A former chairman of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Cross River State and former Nigeria Ambassador to Mali, Ambassador Soni Abang in this interview, Barr his minds on the need for the creation of an Ogoja, which is among oldest province yet to be a state. He also spoke on the agitations for Biafra and restructuring among other issues of national importance. Excerpts:
What is your take on the state of the nation?
Ambassador Soni Abang Having represented the country as an ambassador, I have had the advantage of seeing what happens in other countries and studied closely some of the factors that led to the progress of those countries or the decline.
What we see in our country right now is worrisome in the sense that, for people who want to grow, the first thing they should do is not to begin to cut down what binds them together. Nigeria, through historical accident, as they claim, is one. If we have become one then, our major concern is to see how we can make the country grow, not to pull it down.
The agitation for restructuring, as they call it, is targeted at cutting down the tree called Nigeria to give way to ethnic republics that, at the end of the day, will still implode and cause more hardship and difficulties for our people. I am calling on elder statesmen to rise and speak very strongly against the clamour for the break-up of our country.
Do you agree that devolution is the only way to make Nigeria progress?
I don’t have a problem with making the states stronger economically, and also allowing them to benefit more from their resources. But the problem I have is that we seem to lack depth of history. From the constitutional developments of the colonialists up to 1967, our country was run along the lines of absolute devolution, which gave us strong regions and a weak centre. So, why don’t we ask ourselves what happened. How did we get to where we are? Moving forward today, we have democratic structures in place. If we are talking about restructuring, do we have to use the media to call for demonstrations, or is it with civil disobedience that we can achieve it when we have the Constitution and democratic structures – the National and state Houses of Assembly – in place?
For instance, every Nigerian is aware that the process to amend the Constitution is ongoing. Why don’t these people put pressure on their representatives in the National Assembly to effect the restructuring they are clamouring for? The Constitution is fair to everybody as every constituency has a representative in the Senate and the House of Representatives. Why don’t they ask their representatives to put forward their opinions and interests? Why should they have recourse to non-constitutional means?
You mean groups like Biafra should not come up at all?
Why should Biafra come up in the first place? We spent 30 months fighting a civil war to ensure that Nigeria remains one. If we have gone beyond that and moved on to the extent that every component of this country is being carried along, why should people wake up all of a sudden and begin to talk of secession?
Do you mean the agitations are misplaced?
Agitations in a democratic set up are welcomed. But if, for instance, today we want Ogoja State created, where we should start is to grow the consciousness by creating awareness among our people. We will then ask our political leaders to move a motion in the National Assembly to that effect. That is how it is done. If any part of this country wants to secede, they should follow the same step: let those in the National Assembly representing the South-East move a motion that they want to secede.
You mentioned Ogoja State, as an instance though. Do you still nurse the ambition of having an Ogoja State?
Of course. Of all the old provinces, Ogoja has been most unfairly treated. Look at Ebonyi State today, compare Abakaliki of old and Ogoja Province, in terms of development. Abakaliki and Afikpo were all under Ogoja Province. Is that fairness? So we, the people of Ogoja, are waiting for the day when Ogoja State will be created. It is our right.
What steps are being taken to ensure this becomes a reality?
In the Jonathan Conference, Ogoja State was one of the states proposed for creation. We are still looking forward to a fair arrangement where justice would be done to us. Every old province in this country is now a state except Ogoja.
Talking about the Jonathan Conference, it’s like the Buhari administration does not want to do anything about the conference report.
To be fair to them, they didn’t participate and they made it clear from the onset that they would have nothing to do with the outcome of the conference. They said so ab initio.
Should we then assume that the report is dead?
Obviously, except another government comes; those in government now were not in government at that time and they did not participate and they made it clear that the conference was not part of their agenda.
What is your assessment of the Muhammadu Buhari admininstration?
I personally believe in President Buhari. I believe in his integrity and his passion for this country. You cannot take that away from the man. Many of the advanced countries that we see today achieved development because of the strong character of the leaders. That is why histories of nation-states are tied around such individuals. Buhari has that potential to lead Nigeria to greater heights. He needs to be given a chance to do so.
What is your reaction to the quit notice served on the Igbo by Arewa youths?
It’s political business. It’s give and take. Anything you want to say, say it. If the Igbo wake up and say they want secession, they want their own country; they want to be in their own enclave and everyday they won’t allow anyone to have peace and the Arewa are saying ‘fine, we are tired of all this; enough is enough, go to your own country’, and, all of a sudden, the same people who say they want their own country are now saying, ‘we want our country but we still want to stay in yours’, that action is what has given rise to sentiments and people are beginning to see the other side of it. If you stay in my house and everyday you tell me ‘your house is rubbish’, one day, I will be forced to say ‘pack and get out.’