By Gabriel Ewepu
In this interview, a former Federal Permanent Secretary and Super permanent Secretary, Ambassador Godknows Igali, lays it bare 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 is 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 so. 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 having fought that war and come this way as you asked, are things better?
In the past, nobody cared where you came from. Let me give you an example. When I joined the Diplomatic Service in 1982, I had a big boss 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 as if they are in their villages.
Sometimes in front of Ministers and Permanent Secretaries, a staff will come and start 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 in one part of the country. It was not like that before. Believe me, in posting some people, we were careful and made sure that we balanced the national spread very well. For example, if a minister is from here, the Permanent Secretary would be from there.
Those balances were there. We had an atmosphere where everybody was happy, but those things appear to be eroding. Even my most celebrated mentors in service were far from my ethnic or religious setting. Now, 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 things. What is causing this decline in national cohesion? We see some see groups and sub-national groups coming up very strongly, and challenging the centre. Why is this so?
Insecurity has taken over everywhere to the extent that people are now finding state solutions or regional solutions.
In another front, are we going forward? The public institutions have died. When I decided to contest the governorship of Bayelsa, I had a dream that every public school in Bayelsa will be a model school.
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 has a headache, he has to be flown out to Germany or Dubai.
So we have to examine it collectively as a country and say no, this is 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 be atomistic and everybody on their own.
The bigger the stronger. 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, and no group should feel inferior. No Nigerian should feel inferior and unwanted in any part of Nigeria.
I think the Ibo’s demand for the presidency is legitimate. They are very talented and resourceful people who have the 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 people to rule this country, and if the best of people among those to present themselves turn out to be an Ibo person, the person should not be discriminated but should be encouraged whether male or female. In fact, 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. over 25 years ago, I wrote a paper; ‘A Postmortem on USSR’. Why did the USSR collapse? It was the strongest mega nation and controlled the entire Eastern Bloc.
There were about 26 nationalities and in those nationalities, there were ethnic groups and tribes again. Then there were at least 20 other countries of Eastern Europe that belonged to the bloc. However, Russia was the main one, and they were 26.
The truth is that the USSR collapsed largely because of a lack of tolerance. The Russians felt very big. Sovietisation was interpreted as Russianization. To be a goodSovietconceived by Vladimir Lenin in 1917, you have to be like a Russian, speak like a Russian, dress like a Russian.
There was a lot of intolerance impression (1st class, 2nd class, and 3rd class citizen). 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 President Tito. I know this because apart from academic research which I have published in my book ‘Global Trends in State Formation’, I did my diplomatic posting as a young officer at the age of 23 in the former Bloc in Czechoslovakia which no longer exists. What happened is that the Czechs were bossing it over the Slovaks, and at a time, they had to split particularly.
In Yugoslavia, the Serbs were lording it over the Bosnians, Yugoslavians, Croatians, Moldovans, and all in one day woke up and said ‘enough is enough’. They went the bloody way from one country, now they are six or seven countries from small Yugoslavia
We the leaders have a lot of work to do. Lord Luggard did not make a mistake in bringing us together, and certainly, God did not make a mistake in allowing the British to bring us together.
If a Nigerian feels:‘it doesn’t matter if you are from Niger Delta, we can take your oil anytime we like’, then it comes to a point where we will say: ‘it is okay, you take the oil when and how you like, but we are all going to all die to defend ourselves’.
That is what happened in the early 2000s until former President Musa Yar’Adua brought Amnesty in 2009. Our boys even took up arms against us and said ‘we are tired of you people’.
Mind you, I was Honorary Adviser to President Obasanjo and Liaison with the militants. 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 of dialogue and dialogue is different from yours.
I don’t believe in guns. But said we have guns and let us see how Nigeria will take the oil. And they brought Nigeria down to its knees.
Oil production went to 700 barrels per day. This happened again in 2016 with the emergence of Niger Delta Avengers and we had to return to the creeks to appeal to the boys.
Is that the best option? Different people 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 with threats, blackmails, arrests, etc. Keep discussing.
Don’t do inflammatory discussions. The language of communication is important. Let all of those talking don’t say things that will create more problems, instead say things that will unite us.
So when somebody stands and says ‘Yoruba people are bad people, let’s deal with them’ or you stereotype the Ibos, it is not acceptable.
What 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 parochial, narrow group interest. So we have to do everything that would promote unity as elites and show our people the right way”.