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It is in our collective interest to remain one country but …says Orike

By Jimitota Onoyume, Port Harcourt
Ambassador Chukwudi Dickson Orike’s political journey began in the First Republic when he was elected into the House of Representatives. He read Law at the University of London and also holds a Masters degree in Political Sociology from the London School of Economics and Political Science.

During the Gowon regime, he served as Attorney-General of Rivers State, and was later appointed Ambassador to Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi

In this interview with Jimitota Onoyume, Ambassador Orike reviews the recent post-presidential election violence in some parts of the North that claimed the lives of some youth corps members. He also speaks on Nigeria’s nationhood.

A lot of Nigerians are upset by the recent post-election riots in the North that claimed the lives of many including some Youth Corps members. How can we avert this kind of situation in future?

First it is condemnable in every sense.  I also thank the President for the idea of setting up a commission of enquiry to find out the immediate and remote causes.

But it is my candid view that neither condemnation nor judicial commission of enquiry is a solution to these incidents which occurred or which had occurred before in the past and which will occur in future. I am more interested in finding solution to this type of thing so that the killings don’t happen again. I do not know countries in the world where this type of thing happens, even in Africa.

The only permanent way is to have a conference of the ethnic nationalities in the country to sit down and discuss how we should leave together.

Ambassador Chukwudi Dickson Orike

If you ask me, I will always say that we should remain together as one indivisible country.  I will say everything humanly possible under the sun should be done to make us stay together.

It is also instructive to remind ourselves that in 1979 Shehu Shagari contested against Awolowo and the great Zik etc. The verdict was that Shagari won. The South Easterners did not riot because the Great Zik of Africa was defeated by Shehu Shagari. The South West states did not riot because the Great Awo was defeated by Shagari. Rather Awo went to court.

I am the last Nigerian to promote separation. And I have my reasons.

First and foremost, there are advantages in numbers. ECOWAS, East African Community, all these groups were created among other things for numerical strength. Kenya is about 28 million, Uganda about 26 million, Rwanda about 8 million, Burundi about 6 million. When you total them they are not even up to the former Eastern Region of Nigeria.

When we say ECOWAS Nigeria has better advantage because of its numbers. Secondly, there is hardly anything from the economic point of view that you can produce in the country that you can’t sell within before you start looking for outside market.

You also see varieties when you travel round the country. Nasarawa to Plateau looks almost like going to South Africa sub region where you have the plateau rocks etc. This is good for tourism.  Food production we have varieties because of the savannah grassland in the north and the rainforest in the south. So from the north you can produce strawberries, tomatoes, onions and in the south you can produce yam, cocoa, rubber palm tree etc.

I think that we  can so reconstruct Nigeria that you can give autonomy to the extent that we won’t   have this rivalry where everybody wants to seize power at the centre at all cost.

And we also seem to have an emerging bomb culture in the country? Are you not frightened by this?

Well the bomb culture is the same. It shows how violence manifests itself in many ways. I condemn it.

Back to the recent post-election riots in which some NYSC members were targeted. Some Nigerians are questioning the retention of the scheme. Do you share that view?

I took part in the discussion on the setting up of the scheme. I was Attorney-General of Rivers State. We had only 12 states under General Gowon. The war had just ended, that was in 1970. During those days, the Supreme Military Council in Dodan Barracks headed by General Gowon then Head of State, the high military command like the Chief of Army Staff, Naval, Air were all members; and the governors of the 12 states were members.

The governors attended the meetings with two ex officials namely the Secretary to the Military Government, (SMG) and the Attorney Generals. I was the Attorney Generals of Rivers state then.

This National Youth Corps thing came up just like changing of the naira came up. The idea was that there was need to make Nigerians know their country because it appeared that we did not know ourselves; we did not know our culture. We felt if we blended a little bit we could live better. We did not like the kind of bitterness during the civil war. There was need for reintegration.

And we should start with the young people, the young educated that would be leaders tomorrow so that they would all see themselves as brothers and sisters, that was the idea. Some had thought that the graduates should go for military training as they do in Europe and America but people said it should be youth service where they would leave their states to serve in other areas. The scheme was established in 1973.

If you see what is happening now I don’t know if that integration has been achieved since 1973 that the programme started.

Has it made Nigerians see themselves as one? Has it made the Yoruba man see the Hausa Fulani as brother and sister or the minority see the Hausa Fulani as brother? What is worse now is that these corps members are immediate target for slaughters when there is any little disagreement.

Let’s be honest. If you invest your money in training your child it’s like planting an Iroko tree. Before it matures to timber it takes time. You train your child to be a doctor, engineer and then his head is suddenly cut off while on youth service. When you hear that your son has been killed, you go to open Champagne for celebration?

It is not right. I think the National Youth Service Corps should be limited to the state of origin of the corps member to save us this agony.

Definitely my own child will never be allowed to go for youth service in the North. I am not saying that the national service be scrapped but corps members should be posted to serve in their state. That will help avoid losing valuable lives.

What are your expectations from Jonathan’s presidency?

Well you see! Obviously, a president from the region already has experience of hardship and oppression, like the country oppressed this region in the last fifty years. He knows this oppression. And I know he will not like to melt the same oppression to any other region because he knows what it means.


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