By Ebele Orakpo
Prince Chukwudum Ikechukwu Anene, popularly called CIA by friends, was the Director, Political & Civic Education, PCE, National Orientation Agency; Special Adviser to former Senate President, Senator Anyim Pius Anyim and has worked with different organisations in the government and different committees. In this chat with Vanguard, Prince Anene speaks on the state of the nation and the way forward. He said an evil spirit has made it impossible for Nigerians to live together. Excerpts:
Who is CIA?
I was born in the early 50s into a wonderful country called Nigeria. Nigeria was a country you wouldn’t want to miss. You would want to be a Nigerian by all standards until 1966. I was born in Kaduna and most people still believe that I am a northerner. Most of my friends are northerners – Hausa, Fulani, Kanuri etc.
The war is something I would not like to remember, it was terrible. In your very eyes, you see children dying, bombs, bullets and shrapnel destroying homes, cutting down palm trees, women crying. When Biafra was declared and war started in Enugu, I saw everything, it was not a story; I participated somehow. I may not have carried a gun but I was among those who would watch and see what was happening. I used to go from Biafra 1 to Biafra 2 to look for salt to keep life going.
Where was Biafra 2?
Biafra 2 was the Anam, Otuocha area. Salt was cheaper there. Besides, some of the Nigerian soldiers were good; when they see little boys like us, if they don’t take you to their own camp, they would help you get the salt and take you back across and may be as you are coming out, there is air raid, you have to fall down with your salt and get ready to pack your salt.
Before the 1966 pogrom, Nigeria was a place to be. We never knew who was Hausa, Igbo or Yoruba. We were all one. My father had a house in Kaduna and where there was supposed to be a fence, my father and our neighbour, the late Chief Salami, an Offa man, agreed that there would be no fence so that the children could use the back as a playground. I grew up in the midst of Muslims, Yorubas, Igbos, Hausas and there was no discrimination. That was the Nigeria of our time.
After the war, there was reconciliation, rehabilitation and reconstruction as declared by General Gowon. But what did we see? That was mere talk because we never saw any reconciliation. Some people are still bitter. We have all been pretending.
Evil force at work
I spent five years out of this country and I can tell you that you dare not touch a Nigerian on the street of any country when I was there; we would fight you to the last but when we get home, there is this force, an evil spirit that dwells in this country. I don’t want to say politicians, but it’s an evil spirit that has made it impossible for Nigerians to live together. I worked in the federal service and to the glory of God, I retired as a director and I can tell you that amongst ourselves, there is this animosity.
So Nigeria was good but things started changing all of a sudden – tribalism, nepotism, corruption in the highest places. I was special adviser to the Senate president for over two years, I never left that place with a vehicle because the average Igbo man doesn’t want to do things that will create problems for him but there are people in this country who do things with impunity, they don’t care.
Then we went into the new dimension of things where Nigerians are no longer truthful, we are no longer our brother’s keeper. Fortunately, something happened to me recently and I told myself that this is the Nigeria of old. My house caught fire. I was in the bathroom and my wife was screaming that the house was burning; I managed to drag the towel to cover myself. Some Muslims in a mosque nearby ran to the compound to help fight the fire. There was no fire brigade, no police, no electricity company guys, nobody! The next morning, I went round to thank them. I said to some of the elderly ones among them that ‘this is the Nigeria of old,’ and one of them said: ‘We are still the same but some people are deceiving us.’
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This country is gone. You will see something that is black and say it’s yellow, and some people would support the lie.
We are in a situation where nothing is moving, our system is collapsing everyday, it’s a systemic thing; everybody is involved, not just the leaders so the few who are good cannot turn the table the right side up overnight, it will take some time. Today, we all know what is happening in the country but there are people who are enjoying what is happening so they don’t care as long as they are getting what they want. Go to Abuja and see structures coming up and you begin to wonder. I am looking for how to take my three square meals a day and the next morning I pass a street I have not passed in a few months and I see gigantic structures coming up. People are watching and at some point, they will begin to look for ways to make money to compete and that is why kidnapping, armed robbery, cultism and the rest are on the increase and people are saying that the National Orientation Agency, NOA, is not doing its job. I disagree with that assertion. Today, when there is rainfall, people start throwing their garbage into the drainage and then the drainage is blocked and water overflows, gets into the roads and after sometime, it cuts the road into two. The next thing you hear is: “Oh, NOA did not do their work.” are they environmentalists? Are they Ministry of Health or Ministry of Works? Even when you plead with them, the first thing they ask you is: “Where do you want us to dispose of the waste?” You say ‘but you have a waste bin, why don’t put it in the waste bin, take the bin outside and it will be picked up? They will tell you the waste bin is far away. Even when it is close by, they won’t still do the right thing. That is a sign of systemic failure where everybody is on the fast lane, you want to get something overnight.
How do we get out of the mess?
We have to go back to God. Our leaders don’t know God, they don’t even know what they are worshiping and that is why they can do the things they do and feel good. Some people say restructuring, some say we should go back to regional government, that’s good but how do we do it?
If we say we want to use force, you have to ask God for direction because we are in a big mess. Somehow, my spirit is telling me that something is about to happen in this country; I don’t know what it is. The killings are increasing and nobody is telling us the truth about what is happening. At a point, government told us that these bandits were invaders, so you can say that your country is being invaded by foreign army and you are sitting down?
The way forward is to turn to God. I believe that we can move forward only when we agree to agree and where it is not possible, let us agree to disagree. There shouldn’t be any bloodshed. Biafra says it wants to go, after all, it was Arewa that started the araba (separation) thing and nobody did anything about it. So if that is the problem, let us all agree and let any group that wants to go, go. Let it be smooth, quiet and peaceful.
I was listening to Dino Melaye on social media concerning his coming back and all that have been happening, he was passionate. Some people say he is a mad man but if you listen to him, you will know he is very intelligent.
It’s painful that we don’t want to tell ourselves the truth. We should try and make the best out of the bad situation because Nigeria is a great country.
I expect to see oneness and truthfulness to one another and we should stop deceiving ourselves. I am reading a book written by a friend of mine titled: We are all Biafrans. I asked him what gave him the idea and he said that over the years, he has looked at the way things are and wondered what we are fighting for? If people want to sit at home to do memorial for their loved ones and you say they must come out, what if I want to stay in my house and fast and pray, you don’t have to force me. My father passed on 21 years ago and if I decide to stay home, why would anyone force me to go out? If I am working for you, you may penalize me if I fail to come to work but if I am self- employed and decide to stay home on that day, it’s nobody’s business. It’s unfortunate that history has been removed from our curriculum but you can’t kill history. Parents and elders still tell their stories to the younger generation and social media is there too. Sometimes when I see photos of children suffering from kwashiorkor, I show to young people around me and they would ask questions. During the war, there was no salt so people were using potash made from palm tree, as salt. We will just keep praying to God to come to our rescue because things are getting worse.
Pray for Nigeria
I pray for Nigeria every day, especially for the leadership. If you have travelled out of this country and return, you will notice that as soon as the aircraft lands, everybody wants to rush out at the same time but if it is outside the country, they will be orderly. We are not just getting it right.