By Gabriel Ewepu – Abuja
In this interview, a former Federal Permanent Secretary and Diplomat, Ambassador Godknows Igali, lays it bear over the mistakes by the elites that led to the bloody Nigerian Civil War, and said tolerance remains key to avoid second Civil War, and added that he supports Igbo presidency if zoned to the South by political parties come 2023 presidential election.
This is 50 years after the Nigerian Civil War, do you think Nigeria is really united, as former Head of State, Gen Yakubu Gowon, was saying ‘One Nigeria’ as his mantra then?
I don’t think. The country appears to be more divided. Perhaps more divided even before the war. We experienced the war and I think that our leaders need to be sober and ask ourselves some questions and provide answers and that is the fact that haven fought that war and come this way like you asked are things better.
In the past, nobody cared where you came from. Let me give you an example. When I joined the Civil Service in 1982, I had somebody who speaks my language, and if you go there and speak your language the man would say what are you saying?
Today, if you go to government offices people speak vernacular in federal government offices. Sometimes in front of Ministers and Permanent Secretaries, a staff will come to Permanent Secretary and starts speaking vernacular.
What is the indication of this attitude?
It is wrong. It is an indication that we are sliding or you can go to government departments and see that people are concentrated from one part of the country. It was not like that before.
Even in posting of people believe me in posting some people we were careful and make sure that we balance very well. If for example Minister is from there, Permanent Secretary is from there, those balances were there.
We had an atmosphere everybody was happy and those things are no more there. We appear to be more comfortable with our people and that shows that we are going back.
The leaders of this country have to have a heart-to-heart discussion. When I say leaders I don’t exclude myself because I am a leader. We need to sit down and look at it. What is causing this decline in the national cohesion? We see that some see groups, sub-national groups coming up very strong as challenging the centre.
Insecurity has taken over everywhere to the extent that people are now finding regional solutions or state solutions. Are we going forward? The public institutions have died, our public schools and I had a dream for Bayelsa that every school in Bayelsa will be model schools.
We have to go back to that kind of ethos. We have to build up public institutions. Look at how much goes out on medical tourism. Somebody have headache he has flown out to Germany or Dubai. So we have to examine it as collectively as a country, and say no this not what we can handover to our children.
I don’t even blame the generation before us but I blame my generation. It is better to be big and strong than we are atomistic and everybody on his own. The bigger the stronger.
Why America is very strong because they are big, strong and united. Our diversity is an asset, but our diversity has to be used to promote harmony. Give and take, no group should feel superior to other groups, no group should feel inferior, no Nigerian should feel inferior and unwanted any part of Nigeria.
I think the Ibo’s demand for presidency is legitimate. They are very talented, resourceful people who have capacity.
The Ibos and Yorubas can match the Europeans in sophistication, in terms of economic, scientific and knowledge sophistication, although the Europeans are the greatest in the world the Ibos and Yorubas can challenge them because they have a lot of people, capacity and resources.
So there is nothing that makes the Ibo man inferior. If political parties are zoning the presidency it is his legitimate right for it to be zoned to an Ibo.
The parties should look and see that they get the best of people to rule this country, and if this best of people are among the people present themselves turn out to be an Ibo person, the person should not be discriminated but should be encouraged whether is male or female. In fact, as a matter of I am advocating that power should go more to younger people and women.
What should be done to avoid a second Civil War?
When I was doing my Ph.D. I wrote a paper; ‘A Postmortem on USSR’. Why did the USSR collapse? It was the strongest mega nation. There were about 26 nationalities and in those nationalities, there were ethnic groups and tribes again, but Russia was the main one, but they were 26.
It was due to a lack of tolerance. The Russians felt very big. Russianization was interpreted as sovietisation.
To be a soviet you have to be a Russian; speak like Russian, dress like Russian, Russia dictates, and there was a lot of intolerance impression (1 st class, 2 nd class, and 3 rd class), there was a lot of marginalization, lack of inclusion; social inclusion, political inclusion, and economic exclusion. So Russia became big-headed. Then look at Yugoslavia, the Serbs under Tito.
I know him because of a part of academic research which you have in my book ‘Plural Transit State Formation’. So I also did my diplomatic posting as a young officer at the age of 23 in the former Soviet Republic in Czechoslovakia which no longer exists.
What happened is that the Czechs were bossing over the Slovaks, at a time they have to split. In Yugoslavia the Serbs were bossing it over the Bosnians, Yugoslavians, Croatians, Moldovans and all in one day now woke up and said enough is enough. They now went the bloody way from one country they are now six or seven countries from small Yugoslavia. One is in partnership with another. So if they break up again.
It is intolerance and one group feels alienated. We the leaders have a lot of work to do. Lord Luggard did not make a mistake in bringing us together God did not make a mistake in bringing us together.
If a Nigeria feels it doesn’t matter you are from Niger Delta we can take your oil anytime we like and then it comes to a point where we say is okay you take the oil when and how you like we are going to all die. That is what happened until former and late President Musa Yar’Adua brought amnesty.
Our boys even took up arms against us and said we are tied to you people. Mind you I was an honorary adviser to President Obasanjo. I was going to the creeks to talk to them. They used to ask me are you happy? You sell-out, I said no I am not a sell-out, but my approach is different from you.
I said I don’t believe in guns and yes we have guns and let us see how Nigeria will take the oil, and they brought Nigeria down to its knees. Is that the best option, different doing different things to bring the country to its knees? No! The best option is for us to talk and talk.
Don’t stop me from talking. Keep discussing. Don’t do inflammatory discussions. The language of communication is important, let all of who are talking don’t talk things that will create more problems, talk things that unite us. So when somebody stands and says Yoruba people are bad people let’s deal with them or you stereotype the Ibos is not acceptable.
Why I am saying is we must have the ideal form of communication among the elites and all of us have the mindset of building and not a mindset of your own. So everything that would promote unity as elites and we have to do it.