New factor pushing Nigeria towards predictable end —Professor Akintoye
Renowned historian, Professor Stephen Adebanji Akintoye, in this interview by BOLA BADMUS, says Nigeria has derailed from the dream and aspirations of its founding fathers, as it marks 60 years after independence from Britain on October 1, 1960.
At 60 years of independence from the British, Nigeria should be considered to have come of age. What do you say to this?
We had our three regions before then led by three very eminent Nigerians: Chief Obafemi Awolowo in the Western Region; Sir Ahmadu Bello in the Northern Region and Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe in the Eastern Region. It is true that the Western Region being the most educated had been the most educated since the 19th century, the region was better prepared to move forward than the other two regions. I am talking that we had a man who God had sent forth to gather as much energy to move the Western Region forward, that is Chief Obafemi Awolowo. And the region moved forward and created the most successful little part of people of Africa within a few years. The East was doing well too under Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, but at a lower pace. And the North started with a handicap; they were most non- educated. But under the highly impressive personality of Sir Ahmadu Bello, the North too was coming; they were doing a lot of good things to get the North to move forward. So, there was a lot of hope that Nigeria was going to be a great and successful country.
It was against that background that we became independent in 1960. But then, we tumbled on a dangerous terrain. We tumbled because the people, who were in control of power in the Federal Government, developed an unhealthy desire to control the regions. Their first attack was launched against the Western Region by manipulating and so on; by what I can call covert operation. They got the leaders of the Western Region and broke up the leadership of the Western Region. The Federal Government then moved in quickly to declare a state of emergency, suspended the regional government and appointed a sole administrator to oversee its affairs and essentially shut down the development of Western Region. That went on and on. A section of the leadership of Western Region became allies of people in the Federal Government, and rigged election in the region in order to uphold them in power, and we the young people of the region refused to accept it because the election was so blatantly rigged, and so that resulted in the coup of January 1966. That is where we really began to plummet downward the slope.
The military came into power without any preparation for a thing like governing; they have no idea of what government is all about. They didn’t have the qualification or the inclination to govern. They were disrespectful of Nigeria because they were trained by the British to defend the British interest in Nigeria against the Nigerians.’ That was what the military were trained for originally. And so, it was common among them to refer to our politicians as bloody civilians and they have no skill to govern. So, the result is that, that type of government just became a silly, corrupt establishment, to which every soldier boy that came to power was trying to get money for himself and Nigeria began to go down and down.
Oil came at this time. The oil just escalated the greed and Nigeria became one to be classified worldwide as one of the most corrupt countries on earth. And it has continued since then like that. What has then happened is that the elite, the influential and the politicians have arrogated to themselves the right to seize all of the assets, the resources of Nigeria for themselves alone and use little or none of it for the improvement of society, the improvement of the common people. So, there has been poverty deepening daily according to Vice President Osinbajo. He said a few days ago that poverty and economic crisis are deepening daily. It has been so for many decades. Yes, we are pouring out a lot of oil and making a lot of money from it, but it was money the elite were finding ways to steal, to appropriate to themselves, and so on. So to that extent, an international organisation says that between 1960 and 2005, the Nigerian ruling class had stolen more than $25 trillion, with everybody building big houses, buying big cars, the most expensive cars, as well as buying jets, helicopters and so on for themselves, while ordinary people sank deeper and deeper into poverty.
Some ridiculous things happened: rather than marrying their daughters in Nigeria, they would go and marry them in Dubai and fly everybody there. And, therefore, some level of unbelievable conspicuous consumption seized the soul of Nigerian elite and that’s what everybody was competing for. In the process, the educational system crashed. Young people coming out of the schools, colleges and universities find themselves on the streets without any provision. With no jobs, many began to go into crimes or into cults or even into drug abuse, and a large number began to flee abroad. Very many thought that they could reach Europe through the Sahara Desert and the Mediterranean Sea and many have attempted it and are still attempting it as I am talking now. Many of them are dying in droves in the desert and on the sea. And many of those who finally made it to Europe are in concentration camps; many others are prostitutes in the streets and so on. Some are even sex slaves in some parts of Europe. So, we have run our country very badly. One thing that made President Muhammadu Buhari attractive to some people in 2013, 2014 or so is that he had gatecrashed into presidency through a coup in 1983 and had been there for just one and a half years and during that period, had given us an impression that he could fight corruption. Other people had driven him out in 1985 and then properly now sat down and institutionalised. corruption as our system of government.
So, we went through an era during which government was just the manufacturer of corruption and the distributor of the product of corruption, and the ordinary people were no longer part of the equation of Nigeria. Therefore, that (Babangida’s administration) was succeeded by a vicious dictatorship (Abacha’s regime) that was hostile to any show of democracy and that would use extra-judicial means to suppress the public. We now witnessed assassination squad chasing prominent citizens around the streets. So, Nigeria has been going down, down, down.
Now we reach a point at which one, Nigeria is now the home of extreme poverty in the world; We are number one of extreme poverty on earth. And many pundits are predicting that if Nigeria continues like this, more than 50 per cent of all the poorest people in the world, by 2030 will be Nigerians. Nigerians are among the poorest in access to electricity, good roads, communication, good governance, in access to everything of importance. It’s ugly. As the presidency said a few days ago, poverty and economic crises are deepening daily. Day by day, Nigeria gets poorer. Nigeria is poorer this year than it was last year. Nigeria was poorer last year than it was year before. The progression goes on; it is downward all the way.
Can you talk about successes Nigeria has recorded in the last 60 years or is everything about failure?
Those would be occasional actions we have that produced results; that is inevitable. We are talking cumulatively; cumulatively the tendency has been downward and downward, but there would be a little sparks here and there of success. We have built many more schools, many more universities, although the quality of education has been degraded by the government of the country. Some of our universities should be the best in the world. But, they have lost a deal of their excellence. Again, this is because of the handling of education by the government. They will rise again, it is not likely that they will rise under the country Nigeria. I doubt that very much. I am a university man. I have never done another job in my adult life. By the grace of God, I am doing a little here and there to the universities. I know universities and my heart aches when I walk through the University of Ibadan; when I walk through the Obafemi Awolowo University. Since I came back, I have not been to Nsukka, I have not been to the Ahmadu Bello University, but I am told that all are in the same parlous condition. The University College Hospital (UCH) Ibadan was one of the best medical schools in Africa, but the excellence is down.
Well, there are things you can point to here and there. We have created a number of billionaires. So, we have become a country of billionaires and paupers. A few billionaires and masses of paupers, that’s what we have become.
The challenges are too many; is it about leadership; is it about the followers who are not the kind that we have in developed countries that demand for their rights?
Before I answer that question, I need to add that today in the past five years, there has been a new factor on the scene. The factor is that a section of the country is saying that we are going to conquer the rest of you and they are making an effort to do so, resulting in killings in rural areas in the Middle-Belt and the South, and driving out of farms, farmers, killing people, raping farmers’ wives and so on by people we call Fulani herdsmen. But they are not just herdsmen; they are usually accompanied by militia men. They are very well armed and trained to fight. So, that’s a new factor and it is that new factor that is now driving Nigeria downward to some predictable end.
Predictable end in what sense?
Predictable because lot of Nigerians have all agreed that this is no longer one country. People are saying that in the world, we Nigerians agree; very influential people are saying it: it’s no longer one country. We have a situation now that a section of the country is planning and acting to conquer other sections and the other sections, having no support from the government, are trying all sorts of ways to defend themselves. So, there are two countries already. There is a country trying to conquer the other country and there is the other country trying to defend itself. That’s what we already have. Among us, the Yoruba people because of the tradition of civilisation, we started by saying, ‘common, everybody defend your villages and so on and so forth.’ Well, people like us must think. Yoruba families spent almost all their resources educating all their children. Now, you have educated these children and what you are now telling them is: go and defend your villages, to save your father’s farms. Go and engage in chaotic conflict with the Fulani herdsmen and militias in the bush. It’s an awful message, but we had to do it at the beginning.
But finally, we came to the conclusion that, that will not be. Let us have a civilised little agency that can defend the farmland and so on. That’s why the governments of western states came up with the idea of Amotekun and those of us like we in the Yoruba World Congress (YWC), became enthusiastic about it and we came out to support them. But again, we found to our sorrow that the people who control power in Abuja do not want Amotekun to succeed; they don’t want it. That’s it. So, are these people saying that we are just as good to be slaughtered? That we should just lie down and the people who want to kill us should kill us, we mustn’t do anything to defend ourselves?
If things go on like this, what is the way out?
It is no longer just the Fulani herdsmen and their militias; more powerful terrorist organisations have entered into the equation. Boko Haram is growing very strong in spite of statements by our authorities that they’ve conquered the group. We have not seen evidence of that. Boko Haram is growing stronger, bigger and creating, according to the police, sniper cells all over the country for a day of rampage. Other organisations have come like the ISIS, defeated in Iraq. ISIS has now established a base in the North-Eastern Nigeria and it’s threatening to conquer first the whole of Nigeria and then use the resources of the country to conquer the whole of West Africa and turn the sub-region into a bastion of terrorism against the rest of the world.
Another organisation, Al-Qeada from Libya is also on the scene; so, it’s going to get worse, not better. It’s going to get ferociously worse and that’s leading a lot of different nationalities to wonder whether they will just wait to allow them to come and overrun all of us. So, without any quarrel; without any fight, we think we should go and try a separate country of our own; a smaller country that can be our own, where we would be one; where nobody would be willing to conquer anybody.
There is an ongoing constitutional amendment process in the Senate. Does it indicate a ray of hope for a new Nigeria?
The Senate has done that again and again; they do it almost all the year, and nothing has come out of it. They have their reason for doing it. I know, however, that there is a historical fact that the Senate is constantly doing constitutional review that amounts to nothing in the end.
If Nigeria has a new president in 2023, don’t you think the agitations from different quarters might just fizzle out naturally?
What is just happening is not just about Buhari in all fairness; it is a cumulative development that has been coming on and on, and it’s getting worse and worse. We reached the status of the most corrupt country all over the world under General Ibrahim Babangida. Then under General Sani Abacha, we reached what we knew to be the most violent, autocratic government. Then again under Dr Goodluck Jonathan, we reached the very depth of hell with corruption, and Buhari came and we reached the very depth of hell with violence and even the violence completely negates and removes the chances of the success of any attempt at fighting corruption. So, it is all cumulative; it is a problem that is impossible to disentangle from; nobody who rules Nigeria will be able to address; it’s not going to happen.
There is a lot of goodwill, statements, and intentions and so on. We would see the new president breezing with a great deal of new hope, good intention and so on, but the power, the realities of the situation will catch up with him, and it may even grow worse than we are now; we never can tell. It is like a landslide; a landslide always goes downward; the cumulative force pushes it down and I pray for Nigeria because this is my home; I have no other country. I have travelled the world extensively. Since we have known that we have not fared well in a country like Nigeria, let us have the humility before God and respect for mankind to admit that we cannot do it and let us sit down together peacefully at a table and decide and say, ‘you go and try your own country; good luck to you’ and we are all friends and we will all be good neighbours. That’s a better thing than trying to sustaining a situation which will only lead to more sorrow.
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