By Ishola Balogun
The former Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, Chief Richard Akinjide (SAN), laments that 51 years after independence, Nigeria is yet to be a nation, citing sectional and selfish interest as major drawback. Akinjide,, in this no-holds-bared interview blames the northern leaders on the Boko Haram insurgency, among other issues.
NIGERIA at 51 is a nation with several challenges, yet devel opment has been elusive. What do you think is responsible?
No, I don’t agree Nigeria is a nation yet. It is still a country and not a nation. If we were a nation, we won’t have all the problems we are having now. We are having this problem because we are a country. There are certain people who see themselves as Yorubas, others see themselves as Igbos while others still see themselves as northerners. When there is a clash of interest between Nigeria and the north, as far as they are concern, northern interest must prevail. People have that attitude because they don’t see themselves as a nation. I hope one day we will become a nation. It is very sad. I see myself as a Nigerian because I love this country.
Are we’re expecting too much from Nigeria at 51?
Yes! We are expecting too much from the country. We should put first and foremost the interest of Nigeria and not personal interest or sectional interest. The British created for us not a nation but a country. In fact, when Lord Lugard came, he created north separately and south separately.
He was Governor-General of the north and that of the south. It was only after amalgamation in 1914 that we had one Governor-General for the whole country. Many people who don’t know the history, do not know how this came about. I am not saying it is right or it should be like that, but our leaders have not been able to put behind them this sectional interest. Until they do that, we will continue to have a country and not a nation.
Did our heroes of independence envisage a Nigeria still crawling at 51 and would not rise above sectional interest?
They did not. They led by example. They did not come to acquire wealth. I ask you, where is Balewa’s wealth, where is
Having said that, there are leaders who put Nigeria first before any sectional interest but those people are in the minority and it is very sad. And others who put sectional interest before any other interest are causing the problems we have in Nigeria today.
It means leadership is the bane of our development just like some people have reasoned.
Leadership is critical. But a leader cannot do everything. He has to rely on people to do certain things. Our problem is human. Once people see themselves from sectional angle, which is in a way a selfish angle, you are not helping the country. We should forget sectional interest and put national interest first. Look at United States of America, in population, size and states, it is larger than Nigeria, yet, look at Obama with African father, American mother, becoming the president of America. Such a thing is almost unthinkable in Nigeria. That is possible in America because it is a nation and not a country. But here we hear people talk about northern president as if he is going to rule the north alone and not the whole country. Oh! We want an Igbo president as if he is going to rule the Igbos alone, same with the clamour for a Yoruba president as it he is going to rule the Yoruba alone. That is the heart of our problem. People are not able to think beyond their tribe, people do not see and put the country first before other things. It is that bad.
Security. What has gone wrong?
It is very unfortunate. I must say that it is not the fault of the federal government. These problems started from the north. The leaders there used religion and certain people to win election, particularly gubernatorial election and after the election, they abandoned them.
These people became bitter. I mean, you’ve got to look at the root cause of these problems. From what I have heard, we have not had this before; afterall, there is no section of Nigeria where you don’t have Christians or Muslims. So, people who are looking for political power should be very careful of what they are going to use to achieve that power. That is essentially what we should learn from the crisis we are having in the north today. Afterall, the same north was there when Zik was president or when Prime-Minister when Balewa was there. Aminu Kano was a good leader, and this never happened even from Borno, we had Waziri with his own political party, there was nothing like this then. We are having this crisis in the north now because of failure of leadership and this is not at the federal level but at the state level.
But some people believe that President Jonathan, at the centre, is not doing enough to tackle the multifaceted problem facing this country. What is your take?
That is nonsense. He is doing his best. I commend him and I support him and I challenge anybody who could have done better than what he had done to come forward with his argument. Look at what he did in the Niger Delta. Before he came to power, that region was in turmoil. Now there is peace in the area. He comes from the region and he accepted the challenge and he solved the problem. We have leaders from the north; they should do for us in the north what Jonathan did for us in the Niger-Delta. After all, they have emirs, sultan, district heads, political leaders and army officers in the north, why can’t they say enough is enough and nip the situation in the bud just as Jonathan did in the Delta. So, you can’t blame Jonathan for what is happening in the north rather you blame the northern leaders.
Maybe, the situation would have been different if a northerner was in the saddle.
No, I don’t accept that. The respite in the Niger Delta did not just come overnight. When Jonathan came in, there was still problem in the area but he has solved it. Let us give credit to whom credit is due. Jonathan has done extremely well and he has my support and that of all reasonable Nigerians.
The Judiciary. How can the issue of crisis of integrity be addressed?
I am sure the present and the new CJ will solve all the problems. He is a first class judge and lawyer, very patriotic and a good leader. I have no doubt that very soon we will have those issues put behind us. The two people who have clash of personality, the former head of the court of appeal and the former head of CJ have been retired. So, a new page has been opened and I think the right decision has been taken in that respect.
If you look critically at governments from the Second Republic till date, would you say the present government would make substantial difference in the lives of Nigerians, especially on socio-economic problems?
Yes, I have no doubt it will. Look at the minimum wage issue, look at the attempt to solve the power problem and look at the way the Niger Delta crisis was solved, I have no doubt that we will be happy economically and socially. Politically, I agree with the initiative of six year -single term. It is better because the president won’t be looking for re-election. The problem of Nigeria is problem of development, peace, stability, education and unity. Once the president knows that he will not be seeking re-election, there will not be treasury looting. He will be single-minded because he will want to make a name for himself in the history of the country. So, I agree with it.
How do we fast track development?
The President has set up a very powerful committee with Jonathan himself as the chairman and the vice president as the vice chairman and also having some ministers as members. I have no doubt that Nigeria will achieve what China had achieved. China with good leadership within a short time has moved from the third world to the first world countries. Singapore, India, Malaysia and so on did it, so, Nigeria also will do it. I am very hopeful.