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‘Why we want to change Nigeria’

By Dayo Benson,  Political Editor & James Ezema

Lt. Gen. Alani Akinrinade (rtd)

As the name of the group implies, is this kind of change possible?

Change is possible. I always believe you could make a change anytime. But if you are talking about the vehicle we’re going to use, yes, I agree we don’t have a National Assembly, we don’t have even the executive, where we have a bunch of looters who are making us look little all over the world, they are an embarrassment to some of us.

After working for so many years in government, after being in the trenches looking for democracy, to find that this is the inheritance that we’re going to give to our children, it is a very embarrassing future. I’m an old man, I didn’t want to go back to the trenches but it will be unworthy of some people that I appreciated, people like  Late Chief Gani
Fewehinmi. I think I’m still more invigorated now that we can have a change and we can cause it to happen.

Were we really independent? If you look at the way those who want to make change after independence have tried to do so and they have failed, not because they did not make efforts but because of the circumstances surrounding them, both local and abroad, you’ll know that we were never really independent.

And I think we can make things work. We have the people, we have the land, we don’t even need oil, we don’t need anything called gold or whatever. We have water that is enough for any set of people to
respectable in the world.

For me, what you’re calling for sounds like a secession by asking each region to fashion out their own constitution while we have a sovereign constitution already?

No. We’re talking about a system that can bring us a constitution that all of us will beat our chest and want to belong to and that is what we’re saying. And the way it works is that those who will make that constitution must make up their minds from home, how they want to live, what they want to preserve for themselves, what they want to give to the common good of all of us.

But if we can’t agree, then of course there are smaller countries like Yoruba land, smaller countries like Igbo land, smaller countries like Hausa land that have good representation in the world. They are respected all over the world.

When you see them in the comity of nations where you see international sports happening, small countries like Croatia, they produce the best of sportsmen, they produce good teams but we couldn’t even produce a team that could beat Tunisia. Aren’t we really ashamed about all these things? So, nobody is asking that some people should secede or whatever it is but we’re saying that I don’t want to leave my children behind in country without future.

Mr. Fred Agbeyegbe, lawyer

How does the organisation intend to achieve its objectives, especially in carrying the grassroots along in this  project?
Well, part of the problems of this country which is the tool that those who are oppressing people utilise is lack of education. This has many dimensions; one is that the populace is largely illiterate.

Second is that even the literate members of the society are illiterate in a number of things that they should know and in running an organisation of this nature, we have as largely part of our duty to educate the masses so that they know that  people  are trampling their rights; to educate even the literate members of the society, who do not know the nitty-gritty of all the rights that they have.

And to let everybody know that all those people there who are claiming to represent them, have an obligation and duty  to do what the people want. If you’re a graduate who have been roaming the streets for ten years without a job, it is part of the duty of the government to make sure that you get a job.

It is not  that they are being sympathetic towards your plight. It is a right. It is not a privilege to get a job. The same thing goes for the market woman, to the block maker, to the fisherman. So, our duty is to let you know what your rights are and in the hope that when you know, you’ll come out and begin to assert them because there is no point going to your bedroom to go and mourn about it. It will continue like this forever.

It seems you are calling people to  go out on the streets. Must we go back to the period of struggle when we have a constituted government in place, we have the National Assembly and if there are things you are not satisfied with, you can approach the courts?

How has this government you are talking about assisted you in any particular regard? Can you give  me an example?

But if you are not satisfied with anything you can go to court?

You know that. Does every person in this society know that you can go to court? No. Second, do they have the opportunity to do it? People do not know their rights. Full stop. Wether they are educated or illiterate, Nigerians do not know their right because people who know their rights follow processes to enforce them.

You don’t know your rights and you go and sit in your bedroom, if somebody tramples upon your right. You have the right to come out and say you can’t do that. What we’re saying is that this same process you’re talking about has been with us for a very long time but at the end of the day, those who know better than those who don’t know, are always in control.

And we’re saying that coming out to hid under a constitution which we did not take part in putting in place but has a fraudulent statement that we came together to do it, has to be overturned because  all the maladies of this society come from there. I can tell you, I did not vote for any of the people who represent me in the parliament today. The vote I cast was different from the result that came. So, what do you suggest will happen?

Your only vote wouldn’t have decided the winner?

There are ten million of me who did not vote for them.

There are people in power now, can’t you lobby them to carry out the restructuring the way you want?

Then, let me tell you what you do not understand. We’re telling you that as at a given date there were so many regions in this country. As we speak, we have three regions collapsed into 17 states. We have one region that is now 19 states. Do you accept that?

No. Because of that action in itself, the representation in the place you want to go and lobby is a reflection of that flaw. So, you are going to go there and talk to people who have no right to be there and you are going to tell him to solve your problem.

You must think logically, my friend. The representation in the National Assembly is skewed to achieve certain results. And the provisions of the constitution tell you how you can change that constitution. So, you have Kano who have so many representatives there that they are not entitled to, compared to Lagos who should have more than what they havethere. So, how do you take a Lagos complaint to that same National Assembly and ask a Kano man who has no right to be there to agree with you?

Tell me! So, it is going to forever continue because that guy who is sitting there has a privilege he is not entitled to and you have no business going to talk with him. Listen, we used to tell those in government, you have refused to listen to us in the Niger Delta.

Anybody who refuses to reason will at some point in time begin to deal with unreason. What’s happening to day? How old is MEND compared to the problems of this country? Haven’t we been talking about it? Wouldn’t you think we have lobbied enough? Now MEND came, because they are shooting, they are listening to them.

The so called amount of money that Nigeria is losing on a daily basis because they are being disturbed by the likes of MEND, if  the money coming out of one spot in one day in Niger Delta, imagine if that money was turned into improving the lives of the people there on a regular basis, would you have MEND today?

What can you now offer the people in MEND?  Nothing! Reason has gone, now it is unreason that prevail. The guy was your slave, he’s
been begging you, ‘look, this thing you’re doing to me I don’t like it’ on a continuous basis and you said, ‘ go to hell, go to hell’. One day, he gets hold of something which you have no choice but to listen to or be afraid of. You will now begin to say, ‘ come o let us talk. I’ll give you amnesty’. So, every situation has its own logic.

That lobbying has not worked for how many years, it will never work, and you see some people that will ensure that it will not work. But if you remember, there are some people who succeeded to the rise of the British in this society, they will never, never let it go. Nobody is saying come to the streets and foment trouble. Coming to the street and carrying a placard and saying, ‘This thing wey you dey do, I no go gree o’  is part of our rights even in that forged constitution. So, if you say you are not going to listen and
the people do it and keep doing it, and you keep shooting them, one day your bullet will be exhausted.

Are you prepared to go on the streets to carry placards?
Me? Then you don’t know the name Fred Agbeyegbe. Go and learn about it. During the Abiola episode, it took me two hours, forty minutes to convince my peers,  lawyers of Lagos chapter of Nigerian Bar Association to do something that has never been heard before or since that time. We went on the streets. I moved that resolution.

Before they came to tear-gas us, we were on the streets. But do you know, to leave what was then the Supreme Court towards Igbosere (on Lagos Island) and come back, it took us about 18 minutes. In that 18 minutes, if you see the people that came out, they were not looking for trouble. They were saying enough is enough.

Of course, they didn’t vote for you and so you don’t bother. And that’s part of the question you were asking, they control the voting system, they control the electoral system,  the representative system and since your vote didn’t matter to their being there, why should they listen to you? They are not going to listen because next time around, they will do it again.
Nigeria is a forgery, everything about it is a forgery.

How strong are the leaders of these  group?  Who are the other members of this group other than the signitories to your presentation?

Of course, there are a lot more people who are here today. But you can see, I am sure, how representative the group you saw is in terms of situation in life, age, what they believe in and all that. And you know the multiplier effect.

Mr. Bisi Adegbuyi, lawyer
With this regrouping, will you go back to the trenches like in the days of NADECO or how does your organisation want to go about bringing the changes you are talking about?

This is an open rejection of the 1999 Constitution, which is the fundamental law of the land. Nobody is picking up a fight but in a democracy you have a right to your opinion and you have the right to choose. We’re saying that a journey we have embarked upon for so many years without result should be looked at again, maybe, make a ‘U’ turn.

There is nothing wrong in doing that, otherwise we continue to tow the part of futility. We have used a template for too long a time and it has not been beneficial to us, so we must take a critical look at the entity called Nigeria. PRONACO has set the pace, they have set the agenda.

We must address the fundamentals and that is the restructuring of this country. We must begin to look at areas that will engender autonomy, devolution of powers, that will bring about peace, progress, justice, that will give all the federating units, the stakeholders, a sense of belonging. If they feel alienated, if they don’t believe in the country, then it becomes difficult for you to galvanise them. America is great today because American citizens believe in their country and they are easily galvanised. The reverse is the case in Nigeria.

If you look at other jurisdictions, incumbent governments have been losing elections because of the downturn in their economy and because people have become disenchanted, why should Nigeria be an exception, where the PDP which has been in power for ten years has failed woefully and keeps  recording electoral ‘victories’.

This means that there is something fundamentally wrong and if you don’t address it, then we’ll continue to embark on a journey to nowhere. It is going to be a motion without movement. It is clear that if somebody who is 49 years old has not been able to get his acts together, does not have a vision, does not have a blueprint, does not know where he is going, that person is
a failure.

Again, we must begin to find ways of ensuring that the human capital we have in abundant supply in Nigeria, is fully utilised and stop relying on oil. Oil is causing so much havoc on Nigeria such that this lesser mentality has deprived us of the opportunity of unleashing our creative energy.


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