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1990 coup was aimed at restructuring Nigeria — Col Tony Nyiam

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…We should name, disgrace opponents of restructuring

…A few APC govs manipulating others

…Lagos is a model for restructuring

By Dapo Akinrefon

Lt-Col Anthony Nyiam (retd) is one of the few surviving   men, who staged a coup   against the regime of former Military President, Gen Ibrahim Babangida (retd).

He   is in the forefront of the agitation for the restructuring of Nigeria.

In this interview, Nyiam, who hails from Boki in Cross River State, explains that restructuring was one of the reasons they struck in 1990.

He also lampoons leaders especially governors of the All Progressives Congress, APC, for opposing the call for restructuring, calling on Nigerians to name and disgrace opponents to the cause. Excerpts:

The issue of restructuring was played down by the National Assembly. What do you say to that?

Awolowo made it clear that when making about 33 amendments in a constitution, it is not just a minor constitutional amendment. When it comes to that or the making of a new constitution, it is not the duty of the legislature.

Lt-Col Anthony Nyiam (retd)

That is the universal best practice and there is a good reason for it. Politicians, by their nature, are always concerned about the next election and they are also driven by their political interests. So, when it involves making a major amendment in a constitution, it involves direct voting. When it comes to amending the constitution, they should go back to the people who own power. That has been the practice since the French revolution. And the people will exercise their sovereignty through a referendum which is called direct democracy.

My former colleagues in the military, who I have always described as politicians in uniform, created a constitution which gives advantages to their people. It is a Constitution that you cannot change anything in it. They deliberately excluded a fundamental thing that makes a constitution legitimate. That thing is called a referendum.  A constitution without provision for a referendum is illegitimate. Any constitution not approved by the people may appear legal but it is illegitimate.

So, it is out of place for members of the National Assembly to be embarking on constitution amendment.

Why do you think some parts of the country are against restructuring?

The Northwest created a structure which gives them some advantages. In other words, they have, for example, the whole of Kano which was split into Jigawa and Kano. They presently have the highest number of local government areas. They have about 70 local government areas compared to Lagos 20.

When you add what Lagos gets, you will know that Lagos is disadvantaged. When you add what Kano and Jigawa get, it is much higher than what Lagos gets. In fact, Kano, Jigawa and Katsina get more money than the whole of Southeast.

These are the advantages they are defending. And that is why I have asked some critical questions in a paper I have written. I am asking why are the majority of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) leaders allowing themselves to be disgracefully controlled by a small minority of APC governors from a particular geopolitical zone? Why are the APC leaders from the Southwest, Northcentral, Southsouth, Southeast allowing their party, APC to be turned into a Northern party? I am saying the APC is being turned into a party that is serving the Northwest.

Why are most members of the APC permitting members of their National Working Council (NWC) to be dictated to by a    well-known over ambitious Northwest governor, who is now against restructuring? Why are they allowing Mallam Nasir El-Rufia to be the head of the APC panel to define restructuring which he is opposed to? That is to give El-Rufai and his Northwest political zone another undue advantage.

Did the APC leaders from the South and the Middle Belt of Nigeria realise that they have been hypnotised by their counterparts in the Northwest? Why are they against returning Nigeria to fiscal federalism? Isn’t it the truth that the geopolitical zone which has benefitted most from the existing imposed system are being allowed to dominate the Nigerian political system?

This question wouldn’t have arisen if there has not been a deliberate move to ensure that the number of committee members to redefine restructuring came more from the Northwest. The Northwest has an undue advantage to keep on short-changing the other four regions. If Gombe can be a state, why can’t Ijebu be a state? Ijebu is much more populous than Gombe, and it is much more economically viable. Why is Ijebu not a state? Why is Ibadan not a state?

In my place, Ogoja, which is one of the old provinces, it is not a state. Yet, Gombe, Nasarawa and Jigawa states. These are places I have commanded units.    These are places I wouldn’t say they are up to Shagamu.

So what is the way forward?

The way forward is to name and shame those southern leaders, who are covertly colluding with the Northwest to keep us down.

How do you mean?

Whatever I say, I say it with facts. This (showing a document), is a memorandum presented by Lagos State to the 2014 National Conference under Fashola. This document rejects regionalism and rejects land use act, which is the core of what those fighting for restructuring are fighting against. The introductory part of their memorandum, one of the paragraphs said: “Importantly, Lagos State has never been historically part of the Southwest zone or Western Nigeria politically and administratively.”

It goes on to say that “Nigeria has gone to say Nigeria has operated a federal system of government with unique origins and that this system is not separated from principles and practices of a federal system,” which means that he was supporting this system as it i

Some of the contentious issues in Nigeria were raised during the 2014 National Conference and the confab recommendations provided solutions to the problems. How do you feel about the non-implementation of the report by present administration?

The Southwest, Southeast, Southsouth, and Northcentral APC leaders should stop allowing their party to turn to one that serves the interest of Northwest. That is why I am naming and shaming those against the restructuring of the country. While some of us are interested in Ambode is because he is bringing about positive change.

On  economic restructuring

It is high time the Igbo learned from Ambode’s example and ensure that the Southeast zone is transformed by pursuing regional integration. One close example to Ambode is Governor Willie Obiano of Anambra State, who has transformed the state from Onitsha to Awka.    Anambra people should also allow their wealth and their skills in work to spread to other parts of the Southeast. In my own region, states that are similarly endowed like Rivers, Bayelsa and Akwa-Ibom should allow their wealth to spread to other parts of Southsouth. So, what Ambode is starting is a good thing. If we want to create sustainable jobs that will last, let states compete and I think that is what Ambode and Southwest governors are trying to do.

Do you mean states in the zone should commence economic restructuring?

I believe that while waiting for political restructuring; economic restructuring should start at a regional level. If all Igbo take 20 percent of their investment to Igboland and do what Nnewi is doing presently, the economy of Southeast will improve.

In Nnewi town, any container they import, they don’t open it outside, they offload it in the town. So, people go to Nnewi now to buy goods and through that, the economy of the state is growing. So, let every region follow what Lagos is doing. Lagos State is self-sufficient and can do without federal allocation. So, other states can emulate Lagos and that is why some of us are happy that the Southwest is now showing the way.

And it is not for nothing that Ambode’s peers are even praising him. Ambode also went as far as partnering with Kebbi State government and that partnership has made Kebbi State be number one in rice production. Lagos is going to take off and the state cannot take off if other parts are laid back. I always say that you cannot be in affluence when people around you are poor.

When Fashola was in office, he was never interested in anything that had to do with Oodua Investment. This is why there is a breath of fresh air.  The new governor of Lagos State is pioneering Southwest integration believing that the prosperity of Lagos should spread to neighbouring states. This is not just altruistic; it makes economic sense because if you allow Lagos to invest in Osun, Oyo, and other states and make them more much viable,  the whole economy will be better. And Ultimately, Lagos will be richer. Obafemi Awolowo used Oodua Investment to build some parts of present Lagos, which were in the former Western Region.

In those days, Lagos had nothing except the wharf. Awolowo built Ikeja GRA, Ikeja Industrial Estate, built Isolo and other areas, which were part of the old Western Region. Today, all those places Awolowo used Western Region resources to build are now the main assets of Lagos. So, to now think that you are doing Southwest a favour is a misnomer because it was cocoa money that Awolowo used to do all the things that Lagos is benefiting now.

On regional integration

Why will someone have the tendency of forgetting his ethnic nationality? Such tendency often leads to betrayal.    These are the type who fall into what Ahmadu Bello described as willing tools to be used by the enduring internal connivance in our midst. What I am trying to point out is that when you look at what Ambode is doing now, you will observe that he is pioneering the integration of South-West. Ambode is also trying to use Lagos financial services, commercial and industrial power to further the development of Southwest region.

Why are you trying to focus on Ambode since he is not the only of the Southwest governor pursuing regional integration?

I am mentioning Ambode because he is beginning to do what some of us have been advocating. That is why most of us are fighting for political restructuring and economic restructuring. I used to say that there are three major sides to restructuring. The kind of restructuring most Nigerians require has the following three major aspects: the restructuring of the mind, political restructuring, and economic restructuring. It is with gratitude to God that I will say I am happy to observe that my state of residence, Lagos State, has increasingly become the example of restructuring for other states to follow.

What do you mean by the restructuring of the mind?

The restructuring of anything or a situation a group of people finds themselves must first begin in the collective mind of the people. I think we have to give credit to Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, who initiated confidence-building measures for Lagosians. It is for both indigenes and other residents of Lagos to have the courageous sense of what I described as “Eko ni gba gbere (Eko can never be defeated)”.

That was when former President Olusegun Obasanjo confiscated Lagos State local government funds. Asiwaju thought out of the box to give Lagosians what Yoruba calls ‘Ominira’ (freedom) from the present system. He freed Lagos from the chains which other states found themselves. And since then Lagos has shown other states how Internally Generate Revenue can sustain a government. And in this spirit many Nigerians should not forget that for a change to happen, it has to begin in the mind of the people.

Are you invariably saying that Lagos is leading the way on the path of economic independence?

Lagos State as presently being governed by Governor Ambode is making a great stride in leading Lagosians to their “economic self-determination.”

Are there things you think Fashola is doing now that are undermining Southwest interest or restructuring?

First, I have no direct evidence of that but what I would say is this; if I look at    Fashola’s budget for road construction. Northwest is the most favoured region. And it is followed by the Northeast. And my own zone, Southsouth is the poorest.

Ambode has been struggling with the construction of Oshodi-International Airport Road. One would have thought that his predecessor should have gladly joined him. It was only when the Acting President came recently that he gave his blessings to it.

We need to name and shame those who are standing in the way of restructuring. During the apartheid era in South Africa, when people started exposing those who were against the blacks, the whole things scattered. So, I am beginning a project that any Southern leader who publicly tells us things and goes behind to stand in the way of restructuring, needs to be exposed.

Are you still optimistic about restructuring?

It is inevitable. If you look at my book “True Federal Democracy or Awaiting Implosion,” which I wrote in 2012 and forwarded by Asiwaju Bola Tinubu,    I said the implosion has begun. Implosion is different from an explosion. You can hear the sound of an explosion when it happens but when implosion begins you won’t hear the sound until the house falls down. It has begun.

On Orka Coup of 1990 and restructuring

I praised Babangida for having the courage to own up to why he killed people who engaged in that coup. Because all that Orkar and the young officers were crying for was that we should have a structure which gives every corner of Nigeria equitable access to National Assembly and to federal revenue. At the moment, that is not the case. One zone has undue advantages in term of numbers of members of the National Assembly and in term of access to federal revenue.

The other insult, which my colleagues found very offensive, is about the internal waterway. In other words, in River Osun, the line there belongs to the Federal Government. Many people don’t know the genesis of why the Internal Waterway was created. The genesis was from one Adeleke, an army officer who started the dredging of Osborne and when Lagos State didn’t agree, my military colleagues said they would get it and they changed it and brought the deed.

That was how the National Inland Waterway Act came about. It was created as a convenience to allow key federal officials to own part of Lagos which they would never have had. And that is why Banana Island belongs to the federal. The Certificate of Occupancy of Banana Island is federal. All the people who got C of O in Banana Island got it from the Federal Government. It is not owned by Lagos State. They got it through the act. I keep on saying that our  mumu ti po ju  in the South and Middle Belt.

We should have woken up. Since 1999 when civilians took over power, should they still be running military decree as a constitution? If they were not  mumu, they should have freed themselves. In Egypt the present leader who became President took over after the so-called election in Egypt, the first thing he did was to change the constitution.

You cannot claim to be a democrat and you are running a constitution that was dictated by those I call the rogue military. I used the word ‘rogue’ because a true soldier will not take over power from an elected civilian government. Those who used the gun to take over power are rogues. So, I would have thought that if we are not  mumu, the first thing politicians ought to have done immediately they took over power was to immediately bring back what was suspended.

On a forceful change of government

Does it make sense for any military officer to plan a coup? I think it does not make any sense. I have always believed that military officers should reject coup and that was why we took that action I defended it that a military man becomes a rogue military by planning a coup.    It is the duty of any military officer to defend the Constitution because they swear an oath to be commissioned and serve under a civilian elected authority. Once someone uses the gun to take over power; as an army officer, it is the duty of other military officers to rise against him.

When the military took over before, did it help us? Nobody should be fooled. I always used two examples to make a point; Pakistan and India. Pakistan has had many coups and till today Pakistan is not stable. India has never had a coup; they have always had democracy and with all the corruption and weaknesses, the country is stable.

In Pakistan, it is all about a coup and this is a system that we have to reject. In Pakistan, military controls power and once a leader is no more dancing to their tune, they dethrone him just like the last Prime Minister. They made him and when he was growing wings, they kicked him out.    Let us allow our democracy to progress.

The absence of President Muhammadu Buhari is giving many Nigerians a lot of concern…

I know President Buhari personally and I have worked with him, may God heal him quickly. Nigeria is moving on because we have someone who is performing well as Acting President. We have an Acting President who President Buhari has confidence in and yet we have elements who do not want the Acting resident to succeed.

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