By Tony Nwankwo
Dr. Sylvanus Olisanye Ebigwei (MON), a former Chairman, National Postgraduate Medical College of Nigeria, is President Emeritus of Aka Ikenga, Igbo think-tank group. In this interview, Ebigwei speaks on the attack on former Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu by suspected members of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPoB) in Germany last weekend, and the claim that Nigeria’s democracy is at conflict with Sharia ideology among other issues in the polity.
Let us start with this position by the National Christian Elders Forum (NCEF) that Nigeria’s democracy is in conflict with Sharia ideology and that, that is the root cause of our problems as a nation. What do you think?
This has been a major problem that has affected how Nigeria is governed. While Sharia is a system of governance based on Islamic rights and privileges, democracy as a western ideology is a government of the people by the people and for the people. As for Nigeria, there is no way you can combine both forms of governance without crisis or even anarchy. Any form of governance that does not carry all the people along is a challenge that leads to crisis and eventually anarchy. Nigeria is a homogeneous country. Even in the North where there are Muslims, there are also Christians who may never agree to be converted to Islam. And there is no way you can convert everybody to Islam. The world had practised so many forms of governance but, at the end, democracy is the preferred form of governance because the rights of individuals are guaranteed and people get to choose whoever they want to lead them. Nigeria, therefore, must embrace an ideology that takes everybody along which is democracy.
Former Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu was assaulted at the weekend in Nuremberg, Germany by suspected IPoB members. What does this say about Igbo?
The physical attack on Ekweremadu was irresponsible. The Igbo in whatever guise have moved beyond the level of such public confrontation. Agreed that Ike Ekweremadu, as Deputy Senate President, was not able to deliver democracy dividends in the quantum he should have, you can vote him out. The attack must be condemned. All over the civilised world, people make their grievances public by staging protests. Protesters carry placards through which they express their feelings, their grievances and sometimes complaints and even suggest how issues can be resolved. You just don’t attack the subject of your attack physically. And you threaten government. In democracy, you can campaign to discourage poverty. If you are in Diaspora, you can come home and disseminate information, educate the electorate, convince them and ensure they have PVCs and vote out the subject of your protest. That is the civilised way of doing things. The action of IPoB is condemnable and, like I said, the Igbo have become more civilised than that.
An Igbo adage says an elder won’t be at home and a goat delivers in fetters. The Igbo have never had it so bad. Suspected armed herdsmen are killing, maiming and raping women in towns and villages. What are the discussions in your caucus?
The issue is the rampaging herdsmen. Everybody knows that they are causing mayhem across the country. They carry sophisticated weapons. My nephew, Patrick, and his friend, Arinze, a lawyer, were kidnapped recently (Sunday, August 4, 2019) between Obolo Uku and Iselle Uku in Delta State. They were coming back from a child dedication party held at Obolo-Uku when, between Obolo-Uku and Iselle-Uku, some gun-trotting herdsmen came out of the bush and started shooting directly at their jeep. They were six in the vehicle. They quickly disembarked from their vehicle and ran into the bush. The herdsmen started shooting at them. And two of them were captured by the herdsmen, the rest ran away. A ransom of N50million was made and that came with the fear that if the ransom was not paid in time, the two men that were captured will be shot. We rallied round and paid part of the ransom a few days later and the two boys were released. I am saying this to show the audacity, the impunity with which these people are operating. If any solution is going to be found, you need to hear the stories of those who have been victims According to one of the victims whose story I just told you, their captors took them inside the bush and they trekked for more than five hours, then they came out in one village, a little camp, swampy place.
When the ransom was brought, they walked to the road, no hoods, no masks, nothing, they just walked to those we sent to pay the ransom. The herdsmen had no remorse. There and then, they were telling those we sent that they had to do the thing quickly, because they were on active duty. They had more people to kidnap along the way. The police did not do anything. So, when they were released, the same group of people went to almost the same spot and kidnapped more people. This is terrifying because when you look at the guns they were carrying, who gave it to them? Why are the police and the military so impotent in tackling these people? With this type of story, it looks as if there are some people somewhere high up that are protecting these people. Why is it that all of a sudden, herdsmen who had been interacting with the people in communities, that when you see them, you greet them, they ask you for water, you give them, they ask for anything you give them, started carrying guns? My people say there is no smoke without fire. When an Igbo man goes to a foreign land, he does not go to occupy their forests, he does not carry guns; he goes with money to develop the place. He adds value to wherever he finds himself. So, I think Nigeria is on the brink. Some people somewhere are fuelling things which we don’t know. Whether it is a plan for another Rwanda in Nigeria, nobody knows. It is left for government to find out why a certain segment of the people is allowed to carry firearms. From where are they getting them? I don’t think the Nigeria Police or the military have AK49 rifles yet (they have AK47) but these people have. There is nothing any community can do to stop the spate of killings. Security is in the hand of government. And if they cannot do it, there is going to be bloodshed, there is going to be anarchy. Anarchy means ‘To thy tents o’ Israel!’
Former President Obasanjo added an entirely new perspective to the state of the nation when he said Nigeria was going through Islamisation and Fulanisation. Do you agree?
I have not seen the issue of Islamisation in this. The people causing the mayhem are not preaching Islam to anybody. All they are after is money. But because they are surrounding various villages and communities, people are saying maybe these are foot soldiers of those who want to Islamize Nigeria and now positioning, so that one day, someone will blow the whistle and mayhem will happen in all communities. This is the thinking of most Nigerians today. And because of it, people are thinking that if they conquer the villages, Islamic government will follow. I don’t believe the islamisation theory because Nigeria is too complex for that. And it is deadly for anybody to say because he has guns today, he will not be answerable to those guns tomorrow. Nigeria is too big, too vast for anyone person or a group of persons to think they can conquer it through the barrel of the gun. It is not possible. Maybe one or two or a few millions of people will be slaughtered at the first wave, but then when the general public regroups, it is going to be deadly. Remember what happened in Rwanda between the Tutsis and the Hutus that brought President Paul Kagame to power. So, anybody thinking that he can shoot his way to enslave the majority of Nigerians, that person must have a rethink.
It was reported recently that the Fulani of Africa want to claim Nigeria as their homeland.
Majority of Nigerians are Christians, and there is no way you can force all these people and Islamize them. Look at the population, the clusters of families and homes. We are not like Arab countries where you have maybe a few cities of 500 – 1,000 people. There are more than 350 ethnic nationalities in Nigeria that were brought together through the amalgamation of 1914. These ethnic nationalities did not come together to agree, they were never consulted to become part and parcel of the union. It was mere deceit of Lord Lugard and his cohorts. There were no treaties signed by the more than 350 ethnic nationalities in this country, agreeing into a union. And because of this, everywhere, today, you have ethnic tensions.
The herdsmen saga started from looking for grazing routes to grazing reserves, grazing colony, ranching, importation of grasses from Brazil for cattle, Fulani Radio, alleged N100billion paid to Miyetti Allah, RUGA, e-registration and now to military ranching. Neither the Presidency nor the APC government has denied these activities or policies?
From what you have said, it is obvious that the Nigerian government under Buhari is trying to find a solution according to their own mindset. One, they believe that cattle business is a lucrative business and that there is the need to protect the business for pastoral people. But the issue is that they don’t know how to go about it. All these things you have read out are like somebody running a good race but outside the track. Whatsoever the arrangement to curtail the menace of herdsmen, government is wrong. They want to find a solution but they are running outside the tracks. These things can never bring solution, these things cannot end insecurity. The only solution is to do what the people in Netherlands are doing, what the people in Brazil and Argentina are doing, and what the people in Portugal and England are doing. Ranching! I think the nomenclature being used here is obviously in default. They should not call it cattle colony; they should not call it RUGA. They should call it ranching. When you ranch, you confine your cattle to a space, get the grass and feed them there. Government has more to benefit by promoting ranching for cows. They gain nothing through RUGA but setting villages on fire. Any colony you establish by force of arms in future, the natives will plan perpetually to displace those people and there will never be peace. It is just like what is happening in Jos. You may think you have won today, because you are in government you give land to certain group of people by force of arms, nothing lasts forever. The natives will plan perpetually how to encircle those people and diminish their influence within their community and regain their ancestral land. It is going to be a perpetual fight that will last several generations.
How do you react to the killing of Reverend Fathers by suspected herdsmen?
It is bizarre and condemnable. There are people who are hell-bent on dismembering this country through their acts of violence. Government should go in and find those who are killing people and teach them bitter lessons. They are not spirits. What they are doing now is that they are setting Muslims against Christians and Christians against Muslims. Today, a Fulani man is the most hated person in Nigeria. Nobody wants to deal with a Fulani man.
If you are a Fulani man, will you be enjoying such status? What did a priest do for you to murder him? It is a premeditated act. It is important to put fear into the mind of certain individuals. If they have decided to hide in the forest and come out to massacre people, well, the first wave may take millions, but people will fight back. You can’t enslave human beings forever; they will resist and fight back. Look at Haiti, there were students there. When the Haitians revolted, they subdued the French there, captured the first armada, subdued them, drove them away and took over government with their bare hands. You just don’t say ‘let me go and massacre a tribe because I have the gun today’. Let the person think twice.
How are the Igbo preparing to fight against the people living in their forests and making the roads unsafe?
With the look of things, they will have to act within the ambit of the law and that is by making laws. I think they are doing that right now. The issue of drones is in the making. Again, they are going to have forest guards. Why they are doing that is that the Igbo man doesn’t want war, not because he cannot fight back, but simply because he doesn’t want war. So, no matter how you provoke an Igbo man, he is not going into war. Let the rest fight the battle. Communities can react when you provoke them beyond endurance. So, right now, I don’t think there is any plan for war. All the Igbo man wants is peace so that he continues to do his business. At the same time, certain things are being done to check those behind these heinous acts of slaughtering innocent priests, innocent traders.