Any book on Nigeria’s democratic journey worth its salt would have his name splashed on its various pages. Professor Uzodinma Nwala, the country’s first professor of philosophy has seen it all. He was at the heart of the push for a return to democratic governance in the 90s. The G34 which later became the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) was his idea. And when the party was formed, he drafted its first constitution. The National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) we know today was also his initiative. He formed the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU). But today, he says he has come to the conclusion that Nigeria is an impossible experiment.
In this interview with Business Hallmark’s OBINNA EZUGWU, the erudite scholar bares his mind on what prompted his change of heart.
You’ve been on the political scene for a while. You were an integral part of the 1994/95 constitutional conference which among other things, divided the country into geopolitical zones. One fallout of that division is that it has split the Igbo nation. Do you regret this outcome?
Let me say this frankly: in terms of what the problems of the country are, structure is secondary. The fundamental problem is that you have a political state which is peopled by human beings with different orientations, different cultures, different languages, different philosophy of life and so on. That is the problem. You brought together people who should be separate and relating to one another generally in terms of international relations. Bringing them under one state is a major historical mistake. Therefore, no matter how much you try to design the structure, it will go the way it is going now. There is not much uniting the Fulani and the Igbo. They are two different human beings, historically, culturally, philosophically and otherwise. Bringing them under one common state is a mistake. Although structure is also a problem, the major problem is that you brought together incompatible people.
When we were at the constitutional conference, we felt that the problem was structure and we did all we could to devise a structure that could make possible, effective and judicious power sharing. Dr. Alex Ekwueme and I were responsible for producing the minority report, which led to the creation of the six geopolitical zones. We had good intentions. We didn’t want to make it a structure that would, for example, dismember the Igbo nation.
We felt that the Igbo nation will continue to be one. Right from the origins, during the days of Igbo State Union, the Igbo in the mainland, the Igbo in Anioma, Ikwere and other places, were conducting their affairs as one. The Igbo State Union was for the entire Igbo nation. It was not for the South East, even the Ohanaeze that took its place, was basically an organisation of the entire Igbo nation. But unfortunately, today, some people have such weird concept of the Igbo nation, that they think more of South East geopolitical zone. Regardless, I don’t think we made any mistake by then. It is that we were trying to cure an incurable disease. Nigeria is a conglomeration of different nations; nations that should be on their own as European nations or the nations that were formally in the East African federation. That is the problem, no matter how much you try to rewrite the constitution it will still be the same outcome. And by the way, does Buhari govern with the constitution? Even as inadequate as the constitution is, is he governing with it? Is he respecting federal character? Is he respecting any principle at all? No. So we have to understand that reality. It’s not just structure, structure is one problem, but the fundamental problem is bringing together people who have nothing in common, nothing that could remotely form the basis for coming together.
Some have continued to argue that with true federalism things might turn out differently. You don’t buy the idea?
Let me tell you. The only meaningful restructuring you can think about, in order to make it possible for the Igbo to live like normal human beings, and not like slaves who are being destroyed in all federal institutions, is to say, let the Igbo nation take care of their internal affairs; their economy, their judiciary, education, and all aspects that make a people enjoy their fundamental freedoms. Then we can have a common relationship with our neighbours. That’s the only restructure you can talk about. If you are talking restructuring in terms of rotation of power and so on and so forth, you are just fooling yourself. The only restructuring that is meaningful is to ask the various nations to govern themselves.
You said Buhari hasn’t respected federal character. Let’s agree that his government has treated the Igbo unfairly. He appointed his people into key revenue generating institutions and security agencies. But isn’t it ironic that insecurity is worse in the North?
I will tell you something. Buhari is not fit to govern a nation like Nigeria. He is just a feudal lord who should be there organising his people the way they like to be organised, that’s the truth of the matter. But you have brought the destiny of people like the Igbo, the Yoruba, the Efik, the Ijaw and so on, under the rule of a man like that. It’s an unfortunate situation. If he were a normal leader, he should be worried about what is happening in the North, even if he doesn’t get to worry about the South here. But look at the way they are dealing with it. Their governors are inviting killers and holding meetings with them. I don’t want to talk about what they are doing to our boys here who are not armed and they are killing them. It’s a tragedy; Nigeria is a tragedy, that is the point. It is a tragedy of history.
Buhari is running Nigeria as if it is a colony of the Fulani. It is clear to everybody that he regards the rest of the country as a colony of the Fulani, and the intention is to fully dominate and turn the whole area into a fully dominated colony. That is his agenda, and what he does falls into that line.
You are co-founder of ADF, which is aimed at developing Igbo land. There is this belief that the Igbo are a difficult people to organise. What has been your experience trying to organise the people towards this goal?
The Igbo are not more difficult to organise than other nationalities. Our problem is that we found ourselves in a peculiar situation at a peculiar point in history. We found ourselves colonised by the British who didn’t like out guts, and were out to make sure we were subdued. They put us under people who have highly feudalistic political orientation. Then, we lost the war, and when you lose a war, there is normally a psychology that goes with it. These are the things. During the war, we fought together. At least, one can say that 70 to 80 percent of the Igbo were committed to that war of liberation. Today, you find almost all the Igbo talking about the same thing. So, all you need to do is to put the elements together to guide you. Our brothers who don’t understand yet will eventually understand. There is a saying that it is better to be a slave in heaven than a king in hell. So, for us, the choice is very clear. We must work together and we must pursue common destiny. We must work to ensure that our young people are guided to pursue their aspirations in a very strategic manner. Not a matter of singing and dancing all over the world, not a matter of giving false hopes and propaganda. We must systematically work together to move the Igbo nation into the land of freedom. We must work together with our neighbours, the South South and other people who want an end to the current situation. But we must do so under the condition of fundamental freedoms. The fundamental thing is that the Igbo have to get themselves organised.
How do you intend to work together with the South South for instance when they seem unwilling to work with you?
That attitude is one of the fallouts if the loss of the war. Once we lost the war, the victorious side tried to dismember the territory called Biafra. They sold all kinds of lies and propaganda to discredit the Igbo and to put them at loggerheads with their neighbours. If you remember, during that Biafra War, majority of the dedicated leaders of Biafra were not Igbo. Today also, there are many organisations that are working hard to link up with the Igbo because they know that the Igbo are their neighbours and their brothers. Many Igbo people live in Ijaw land, Efik land and so on, and many of them live in Igbo land also. So I think it’s possible for us to reach an understanding. Many of them are also beginning to see the lies which were heaped in order to discredit the Igbo and make it difficult for us to work together. Some of the recent programmes we have had, many people from the Ijaw nation and other areas were part of it. And some of us have been invited to some of their programmes.
Talking about the war. You once challenged Yakubu Gowon to come out with the truth about certain aspects. For instance, the January coup believed to be an Igbo coup…?
We have done a publication on it. I challenged him to do that because we set out to do serious research in order to uncover the truth. We knew he didn’t have the moral strength to answer the question. We have done our research and we have published a book titled: “Nigeria’s 1966 Coup: Myths and Realities.” The book explains what happened, the background to the war, who the masterminds were. It also took into account what happened in the Biafra incursion into the Mid-West and what the truths about it are.
Gowon’s home state of Plateau and indeed the Middle Belt seems to be under continuous attack. But unlike TY Danjuma for instance, he appears to be silent…?
I don’t have any interest in defining Gowon as a person. I think history has already placed him in the public domain for what he is and what he has been, and what led him to be what he is. He was a victim of the same manipulation of the fundamentalists that have been ruling the country, the people who the British imposed on us, who now parade as rulers of a conquered territory. Gowon was a victim of that.
Unfortunately, because of the position he held, he has had difficulties coming out publicly to disown that past like Danjuma. The cat is out of the bag. I don’t think anybody needs any more lessons about this place called Nigeria. It is clear to all decent minded people and to all those who love their people, the road is very clear on which way we should go in order to save the nationalities that are trapped together.
You alleged recently that there is a “Fulanisation” attempt going on. You identified Ruga as part of the agenda. Now they are opting for National Livestock Plan. Are you comfortable with the new plan?
You see, the people you are dealing with are very stubborn – very adamant. They know what they want. That thing they want was voiced by Usman Dan Fodio: to dip the Quran into the sea; to take over the whole area. That is the agenda. So, nobody should be deceived anymore because it’s now clear. It is time for everyone to wake, unless you want to be a perpetual slave. They are hellbent on imposing that policy as a way of taking over people’s ancestral lands. So, if you check them this way, they come out the other way. If you check them that way, they will do as if they are withdrawing but they will still continue with what they are doing. But they won’t succeed if everybody is alert and together.
You are someone who has taken part in several movements for a better Nigeria. You took part in the constitutional conferences of the 90s and formed the G34 that eventually transitioned to the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). But you have shifted your attention to the Igbo and are now insisting that the Nigerian project is unworkable. What prompted that transition?
If you know my history, right from my childhood, I have always been very committed to seeing how we can create a sane and stable democratic polity where equality and justice reigns. The National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) is my idea aimed at achieving national cohesion. I am the man who founded what is now NYSC. It is meant to be an instrument of national cohesion and integration. I founded it in 1970 and recommended it to Gowon who then gave it state approval around 1972 or 1973. I am also the man who created the modern Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), which many people now regard as the most powerful instrument for educational advancement. I was the pioneer executive general secretary of ASUU and I laid the foundation for the modern ASUU.
You come to the 1995 constitutional conference, I was one of the most visible leaders at that conference, I was secretary of the Igbo delegates, secretary of the southern delegates, secretary of the constitutional committee. I was also a member of the number one committee in that conference, the committee on fundamental structures and framework of the constitution. I was also a member of the constitution drafting committee. The constitutional draft we gave to Abacha, if it had been adopted and followed it systematically and with patriotism, Nigeria wouldn’t have been where it is today. When that failed, we tried to forge another platform to provide leadership to the country, the G34, which was essentially my concept.
I did the first draft of the G34 document and from there, the PDP. I wrote the first constitution of the PDP. Chuba Okadigbo, Jerry Gana and I were members of that committee. I was the secretary, I drafted it. So, what else can one say? All these were done with the hope of evolving a stable, united federal order. But everything has been destroyed because we are dealing with an impossible impossibility. We are trying to achieve marriage of incompatibles, that has become clear to everybody now. The other day I was discussing with one of our very active gentlemen who has been working to promote Nigeria. He told me that the scale has fallen off his eyes; that he has now realised that charity should begin at home; that he is is now focusing attention to the development and liberation of his people.
You were active participant in the formation of G34, but when it eventually came into fruition your name was missing?
It has been my life. I never take credit for what I do. The thought of G34 that came after the constitutional conference, and after Abacha refused to register parties. We decided not to join any of his five parties. We therefore created an NGO which was a civil society. Ekwueme was the chairman, Jerry Gana was secretary and I was to be the DG. In the course of it, the Ken Saro Wiwa case was on and Abacha was like a monster devouring everybody. He was appealed to by Nelson Mandela but he wouldn’t hear. Mandela called some prominent Nigerians to see if he could motivate them to form a more militant opposition, but he discovered that they were all noisemakers. He sent them back home and issued a statement that the tragedy of the Nigerian situation was that there was no alternative to Abacha. That statement hit many of us like a thunderbolt. I was asking myself, ‘how do we constitute an alternative to Abacha?’ My mind went to the civil society I started in which we had brought in liberal minded people from all over the country, from Adamu Ciroma, Bamanga Tukur, Solomon Lar, Gerry Gana, Sule Lamido and several others from the North, and with many of us from the South we decided that if we met and took a position against Abacha, that alternative will start crystallising. And that’s what happened.
Ekwueme and I agreed and I went to the North, spoke to Jerry Gana and we all agreed to take a position for the world to know where we stand. We agreed that the North should speak first. That’s how we got the G18, and there was positive reaction. People were happy that there were people who could speak up. We then decided to follow up on a national platform. We met, I drafted the statement of the G34, and after all the discussions, a committee was set up to put things together. Those of us who were there put down our names as signatories. There were about 17 of us. Then our friends in the North told us that the 18 of them who signed the G18 statement wanted their names to be put in the new document, except one person. That meant that we had 17 from the North and 17 from the South, that’s how we got G34; the Group of 3. Then we signed our names and asked Ekwueme to forward the document to Abacha. But Ekwueme removed my name. He said his reason was that I was still in the University of Nigeria, Nsukka and he didn’t want Abacha to start haunting me. Unfortunately, he did not clear with me. That is why I didn’t find my name in the original document. But I continued till the PDP was formed. I was the first secretary of the PDP. Like I said, I drafted the party’s first constitution. Again, there came another game. People thought Ekwueme was already president and they didn’t want a strong man like me to be the one controlling his system.
This has been me, but I don’t crave for personal glory. My driving desire is always the good of the society. I have also brought up many youths in the country. Ubani Chima, Innocent Chukwuma and so on were my products in Nsukka. That’s me.
You are the first philosophy graduate of UNN. The first executive secretary of ASUU. The first to write a book on Igbo philosophy. The first philosopher to be named professor and backdated for 22 years. The first to start African philosophy as a course. What drew you to philosophy?
In the first place, I was admitted to read economics at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka in 1964. But I was advised to change to philosophy by a man who has had a major influence in my life, Prof. Nduka. He asked me to change from economics to philosophy. At that point in time, I didn’t know what philosophy was. It was the first time I was hearing about it as a discipline. But without any second thoughts I changed to philosophy. When I got on with the course, I discovered that it was the most natural course I have ever taken. It was in keeping with my nature, and maybe my mission in life. I think that was the hand of destiny directing the course of my life through Professor Nduka.