‘Nigeria not demonstrating what can be achieved with potential’

Agbeyegbe

Lawyer, writer, political activist and National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) chieftain, Mr FRED AGBEYEGBE, turns 84 today. But the Itsekiri-born humanist who was the secretary to the committee that agitated for the creation of Delta State is not a happy man with the way Nigeria has turned out – a country full of potential, but with retarded development. He not only reflects upon Nigeria’s failure as a nation but the monstrous possibility of Fulanisation for which he holds former President Olusegun Obasanjo responsible. He spoke with ANOTE AJELUOROU (Head, Politics) and EMEKA NWACHUKWU. Excerpts:

Your birthday is today, July 22. At 84 what would you like to reflect upon? 
I would be very happy to ask people to drink a toast to God for giving me life and keeping me beyond all expectations.

From my family side where I am the first son, even though I am actually still the last of my father’s sons still alive, but the first one to have exceeded the biblical age, that is, over 70. I would also like to use the opportunity to look back upon my colleagues who are no longer here and to recall their contributions to the little success that I have been able to make of my life and, particularly the hope that Nigeria should move away from being a country with great potential.

Nigeria should be able to demonstrate what you can achieve with potential. This country has many pockets of eldorado that have not been allowed to blossom and, as I move to whenever it will suit the good Lord to call me, I am a lot more apprehensive as to whether when I appear before God it would still be an issue of lamentations of what we are unable to achieve.

You mentioned earlier that there are two things that make you sad when you look at your country Nigeria. Will you like to recount these two things?
Well, the first one is the lamentation about the slavery that obtains in Nigeria. It included a personal lamentation that admittedly, given my rascality, I have had, as we speak, my first, second and third generation of my posterity already here, born to this slavery.

My father was not born a Nigerian; he acquired that status like people of his age and generation. Nobody asked him if he wanted to be a Nigerian. He was born an Itsekiri man; he had me. I have children; my children have had their children and my children’s children are having their children. So, I answer father, grandfather, and great grandfather. I don’t know how much longer we can go into the future to determine where my posterity will end but there are now a series of my posterity born into this slavery that we are in – Nigeria.

I was talking to a Taxify driver of about 36 years old; he knows nothing of the Nigeria I knew. In fact, he knows nothing of Nigeria that my children know.

As you would recall, there was a time history was banned as a subject in our education in Nigeria. Why? People in government did not want anybody to know that there are certain rights they acquire when they are born into this world, rights that the good lord gave their grandparents, because we are holding onto one song that everyone is singing without knowing the meaning of it: democracy.

In Nigeria, democracy is known for the numbers involved. It suits those who insist upon governing us to make sure that we don’t know our yesterdays. So, the new generations, as they come, would not know who the real and true Nigerians are. For them, it’s only a question of numbers. It only means that you can come into my backyard, have as many wives and children as you like and on a crucial day on any issue that’s out for discussion, you can count your siblings and out-number me and my own siblings even in the land that the good Lord gave me.

So, my regret is that my posterity that is already here may be cheated out of the knowledge that God did not only make them, he chose where to put them, he gave them resources to live there and maintain their lives but what do we have today? That somebody will come from the desert where the same God that chose to put me in the swamps of Warri decided to put them but they will come from the desert to teach me how to swim in Warri River. That’s the sad effect of the slavery that we are in and the resources under my soil, under my river bed will be carted away somewhere else and shared in my absence and the pittance that I’m given, people will still ask the question, ‘Yes, it’s a bad thing the government don’t allow people to use their resources, but what of the one they are giving to you, what have you done with it?’

And like I told Jimi Disu in his radio programme in Classic FM 97.3, it’s none of your business what I do with the resources I get, resources that you took away and brought back to me because you don’t want to be criticized. Do you dare ask me what I want to do with it? Let me have it and let me have somebody cheat me out of it who is my own blood, my own ethnicity who God has made my next-door neighbour and we will fight it out. It shouldn’t bother you, because that’s slavery.

So the second one, you talked about those of our people who are not just educated, but who have had exposure, who go out of here and see what obtains in other lands, who see what life is all about, yet they come back here and they become blind. They no longer remember what they have seen in other places.

Prof. Pat Utomi just wrote a book which he calls Why Not. In there he traces how he tried to become governor of his state and he talks about the ‘complicit middle.’ And those are the people he was referring to. What we hear now is that the only thing that can solve the Nigerian problem is a revolution; even people who do not know the meaning of the word are saying so. But historically, the lessons we have learnt is that the proletariats can’t bring about a revolution. There must be this person that Utomi calls complicit middle who make sure that the rise of the proletariats is given direction.

George Orwell’s wrote a book, 1984; he classified society as the high, the middle and the low. The high will forever want to remain on top; the low are two ways down by the misfortunes they suffer as a result of what the high is doing. It is only the middle that wants to change its position, not going down but going up to confront the high. And until the middle is ready to take its place in that structure of things, the low will forever remain slaves. And what is the middle doing in Nigeria? They are giving everything. It is the same middle that will remember that somebody is not qualified to become president according to the Nigerian constitution as bad as it is. It is the same middle that says to you, ‘leave him alone but he has done it before!’ Meanwhile, doing it before was with their own support as well. It then becomes a qualification for doing it all over again and what does that say? Our institutions are not meant for standing up for what they are created for.

Like we heard recently, Atiku Abubakar said he won the election. Femi Fani Kayode said go make trouble, go do this and that, but some people are begging him not to even go to the tribunal, that he should just leave it to God. So if you are going to create institutions so that they can be put to use when the need arises and each time the need comes up, they say, ‘No, let’s not bother about it,’ why create the institutions? Why do we have situations where the authority meant to manage the situations is not the one doing it? So those are the regrets I talk about.

Former President Olusegun Obasanjo has claimed that there is a plan to Fulanise Nigeria. Do you think he was wrong? 
Well, you keep things in the realm of possibility only when you can imagine them, but when you see them happening right in front of you, then you have gone past the stage of imagination. Reality annihilates imagination. What we are seeing is what Obasanjo was talking about. You have heard what I have said about Obasanjo, but he has also pinpointed this.

The only question now is, where is his sincerity? Is this the first time he is noticing the Fulanisation of Nigeria? What is the Fulanisation of Nigeria? Does it not include what he also said about Islam in a society that is supposed to be circular? Was Obasanjo not the president in power when 12 states of Northern Nigeria declared Sharia? What did he do about it? Nothing. That was years ago. Now the thing is not only taking roots but is now delivering fruits. Then this same Obasanjo comes out to say, you are Fulanising Nigeria. Some people think it is because his own prediction as to who becomes president didn’t materialise. 

We can only retrace our steps if we realise where our problems started. At what point did we get it wrong?
At the point at which the military boys thought they knew better and poked their noses at what they were not trained to do.

At the height of every training of a militia, the person is to kill. They took over and in only six years Nigerians have not been allowed to practise what they fought for and got from the British before the military came in; that’s the result that you see today. 

Since the military intervention and since they left and not only didn’t go out of the scene but implanted the 1999 constitution which is as divisive as it is slave-inputting into the society where people claim that they have such numbers which is what determines democracy in Nigeria.

With numbers, you can put a square peg in a round hole and expect it to hold. They have protected it by intruding into the governance document called a constitution. Hopefully, the opportunity to retrace our steps would come and the military ilk that is remaining in this society today will pass away in another 2O years.

But as long as men of the militia remain in governance control and forever protecting their loot that came out of that excursion into government which they knew nothing, we should not expect things to work properly the way they should. They started and kept it going; it’s only those who sympathise with them or who they have used or they have continued to use that they find favour with; so, they are the masters of our destruction, including Obasanjo

In respect to the judiciary which you belong, what would you like to see, moving forward?
I talked earlier about the creation of institutions in any country; the judiciary is one such institution. Laws in anticipation that officeholders might abuse their positions were made to deal with any institution so as to protect society. There are law’s set up to deal with situations that men of the judiciary were caught in. They are Nigerians like all of us; they didn’t come from Ghana to man our judiciary and the laws that are out there are meant for any miscreant in the society who falls short of the law.

I believe that anybody, either in the judiciary, railways or elsewhere found deficient of character there’s a need to subject them to correction there in the law books of Nigeria as they are ever before people serving in today’s government were born.

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