Chief Femi Fani-Kayode, a former minister is a lawyer, essayist, poet and a political activist. He spoke to AKANI ALAKA on the contemporary political developments in Nigeria, relations among the ethnic groups in the country, the civil war, agitations for self-determination, the need to restructure the country, as well as the jostling for the 2023 presidency among politicians from the South, among other issues.
In an Exlusive Interview with thexpressng He said:
We pretend to be one nation, we tell ourselves that we are one, but deep down, we know how much we resent one another for various reasons. We continue to act as if this is a marriage that is eternal, even though we don’t want it. That’s the reality of Nigeria’s situation today.
Most politicians will not say this to you because they are interested in getting votes from all over the country and so, they prostitute their principles and compromise on so many issues. But the new type of politicians that I think will deliver this country will not think like that. I don’t think like that.
I will rather tread the path of truth and justice than to say things that are politically correct in order to gain favour with Northerners or anybody from any other part of the country.
The path of truth is the path that will deliver this country into the light of God and the greatness that she deserves and we must not shy away from treading that path. We are not a nation; we are a union of ethnic nationalities that are yet to resolve our fundamental differences and fundamental issues.
The questions that were raised before the Nigerian civil war and in the course of that war are still being raised today. And my prayer is that it does not take another war or civil conflict in this country for us to resolve those issues.
We can resolve them in amicable and peaceful way, so that everybody will feel equal before God and everybody will feel they have equal opportunity to aspire and to excel in this country as citizens and not that we have some that are born to rule and some that are destined to serve.
The battle for restructuring is dead and buried. Restructuring is not discussed in the National Assembly. It’s not discussed even in the main political parties. As long as they are concerned, restructuring is a dirty word.
To me, it is a way out of the mess that we have put ourselves in. But to most politically correct politicians, who are mostly insincere and cowardly, they won’t even talk about it. The leadership of the two main political parties – the PDP and APC – will not talk about it as a matter of policy and neither will most of the small political parties.
But this is something so obvious, that ought to have been done long ago, not now. And the problem now is that it may well be too late for that. The sentiment is so strong now for ethnic nationalism – it is happening all over the world. Look at what is happening in Germany, in the US with Trump, in the UK with Brexit, the right wing political parties in Europe like in Holland and Germany.
The rise of ethnic nationalism is going on all over the world and Nigeria cannot be isolated from that. In this country, we have major ethnic nationalities that see themselves as members of that nationality before seeing themselves as Nigerians.
I am a proud Omo Kaaro o o jiire, I refused to use the word Yoruba. I am a proud son of Oduduwa and I believe proudly and passionately in the rights of the people of the South-west to self-determination, if that’s what they choose to do. I believe that the people of the East, the Igbo, have that right as well, if that’s what they choose to do.
And I believe in the power of referendum, self-determination and I think it is absolutely wrong for anybody to say I don’t have a right to exercise that right, provided I do it in a peaceful, logical and rational way.
A situation where three million people -civilians- were killed during the civil war, the greatest act of genocide in the history of African continent -black on black, not white on black- because King Leopold ll killed 10 million Congolese.
But we killed three million Igbo -civilians, men, women and children- in a space of three years and we have not apologized for that. This is a crime against humanity. It is a war crime. And for that kind of thing, the Nigerian commanders in the field, the Nigerian Head of State at that time, all should be at ICC. But I haven’t called for that.
All I am saying is that, at least, we should have the decency to apologise and also apologise for the fact that between 30,000 and 100,000 of them were killed just before the civil war by mobs in the North. These are the fundamental issues.
Every country that has indulged in such barbarity in the past has apologised, including the Belgians. The only country that has refused to do so and has committed genocide is Turkey. And I don’t think we should be in the same bracket as Turkey.
They killed one million Christian Armenians and they haven’t acknowledged it. We don’t want to be in that category. Everybody else, including the Germans, what they did in the Second World War, 50 million people died, six million Jews gassed to death, they apologised.
Everybody at some time recognizes the power of apology, reconciliation and restitution but we haven’t done that. Instead, we are still killing Igbo people till today. Is that how a nation is built? And when they say they want to go because they are tired of being killed even now, we are still killing them.
It is unacceptable. Sadly, it is not just the Igbo now that are being killed; if you go to the Middle Belt, Niger Delta, the West, Mid-West you will find slaughter. All these slaughterings are being carried out by Fulani herdsmen and, of course, you have Boko Haram in the North-east. It is so bad that Fulani herdsmen are even killing the local Hausa in the North itself.
The ethnic group carrying out this havoc, seven per cent of the population, that’s what they are, and we will sit here and say we are one nation. We don’t have the right to retaliate, we don’t have the right to cry, we don’t have the right aspire to be leaders in this country because we are second class citizens, even, when we are the indigenous people of Nigeria.
And you are saying we must accept that? I will never do that. Unless they change and these things stop, Nigeria’s unity can never be something that will be accepted by all of us.
Some critics, especially from the North had always faulted the call for apology to the Igbo people over the civil war with the argument that the war was a reaction to the killings carried out in the first coup of 1966, led by officers who hailed mostly from the then Eastern region…
I am very conversant with the history; I am part of it. They came to my father’s house in January 1966; I was conversant with what they did. And my father was the only person that was taken away from home that night who was not killed. About 20 people -key leaders in the military and the government of that era- were killed.
My father only escaped by divine providence because the federal troops saved him at Dodan Barracks and I appreciate that. And I appreciate the pains that were caused that night because I felt the pains too. I will never forget it. I witnessed it. I saw it. And I suffered the consequences of that for many, many years because it traumatized me.
The killing of all those people was barbaric and unacceptable. I have said so. Definitely, the majority of the participants were Igbo, I am not disputing that. But the question that you have to first answer is did those Igbo officers conduct a referendum in the East before embarking on the coup? Did they do it on behalf of the Igbo people?
Because if you say you want to punish a whole ethnic nationality because of the action of a few people -barbaric action in terms of the slaughter. They killed 20 people. You now say you want to wipe out entire nationality, I think that’s an unacceptable behavior. The reaction is even more barbaric and quite unacceptable in my view.
The argument was that the killings took place during a war situation…
It was not a war, because there was a coup in January 1966, 20 leaders were killed from all over the country and only one leader was killed in the South-east. It was a tragedy. It was a wicked act. I accept that. But there was no war at the time, there was a coup, an attempted coup. The coup failed.
And what happened next? The Northerners now decided to do a counter coup. Again, there was no war. It was what they called a Northern revenge coup to avenge those that were killed in the first coup. And what did they do? Here is what they did.
They killed 300 Igbo officers in one night. They killed an Igbo Head of State – Ironsi. They killed a Yoruba Governor of the Western Region, Fajuyi and they killed a number of other people – all in one night. Now, look at it in numbers – 20 of yours were killed, you killed 300 of theirs, plus the Head of State and Yoruba Army officers six months later.
And there was no war declared. You didn’t stop there, but went a step further few months later and you slaughtered in the North -the official figure is 30,000, the real figure is close to 100,000- Igbo civilians who knew nothing about coup plotting, who did not participate in it, who are equally victims and were still mourning that their people were killed.
Those killings took place in few pogroms in a space of two months and again, no war had been declared at that time. But you didn’t stop there. When the Igbos said it’s enough, let’s go back to the East, as they were going back, you were killing them at train stations, firing bows and arrows at them.
And when they got to the East, they now said ‘look, if you want to wipe us all out, it is perfectly natural for us to say we want to leave’ and they now said they want to go. First, you agreed that they will go based on terms agreed to at Aburi, then, you now change your mind that even Aburi, which you have signed and agree on, you are not going to accept.
They must stay by force and the war started. And what did you do during the civil war? You killed three million Igbo civilians. The number of Biafran soldiers that were killed was not more than between 30,000 and 40,000. But you killed three million Biafran civilians. One million of them were starved to death with the policy of starvation that you put in place.
And you justified that policy before the world when you, Nigeria, said starvation is a legitimate weapon of war. Have you ever heard anything as inhuman as that? I know who said that. I don’t want to mention the man’s name.
Another government official, a minister in Gowon’s government, went to America and when Americans were crying that we were committing genocides against the Igbo people, he said ‘no, we are simply defending ourselves, we will starve them to death.’ The people that said these were politicians, civilian leaders, but military commanders executed that policy.
Then, at the end of the war, you said ‘no victor, no vanquished,’ but that was the biggest lie from the pit of hell. You gave them 20 pounds and then, you took all their properties.
It is only in the South-west that their properties were not taken and you turned them into not second, but third class citizens. And today, one of those who participated in that war and all those atrocities is now our President.
Now, we have killed many in the last four years. You killed many IPOB people. And now, they are saying they want to go and you are saying they have no right to go. Is that just or right?
The civil war was followed by a succession of military regimes and in 1999, Nigeria returned to democracy. How well would you say we have done as a democratic nation since 1999?
I don’t think we have a real democracy and I will tell you why. In a real democracy, political parties can be formed based on whatever criteria you choose. Anybody can literally get up and say, this is my party, register it, I’m going to run as an independent, as whatever in my local government area.
But here, INEC, which is essentially a tool for government of the day controls everything in terms of elections. And if you have a man who is the chairman of INEC working against you as the president, which is what happened in 2015. (Attahiru) Jega worked against Jonathan at that time.
I’m accusing him of that right in this interview. And I’m also saying that there was time he was asked to resign and the evidence was clear on why he has to …. but, in my view, very naively, (former President Goodluck) Jonathan decided to keep him there. If you can control the INEC and the chairman of INEC as an opposition party or if you can put your man there to run INEC as this government has done since 2015, then, you know you have no democracy.
Yes, they can let you win some states as they did in 2019, but they can rig you out wherever they like. If you control the courts and you can remove the Chief Justice of Nigeria just like that or you can raid the houses of judges at night with the DSS and you have, more or less, captured the judiciary and intimidated the judges, you don’t have a democracy and neither do you have rule of law.
If you can send DSS officers to the National Assembly to go and raid the place and lock out legislators because you cannot control the place as happened some months ago, then you don’t have a democracy. Today, the APC, by design, controls the National Assembly.
They control it because they control virtually all the elections and so, they returned as many people as possible through INEC – mostly unfairly. They control the elections tribunals, in my view.
They control the courts, in my view, and they control the media, in my view, because this kind of interview, I will be surprised if you publish what I am saying. You may publish it online, but if you publish it in your paper, you may get into trouble.
They control the television. If you go there and you say anything against them that is strong, factual, the NBC will come down on the television station. And you called that democracy? It is tyranny. It’s a dictatorship. And everything that I, FFK, said in 2015 during the course of the election that would happen if Buhari became the President has happened.
And everybody that insulted me then, laughed at me then, and said I was talking rubbish, even from within the PDP itself, are now being prosecuted. All of them are now calling to say I was right.
And everybody that stood with them (APC) then, including Atiku, Obasanjo, Kwankwaso, Tambuwal, Dino Melaye, Saraki has come back now. And now, they are all victims of this monster that they helped to create in 2015.
Now, we fought them in 2015 and we are still fighting them up till today. And until the end of time, we will continue to fight them, not as individuals, because I have nothing against anybody personally. If anything, I have more friends in APC than in PDP.
That’s the truth. But in terms of ideology, politics and what I think is best for my country, I see them as immortal enemies; I see them as nothing but darkness. And I see those that seek to liberate this country from their shackles as the light and the vessels and the tools of God to fight that darkness. That’s my position.
So, if you asked me that do I believe that we have a democracy? My answer is, no. They have corrupted it, they have abused it and I knew this was going to happen. And let me tell you that it is going to get worse.
What has APC done to our democracy since they took power in 2015 that made you to arrive at this conclusion?
Since 2015, what have they done? First, they introduced religion and ethnicity into government. Every security agency in this country – whether the military, the one that have to do with external or internal security – 17 agencies in all – they are all in the hands of Northern Muslims, except for one, which is the Navy.
And that’s unacceptable in a multi-religious, multi-cultural society. A situation where the whole of the judiciary from the Supreme Court to the Court of Appeal, the Federal High Court has just changed now – but the three tiers of the judiciary were being headed by Northern Muslims.
It is just now that we have only one being headed by Northern Christian, that’s the Federal High Court. A situation whereby in the National Assembly, the Senate is headed by a Northern Muslim, House of Representatives headed by a Southern Muslim – Femi Gbajabiamila, he is a good friend of mine, I have known him for over 40 years – but he is a Muslim as well. So, you have Muslims heading both wings of the National Assembly.
And you know what they have done with Femi Gbajabiamila? They have surrounded him with Muslims – his deputy is also a Muslim and the four principal officers around him are also Muslims. So, what is there for us in that place?
In the executive, apart from the security agencies, look at all the key appointments – nine times out of 10, they go Northern Muslims. Go to the Villa today – the official language is Hausa, 90 per cent of the people that are working in the Villa are Northern Muslims.
Look at the appointment of chief executives for the key agencies – they were Northern Muslims, look at the ministerial appointments in terms of substance – the North-west where the President comes from, the Hausa-Fulani catchment area, you have 10 substantive ministries, those are full ministries, not Ministers of state, 10 in the North-west.
Next is the South-west where I come from, we have five substantive Ministers and everywhere else – the South-east, the North-central and North-east have three substantive ministers each.
That means the North-west where Buhari comes from, which is the Fulani heartland has over three times the number of substantive ministers that all the other zones have, except for the South-west. And south-west has only half the number the North-west have. Is that fair?
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