Professor Timothy Uzodinma Nwala, is a lecturer in the Department of Philosophy, Nasarawa State University and had before then, taught at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka where he spent most part of his life. Nwala who hails from Imo State, was a delegate to the 1994/1995 Constitutional Conference where he was a member of the Political Structure and Framework of the constitution Committee; and Constitution Drafting Committee. In this interview, he spoke on how the 1994/95 conference avoided the landmines set by late Head of State, General Sani Abacha, how the British authorities established the diminution of the Igbo in the polity among others. Excerpts:
By HENRY UMORU
Having been a delegate to the 1994 conference what difficulties did you encounter then you think should be better addressed now?
What is more important is to be able to learn from the positive elements of that conference. That conference came at a very critical time in the history of this country- 1994/ 1995.
The country was almost breaking into pieces. Everybody was complaining and that conference was called. Even though Abacha was at the centre of that conference, it was obvious that everybody was anxious to retrieve the country and people traced Abacha’s problem to the very structure of the country. So the idea that time was to try and reorganise the country.
We were lucky that that conference was attended by most of the greatest men this country has produced. One of the key elements the conference grappled with was the issue of the management of the conference itself even though Abacha had appointed a Conference Commission.
That conference commission was more or less a technical commission. It had nothing to do with the agenda of the conference, we set the agenda. It had nothing to do with the committees of the conference; we elected the various committees of the conference.
We also reviewed the agenda. We also decided the agenda of the conference, it was not determined by the late Head of State and because it was attended by the representatives of the various peoples of Nigeria, the issue of the interests of these various groups was total and there were a lot of issues and raising of voices because each group came with its best Eleven except the South West that came with what they were calling their Second Eleven, which also turned out to be good as the others. And so they were determined to defend the interest of their people and Abacha couldn’t manipulate it.
Abacha’s decree stipulated simple majority for decision taking but because of the high political process manoeuvring and relations and alliances built, it became obvious that the process was going to determine what happens.
Abacha didn’t really manipulate that conference, he didn’t have the power to. Sometimes, there were even moments when people exchanged blows in the conference because each group was determined to defend its own interest but at the end of the day, common sense prevailed.
I cannot complete the issue of what I am saying without touching on the key issue of the equation of our indivisibility of the country as a no-go-area.
That doesn’t make sense in a country besieged as we are now. The country wasn’t at war that time, but as it is now, the country is at war. If we don’t recognise that, then you don’t know where you are.
The Boko Haram is a very formidable force and we have to contend with that and if we are having a conference, they should be there. And the only way I think they should be there is to say everybody should come and let us decide if we should live together or not. Everybody should be there.
How can you talk about the country without Boko Haram forces that are maiming and killing people all over the place? And I heard that the international community is recognizing that there is some sense of civil war.
But the Boko Haram members are faceless
I don’t think they are faceless. Some of their people have been arrested. They have given some of them pardon. In fact, if people say they don’t know who Boko Haram are, where they are, their international connections, then we don’t know what we are talking about.
We don’t understand what is before us. So what I am saying is that, it should have been good if Boko Haram people were invited to discuss the stability of the country
And if they come and maintain their interest and the rest of the country is saying we stay together, then they will be a minority and that moment alone will also strengthen the solidarity of the rest against Boko Haram because Boko Haram is an ideological and military force.
The ideological part of it is that the people themselves have to be sufficiently roused that this is our common enemy.
You said late Abacha did not manipulate the conference…
I am saying that Abacha tried, but he couldn’t manipulate it. Since Abacha and the Ox could not manipulate the conference, what they did was to wait. At the end of the day when the decisions of the conference were handed over to Abacha, the man sat on it. Even though there were some elements where we couldn’t agree with Abacha like the six geo-political zones, we debated and voted for it. People were still campaigning against it, but at the end of the day Abacha accepted it.
What they did since they couldn’t manipulate the processes of the conference was to make sure at the end of the day that that constitution was not promulgated into law.
I am a bit skeptical because when you look at the attendance, the people are not represented sufficiently. It’s like all comers’ meeting. Bank people are coming, NUJ is coming and other people are coming. But the people who represent the actual geo-political forces are not there.
Are we expecting a better Nigeria after the Conference Vis a vis your experience as one of the delegates to the previous conference?
It is my prayer that it is going to give us a better Nigeria. But you see, some zones have peculiar problems that this conference cannot address. Let me take the South -East for example; the South -East has serious internal problems which this confab cannot address. And some of them that could be addressed by the conference, I don’t know the extent to which our delegates would muster enough courage to defend our interest.
In the South-East today, we have alienated youth, disorganized youth that are not taken care of by the internal forces and the Federal Government. Many of them were part of the militant groups that fought here and there. But for one reason or the other, they were excluded from the sweet packages which their South-South counterparts are enjoying. Who is going to put that on the table? Who is going to remember that the South-East zone is part of the oil producing area and which should be provided for like the South-South?
Look at the Boko Haram thing; at the beginning, who were the greatest victims of the Boko Haram? It was the Igbo. Most of them have been dying here and there no federal policy to take care of them. These are the kind of issues that should be tabled.
On the recurring threat to the existence of Igbo in Nigeria
You have to be a student of history to appreciate the nature of that problem. It didn’t start today. It started from the colonial era. If you look at the history of the colonial period, anti-colonialism, the greatest protagonists were the Ibos.
You remember the 1929 Aba women riots, the Europeans never believed that the black man was capable of that kind of resistance not to talk of the women.
That time, it was a state of war. The Europeans sent their women back home. Women with little sticks, cassava fronds, palm fronds.
It shook the whole foundation of the colonial administration and made them to go back to the drawing board and started sending their scholars to Oxford and Cambridge to do anthropology to understand more clearly the mind of the so-called primitive man not to talk of their women. And where did this happen? In Igbo land.
And soon after that was the period of militant nationalism.