Elders Statesman and Pioneer Chairman of the Nigeria Economic Summit Group, NESG, Professor Anya O. Anya, 82, in this interview,
shares his thoughts on the state of the nation and the way forward. He warns of dangers ahead following attacks on democratic institutions, adding that a new Nigeria will emerge soon.
You are inviting chaos by emasculating the judiciary
There is danger in lopsided security appointments
Violence won’t solve Nigeria’s problems
A new Nigeria is incubating and will come peacefully
Nigeria may spend next 10 years explaining its border closure
Ruga is 18th-century practice, can’t work now
It’s beastly proposing the death penalty for hate speech
By Clifford Ndujihe & Chiebuka Ndujihe
On the state of the nation
I have talked more than I usually do in recent times, but there are new developments in terms of a long term consequence. Many of our leaders do not see and do not hear otherwise the things that are going on will not be going on. What is frightening is that the civil society is more silent than in any stage in our recent history. But that’s also because when you get to a stage when decisions of courts are not obeyed, you think that this is an established area, no government can cross this line, and then people still cross it and even when people cross it everybody is thinking otherwise, because it is something that normally should not be done; that element of surprise disarms those who would have wanted to organize to do anything. The reason is you can’t believe that something that is settled is reopened.
I want to give a specific example because we are ignoring the long term consequences of some of the actions of the government. When the judiciary is completely emasculated, which seems to be a trend, it means you are inviting chaos in the country because that capacity for somebody to retreat in times of disagreement or conflict no longer exists.
In that situation it becomes a free for all, and anything can happen.
Again, when you take the Administration’s appointments, it is nothing new to say that the security services are completely located in a part of the country. In a plural society, that would have normally been unthinkable, but because it happens, people do not know how to handle it. Many of these positions are tenured. In other words, the appointment is for four or five years as the case may be. The danger is that even if this government goes way, the people they have planted, who have been brought up in a culture of it doesn’t really matter, you can do anything, will still persist in the system. A successor government has a limit to the changes it can make if it does not want complete collapse, which means that bad seeds sown in this time will persist more than we realize. That is the greatest danger.
On the Supreme Court on the 2019 presidential election
The ruling of the Supreme Court, whatever the reason for the ruling is not going to be of more consequence. Many of us expected that it would go the way they have gone. The reason is simple, it takes courage to do substantive justice and with all that has happened this year in the judiciary, it is difficult to see whether courage will come, when there was clear and deliberate subjection and attacks and when they had a good place to stand on, they did not stand on it, including protecting themselves. So, when people can’t protect their own interests what factor will make you expect them to develop newfound wisdom or knowledge?
Trust and confidence are the foundations for justice, but trust and confidence are very fragile plants. Once you touch them, the consequences are long term because something exceptional has to happen for the credibility of the institution to return. That is where we are. There has been a deliberate systematic attack on the institutions that support democracy and unless we put a stop or somehow it is brought to a stop, the future cannot be a pleasant one.
On the Department of State Service, DSS’ reasons for detaining Mr Omoyele Sowore after court-ordered his freedom
Well, Sowore is not the darling of many people but the issue here goes beyond that. It is not about whether it is right of wrong, but when the institution of justice has pronounced a certain course of action and you ignore it. That is part of the danger I am talking about. There is even an element that is more frightening which people are ignoring. Recently, a member of the House of Representatives was quoted as saying that people are arguing, attacking the salaries and other allowances that they are having, that we, who put them there, are insulting them. When you have a person who has been entrusted with the sovereignty of the nation querying those he is supposed to be representing why they should ask him to be accountable, because that is what it is really about, then there is danger.
People forget that Adolf Hitler was elected through a democratic system but he systematically attacked and destroyed the various institutions that make democracy possible. So, the grave danger one sees now is when you have government that does not obey court orders, is brazing in the way it handles matters that are regarded as sacrosanct in a plural society, then obviously is only one possibility that the government has made up it’s mind to go the path of either totalitarianism or even fascism.
I mentioned fascism because of the way, I mean this week (last week) we had a report of people going to protest at the DSS office and live ammunition was shot. They claimed nobody was injured or killed but that it should even happen is a sign of danger.
What is the way out of this?
Let me say this clearly, some of those people that are instruments being used to perpetrate some of these unacceptable things are hoping people will react and that reaction of people could then be as an excuse for something more horrendous. My appeal is that violence of any kind would not solve the Nigerian problem.
Therefore, the civil society must not be tempted to go into violence, non-violence communication must be the way we must come through. However elders, statesmen, those who think they have a stake in Nigeria, have to buckle up to look at the situation in the country passionately and insist on government that is accountable; government that respects the institutions of the nation, and government that recognises the objectives and directive principles of the constitution.
Any government that ignores the objectives and directive principles of the state is playing with fire because you have sworn to give justice and you have sworn to ensure the welfare of the people. Protection of lives and properties are the things that drive government, you cannot swear to those things, abuse them and expect that all would be well.
On unceasing agitation for restructuring of the country
Actually, I am surprised people are even making so much noise about it because it is so fundamental for the future of Nigeria. It should not be even a matter of controversy, any government that loves itself and wants peace and justice in this country must start from there, because what we have is a caricature of what the fathers of this nation agreed at the time of independence. The constitution of 1959 that brought us independence and even that of 1963 that made Nigeria a republic, were very carefully crafted documents that took into account the push and pull in the society.
They guaranteed that if we were honest and used them as our guide, though slowly but over time we would build a nation in which the earlier difficulties, whatever ethnic differences will not matter because the Nigerian people have already decided the kind of society, and have succeeded in building the society they wanted; a society where poverty is not known or should not be known because the welfare of the people was the primary issue of the government.
That constitution(1959 or 1963) took poverty into account. The one that we have now, the one that the military gave us, even the first line is a lie. It says: “We the people.” Which people? Who was consulted? You cannot build on a foundation of a national lie. So whether we like it or not, restructuring will come. A lot of the basic work for restructuring already exists including an appropriate constitution. It is embedded in the work of the National Conference of 2014. If you want to go back a little, even the contributions from the Abacha conference and even a bit from Babangida’s conference; I mentioned those two because they were the foundations of the geo-political zones we now recognize. Even though we continue pretending that it is not the basis of what we do, we are making appointments on the basis of the six geo-political zones.
As an old saying goes “you can deceive the people some of the time but you cannot deceive them all of the time.” This system, because of the contradictions in it, people will be surprised when it will happen. The change that had to take place in China that brought the modern China we see took precisely 11 years. The new Nigeria which is already incubating will come and when it comes, it will surprise people because it will be so peaceful.
Talking about China, supporters of the government’s closure of land borders are citing the example of China, which they said did so for 40 years
China did not close borders, they prioritized the things they wanted to be done locally, and they also made sure that they kept the doors open to take from the outside world what they wanted and to use it in the way they wanted. They did not want anyone to dictate to them, which is why, when it became necessary to introduce the market economy, they did, and when it was necessary to develop their science and technology in competition with the rest of the world, they did but they wanted to be sure that they are the masters in the house.
It is not the same as mindlessly closing the borders without thinking about the consequences. First of all, it’s already creating a lot of unpopularity for Nigeria in West Africa (ECOWAS). Yes, if these places had been the staging posts for snuggling, first tighten your own borders to make sure that snuggling is not facilitated by your people and for your people.
Second, insist on certain conditions to be reflected in the bilateral relations between you and other countries, insist that certain things must be done but not this draconian measure. You don’t close the borders because they are consequences for that action and Nigeria may spend the next 10 years explaining and asking people to forget. You cannot sign the agreement and renege on the agreement. We signed recently the African Free Trade Charter, we have been the people who developed ECOWAS, so closing the borders is contrary to those things you are already committed to. There are other ways of making sure that smuggling stops and there is no short cut to educating your people and creating an environment in which there is a mutual understanding.
His assessment of President Muhammadu Buhari’s Administration on economy and security
I think I have said enough on that in two major lectures. On the economy, poverty has increased. Before we were talking about 70% of Nigerians living in poverty, I hear some circles in government are saying it’s up to 90%. If the people have been impoverished across the board in all sections of the country because even in the North that we in the South are shouting that they are running the government in every way, it’s not benefiting them.
If there wasn’t that kind of poverty, maybe the banditry that we see ravaging the North would not have been there. So, you ask yourself who are the ones gaining from the disorganization of the functional government of Nigeria?
Never in the history of Nigeria, not even during the civil war, do you have the volume, the deluge of blood that is shed every day through banditry, armed robbery, kidnappers, herdsmen. Thousands of suffering Nigerians, innocent people are killed. As we speak a judge of the court of appeal was kidnapped and her policeman killed, which means nobody is safe, that even going around with armed security is meaningless, it does not guarantee anything, no government in Nigeria is protecting anybody.
On the controversy Ruga policy
When you talked about the border closure, there is one consistent element, and that is decisions are taken in a rush without a thorough examination of the pros and cons of the benefits, short term, medium term, long term that come from a particular course of action. It is only human nature, nobody wants to admit he made a mistake. So, when government makes a mistake, it’s easier to climb the high horse and say, I am the government. But you are not the government in isolation, you are government of the people, you must listen to the people you are governing.
We are not in the 18th century when you had herds of cattle moving across borders and so on. We are in the 21st century, the most productive animal husbandry systems in the world are located in a single place, science and technology is now called to help. So, when you have masses or people carrying their cattle all over the place, you are advertising your primitive level and you do not expect people to clap for you for being primitive.
People have said ranching is the way. Ultimately ranching would be the way because the challenge is to bring those people to a settled place where they can have a normal life and perhaps become prosperous by adopting modern methods. But some people keep their people in permanent poverty because those who own the cows are not the people who sleep under the night sky, but something has to change, we are in the 21st century.
On agitation for the presidency in 2023 among the North, South-West and South-East
It is a discussion I do not want to be involved in because it is so crassly stupid. The new government came in, in the first week of June, we are in November, five months, you have not even allowed the government to settle down, and you are talking about its successor. The alacrity with which the people started talking about 2023 is an indication that even the supporters of this government are tired of the government. Otherwise, why should you be talking about a government that has just come with all the promises it has made? Does it make sense?
It was campaign issue. Vice President Yemi Osinbajo asked the South-West to re-elect President Buhari so to produce the president in 2023 and the Secretary to the Government of the Federation made a similar offer to the South-East…
Well, if nobody has the intelligence to know that such empty talk and political talk at that time is meaningless, then the person has himself to blame. Some of us didn’t think it, because you do not promise what you are not in the position to give. What role does the secretary to the government play in deciding who will be the next president? What role does the vice president play? Absolutely none. They are just like you and me – voters.
Given the state of the country right now, do we know what will will happen in 2020? If we cannot see clearly into 2020 aren’t you advertising your irresponsibility to be losing sleep over 2023? Let’s worry about how we survive tomorrow, it is the most ignorant display of shallow thinking and I irresponsible attitude to serious matters of state.
Still on the issue, some pundits predict that the Igbo may not produce the president till 2039…
Since you are talking about Igbo, let me speak Igbo mmadu aburo chukwu (man is not God).I am a scientist and chaos theory is what leads us to understand how the universe is organized. Chaos theory also tells us that in the best land system whether it is of the universe or economy, all things that you often ignore is what leads to phenomenal events of great magnitude, Nigeria is getting close to chaos. Therefore it is likely that chaos theory must start applying in which unintended events seemingly minor can set off fundamental changes. So, those who are planning for 2023 and 2027 are welcome to wait.
His take on the bill proposing death penalty for hate speech
It is part of the evidence that we are regressing, going backwards because it is in primitive societies that you fall for brutal punishment. Even this government has started thinking about reform, they have changed prisons to correction centres, that is the way to go. I think it’s death by hanging, when you go that way it just means you are close to being a beast and that’s not what you should be. You cannot be in a situation, where you say you want to ‘correct’ which means you want to reform, then you are talking of death penalty for hate speech. It only in a society that has lost his way that you will consider the kind of thing you are considering.
The way forward for Nigeria and advice to Nigerians
The change in Nigeria will come so sudden like it was in China. In a few years, you won’t believe it’s the same country, indeed what we are seeing are the last struggle of the unproductive forces that held this country down. Now it has reached the point where we cannot go lower than we are, there is only one thing, to get up and move forward. At The Niche lecture, I reminded people that feudalism in France was abolished in one day. Feudalism that has been there for thousands of years was abolished in one day. Our problem is leadership but slowly that leadership will submerge, and the new leadership of Nigeria is not going to come from the politicians. Some of the younger people, who think that those who have anything to do with Nigerian politics for the past 30 years is not fit to work in the new Nigeria, and in actual fact, that is what it is likely to be, because they would have made themselves irrelevant.
My advice to Nigerians is to use their brain and go back to the things that lead to peace. There are already young men, doing fantastic things in this country, nobody is, even their parents may not even know that what their children is doing is going to shape the future of this country but it will happen. We must learn patience.