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The Chinua Achebe Foundation Interview Series #7

Nigeria:
A Meeting of the Minds
(Professor Tam David-West in Conversation with Uzor Maxim Uzoatu and Paul Odili)

by
The Chinua Achebe Foundation


ABOUT PROFESSOR TAM DAVID-WEST

Professor Tamunoemi Sokari David-West Professor Tam David-Westwas born on August 26, 1936 in Buguma, Kalabari, Rivers State. He has had a long and distinguished career as an academic, virologist, civil/public servant and administrator. Professor West was educated at a number of universities around the world; beginning with the University College, Ibadan, now University of Ibadan, 1956-1958; Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan, USA, 1958-60 (B.Sc); Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut, 1960-62 (M.Sc); and McGill University, Montreal Canada, 1964-66 (Ph.D).

He began his teaching career as a consultant virologist and senior lecturer at the University of Ibadan in 1969.  He was appointed professor of virology, at the College of Medicine, University of Ibadan, in 1975.

Professor David-West has served his nation in several capacities, beginning with his appointment as Commissioner for Education and member of the Executive Council of Rivers State, 1975-79. He was appointed a member of the 50 man Constitution Drafting Committee setup by the Federal Military Government under General Murtala Muhammed in 1979. He also served the General Muhammadu Buhari military government as Federal Minister of Petroleum and Energy, from 1984 to 1985. Professor West was retained as a federal minister by the General Ibrahim Babangida regime after the palace coup that removed Buhari.

From January 1986 until September 1986, Professor West served as the Minister of Mines, Power and Steel in the Babangida regime before being dropped during a cabinet reshuffle. Following disagreements over matters of conflicting interest, Professor West was jailed for one year by the Babangida junta for allegedly accepting a gold wrist watch as bribe, from a foreign business man, while he was petroleum minister. That decision was adjudged controversial and a plot by the junta to humiliate David-West. Today, Professor Tam David-West continues to be a prolific writer, critic and commentator on public policies and wears his prison experience as a badge of persecution for speaking out about “the sleaze” he believes took place in that regime.

 

About Uzor Maxim Uzoatu

 

Uzor Maxim Uzoatu, former senior editor and correspondent at ThisWeek magazine and The Guardian newspapers in Lagos, holds a BA from the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University) and an MA from the University of Lagos. A freelance writer, journalist, poet and novelist, he is the author of The Missing Link, a novel about "the last man".

 

About Paul Odili

 

Paul Odili is a Lagos based journalist. He currently works at the Vanguard Newspapers as the Assistant Editor Politics.

 

THE INTERVIEW

 

 

Prof; I would like to begin our discussion with the issue of leadership. Is leadership the trouble with Nigeria?

 

DAVID-WEST: Nigeria’s problem is not that of follower-ship. Nigeria’s problem is the problem of leadership. If you have good leadership, it will energize follower-ship. First, we are not lazy. We are not a stubborn nation with set ideas or mindset. Nigeria’s problem is squarely a problem of leadership. Chinua Achebe hit the nail on the head in his small, but very profound book, The Trouble with Nigeria.  

 

Should one place the blame on the long years of military rule?

 

DAVID-WEST: To say that tam David-West and Chunua Achebethe failure of leadership should be blamed on the military is just a safe, convenient excuse, as it is to blame all our problems on colonial rule. When the Nigeria-Commonwealth association invited me for a lecture, I had my title: “Fighting with the Past.” We are always fighting with the past instead of correcting the present – “Oh, we are like this, because Britain subdued us for so long; we are like this, because they gave a greater majority to the North. We are like this because the military ruled us for so long…. It’s all vacuous nonsense!

 

We are enabling failure by our constant reliance on an alibi. The British came here with their own programme; they didn’t come here as a humanitarian body. They were very honest. Even in 1914 when Lord Lugard amalgamated North and South, he was honest about his intentions. He used the word “amalgamation,” and for those who studied elementary chemistry, there is a difference between “amalgam” and “compound.” Britain never colonized Nigeria in order to create a compound of a nation. It amalgamated the various ethnic groups for its own interest.

 

Now, the British handed over to Nigerians on October 1st, 1960. This is April 17, 2005, and we are still complaining about and blaming colonial rule; we are obviously

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not serious, then! It is precisely the same thing with blaming the military…no military government has come to power without Nigerians hailing it as “the new Messiah!” So one begins to ask – at what point did the messiah become the villain? We are not serious, not serious at all!!!
 And then we have this nonsensical mentality that the best military government is worse than the worst civilian regime. That’s stupid! Nigeria’s problem is to be blamed on Nigerians and begins with leadership; sadly, we have had only two examples of non-leadership crisis.

 

One was during Murtala Muhammed’s administration; his style was unique. And whether one likes it or not, Buhari’s administration; Muhammadu Buhari’s regime was only the second example of a successful leadership. I believe that if Murtala had lived longer, however, history would have judged him differently. Fortunately, he died very early. He came at a time when Nigeria needed discipline. And he provided it. I served under Buhari and Idiagbon, and Murtala Mohammed, too as Commissioner of Education in Rivers State from 1975 to 1979. I worked with Buhari, and I can stick out my neck anytime to say that there is no leader present in Nigeria that is like Buhari, like General Muhammadu Buhari; none. Obasanjo is a very poor, poor, distant…I can’t even call him second. Why am I saying this? Buhari gave leadership by example, not sermons. He gave discipline, and possessed personal discipline. Without personal discipline you can’t get anywhere.

 

Prof, you served Buhari and later, Babangida. Buhari was accused of civil rights abuses by Babangida who appears to be planning a come back after Obasanjo

 

DAVID-WEST: (cuts in) If God loves Nigeria… Alright, I’ll come to the topic of Babangida. I shall compare Buhari, Babangida, and Obasanjo without any apologies. When Buhari came into power, I believe that it a time of triumph for Nigeria. Buhari is as straight as a needle. He brought corporate, societal discipline through War Against Indiscipline (WAI), and such a good thing will always survive -- like cork in water; it can never sink. Now, something as simple, but necessary and projecting orderliness as queuing in lines has been established in Nigeria. To me, that’s a great credit to that regime! As ministers under Buhari, the greatest amount of money we could spend without giving account was N200, a month. Anything more than that, you had to give account. Finally, Buhari increased it to N250. I remember we clapped and thanked him in the Executive Council meeting. When Buhari moved into Dodan Barracks, he never changed the furniture or the curtains. When I asked him why, he said: “Look, they are usable. Why spend money unnecessarily?”

 

Others would have awarded contracts. As Minister for Petroleum, I had very good relationship with him. I had a hotline with him. One day I went to visit him, and he asked me what I would like to drink. I told him I wanted Fanta. He called his steward and said: “Please bring Fanta for the Professor.” The steward left, and for good five, ten minutes, he didn’t come back. Finally, he came back, shaking, and said: “Commander-in-Chief, there is no Fanta.” So Buhari laughed and said: “Professor, there is no Fanta in Dodan Barracks, so let’s go on with our interview.” (Pauses) Listen to this: there was no Fanta in the fridge, not in the entire Dodan Barracks!

If you send Buhari a memo, within a few hours you’ll get a reply. Throughout that particular regime, General Idiagbon, without fail, to the country and the world on national television: “This is the amount we made, and this is what we are spending.” Transparency and accountability… I went to work seven days a week because my leader would be there. He would always telephone me. On Saturday and Sunday, I staggered my staff. If that regime had remained in power; if Babangida had not overthrown it for selfish, personal reasons, we would not be in the mess we’re in now. As for Babangida - he was about to be retired -- let him deny it! We were touring in Jos. Buhari said: “Those who don’t like our discipline should please leave the Army. I have two alternatives: either I am killed or I go back to my village as a farmer.” Buhari, as Head of State, not as a megalomaniac President, made profound statements. The very first bold statement he made was: “This generation, and indeed, future generations of Nigerians have no other country other than Nigeria. We must stay here and salvage it together. ”

 

Few Nigerian leaders have made statements that have been immortalised, like Lincoln and Kennedy. And most of these statements are impromptu. Buhari talked of a fifth columnist and now, I can make the connection. How did the British know that Umaru Dikko was in the cage? If British Intelligence knew ab initio, Dikko would not be caught at Statton Airport; the whole affair would have been frustrated from the beginning. Somebody in Nigeria leaked it to them to embarrass the government. I do not support Dikko being caged, but I am showing you the dynamics of the system…

 

Would you then say Buhari played into the hands of Babangida?     

 

DAVID-WEST: Babangida had no programme. I worked with him. He is a public relations man. He is glib. He has the gift of the gab. I don’t think he is very intelligent. The economy was looking up during Buhari’s time. We were down, and everything was done to bring us down. There was the rumour that they would overthrow Buhari within three months. When we cut our oil price, we shook the world. They wanted to price us out of the market. For the first time, a despatch rider had to take me to Dodan Barracks. Buhari was once Oil Minister, so he knew the intrigues. I told the Commander-in-Chief: “We have three moves. First, don’t move. Second, shave off exactly the same price as the competitors. Third, shock the world!” He laughed and said: “Shock the world to show them we can survive; shave off two dollars!”

 

We shaved off double the amount that the rest did, and consequently, they panicked. Britain never expected this nor Norway. Those people who wanted to bring us down never expected this. Buhari, I can walk through fire for him. That’s leadership. Sheikh Yamani had to fly in here to Lagos. We had to meet later in a secret place on the outskirts of Geneva --the world press was focusing so much on me. I had to change cars three times for camouflage. Then we sat down to negotiate whether Nigeria would get in line. I said we would not do so. I asked the British Oil Minister: “Mr Walker is it true the Americans gave you two billion dollars or one billion dollars to undercut us?” He laughed it off with an: “I hope it is true….” But I noted that he never said an outright, “No.”

 

From what you are saying, you and Buhari stood up to the most powerful nations in the world. What then explains the cult of mediocrity in Nigerian leadership?

 

DAVID-WEST: The cult of mediocrity and corruption came with Babangida. Babangida claims credit for what he didn’t do. In the history of OPEC it has never happened that one country was singled out and given an increase of a quota of 150,000 barrels a day. When we accomplished this in 1984, Zik sent me a letter, and that letter is more important than anything: “From an old-timer, one of your greatest admirers, Zik.” Beautiful handwriting… “You are easily one of the most efficient ministers produced by our country Nigeria. Zik.”

 

So to round up on Buhari -- had every one of our major projects become tied to oil barrels, Nigeria would not have had any problems. We would have been able to make the IMF irrelevant… and I can tell you that we were in the process of doing so. We had already received N2 billion through what I called our “repayment strategy.” London Financial Times of May 1984 said it was an extraordinary strategy. If Babangida had not overthrown Buhari, Nigeria should have seen the light. I told OPEC that counter trade was a programme for survival. Saudi Arabia traded with billions of dollars worth of crude oil not in their quota; they started before us. We had all everything, numerous resources, yet our industries were closing down. We had no spare parts industry; there was no money, and the plan of certain nations was to overthrow us. But we shocked the world with good leadership and good programme.

 

Now take the issue of oil bunkering. When the Buhari government came to power, on record there were 18 registered bunkerers. Many people misunderstand bunkering to mean oil-lifting. Bunkering is like going to fill your car at the petrol station. We had over one thousand illegal bunkerers. Buhari, Idiagbon, and little Tam David-West; we fought these illegal operators to a standstill and dismantled them. Today, however, almost everybody in government is a bunkerer. There was a law created by Buhari in 1984: anybody found bunkering would face capital punishment. I had over 20 letters from Amnesty International to please ask the Head of State to reverse the law. But I replied: Oil is the jugular of the Nigerian economy. I don’t like blood. Those who want to destroy Nigeria by destroying its life source oil, have no right to live. The law is still there, but bunkering has become an everyday practice by those in government.

 

So everything changed once Buhari was overthrown?

 

DAVID-WEST: Yes. Babangida had no programme. Admittedly, he is a good PR man, and this has cost the nation dearly, because of his self interests. One of the reasons he gave for overthrowing Buhari was that Buhari was applying 40% of our revenue to the servicing of debts. Babangida complained that this amount was too much. But the first budget Babangida was to broadcast to the world was the same amount -- 40%. The brilliant Navy man from Lagos in council observed this, as I similarly noted it. He looked at me and smiled then mentioned it to Babangida who said: “What page is it? Take 10% off.” Yes, is that a leader? Buhari inherited what Buhari had set in motion. When Buhari was forcibly removed, we had some money in an Austrian Escrow Account through counter trade between the Austrian company Voest-Alpin and Nigeria. When I, Tam David-West, went to inquire about the money, I discovered that the money was used up, and I reported this to Babangida and Abacha. (Pause) “Today, I don’t know where that money is. Babangida is a man suffused with personal ambition, a terrible megalomaniac. They call him MaradonaBabangida is not a Maradona. Babangida is the most predictable man I have ever worked with. All modalities broke down during his time. Let me give you an example. To buy Nigeria’s oil, you must own a company of at least 20 staff members, and a turnover of at least $100 million. You must have a refinery or a long-term contract with a refinery established not less than ten years. Babangida broke all these rules. Nigeria’s crude oil was sold and bought like palm oil or groundnut oil in supermarkets.

 

This dovetails into the issue of corruption that Obasanjo is fighting today…

 

DAVID-WEST: He is not serious. Obasanjo cannot fight corruption. Babangida institutionalised corruption. (Points at a picture.) That’s me in the picture, in Black Maria for wristwatch and coffee. (Laughs.) Corruption became a state policy during Babangida’s time, and Shehu Musa said it very well: “In Nigeria it is not that officials are corrupt, but that corruption is official.” (Laughs.) Babangida bastardised all the rules. He has not been able to account for $12.5 billion of Gulf War oil windfall unearthed by one of the greatest economists, my friend, Professor Pius Okigbo. May his soul rest in peace... I was in Dodan Barracks when the report was submitted -- over 100 copies. Later Obasanjo said they were lost. All of them lost!!! Obasanjo cannot do anything, because Babangida financed his election. General T.Y. Danjuma was the one who said he would play Andrew (go on exile) if Obasanjo was not elected. Danjuma bailed out, saying: “I cannot work with you. The government is run by a clique, like a cult.” No, Obasanjo cannot fight corruption. You don’t fight corruption with theatrics, histrionics. You don’t fight corruption selectively. It is cosmetic.

 

How is it cosmetic?

 

DAVID-WEST: I’ll explain why. The late Chief Sunday Afolabi was an accounts officer

in this university (
University of Ibadan). He later became Deputy Governor to the late Chief Bola Ige in the old Oyo State. Great political heavyweight… He disagreed with Bola Ige and joined the NPN. Great AwoistObasanjo was not popular here among Yoruba people. Afolabi made it possible for him to be taken seriously. Now, if Afolabi was not so highly admired, no Head of State gives the position of Minister of Internal Affairs to an outsider… Obasanjo gave it to him. Buddy-buddy, chummy-chummy… Then when Obasanjo appointed Bola Ige into his cabinet, talkative Tam David-West, I said: it is like putting cat and mouse in the same basket. Obasanjo knew that there was no love lost between Ige and Afolabi. Now Afolabi is paraded as a thief, via the ID Card Scam. When did he become a thief? Did he, all of a sudden, become a thief? Who appointed him to his post?

 

Another example that exposed Obasanjo was that he orchestrated the disgrace he meted out to Afolabi to take place at the time the Commonwealth Heads of State were gathered in the country. I’m not condoning corruption, but razzmatazz diverts attention from one as a serious person fighting corruption. It is the same thing with Balogun (Inspector-General of Police). It’s a great indictment on Obasanjo. Machiavelli says you judge a prince by the type of people he appoints as ministers. . Birds of the same feather go together. You appointed Tafa Balogun, Inspector-General of Police; you gave him double promotion, and in October 2004 you gave him a CFR, the third highest national honour… He rigged the elections for all of them. Rivers State population is 3.1 million in 1991 census, but Obasanjo and Odili had over two million votes; that is to say that 2/3rd of Rivers State is adult. Demographic heresy!!! When did Obasanjo find out that Balogun had become a thief? It’s an indictment on his personal judgemental competence.

 

Let’s talk of transparency, because it appears to boil down to that. How transparent is the incumbent regime?

 

DAVID-WEST: There is no transparency; it’s opaque. Obasanjo’s regime is not transparent. How can it be transparent?

 

But the Minister of Finance is publishing monthly allocations to states and local governments  

 

DAVID-WEST: That doesn’t impress me. For banks to get fresh mint from the Central Bank, they have to pay…to bribe. I have evidence from two banks. Central Bank is also dripping in corruption. There is no transparency. I was indicted in the case -- the Federal Republic of Nigeria Vs Tam David-West -- on charges that I signed off $57 million to an American company in New Jersey; a company I had no interests in whatsoever… and I was jailed. So issues such as this impact me, perhaps, more than it does other Nigerians. I have been jailed for life, and then the Judge admitted he was wrong. The only thing that was held against me in terms of corruption was the charge that I drank tea and accepted a wristwatch, which was not true. But for that, I was sentenced to life, which was later reduced to 20 years.

 

If Obasanjo wants to fight corruption, let him begin with himself. Buhari was detained for 40 months by Babangida. It was so sadistic. Buhari’s mother died when he was in detention, and Babangida never let him see his mother. Buhari told Babangida: “You have kept me here for 40 months; I challenge you tell the world what my corruption is.” He equally told Obasanjo to tell the world of his corruption in PTF. If Buhari was corrupt as the head of PTF, Obasanjo would not have waited to knock him off from the election. In Obasanjo’s case -- the only way I can respect any President is for him to declare his assets in public.

 

I just read that the tax returns of American President George W. Bush were made public. Presidential spokesman Fani-Kayode says Obasanjo makes N30 million a month out of Otta Farm; however, he did not mention whether tax had been paid on it…     

 

DAVID-WEST: The Bible said: Hosea, sow the wind, reap the whirlwind. Obasanjo should, as a farmer, know that where a farm makes N30 million a month, one can sow the wind and reap the whirlwind. (Laughs.) Fani-Kayode has no antecedent of democracy; we all know what his father did. If he tells us that Obasanjo’s farm makes N30 million monthly, he should also tell us how much tax he pays. It doesn’t make any sense to me. Let Obasanjo publish the certified tax he has paid the state; from Otta Farm alone, N30 million profit is multiplied by 12. I call such wealth photophobic wealth. Photophobic, because such wealth is afraid of light. Fani-Kayode tends to open his mouth to defend the indefensible as when he tackled that great man Col. Abubakar Umar. The question that should be asked of him is this: out of the N30 million profit made by the president, how much of it is taxed or declared as assets? We desperately need transparency on transactions of this nature…

 

The Nigerian Tribune published that in Aso Rock, N14 million in pound sterling, deutsche marks and dollars were found in Obasanjo’s daughter’s room. The stewards working there were arrested and locked up. Their family raised hell and The Nigerian Tribune got the story. There was a protest that it was not true, so the Tribune published the name of the girl - the daughter. And what about Obasanjo’s cousin -- the then Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Defence -- Makanjuola and his N450 million scandal? He received a mere slap on the wrist; just a pat on the shoulder and told to go.

 

Compare that with the Prof Osuji 55 million naira matter. I do not condone the man’s behaviour; but he had intended that N55 million for the purpose of making more money for the operation of his ministry. He was not taking the money home to Abia or Anambra State; he was simply a victim of the system. He didn’t learn how to be corrupt at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. They taught him how to be corrupt in Abuja. Everyone knows that in Abuja, the taking and receiving of bribes is the norm. So why does Obasanjo have to make such a drama out of it? Balogun took billions of Naira while Fabian Osuji was paraded and disgraced for only N55 million.

 

If you want to fight corruption there must be transparency, there must be equity, there must be justice. And the light turns on you first. He who is going for equity must have clean hands. Neither of these people have clean hands; perhaps, only Ribadu of EFCC, because somebody charging with such force like he is cannot have a skeleton in his box. But this same system charged Deputy Senate President Mantu and others, and allowed the Senate to clear him; that is, the man becomes the judge in his own case? Why could he not be charged to court as in the case of Osuji and the others? There should not be selective justice. What we are witnessing is the establishment of personalised law…and what I refer to as personalised laws are laws directed or targeted at a particular person. It is plain injustice.

 

Well, I do not expect much from a government that is personalised in any case. Obasanjo behaves like Louis XIV: “I am the state.” I have a letter here from Obasanjo, signed by him (shows me a handwritten letter to him from Obasanjo). I had personal respect for him in the past, but I can no longer work for him. I cannot work for someone in a situation that is fraudulent. Why? First, he said Abiola was not the messiah. But it appears that he is glamorising himself as the messiah, which he is not. Secondly, he has been around for 20 years. Tam David-West as a Nigerian refuses to accept that for 20 years Nigeria has been held at a standstill. What is being implied is that for 20 years after Obasanjo left the seat of power, Nigeria has been unable to produce anyone other than Obasanjo, himself. That is laughable. Nigeria, my country, is not as decadent as that. I refuse to accept it. All we have is personalised leadership. I am even ashamed that these people are not themselves, ashamed of themselves. Everybody knows that the lastg election was rigged. Former US President Jimmy Carter came in 1999, and left without congratulating Obasanjo up until today. George Bush has not congratulated him, and this, to the extent that when Bush was to be inaugurated, Obasanjo was not even invited as the Chairman of the African Union.

 

According to Fani-Kayode, Obasanjo was invited, but chose not to go.

 

DAVID-WEST: If Bush had invited Obasanjo, he would have raced to attend his inauguration. Bush did not invite him.

Can you comment on corruption and retention or otherwise of the immunity clause in the Constitution?

DAVID-WEST: I do not support the retention of an immunity clause for a governor or the president. An immunity clause should be removed completely. I mean, why should we address the governor as your Excellency and his wife as her Excellency; does the Constitution recognize graduated citizenship? So there is no reason whether you are select or an elect; if the first citizen and first lady are in power to steal from the nation, why should there be an immunity clause for such corrupt individuals? And all this razzmatazz about anti-corruption; if the people I mentioned are the only ones in government that are corrupt then we have a government of angels. I have said it before that public servants should declare their assets in public, and there should be a clause stating that assets not declared either deliberately or in error shall be forfeited to the state for ever.

What role does ethnicity play in the crisis in the country?

 

DAVID-WEST: Ethnicity was originally Professor Tam David-Westthe magic wand. Igbo, Yoruba, Hausa-Fulani. Of course no one talks about the Ijaw…as if the group does not exist. The Hausa, Igbo, Yoruba say they are pushed to the wall. But the Ijaws have constantly and always been at the wall. You don’t have to push us. (Laughs) I go back to the First Republic. Ethnicity played a major role then. At that time, could we have escaped it? If one wants to be intellectually honest, odious and reprehensible as it was, one had little choice in galvanising the people. But the tribal drum has been beaten for far too long. As much as we needed the tribal drum to galvanise, to mobilise the people, we should have known where to stop; sentiments such as “the North for the North” expressed by Sardauna, for instance…Nkrumah actually galvanised Ghana in the same manner.

 

Was it not Zik who gave a lecture: “Tribalism as a Pragmatic Instrument for National Unity?” That was a fantastic lecture. And a great man... These divisions and diversities …is it not said that “though tribe and tongue may differ, in brotherhood we stand”? Then we said: “Remove it [the emphasis on tribe or ethnicity] as if when they are removed the problem has been cured.” Nonsense. Or the amusing case of Nigeria Airways changing its elephant logo and never taking off again! We are always too superficial and superstitious. Ethnicity, for this generation of Nigerians no longer works, because people have woken up to realise that touting the ethnic group card cannot and will not get anybody far. One might be an ethnic hero, but never a national hero. So whoever wants to come to national prominence should be playing down the issue of ethnicity.

 

The Nigerian civil war, to me, was a blessing in disguise. It was traumatic, because we lost a lot, but Nigeria woke up to a certain knowledge. That Biafra was defeated, to me, is a non-issue. Arthur Nwankwo said in his book, Nigeria: the Challenge of Biafra: “Until the contradictions that made Biafra possible are taken care of, Nigeria has anything but a rosy future.” Why can’t we sit down and see the lessons of Biafra? Nobody really wants Nigeria to disintegrate, but on what grounds are we going to stay together? It cannot be Nigeria, good or bad. We must talk. We argue that Britain created the situation we are in; but how long are we going to complain, instead of sitting down to examine the reality of our association? Why are we not asking the basic, significant question -- how are we going to keep the country together?

 

But the Nigeria-Biafra War still rankles, at the highest levels in Nigeria

 

DAVID-WEST: Civil war, reconstruction, reconciliation etc. Are we reconciled? Have we been reconstructed? When I hear a great man like Justice Oputa -- my principal, one of the greatest -- say that the Igbo are still marginalised, that people are still behaving as if the Civil War is still being fought…it is true. I am not supporting a Biafra come back; however, Nigerians have failed to sit down with honesty, sincerity and seriousness to examine what made Biafra possible; what made it collapse in the first place…

 

What workable system do you recommend for Nigeria in order to move forward?

 

DAVID-WEST: Let me say the unsayable. I advocate a confederation. I stick out my neck to say this. I have written about it; a confederation. Detractors of the system might complain that this is akin to The Satanic Verses. That is their business. Are we not sorry for ourselves that after so many years we are still discussing the possibility of going back to the parliamentary instead of the presidential system? I was a member of the 49 member panel that drafted the 1979 Constitution. When we opted for the presidential system, it was not because the United States had any influence in the choice. We opted for the presidential system, because Nigerians desired it. The majority of memos sent by the public recommended it; the preponderant majority of Nigerians wanted the presidential system. Murtala Muhammed in his inaugural address to the CDC (Constitution Drafting Committee) gave us a carte blanche: from a non-party to multi-party system.

 

Nigeria is not serious. Sadly, we are neither sincere nor disciplined in this country. If the Nigerian system is failing it is not because it inherently is a failure, but that Nigerians themselves are enabling failure. How can democracy or federalism succeed without discipline? Federal character…how is that implemented? After putting everything into due consideration, as General Gowon said in his first broadcast: “there is no basis for unity, but for a confederation.” And we were there before. When in the First Republic, agriculture was a major success – the cocoa, pal moil and groundnut industries were booming; there was clear revenue allocation, derivation and distribution for everybody. But then, the oil boom occurred, and my Papa, Chief Awolowo became deputy to Gowon as Commissioner for Finance. The man who earlier said that Nigeria is “a geographical expression” was now serving in a regime that advocated keeping Nigeria one as a task that must be done. This was an outright contradiction in terms (laughs). Awolowo was forced to rethink his philosophy, and finally changed from derivation to a Federation Account. That’s why we are suffering.

 

So, to go back to your recommendation of a confederation, sir…

 

DAVID-WEST: Why do I say we should adopt a confederation? In a true federation, the centre cannot be so powerful as to dictate to the federating units. What we have is not a federation. It is a monocracy, wearing the veneer of federalism. When Obasanjo can, like a schoolmaster, ask a state governor to do this or I’ll deal with you, to the extent of even sending soldiers to a party chairman to force him to resign, then it’s time to rethink our sad situation. Since we are unable to practice true federalism, we must then go confederate.

 

But if we have a sincere leader who applies the federal constitution, won’t you accept that?

 

DAVID-WEST: Indeed, I shall have no problem, whatsoever, with this. If we have a sincere leader, the structure will come together. A statesman thinks of the future while a politician thinks of the present. Most of our leaders only think of the present. Nigeria has no future with them, and to avoid further disintegration, the only recourse is in forming a confederation.

 

Should the confederation you refer to be based on ethnic groups or the existing states or the former regions or the six geo-political zones?

 

DAVID-WEST: Without a doubt, ethnic nations.

 

Religious conflicts continue to dog the nation. There is the issue of Sharia, and the recent call to Jihad by the Muslim North…

 

DAVID-WEST: Nigeria is a very interesting phenomenon. Nigeria is like a one-act play, like a broken disc permanently stuck in a groove. Detractors often claimed that my leader, Buhari, is fundamentalist. We’re talking of religious conflicts? Obasanjo has much to do in fuelling this. He has fuelled the situation inadvertently or by act of omission or commission, or by too much political calculation. Since Independence, how many Muslim Heads of State have we had? Balewa. Murtala. Shagari. Buhari… None of them made Nigeria an Islamic state. All the Muslim leaders realised that it’s a no-go area…

 

But Babangida dragged the country into the OIC (Organisation of Islamic Countries) in 1986…

 

DAVID-WEST: Babangida did the OIC thing to validate himself to the north. You know, for a long time, Babangida could not go to Sokoto. Babangida was doing everything possible through the help of his father, Sultan Dasuki

 

Why do you refer to Dasuki as Babangida’s father?

 

DAVID-WEST: Babangida is Dasuki’s boy. After the destruction of Dodan Barracks during the Orkar Coup, was it not Dasuki who visited him and advised that the government must move away from here… Babangida wanted to surreptitiously rope us into the OIC. He never succeeded. That was the basis of the quarrel between Babangida and Commodore Ebitu Ukiwe. Please do not be afraid to print this. It is true. Babangida wanted a yes-man, and so he appointed Admiral Aikhomu as his second-in-command. To the extent that Babangida himself never got over the OIC matter shows that it is not possible to play around with religious conflict.

 

Unfortunately, Obasanjo has added more to religious conflicts in Nigeria. Obasanjo said that Nigeria is not a secular state. It’s there in print: Nigeria is not a secular state because we have many religions. Is that not silly? A country is a secular state because there is no state religion. Sani Abacha was a Muslim but he was able to arrest and detain a firebrand Muslim fundamentalist in the North. Dasuki was a Muslim, but Abacha dethroned him as Sultan because of injustice. Now, in Obasanjo’s case, what is happening? Sharia was established. The Constitution is clear. There can be no state religion. Rivers State cannot have a state religion neither can Imo State have a state religion. Obasanjo allowed Sharia a free ride; he said he was looking for a political solution. He should have gone to the Supreme Court, but could not, because he was afraid to lose the Northern support. Whatever ambition he has, it will not come. His ambition to run for a third term; he should forget it.

 

Now that you have mentioned the third term…

 

DAVID-WEST: He should forget it. Nobody is supporting an additional Obasanjo term; if so, he should name them. It’s just an ambition he has. Mandela told him: Don’t try it! He should take a leaf from history. De Gaulle was told to go on and on in France. He said: “No, I will not. The graveyard is full of indispensable men.” Abacha was my friend, but I wrote a four-part essay in May 1997 entitled, “Flattery and Transience” in which I quoted De Gaulle. I am saying the same thing to Obasanjo. Much as I am disillusioned with you, I don’t want you to die. But I warn you that the graveyard is full of indispensable men.

 

Let’s discuss the collapse of the educational system in this country; because as a long-standing professor, this directly concerns you...

 

DAVID-WEST: The collapse of education started in a really palpable form as a turnout of the Civil War. The Nigerian government overreacted and nationalised education. Oh Catholic Mission, Caritas did that… We cut our nose to spite our face. The moment we nationalised education, we sowed the seeds of decadence. You do not Nigerianize education. It’s a universal thing. Oh missionary school… We collapsed it. Then we began the UPE system. I was Commissioner of Education in Rivers State at the time. Universal Primary Education (UPE) was launched September 1976. Let us examine the insincerity involved in this. Free Universal Primary Education -- that was the initial document. Then government suddenly demanded that the “F” be removed. (sighs)We are not sincere.

 

Then we come to the matter of universities. When it is time to select the literature courses, the tribal marks of who wrote this or that became the issue. It is truly tragic. The decadence in the university system…the federal government stifled the universities… I tell you, if the University of Ibadan gives my son full scholarship to come and study here, I’ll will not support it. It’s as bad as that. The education system should make the bright brighter and the less bright, bright. Our system makes the bright mediocre, and the mediocre a failure.

 

You used to be Minister of Power; but Nigeria still does not have a steady power supply, despite the incredible amount of money pumped into it by President Obasanjo

 

DAVID-WEST: I was Minister of Mines, Power and Steel for only nine months. It’s the same lack of seriousness, I have talking about. Was it not the same Obasanjo that gave Anenih so much money to build roads then later asked -- what have you done with all the money I gave you?” He never sacked him; yet the roads were never completed. Nigeria is more interested in budgeting, and not in results. Let’s take the case of Ajaokuta Steel. I am sure they tore off that page of the visitor’s book where I wrote: “I will not approve more money for Ajaokuta. Let this stay as a monument of our idiocy.” In 1986, it a most beautiful place…fantastic! The Russians that remained there; when their vodka finished, began to drink kai-kai (local gin). To show you how unserious we are, Itakpe, with the natural resource of iron ore is only 90 kilometres from Ajaokuta; but Nigeria prefers to travel to Brazil and Liberia in order to buy iron ore. Why? Simply because somebody is gaining from the enterprise... Budget. Budget. Budget. NEPA will stay like this even if we privatise. Because, what is it, that we are actually privatising?

 

 

 

How do we address the Niger Delta crisis where you are from?

 

DAVID-WEST: If Nigeria corporate was unfair to the enclave called Biafra, it is 100% unfair to the Niger Delta. I advisedly extricate Niger Delta from Biafra. We were in Biafra. The issue of oil started the Civil War and also ended the Civil War. Ojukwu, Biafra, the East, in general, had all reasons to be annoyed; but Nigeria never bothered to look at the reasons, so they tried to secede. Ojukwu shouldn’t have been encouraged or wouldn’t have had the courage or the assurance, but for the presence of crude oil. And all the oil wells would have been in Biafra except the ones in the Midwest, which they overran anyway. Oil gave Biafra the confidence to secede. And what did Gowon do? Exactly 24 hours after getting the intelligence report on Biafra’s secession, he created the 12 states and carved out the states whose loyalty changed to the federal government. So oil started the civil war and oil ended the civil war.

 

Now, to address the plight of the Niger Delta; Nigeria is the most inhuman country in terms of governance when it comes to the Niger Delta. Just like the 2nd World War energized the colonies to ask for independence, when our boys went to Abuja and saw how the wealth of the Niger Delta has transformed the place to an ultra-modern metropolis, the bottom gave away. They didn’t want to come back to the squalor of their daily lives, so the restiveness changed to a bloodbath. Quite simply, the bubble burst.

 

We have had Isaac Adaka Boro, Ken Saro-Wiwa and now Asari Dokubo. Do you support Asari Dokubo’s statement referring to Awo as a devil? What is to be done as Lenin asked?

 

DAVID-WEST: Asari Dokubo overstated the point that Awolowo was a devil. After he made that statement, I called him. Asari Dokubo used to stay at my home. He sat where you are sitting right now. His mother and my mother have the same father. I told Asari Dokubo that he overstated it. Awolowo was not a devil. The policies of the government that he [Pa Awolowo] served at the time were unfavourable to our people… which is why many believe they (the policies) were problematic …By the way; the policies of every government since that time have also been unfavourable…

 

There is a difference between Adaka Boro and Saro-Wiwa or Asari Dokubo. Adaka Boro was fighting the Ijaw cause, and he held the federal government to ransom. The federal government might have subdued him without addressing the problem, but like a mushroom, it will surely grow again. Later on Adaka Boro joined the federal forces. How did he die? Did he die a natural death at the war-front or did somebody kill him? History will tell… But let’s get to Asari Dokubo who invokes Adaka Boro. There is a difference. Asari Dokubo is a creation of the present government; Odili’s government, Obasanjo’s government. They created the militia to rig elections for them in 1999, and they equipped them with arms. Asari Dokubo has spilled the beans. Adaka Boro was equipped from outside by those who believed in the cause he was fighting. When Asari Dokubo started he was articulating Ijaw aspirations and frustrations not the PDP’s. In 2003, he said he would rig for Odili but not again for Obasanjo. Odili reneged and rigged for Obasanjo. There was a parting of ways. Odili and Obasanjo created a Frankenstein monster which they can no longer control.

 

Now, we come to Ken Saro-Wiwa; a very brilliant man, but he was not originally an environmentalist. Ken was fighting for an Ogoni nation, but the environmental aspect came to oil the fundamental thrust. He was clever and brilliant. He made a beautiful video, and went abroad to Kyoto, Japan. That universalised his struggle, and made him an international personality. The original thrust of Ogoni nation -- which could not sell internationally -- took the environmental aspect that sold and is still selling. Now the environmental aspect couples with the Ijaw agitation. That’s the scenario. Can we succeed? Yes. Will I live to see it? God knows. But one thing is certain, until Nigeria wakes up, one of the greatest problems of the 21st Century will be the problem of the minority Ijaw people. Anybody who takes money and does not fight the Ijaw cause will be eliminated. The Federal Government has murdered sleep.

Is it not the failure of Nigerian state that led to the sprouting of ethnic militias?

DAVID-WEST: Of course, yes.

Do you support Asari Dokubo’s ideas and methods?

DAVID-WEST: I subscribe to his ideas completely, but methods, no. I am not a violent person; but I recognize that those who do not want peace, or make constructive change impossible make violence inevitable. This is a truism of life. The Nigerian state has failed my people, if we have to be personal; that is why the ethnic militias have come out with force. And these ethnic militias; the government cannot wash their hands completely off them, because they set them to rig elections in 2003. Asari Dokubo gave a major interview where he exposed the government for equipping Ateke Tom; Rivers State government cannot wash off its hand in the creation of Ateke Tom and Asari Dokubo, as they made it possible for them to come to power. There were some places in Rivers, Niger delta, where nobody but the PDP might venture. So I’m enjoying the irony that exists; now that the election is over and they have won, they have turned their backs on the boys who supported them and have begun to challenge them. Just like the World War II was the catalyst for the independence movement in the colonies, much the same thing is happening here. I support the principle, the ideology; I also support Egbesu; which Ijaw man will not support Egbesu?

Can you give us your own concept of Resource Control?

DAVID-WEST: Resource control on the surface is deceptively attractive. Why am I saying that? The principle is valid and is possible, because we do not have true federation. During the First Republic, we had derivation as our formula; there was palm produce in the East, the West controlled cocoa, the North controlled groundnuts: Let me digress, Asari Dokubo had no business to call Chief Obafemi Awolowo a devil. You know Awo was one of the great heroes Nigeria has ever produced, but you see -- he over expressed himself, and that is what I am trying to come to. During the time of Awo, when he was federal commissioner of finance, the derivation principle changed to federation account, so Asari Dokubo had only a shadow of what happened. But there is no question that Awo changed the derivation, to a federation account, because and that is where we take offence. The Cocoa, groundnut and palm produce industries were no longer doing well, because oil production had become all the rage and the focus of government. People also became aware of the potential of oil, and they prepared to seize the opportunities. And that is why my governor, Dr Peter Odili, when he was launching Mrs. Awolowo’s book, he said Awo was the father of resource control. However, that is incorrect. Awo was not the father of resource control, and so Odili was historically wrong. Awo, Zik, Ahmadu Bello met a successful situation where the regions were very wealthy and there was no federation account.

So come to the question of resource control, I would say that even if you make Tam David-West, an Ijaw man, the president of Nigeria, I cannot sign 100% control of the revenue to the oil producing states, and the reason is that we must be our brother’s keeper. So if you say that the people who produce oil should control their resources, it is not possible, and we have to be realistic. Somebody said ideals are important in politics, but when the chips are down, it is practicality that determines constructive action. Therefore, I would want my people to ask for royalties on crude oil; that is a huge amount of money. They cannot ignore the fact that the federal government has to have a say in the production of crude oil, because the oil companies signed a contract with it. If the oil companies are providing social services in the oil bearing communities, it is because they want a sense of community; but that is actually the responsibility of the federal government. All the oil taxes go to the federal government, even the oil royalties go to the federal government; and there is no part of the contract between the federal government and oil companies that says these entities should take up social responsibilities. However, in the interest of community, goodwill, and the well being of the producing states, they must accomplish that. Now, if one takes oil companies to court, because they have not invested in social services, the case will be thrown out, because of they signed an agreement with the federal government that protects them. My people in the oil producing communities are greatly deprived, no doubt…and should ask for royalties.

Would it help if the indigenes of Niger Delta are given substantial positions on the board and management of NNPC? And your proposition on payment of royalties; do you have a percentage in mind?

DAVID-WEST: I believe 75% to be a conservative amount...at the very least. Now, to put indigenes on NNPC board and management will not solve the problem. What if the people you put there are more interested in their pockets than in the welfare of the people? Really…appointing people into positions is not the solution; rather, it is the commitment of those who will represent us that is of utmost significance. And one of the problems we have is that although we have great brains, great leaders, we also have charlatans, who when they see the millions of dollars they can make illegally, they forget about the millions of people that are suffering. What is needed is for the formula for sharing to be uniform; but the formula standard changes in the case of royalties.

Can you clarify the difference between Resource Control and the payment of Royalties?

DAVID-WEST: When we sell our 2 million plus barrels of crude oil, per day, in petrodollars, the accruals go to the federation account. Royalties go to the oil producing communities in proportion to the number of barrels produced in a particular area. For example, if Rivers State produces five barrels of crude oil and Delta State produces ten, the royalties received will differ accordingly. I do not support this method, however. Every month, we have a meeting of finance commissioners, and the NNPC presents what is to be shared; royalties according to barrels produced. But what I am saying is that the payment of royalties should not depend on the number of barrels produced by a particular community. So I would like my people to fight for that; but over and above that, it is one thing to make money, and another to manage it well. And I want to ask whether any of the governors in the oil producing states, in clear conscience, can say that they have ploughed back for the development of their various communities, the money received on their behalf? I do not think any of them can do that. They have become multi-millionaires and billionaires.

So how does one solve that problem?

DAVID-WEST: Take them out. Nigerians should have the courage to say no to money, and if that happens then we shall have a good chance at democracy. But, for now, democracy is for sale in the country; it will soon be auctioned at the stock market...

What is a practical way of taking them out?

DAVID-WEST: Let’s begin with the basics. We should educate the people of their rights; encourage a healthy, moral attitude toward money. Unfortunately, this becomes impossible as a result of pervading poverty in the country. I suppose what it comes down to is that the people should identify and fight bad leaders in the oil producing states.

Are you proposing rebellion?

DAVID-WEST: Yes; rebelling against a bad law and bad leaders is an act of God. Any bad leader that who becomes wealthy when the people’s lives have not changed should be removed.

Are we not right back to Asari Dokubo’s methods?

DAVID-WEST: There is a difference. Dokubo stated in his rhetoric that he has lost hope in the Nigerian state, and that his people, because they have not been treated fairly by Nigeria, are no longer part of the system. I am saying that if governor A is operating system B and corrupting it, remove him. Take him away, kidnap him; just don’t kill him. But he should not be allowed to remain in office.

Since Nigeria’s independence, the on-going political reform conference will be the fifth attempt to re-engineer Nigeria; do you think this conference can rise to the challenge of putting Nigeria on the road to development and growth?

DAVID-WEST: Whether the present exercise will take us to land of Canaan, I doubt very much. And I am not even going to give myself the luxury of being cautiously optimistic. Rather, what I have is a feeling of déjà vu. First, we have all agreed that the country has a basic structural problem, and so there is the need to sit and examine the situation. Should the country break up? The majority of Nigerians would say no, and so the question becomes -- under what conditions are we to exist as a corporate body? That, I believe, is the issue. But you would find that in this land of contradictions and insincerity, those that are gaining from the present imbalance will always work against it. The people involved in this conference do not really have their hearts in it. Those involved in its set up are, on their part, not sincere; this present conference is no different than past exercises in farce.

I do recall that General Murtala Mohammed, with General Olusegun Obasanjo as his deputy, set up the Constitution Drafting Committee on the 18th of February 1976 to produce the 1979 Constitution. If you read the inaugural address by Murtala Mohammed we were given a blank cheque to examine the structure of Nigeria; there was no limit to what we could observe. I am particularly embarrassed that Chief Richard Akinjde and Prof Ben Nwabueze who actively participated in the drafting of that Constitution, in fact its final stages, now say it is not a peoples’ Constitution. Must the entire country come out in force during its drafting for it to belong to the people? The American Constitution was drafted by 55 people well over 200 years ago; what I am saying is that there is nothing wrong with the 1979 Constitution. And there is the specious argument that since it was crafted under the military, it is, therefore, not a people’s Constitution.

 No allowance, no jamboree was allowed, no five star hotel; all of us were housed at the federal guest house in Lagos, for 11 months. Justice Mohammed Uwais, the Chief Justice of Nigeria, acclaimed that it was the best Constitution; before him, Chief Olu Onagoruwa said it was the best ever Constitution, so what are they talking about? Now instead of politicians implementing the Constitution, they have come up with a sterile argument not to. It is so dull; when will we wake up? However, one good thing that can come out of what is going on in Abuja, is that, just like the Justice Chukwudifu Oputa panel of violations of human rights demystified the military and exposed the country in its immorality and weaknesses, this conference will come out with something nobody expects. It is going to throw up a lot of stench than we expected; after that, if the government does not solve the problems brought up, another conference will no doubt be convened.

The 36 states -- in some people’s view -- are too many and should be reduced to minimize waste and inefficiency; do you agree?

DAVID-WEST: No, I do not agree that the number of states should be reduced. I am sorry that I have to reject this position, but in many cases, our intellectuals are fraudulent. How did the 36 states come about? It arose as a fall out of the 2/3 of 19 states issue to make things easier. That is why I insist that our intellectuals always look for quick fixes. Do you know, and this is true; that when General Muhammadu Buhari came into power, it was suggested that 19 stars should be placed on our flag. I have the letter I wrote to them advising against putting 19 stars on our flag, because we would not only be copying the American presidential system, but the American flag – the star spangled banner. And what if we have more states would the number of stars on the flag increase? We always run away from the fundamentals.  Supposing there is a decision to reduce the number of states; what becomes of the 19 star flag? The reason the states are not doing well is not because they are states; they are not doing well because the federal government is stifling them. The moment we practice true federalism and each of these states have a breath of life, they will succeed.

What is your own model of true federalism?

DAVID-WEST: My own model of true federalism is not different from what the rest of the world is practicing, but the one that we do not want to accept. As a virologist, I have studied what the experts have written about federalism in their books and it makes a lot of sense. Sadly, even some of the political scientists are not being sincere; otherwise why would they quarrel over whether there is a true federalism or not? The concept of true federalism that I subscribe to is a federation of several units where the central government must not be so powerful that it dictates to the states; once you have that, you have a unitary government.

In Nigeria what we have is a unitary system of government, and I will give you three instances of Unitarianism. In a true federation each of the units must have free reign to develop its resources. I am not advocating that each state controls all its resources; however, there should be a sharing formula between the state and the central government. But where you have the central government so powerful that it can dictate development to the states, and can even punish, in disregard to a court order, (like in the withholding of funds for local government as in Lagos state) that is contrary to a federal practice. In a true federalism, the central government controls defense, finance, foreign policy; but when it comes to the nitty-gritty of day to day state governance, they have little to say.

Recently, I was going through papers for the 1979 Constitution. One great expert wrote that when you have a concurrent and exclusive list it becomes a problem. But this can be solved if we are operating a true federation. It is not just the practice of true federalism that is false, our democracy is also false; there is no franchise. We rig and rob to get into office. The last general election in 2003 was, perhaps, one of the worst-rigged in the history of the country. And what has been shown is that the electorate is irrelevant. When this happens, we do not have a democracy.

Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe once said that Nigeria got its independence on a platter of gold. There is a view that not fighting a war of independence robbed the country of the opportunity to develop the right leadership cadre for the challenges of nationhood; do you agree?

DAVID-WEST: Yes; it is correct that Nigeria got her independence on a platter of gold, and we never had to fight for it like some other countries -- like America, for instance, and others. But this does not suggest that we should not value it. Does it mean that if we had something on a platter of mud we shall value it more? If we had something on a platter of gold, should we not be thanking God that we did not lose lives? The same argument was used against Zik; that because he was not detained, he was not a good leader. My question is this: must one go to jail to show good leadership? We should thank God for the way we got our independence; but that does not suggest we should be reckless, profligate, careless and irresponsible like we have been. That argument is as untenable as when some people say that the best military government is worse than the worst civilian government; was it not written that “on forms of government, let men contend…”? I am not promoting support for a military government, but we keep going through these clichés, and as a result, do not even bother to sit down to examine our problems.

Can you say something on the Anambra Crisis about which former PDP chairman Audu Ogbeh wrote to Obasanjo that Nigerians were disgusted with the picture of federal policemen aiding the burning of government buildings?

 

DAVID-WEST: That’s one of the greatest minuses of the Obasanjo regime. They are many. I don’t know Ngige. I don’t know Uba. What happened in Anambra State, I saw on television; I read it. Nigeria has never had it so bad. Government encouraging lawlessness! And this is, of course, because Uba is being financed by it. Take the case of Balogun. Did he do all these things without Obasanjo’s knowledge? I seriously doubt that. Obasanjo knew all that was happening. How can somebody go and burn down monuments as we saw on television as remain unpunished? That was purely disgraceful and an outrage. The country cannot replace some of these things even in our lifetime. Statues were burned. This should happen again, because that’s the beginning of the end. What happened in Anambra State cannot be tried in the western states. If it did, the government would be a goner.

 

But heavens have not fallen; the Supreme Court has pronounced judgment on the seized Lagos local government funds, but the Federal Government is not obeying…

 

DAVID-WEST: There is no rule of law in Nigeria. Obasanjo does not abide by the Constitution. He has contempt for the courts. It’s all a farce. Obasanjo and his government are above the law. That’s why they do whatever they like. The Supreme Court, the apex court ruled against you, Obasanjo. You have no right to behave the way you are. What jungle is this? Is this the country that produced Zik? Is this the country of Awolowo, Soyinka, Achebe, Awojobi, Tai Solarin? Obasanjo has no greater stake in Nigeria than any of us. If the president of a country cannot respect the Supreme Court, then who does he expect will respect it? What kind of role model for the country is he? Chief Rotimi agonised over this until he died. Lagos State is a good example of executive recklessness and irresponsibility.

 

How do you respond to the charge that you are anti-Igbo?

 

DAVID-WEST: Let me disclose something to you. My father’s mother is Igbo. And

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my maternal grandmother is Igbo. When I was a Minister, somebody said I don’t like Igbo people; that I took the petrochemical plant to
Rivers State. I told Ike Nwachukwu who was the governor of Imo State at that time. I told Ike: “You are married to my cousin Gwendolyn, and I like you a lot. Tam David-West cannot take a stance against ndiigbo.” The record shows that the petrochemical plant is supposed to be in Eleme. One day I went with Ashland to one Igbo community, and they warned me that I would be attacked for “my anti-Igbo stance,” but I went ahead. (Some big Igbo stalwarts, great names, wrote to Buhari to remove me. Buhari doesn’t know how I managed to get a copy.) So I told the community after they finished airing their complaints, I said: “Eze, I cannot hate the Igbo. I have Igbo blood in me. My father’s mother is Igbo.” The Eze said: “Aah, come and take land.”

 

Do you support rotating the presidency?      

 

DAVID-WEST: Zoning is not a panacea; zoning has its origins in insincerity. If we had a true federation, we would not suffer these issues. The rationale for zoning appears to be logical, but it is only superficially attractive; specious. The country is asymmetrical in geo-political formation. If we don’t have checks and balances, those with an advantage will continue to have that advantage while others will be marginalised. Zoning gives the impression that we are creating local presidents, zonal presidents. I told Abiola to see himself like Moses in the Bible; he showed that a candidate can emerge who can win across Nigeria. The civilian politicians are so marginalised now, they have abdicated. The only one with some whimper in him is Dr Alex Ekwueme. We formed a group, Obasanjo came and inherited it. Now the whole PDP is militarised. We are simply echoing the practice of the military subverting the system to make money and using that money to subvert the political system under the guise of civilians. Zoning is not the answer. The future is dim. From this dimness, God in his infinite mercy will bring light, and the light will consume every one of them. A day of Noah’s Ark will come. Most of them will perish and God will select into the Ark of Nigeria those that will populate the new land after the water had receded. It will come. But the present structure we have cannot take us there.

 

So Nigeria’s democracy does not excite you…

 

DAVID-WEST: There is no democracy here. What we have is a monocracy. Nigeria is a failed state. Our democracy is false. Our federalism is false. Our elections are false. Everything about us is false. The only thing that is not false is the name Nigeria, which, in any case, is a foreign creation.

 

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the interview are not necessarily those of the Chinua Achebe Foundation. The Chinua Achebe Foundation, an intellectual and cultural organization, believes in the right of every Nigerian to express their opinion.

Chinua Achebe Foundation Interview Series: Professor Tam David-West in Conversation with Uzor Maxim and Paul Odili