By BARTHOLOMEW MADUKWE
Professor Fidelis Oditah, a Nigerian lawyer is a Queen’s Counsel, QC and also a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN. This first class scholar and an alumnus of the Universities of Lagos and Oxford, United Kingdom, has an extensive legal practice in Nigeria and UK.
In this interview, he posits that most of the calls for Sovereign National Conference were not motivated by the desire to move the country forward.
British rule ended in 1960 and Nigeria became an independent country on October 1, 1963. How would you describe the country’s journey so far?
It has been a mixed success. At a level, we have not done too badly. As a people, we are a very happy people. And not withstanding the challenges and adversity which we are faced with, both individually and collectively. On the whole, people seem happy and cheerful.
However, we have been poorly served by our leaders. Poor governance, corrupt leadership, profligate leadership have characterised our journey so far.
How do you resolve the progress that one would have expected of a country of about 150 people, which is supposedly endowed with enormous human and natural resources, to have made? There is very little to celebrate, other than people being happy for themselves because they are alive.
What is your position on the security challenges in the country?
It has all the characteristics of a failed state. Not quite long, we were all informed that Boko Haram went to a Collage of Agriculture and killed at least 50 students, injured over a hundred. Some days later, they killed at least 30 students in another school in the North.
And of course, one can continue reading out the statistics, it is just a catalogue of killings almost on a daily basis.
In addition to the Boko Haram scourge, we also have the problem of kidnapping. Initially, it began in the Niger Delta area. It was suppose to be a protest for the environmental degradation experience by the inhabitants of that area, for oil and gas exploration and exploitation activities. For kidnapping, everyone is a potential target because it has become a very lucrative criminal activity.
Recently, a high court judge was kidnapped in Edo State, though he has been released. This was after Mike Ozekhome, SAN, was kidnapped and released. But just pausing there, the idea that a judge with all the authority can be kidnapped and ransom demanded by the hoodlum, it tells how badly we have been able to deal with the security issue.
Any geographical area that calls itself a state must be able to secure life and property of its people. But here, hoodlums kidnap and damage at will. And yet, the so called leaders will congratulate themselves that Nigeria is 53.
I am not sure there is any reason to celebrate, but they had to put up a show. Yes, people were in attendance; it was not celebration because we had no cause to celebrate. On the contrary, there are very substantial issues confronting the country and what is required is a meaningful dialogue to bring solution to these problems. It is not for them to go on television in a self congratulatory wasteful mood and dissipate the resources we have.
Following the heightened Boko Haram activities, the late Lt-Gen Andrew Azazi was removed and replaced with Col Sambo Dansuki. What is your reaction to this?
When they changed General Andrew Owoye Azazi as the National Security Adviser, NSA and appointed Col. Sambo Danzuki, it was supposedly to handle the insecurity challenge.
But without undermining the efforts of Dansuki in any way, we have experienced more insecurity under his administration than we did under Azazi.
No doubt, people congratulated themselves as Nigeria turned 53 years of independence. But at the leadership level, people are under-achieved. No one can celebrate the debacle that has faced us in the past several months at least, probably in the past few years.
There have been calls for a Sovereign National Conference, while some have described as a possible threat to the country’s unity. What is your position to these calls?
I think dialogue is very good. What I find strange in Nigeria is that there are, in many cases, no genuine attempt to move the country forward. When you investigate the calls for Sovereign National Conference, you will find that in many cases, it is politically motivated.
People are trying to advance their selfish interests, which have nothing to do with your interest and mine, and also do not have the interest of the country at heart. So, I don’t have time for all these nonsense calls for Sovereign National Conference because it is quite cynical.
Desire to move the country forward
We have seen enough to come to the conclusion that very few of the calls for Sovereign National Conference are motivated by desire to move this country forward. In many cases, people are just taking positions, trying to advance themselves politically or economically. And I am not going to support such efforts by adding my voice to the call for Sovereign National Conference.
Do you agree that kidnappers should be granted amnesty?
Absolutely not. I do not even know who the kidnappers are. Have they become a trade organisation or identified as a group that we now offer amnesty or is it for all sorts of criminals? I do not see how that can be a responsible thing to do.
The reason that amnesty was offered to the Niger Delta militants was that initially, they pretended to be freedom fighters, in the mode of Major Isaac Jasper Adaka Boro (fondly called Boro) and Ken Saro-Wiwa; fighting to protect their environment. Of course, we know that overtime that the movement became largely criminal and had nothing to do with the yearnings of the people.
But however, one looks at it, it cannot be compared or equated to kidnapping, which is a naked, unpretentious activity by criminals, who are there without any course whatsoever. They are just there to make money. You might as well give amnesty to armed robbers, to all the thieves.
How do you identify kidnappers who have no cause, they have not released anyone without taking money. So, what is the cause they are fighting for? For their pockets for sure.
We should then give them amnesty and pay them from our resources, to congratulate and part them on the back for their criminal activities, which is completely unmotivated by any iota of idealism? It is just pure greed that has characterized that specie of criminal activity.
If you look at the broadcast in 1966, when they have the Aguiyi Ironsi coup, the reason they gave was corruption, and that was just when the country was six years old as an independent country. Yet 53 years after, we are still talking about more corruption. So, what progress have we made? How is the National Sovereign Conference going to address this type of problem?
The basic problems have to be solved first, before we begin to tackle grandiose projects because that is why we have wasted a lot of our resources in pursuing white elephant projects. In this regard, I have no doubt at all that the calls for Sovereign National Conference are not actuated or motivated to any significant degree by the interest of the country.
Having said that, our experience tell us that it is always good to talk because dialogue and diplomacy are always useful tools in ensuring peaceful co-existence of any set of people.