In view of Ohanaeze Ndi Igbo’s condemnation of “Operation Python Dance” by the Nigerian Army in the South-east, spokesman of the Northern Elders Forum (NEF) and former vice chancellor of Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Prof Ango Abdulahi in an interview with select journalists in Abuja accused the Igbo apex socio-cultural organization as being behind the secession agitations of the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB in the South-east.
What’s your take on the clash between the army and IPOB?
My take is that it is the duty of the security agencies to take on any challenges threatening the peace of the country in whole or in part. It is the responsibility of one of the security agents in the country and they have a system of taking command in terms of where they go and where they don’t go; what they do when they get there and so on and so forth.
So I take it that the military are where they are now for obvious reasons. I believe the military are in the North-east dealing with issues of insurgency and Boko Haram. I believe we have military personnel in the Niger Delta for various reasons and this particular engagement of the military where the exercise of the dance of the python . Initially, from the information I had, they have always had this training endeavour which they sometimes undertake in different parts of the country, depending on the terrain. The few terrain are suppose to test the military competence in whatever reason.
My understanding is that while they have gone for that purpose, their presence may not have been welcomed by some sections of society there, to the extent that there is a lot of argument and debate as to why they are there. We have not had a lot of details on the physical engagement between the army and some people, not much, so I am not in the position to say…what I read scantily in the newspapers is that there is some clash between the military and some agitations that has been going on there for quite a while and I think the military have had instructions on what to do in terms of what is on the ground there.
Against the backdrop of military operation, the Ohanaeze came out and criticised it, as the spokesperson of the Northern Elders Forum what is the position of your forum in this case ?
I remember when our children here under the northern coalition group some weeks back reacted to what they considered the continuous barrage of misinformation or sometimes insults and abuses and so on, from a source that has been doing this for the past two to three years. They reacted that this should stop and they were hoping that somebody, somewhere who is held in position of respect, by those engaged in this endeavour would tell them to try and stay away from things that will agitate reaction from somewhere.
But apparently this didn’t happen. Now that Ohaneze which is supposed to be an umbrella body of Ndigbo has come out with open criticism about what is happening on the ground in the South-east, particularly criticising the federal government and in extension the army for doing what they are supposed to do in terms of keeping the peace in the country; and I understand from what I have read in the papers that they have demanded that the military personnel be withdrawn from their areas, so to me their reaction is now a vindication of what our boys have complained about some months ago.
Its a vindication because when the boys reacted and here in the north maybe by virtue of our own tradition and culture, some of our leaders and elders came out in open condemnation of these young people. I was one of those people who did not. In fact, I said I supported them because of the apparent lack of concern shown by somebody who is supposed to be in the position of leadership to control some of these excesses.
It was later when this quit notice was given that some people started talking that they are not part of this, that they didn’t support or encourage this. Now that Ohaneze is coming out to say that on the side of this, in fact, against the government and the military operations that is supposed to be official, it suggests to me that all along, they have been behind what is happening or they encouraged these agitations.
Even before now we had indicators to believe that the elders we thought will restrain some of these things have always been behind them because we saw what happened when Kanu got his bail; we knew who were behind the struggle for his bail and the convoy that escorted him home with people in the highest position, some of them with the highest position of responsibility in the country. That was enough to say all along, this young man must have had support of his people, including the elders. This is the conclusion that you can only draw from the reaction of Ohanaeze.
The Northern Elders Forum, for whom I spoke at the time, my leader was quite angry with me, when I declared support for the boys. Paul Unongo who was deputy to Maitama Sule before his death came out to say I did wrong by declaring support for this boys. This is an indication that since we have a system of people who are elders and leaders, there are certain things that perhaps you will do, somebody older or ahead of you in whatever organisation you operate will say no.
I can tell you this several times that when some of these things will arise, the late Maitama Sule will call us in and say this is not the way to it even if you are angry just go and cool down, just let it pass; this is what we expect to be happening all around the country and this is the responsibility of elders wherever they are at any time. Many of my friends and classmates in the university at Ibadan and so on called me and in some cases face to face, they said Ango ‘why don’t you douse this thing’ and I said in what way, and they said ‘as you spoke’. I said what is your own responsibility, you must be a leader in your area. Have you ever thought of talking in respect of the younger people that are doing things that might agitate the country, they said no your system is different from ours and I accept that, maybe the cultures or systems are different, maybe elders don’t easily find their ways through the younger ones in those areas. This is the differences between us and some of this people. Ohanaeze I believe is respected as a socio-cultural organisation under whose umbrella Ndigbo operate and at the same time I think they have responsibility not only for the Igbo just like ACF and Northern Elders Forum have responsibility not only in respect of their groups but others in respect of the nation because it is the nation that virtually came to open discussion when this matters erupted.
My understanding of this is that our boys who reacted the way they reacted have now been vindicated because their suspicion all along is that there is nobody restraining some of the things that are happening from that area particularly on the issue of agitations, secession whatever the political motives are and so on. So I think there is an element of vindication here and it’s unfortunate that Ohaneze has exposed itself as being behind this agitations all along.
Ohaneze is saying the soldiers under the “Operation Python Dance” should be redeployed from the zone what is the Northern Elders Forum saying to that?
I am not Commander in Chief of the Nigerian Army. Why should I take the responsibility of the Commander in Chief who has the mandate of Nigerians to lead the country and he swore an oath to protect the constitution of Nigeria and the people. He is that Commander in Chief, he must have been briefed by his security chiefs in terms of the security challenges the country is facing in various part of the country that is why he directed them to go and do whatever they have to do to ensure that peace wherever peace is being challenged .
The situation is escalating in the South-east on a daily basis, you used the word dousing the situation, what is the way out of this situation taking into cognizance the situation of things there?
Taking into account the situation is degenerating, it takes people of all responsibility to really come on deck. I have good information that some of the governors in their areas are doing their best. I understand that one of the governors in other to ensure that peace as much as possible in his area of jurisdiction imposed a curfew. That’s an indication of commitment and sure responsibility.
A lot of the governors also have called in people both their colleagues and associates as well as people who are not indigenes of that area to assure them that everything will be done to protect lives and property. So I think this is going on to a large extent by leaders in the area, but one would have expected more from Ohanaeze for example because it is a major complement to what the governors could do because they talk directly. Even though the governors were elected by votes of ordinary people ,Ohanaeze is supposed to be a reflection of the populace to join hands with whosoever is initiating things that will douse the tension in the area .
Will it not be right for someone to say that it is a failure of elders to allow history to repeat itself?
Failure of elders yes, yesterday I granted an interview to a paper, I still maintain my constant accusations against the Nigerian elite, all of us, the Nigeria elite, the political and other levels have a responsibility. We have a duty by virtue of the advantage you have in education and responsibility and so on, to do everything we have to do to address the peace and unity of the country.
But if you look at it very carefully and you want to be dispassionate about it ,you will see that all the fault lines that are on ground today whether ethnic ,religious, political could be attributed not just to elders but to the elites. Elitism here doesn’t necessarily mean old age ,the elites who are supposed to know by virtue of education in most cases. This country was handed over to the elites, the educated people. I was a student in the University College in Ibadan in 1960, and in a recent interview that I granted, I said our first republic leaders up till date are the best leaders we ever had and perhaps will ever have. I referred to Chief Awolowo, Dr Azikiwe, Sarduana and so on.
They are the ones that sat together despite all the differences in history, culture and religion. I remember I even quoted Sardauna’s popular position that yes we are a diverse nations the British has put together with differences, the first job is to understand our differences and once we can understand our differences, we should be able to work through this differences and work together. That was what motivated them to continue to work together and despite everything they were able to work for Nigeria to become independent. So those were elites of those days and they acted responsibly in terms of the leadership they provided for Nigeria in their respective regions and centrally.
But this has given way to selfish elitism. This selfish elitism is what is driving Nigeria apart much more than where they were before. If people want to be honest about it, this is the way it is. So I argued that the solution to this problem is for the elites of this country to accept that they are largely responsible for the failures of this country at various levels and they should be able to face themselves and tell themselves the truth no matter how difficult and hard it is and that is the only way the country will eventually find its way back together as it was in the first republic.. We can learn from the South African experience even though it is based on apartheid; by that I mean the truth and reconciliation committee where people came and admitted their faults and prepared to repent about it and look forward to something better for their country, this is what Nigeria requires really urgently.