Former Minister of Women Affairs, Iyom Josephine Anenih spoke to UCHE KALU.
WHAT is your appraisal of Nigeria @ 60?
As we mark our diamond anniversary, it is heart-breaking for me to see where Nigeria is today after 60 years of Independence. With so much promise and the potential to be a poster nation for other African states to emulate, we have let ourselves and the whole continent down. As we stand today, we are more like a failed state than a state that can proudly showcase any appreciable development and progress in the 60 years post independence.
When Chinua Achebe wrote ‘There was a Country’ in 2012, which was a ‘lament about Biafra and the decline of Nigeria, incurable optimists believed that there was hope for Nigeria to be better. Veno sang ‘Nigeria Go Survive,’ while Stephen Osadebe sang ‘Nigeria Go Better’. The present condition of Nigeria belies all that optimism and hope. Nigeria has never been as divided and impoverished as it is now.
Where do you think Nigeria has got it right or wrong?
This isn’t an indictment of any one particular government; past or present. Nigeria got it wrong from the very beginning, i believe, because there was already dissent during the push for Independence. In 1947, Chief Obafemi Awolowo said that “Nigeria is not a nation; it is a mere geographical expression”.
Sir Ahmadu Bello said in 1960, “the new nation called Nigeria should be an estate of our great grandfather, Uthman Dan Fodio. We must ruthlessly prevent a change of power. We must use the minorities in the north as willing tools and the south as conquered territory and never allow them to rule over us, and never allow them to have control over their future.”
This statement was made 11 days after independence in 1960. Is there any wonder then when you hear statements like “an Ibo man can never be the President of this country”? When Nnamdi Azikiwe said, “let us forget our differences,” Sir Ahmadu Bello said, “no, let us understand our difference. I am a Muslim and a Northerner. You are a Christian, an Easterner.” But they never worked at understanding this difference and it fostered the divisive seed that we see today.
One can see ab initio even though they fought together to obtain Nigeria’s independence, they knew that the amalgamation was a marriage of strange bed fellows. One can see also that they had disparate agenda which did not include building a nation on equity and fairness and equality of all citizens.
The British, when they created the geographic expression they christened Nigeria, pulled together a motley crew of already existing nations; I think perhaps our failure is that over the last 60 years, we have been unable to forge national bonds that are as strong as our sub-national or regional ones.
Where should we go from here?
Restructure. We should restructure the country and agree on new terms of engagement. From 1999, President Olusegun Obasanjo, who unapologetically preaches the indivisibility and indissolubility of Nigeria, tried his best to give everyone a sense of belonging to Nigeria. President Goodluck Jonathan came and was obsessed with appeasing and compensating the North and almost neglecting the South.
Finally, now we have a president who is perceived as being totally committed to the North and Northern interests. The Central Government has always failed Nigerians in the delivery of the basic rights that would guarantee a better quality of life: food, healthcare, education, security, etc. The outcomes of these failures are the rising cries for restructuring and secession. Secession will not be of maximum benefit to anybody, so I would be slow to approve it. Restructuring may be the answer. The form this restructuring will take is crucial for it to work.
The present behemoth of a government with unlimited and absolute powers conferred on it has failed woefully and needs to be decentralised.
The African Union and ECOWAS have shown that it is possible to have a union of independent states cooperating for mutual prosperity and development on clearly defined areas: trade, immigration, security are a few of such areas. This is the template that will work for Nigeria. Restructuring should be done so that the six geopolitical zones can exist as independent nations within a Nigeria Union.
This will foster a healthy competition among member states and allow each region develop at their own pace. The Nigeria Union Army will be made up of reserves from the member states and their role will be to protect the territorial integrity of the union.
They will have no role to play internally. The Central Bank will be independent and have members from the federating states and the President of the Central Bank will be elected as it is done at the African Development Bank (ADB).
Where do you want Nigeria to be in the near future -10-30 years?
I want to see a strong Nigeria Union made up of independent nation-states contributing to the progress and prosperity of the union; a Nigeria Union where the citizens are free and can dream and actualise their dreams, regardless of how lofty those dreams might be. I want to see a federated country where security for all is assured. Equality, equity, justice and rule of law shall prevail and the youth are given opportunity to thrive and innovate.