Professor Francis Dike, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) was Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice in Imo state. He spoke on restructuring, clamour for Presidency by the Igbo, and other issues.

What would you attribute as the major cause of the current disunity among Nigerians?

At independence, we had three regions; the Western region, Eastern region, Northern region and then later Mid-West, was created in 1963. These four regions had their own constitutions. These regions were separate but equal and they were autonomous regions that bonded together to form a federation. There was healthy competition among the regions. This was what the founding fathers thought would ensure peace and unity. There was also that element of confidence in the people. If you leave another part of the country and settle elsewhere, you will belong to that part of the country. In Enugu for instance, Adu Moro Altine was elected the Mayor of Enugu having defeated the Igbo people who had contested against him during the mayoral election. In the West, you had situations where people from other places also won local elections and in the North, it was also that way.  It is the fragmentation of the political setup which had precipitated the civil war that is at the root of the current disunity and loss of confidence in Nigeria because the concept of federation has been badly eroded and the type of federation we have now is winner takes all. This has created a situation where some section of the country insists that power must remain in its domain because it wants to control the centre.

Ahmadu Bello who was the premier of Northern Region chose to remain in the North but sent his deputy, Tafawa Balewa to become Prime Minister in Lagos at Independence because the regions were more powerful and autonomous.  Dr. Nnamdi Azikwe was the president of the federation but Dr Michael Opara who was the premier of Eastern Region was the man with the power and it was the same with the other regions.  Then, whoever went to the centre which is the Federal Government was not because he wanted to dominate anybody’s section or anybody but to play national politics.

Today, what we have is a tendency of people trying to dominate others because we have moved away from the real concept of federalism.  What I want to say to you is that this country will continue to move to the precipice until it retraces its steps. There must be restructuring of this current political system if we must make real progress.  That is why I don’t support the position of some of the Igbo political leaders who are clamouring that the South East must produce the president in 2023.

Now, suppose they foist on you a very stupid person as the president which is possible. So, what do you do? What we should be talking about is not who becomes president but to restructure the country for the benefit of all Nigerians.

But majority of politicians from the North have been against political restructuring.

Those Northern political leaders are simply speaking tongue in cheek by saying that the country has already been restructured. What had happened was that the military governments which were headed mostly by Northerners simply fragmented the country in their favour and did not restructure the political system. When you restructure something, you will give it a pillar. You don’t just create chaffs flying in the air and you say you have restructured the country.  The Northern political elite who are against restructuring knew what Nigeria was before the independence and after independence till 1966. If they say what we have now is better than what we had then, then I think we need to re-educate them on what the political system was before the military coup of January of 1966 and the counter coup of July.

Most people have also argued that it is not impossible to return to pre- 1966 Nigeria.

Yes, I agree.  We have six geopolitical zones now, so let it be the federating units, if they want to use the 36 states as the federating units, let it be. In the USA, the states that are federating units have their own constitutions and we can do the same here with the states having their own constitutions. We don’t need anybody at the centre telling us what to do by occupying our lands. I have always been against the Land Use Act because it is against the Igbo man. This is because the land tenure system in Igbo land is different from what operates in the North or in the West. In a situation where somebody will come and take your land and say that he is keeping it in trust for you, what kind of stupid trust is that? What competence does he have to hold the legal titles to your land? That is imposition. There is difference in culture, tradition and it is that difference that we should harness. When I came back from England, we had entertaining TV programmes like Village Headmaster, We had Zeburudaya and everybody enjoyed it because they portrayed our differences and also how we could accommodate one another. We cannot say what we have now is a federating unit, it is not.

Why’re you not enthusiastic about the current clamour for President of Nigeria from the Igbo extraction by some people?

Those who are clamouring for Igbo president are clamouring for rubbish. It is a mash of potatoes, a president that may become a captive president. What does he do?  How could he function under this dysfunctional system? The unfortunate person who would be imposed on the people by those who think that they own the country may be of no use even to the South East but will only be there to act according to the whims and caprices of those who put him there in the first instance. Even the constitution which he is going to operate with is not from the people, unless we want the position of the president just for sake of prestige.

What would you say is the reason President Muhammadu Buhari has refused to at least implement some of the far-reaching recommendations of the constitutional conference organized by his predecessor which majority of Nigerians participated in?

Those who say that Nigeria is indivisible and yet do not want the political restructuring of the country which would return it to a real federal system are the ones who want the country to break up. They don’t want to look into what other sections of the country are saying and that is the real problem. It is only the constitutional conference organized under ex-President Jonathan that Nigerians came together and said what they want and how the country should be structured but those who want to lord it over the rest of the country would not want that, even though they were part of that conference and agreed in principle that the country must be restructured. Nigeria is just there because of the oil; if the oil was initially found elsewhere, we won’t have Nigeria. Remember that General Gowon after the counter coup of July 1966 which he led had told the world that the basis of Nigeria unity no longer exists and that was when the seed of what is happening today was sown. But ironically, the same Gowon is today jumping from one place to the other talking about unity and I say to myself, what sort of hypocrisy is this. I am sorry to say this and with all due respect to him as an elder statesman, it is he who had destroyed the federation and balkanized the country. The likes of Gowon should be honest because we cannot bequeath to our children a country that is seriously fractured.

Recently, the Federal Government is proposing a law that will give it the ownership of all waterways in the country. How do you react to that?

Now, we have 36 states and the Federal Government wants to own the riverine areas in the states and what that means is the Federal Government also wants to be a federating unit. Can you imagine that?  That is now a part of a part, which means that the states are no longer federating units. Are the federating units now the local governments? It beats my imagination. Now, this is the real problem of the Nigeria federation. Let those who erroneously think that Nigeria is indivisible remember that the British Act of Union of 1707 had stated that the union is indissoluble. Today, both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland are all independent of British and just recently in 2014, the people of Scotland had a referendum and even if they did not succeed, they will try again in 10 years. The Catalonians in Spain want independence because of lack of equity and justice. Nobody is against one Nigeria but the country is already crumbling because of its internal contradictions. Today, the country is more disunited than in 1960 when we gained political independence and yet some people keep pretending that all is well.


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