on power shift bearing in mind that the North is still insisting on holding on to the presidency come 2023?
Body language or not, power does not belong to the North, no matter all pretenses to the contrary, no matter the leviathan psychoses. Power belongs to God and to the people by extension. The nexus between man and God – the power of communication – is that the voice of the people is the voice of God, the super power. Power to the Igbo is a right, not a privilege. Those who want to horde power will sooner or later lose it because it is not their own. Societies that grow are those who see power as a gift, not a right. Power to the Igbo, via the presidency of Nigeria is substantive, not mere tokenism. They must own it, and use it for the advancement of not only the Igbo, but also for the entire country. Yet the Igbo must be ready for what they want in case they get it, as the saying goes. Will eight years in power substantially change the psychological and physical damage decades of marginalization has done to the Igbo? How did the eight years of the Obama presidency lift the blacks in America? Igbo Presidency or whatever name you give it is not going to be a cake work, nor has it been for many others that have been at that pinnacle of power. The presidency of Nigeria may not be the most important thing for Ndigbo today. Yet, nobody should begrudge the Igbo what is their fundamental right. Igbo presidency will have its good and ugly side. It will, more than anything else, renew Igbo belief in itself while improving its self-image. Depending on how it is handled, it could also be an oxymoron. In all these the Igbo must begin ruling their hearth well as they inspire to rule Nigeria.
You have mentioned the xenophobic attacks…?
(Cuts in) Xenophobia is the fear of foreigners; it is as old as the word itself. It is a psychological, emotive and unreasonable hatred of that which is strange or foreign or disliked by the other. It is akin to racism or ethnic bigotry. It manifests itself in various forms, degrees, and contexts. For instance, the supporters of a football team, who make racial slurs on black players in Europe are guilty of xenophobic attacks. In Switzerland, for example, it has been observed that xenophobia manifests itself in the way the Swiss treat and resent blacks. In South Africa, the phenomenon is an extreme form of black on black violence – an anti-racist racism. It is the heightened form of bigotry, a social phobia rooted in years of social denials and deprivations, a masquerade that has turned against its loyal followers. A mad dog that bites its benefactors. Different forms of intolerance fall within the calculus of xenophobia. In Nigeria, for example, a policy of sustained social exclusion, targeted against a group of people, backed by militarism, falls within the soft kind of xenophobia.
How can it be countered?
Nature has endowed humanity with the instinct of self-protection and survival. The first reaction of a person in a situation of danger is to separate himself from the dangerous object. When it involves citizens of different countries, like in the case of South Africa, the resort is to conventional rules of engagement – the arena of diplomacy. The measure to remove Nigerians from the hostile South African environment is a step in the right direction. The patriotic duty of individuals, like that exhibited by the founder of Air Peace, Allen Onyema, is commendable. There must have been other Nigerians who played the role of being their brothers’ keepers. What is needed is not brain drain, but brain circulation, the type that is happening in India today. Our diaspora, with humongous talents, must be encouraged to contribute more of their skills at home. Yes, they bring money home, but they must be encouraged to bring also their expertise and skills to the homeland. But the selective and divisive politics in Nigeria is not encouraging this. The government needs to do more at the local level, to make Nigeria attractive for its citizens. East or West home is home. Nigeria must be home to all its citizens. Nigerians must be made to be proud of their country. Ethnocracy is not democracy. There must be employment at home and social inclusion for all in order to stem the tide of exodus and the outsourcing of talents. The government must do everything to stop the burgeoning of a class society, in which some seemed favoured while others feel tolerated or just a number.
You were once the education minister, what is your evaluation of the sector now?
The education sector needs a massive improvement from all sectors. We must, first of all, improve the learning environment. Education, after all, is an exposure to different environments, and the environment influences the learning process as much as the innate ability. Educationists are not agreed on which has a greater influence on the learning process – innate ability or the environment. Whatever, both must be properly catered for, beginning with the infrastructure. A situation where classrooms are not congenial for learning should be a thing of the past. It is criminal to allow our children to learn under trees, or stay in classrooms without adequate chairs and writing tables. We must train quality teachers for teaching to be effective. We must, therefore, not only enforce teachers to upgrade their teaching skills through in-service training; we must also pay teachers very well. We should go to the Scandinavian countries and learn from them why emphasis is placed on the learning process and why in some cases, why more than a teacher is assigned to a class at the same time. Those whom we recruit into the teaching profession at all levels must be among the brightest in the society. Our education must be dynamic if we must remain relevant in the 21st Century.
Recently you spoke on the need to abide by the Abia Charter of Equity?
(Cuts in) It will help in keeping political harmony that our founding fathers envisaged in the charter. Abia charter will help to encourage mutual peace, justice and fair play in the rotation of the governorship position among the parts. As I have always said Abia is very much in my mind and I look forward to the day it will live up to its name and be indeed “God’s own State”. To do that we must do that which is morally right and just, socially politically and otherwise. Equity is a moral value and he that comes to it must do so with a clean and clear conscience. So must it be with the Abia Charter of Equity, an existential and political mode of corporate living that our fathers set forth for all generations of Abians as a modus vivendi. The name Abia is an acronym. Without the alphabet “I” it would be referring to a non-existent abstraction. The Isiukwuato District component of Abia – made up of Umunneochi and Isiukwuato local government areas (LGAs) must not outsource their legitimate right to produce the next governor of Abia State. Otherwise, the labour of our heroes past and present shall avail nothing. I think it would be morally right and justifiable to allow Isiukwuato, the “I” leg of the charter to produce the next governor.
What motivated your book “Nigeria and the Lugardian Hubris”?
Writing is the domain of the powerful. Memoir writing is an art, the chronicling of important vignettes in an author’s life. I concentrated, in this case, on my service to the country, especially the two times I served as minister in two different regimes, one civilian, the other, military. A memoir is an attempt to show who we are and in the attempt, inspire others for the ideal and improve on our shortcomings since we are all flawed as human beings. Yet there are many other reasons people write. Some write to be popular, to be heard of; some write because of esthetic imperative, to make reading pleasurable by the way they employ and use the resources of language; others write for historical imperatives, to record facts as they know them for posterity; some write for political reasons – to advance an ideology; e.g. Marxism, Socialism, Capitalism, etc. And some can write for a combination of these reasons. They are all valent literary engagements. But for whatever reason you write, do not be obscure.