Remember Colonel Tony Nyiam (retd)? He is that Cross River State retired Army officer who came to the limelight when he and some other officers attempted to overthrow the former military president, Gen Ibrahim Babangida in a coup, on April 22, 1990.
He was a member of the Presidential Advisory Committee (PAC) that packaged the National Conference, but resigned midway following his altercation with the Edo State governor, Adams Oshiomhole during the committee’s public hearing in Benin, Edo State.
Nyiam recently engaged Saturday Sun’s TUNDE THOMAS on a number of issues and advised President Muhammadu Buhari to be more liberal in the selection and appointment of office holders that will assist him in the day-to-day running of affairs of the country. “It will not augur well for Nigeria if Buhari continues this way. Buhari is too sectional. He doesn’t hide it and his action if remained unchecked is capable of undermining the unity of Nigeria. He should see entire Nigeria as his constituency,” he declared. Nyiam also spoke on other national issues including restructuring, Orkar Coup of 1990 and a host of others.
Nigeria recently turned 57, what’s your take on the journey so far, can you say the aspirations and dreams of the founding fathers have been met?
Nothing to write home about Nigeria yet. We are still far away from the aspirations and the dreams of the founding fathers. We are yet to meet the aspirations of the founding fathers of Nigeria like Chief Obafemi Awolowo and Sir Ahmadu Bello who in fact were the only visionaries out of the other founding fathers. I deliberately mentioned these two leaders as the only visionaries because they were the ones that saw and thought ahead of their time.
The problem with Nigeria, which I have been talking about are so enormous. The major problem with Nigeria however is how to restore Nigeria to true practice of democracy, to address series of injustices in the system, and that was one of the reasons why myself and some other patriots took that pro-democracy action in 1990 to sanitise the system but which unfortunately some people continue to refer to as a military coup – that was when we attempted to sack General Ibrahim Babangida’s government in order to address injustices prevailing in the Nigerian system.
Unfortunately that action taken by late Gideon Orkar, myself and others failed, but our action opened the eyes of many Nigerians to oppression and injustice in our system. That our action in a way marked the beginning of agitation or the clamour for restructuring of Nigeria.
When I came back from exile after I was granted presidential pardon by General Abdulsalam Abubakar’s government, I went round to sample opinions of Nigerians as to whether situation of things have improved regarding the protest against these injustices, whether they have been or being addressed. But what I found out shocked me, I found that the situation was getting worse, and the oppression and injustice in our system was assuming alarming proportion.
What is the way out for Nigeria?
Although we call Nigeria a federal republic, but this is nothing but a mockery. In actual practice, we are still practicing unitary system of government which has enabled the status quo to remain, and which has continued to make the injustice and oppression of some Nigerians by fellow Nigerians to assume alarming proportions. That’s why I wrote the book “True Federalism or Awaiting Implosion”. If we fail to have true federalism, what will happen next is implosion. Nigeria is cracking already, and if we fail to do the needful now, it is a matter of time before the nation suffers implosion which may have terrible consequences.
All those things happening now, Boko Haram, IPOB and Nnamdi Kanu’s crisis, quit notice, herdsmen problem, these are some of the signs of a crack, and what happens next is implosion if we fail to do the needful now. We need to reform. Calls and agitations for restructuring should be taken seriously.
Those who are pretending not to know what restructuring means, let me define restructuring for them, it means an appeal for the restoration, or for the enthronement of timeless and universal principles of justice, truth, fairness, equality and the engendering of a sense of belonging in all the people and nations that make up Nigeria.
The issue of restructuring is an issue of correcting injustice in the land. Lack of fairness and inequality has resulted in people not having a sense of belonging in the nation. You may ask me, what are some of these injustices, and I will illustrate a few examples of these injustices.
The first injustice is using the constitution to legalise what I call federal government’s coveting the oil producing communities revenue.
Secondly the legalization of the illegitimate take-over of Lagos State generated Value Added Tax, VAT. VAT is supposed to be used for adding value to the lives of residents of communities where sales or business transactions were made. The way VAT being generated by Lagos State government is being shared with other parts of the country is very illegitimate. It may be legal, but it is illegitimate. It is unfair. It is also illegitimate for the federal government to take control of the seaports. Under true federalism, Lagos State government should be in control of its sea ports in Apapa and Tin Can Island and the state should be in control of revenue generation there. The same applies to other parts of the country like Calabar, Port Harcourt and other coastal areas. Thank God that Lagos State recently won the case at the Federal High Court over the control of Lagos State inland waterways.
The 1999 constitution, which we currently operate is seriously flawed. It serves the interests of only two geo-political zones in the country, the Northeast and the Northwest.
Are you saying that we are nowhere near a country that should be regarded as being federal?
Exactly, why is the federal system of governance that should be clearly simple, always made complex in Nigeria? The answer to the question is traceable to the fact that lack of truth often leads to the complications of the minds of the untruthful people. The aspect of falsehood of concern, here is one that has been caused, and sustained by hegemony or internal colonizers of the Nigerian majority.
Falsehood usually comes from a person, or group of people, having something to hide. An example of this are politicians from one, or two geopolitical regions of Nigeria, who are hiding the unfair advantages that their military kinsfolk had, through abuse of their offices. I describe them as unfair advantages because they have come from the shortchanging of the other four, Middle Belt and the Southern regions.
Why are we perpetuating the European colonial narrative, which derogatorily refers to African ethnic nations as primitive tribes? Why are the English or Scots or Welsh or Irish or Catalonians or Russians not categorized as tribes? If the United Kingdom can be made up of the four ethnic nations of the English, Scots, Welsh and Irish of Northern Ireland, why are we refusing to accept that Nigeria is also made up of ethnic nations like Yoruba, Igbo, Hausa, Boki etc.
Nigeria has been unfair to many citizens, and an example of unfairness is that whilst a child from the ‘born to rule’ people’s communities can gain entry, for instance into Unity Schools and federal institutions for less than 20 percent score compared to another child from the Middle Belt, or South, that needs to score at least 70 percent to gain the same entry. Such gross discrimination against the majority of the Nigerian children is most unacceptable.
There are the example of inequalities in the number of states per geopolitical region and even larger inequalities of number of local government areas (LGAs) per zone. It is unjust, and grossly unfair, that a less populated and less economically viable state like Kano State has over thrice the number of Lagos LGAs. The people of the Northwest have more LGAs than the Southeast and South-south put together.
Why have the people of Ijebu or Ibadan in the Southwest, or the Idoma or Tiv people in the North-central, or the Ogoja people in the South-south, not been given a state when those not as populated nor economically viable in the Northwest or Northeast have been made states? There is the old time complaint about the gross inequality of the Southeast having only five states compared to the Northwest’s seven states.
The impact of these inequalities is in the unfairness of Kano State taking more than thrice federal revenue than Lagos, which contributes over half of the nation’s VAT. Kano State also has more than three times representations than Lagos State in the National Assembly. There is also need for us to have a legitimate national constitution.
Are you saying that the current one we have, the 1999 constitution is not legitimate?
We need to have a liberal democracy oriented National Constitution and this can be legitimate only if it is subjected to referendum or a plebiscite approval by, at least, a simple majority of the country’s citizenry. Our approaches to nation building cannot continue to be at odds with the global best practice, which requires the draft of major constitutional amendments, not to mention of a new constitution to be directly voted for by the people.
What’s clear from the examination so far is the necessity for the Nigerian politicians, particularly the legislators, to discontinue their ignorance of the fact that their powers are limited to making the laws under an extant constitution. For when it comes to making people-oriented constitution, the process is driven directly by the people through a Constituent Assembly in which the majority of members have to be a combination of statesmen, members of civil societies, labour unions, women and youth associations, concerned clerics, etc. This is informed by the fact that politicians are obsessed with the immediate desire to win the next election, whilst statesmen and other patriots, or people of goodwill are more concerned with the present and future generations’ well being.
Except for Chief Obafemi Awolowo and Alhaji Ahmadu Bello, the Nigerian polity has been bereft of visionary leaders. As a consequence, we are, as a people, ignorant of strategic management. It’s, therefore, no wonder we are very poor in strategic planning, which is fundamental to nation building.
We are often too reactionary in our responses to challenges, too focused on meeting immediate needs and, at times, at the expense of medium and long term needs. Just as I have earlier illustrated, our political leaders continue to ignore the rationale for suggesting to them that competent leaders, or the people should directly drive the process of National Constitution making.
Nigeria is much more than the ‘Nigerian state’, it is, indeed, a country of many ethnic-nations. As such, federalism, in the minimum, is an inevitable system of government for Nigeria as one of the pillars of the structural foundation of Nigeria’s nation building is fiscal federalism. The present tendency towards fiscal-centralism makes nonsense of the Nigerian political elite claim of running a federal system of government.
The way out for us is that; instead of the Federal Government (FG) mobilizing and allocating revenue from the different parts of the country, the federating units need to be allowed to keep at least 50 percent of wealth they crate and contribute no more than 50 percent to the FG.
What is your candid opinion on how IPOB and Nnamdi Kanu’s issue can be resolved?
Restructuring is the answer. Restructuring will address all these agitations here and there.
Ndigbo have suffered injustices over the years, and this is what Nnamdi Kanu has been trying to fight.
Again, like I said earlier, the Southeast geo-political zone has five states compared to geopolitical zones that have more states are having undue advantage over others because more states means more access to federal revenue. All these injustices eventually give rise to agitations.
It is even wrong for the military to have been drafted to the Southeast under the guise of any operation, be it Operation Python or whatever name. No one should allow the military to be used for sectional interests, President Muhammadu Buhari swore the oath to protect all Nigerians and I do hope that the military will be used in more honorable ways. The military should not be used to serve a self-interest. The military must always remain neutral no matter the temptation because history will judge them.
Restructuring is the answer to IPOB and Nnamdi Kanu’s agitations. One credit that must be given to Kanu is that sit at home order which Kanu gave that time which worked as millions of people in the Southeast obeyed him. The success of that sit at home order brought a new reawakening to the clamour for restructuring.
But I must also say again that at one point it became distracted from the original agenda he was pursuing. He suddenly became stubborn, he wasn’t listening to anybody again. He should have listened more especially to Igbo elders. But I think that in spite of his shortcomings one can’t discriminate the roles he has been playing resisting injustice against Igbo.
For the 1990 military coup attempt against General Babangida’s junta, your were saying it was not a coup …
Cuts in … Why did we take that pro-democracy action because, like I said earlier, to us it was not a coup. We decided to sack IBB’s government because we went through the evil plan being made to perpetuate IBB’s government in office for a long time.
Our action although didn’t succeed have laid the framework for some changes in the country. For example, new states were created. It was also that our action that made it possible for people like M.K.O Abiola to aspire to become President of Nigeria because prior to that period when we took action against IBB some people believe that they were the only ones born to rule Nigeria.
I give credit to General Abdulsalami Abubakar because he was in the Board of Enquiry set up to investigate the cause of the coup attempt. When Gen. Abubakar listened to some of our colleagues that were caught, that’s when he listened to their grievances.
He went back to Gen. Ibrahim Babangida, and told him that those of us that planned that pro-democracy action have a point, that some of our complaints about injustices in Nigeria were real, and that they have to be addressed.
The same General Abdulsalami Abubakar today again has been working behind the scene to ensure that Nigeria remains one, he is building bridges and working underneath to ensure that clamour for restructuring and cries of marginalization are addressed to make peace reign in the land. Gen. Abubakar is a true patriot. A genuine leader – for the past few months he has been working underground moving round the country working for peace and unity of the country.
There is the report that you were very close to Gen. Babangida, and you are regarded as one of his boys, why did you join hands with Major Gideon Orkar and other officers to sack IBB from office?
Yes, I’m very close to IBB. IBB remains a senior friend. My problem with IBB was not personal – it was a statecraft problem. It was in protest against the injustices in the system and not a protest against IBB as a person. Some senior Army officers from the southern parts of the country were being treated with disdain and some of us from the South and Middle Belt were not happy about that. We believe that Middle Belt and Southern officers should be given some respect. Even recently we had cases of insubordination against southerners and examples are what took place at the Ministry of Health where the suspended Executive Secretary of NHIS behaved as if he was the boss over the minister, Prof. Isaac Adewole, a southerner.
What about the recent face-off between Minister of State for Petroleum, Ibe Kachikwu and Group Managing Director of NNPC, Maikanti Baru where Baru showed disdain to Ibe? Enough of these insubordinations. It should stop. President Muhammadu Buhari should be told in clear terms that his government is too sectional. It is the most sectional government in Nigeria’s history. All the people that Buhari trust are only from his part of the country. Why didn’t he trust people from other parts of the country? That’s sectional. By the action we are seeing, Buhari is too sectional. Enough of this sectionalism.
There are southerners he can trust, but I don’t know why he is finding it difficult to trust southerners. In a way, what Buhari is doing by showing open bias for the northeast and northwest geopolitical zones will create further divisions and hatred not only among Nigerians but also make some Nigerians to hate people from northwest and northeast geopolitical zones.
What I know is that it is Buhari that is creating this problem because I know a lot of good people that come from the northwest geopolitical zone, and some of these include the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar, who is a patriot and a bridge-builder. The Emir of Kano, Lamido Sanusi Lamido, and Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, former Vice President are eminent citizens from the North who are against sectionalism. Buhari’s government is too sectional. Even Gen. Ibrahim Babangida is not sectional.
By Buhari being sectional, he is undermining the unity of Nigeria. Is it not a scandal that only 50 percent of the ministers are accessible to Buhari? Other former presidents are more accessible. For Buhari, it is only the Chief of Staff, Secretary to the Government, Chief of Army Staff and others from his catchment area that have access to him. There are some ministers that have to wait for months before they can see Buhari. This is very bad. It is very ridiculous that ministers have to book appointments with Abba Kyari, Chief of Staff before they can have audience with Buhari whereas others that are privileged don’t go through such ordeal. This is very embarrassing.
You were talking about your relationship with General Babangida before you digressed …
Cuts in … General Babangida has my ears, but the problem we want to address was bigger than IBB. For instance, what many Nigerians don’t know is that it wasn’t Babangida that annulled June 12 1993 presidential election believed to have been won by late Chief M.K.O Abiola. Babangida had nothing against Abiola. Babangida though was in office as president, but he was not in power. It was not only Babangida that suffered similar fate, Gen. Yakubu Gowon was in office but not in power, it was Gen. Murtala Muhammed and Gen. Hassan Katsina that were in charge when Gowon was there. Gowon was a gentleman. Towards the end of Babangida’s years as leader of Nigeria, he was merely in office but not in power.
Real power was being exercised by young officers, Babangida did nothing about it, and he considered this an insubordination, hence our decision to strike against Babangida’s government.
If that our action had succeeded, we would have been in power for just 18 months, and within that period, we were determined to do certain things prominent among which was to conduct a credible census. All census that had been conducted in this country are fraudulent.
Where in the world have you seen the population of a densely populated coastal area being less than that of an arid desert area in the hinterland? It is only in Nigeria that you have such, and that’s one of the injustices we are talking about. How can somebody tell me that Kano State is more populated than Lagos State?
Secondly, if our action as Orkar men had succeeded, our aim was to organize a conference to restructure Nigeria. Then we would have conducted free and fair election to hand over to a new democratically elected government.
What went wrong that made Orkar’s coup to fail?
I wouldn’t say the coup failed. Although we didn’t succeed in toppling IBB’s government, but our action led to some actions being taken to address some of the injustices we pointed out as part of our grievances. If not for Orkar coup, some positions like Chief of Army Staff are reserved for some people from certain parts of the country, but our coup changed that. Officers like the present Chief of Army Staff, Gen. Tukur Buratai would never have attained the position because he is from a minority ethnic group in the North. Same for Gen. Martin Agwai who also rose to become the Chief of Army Staff.
Any regret for staging that Orkar coup?
Regret for what? Never. Why should I regret for taking action against somebody that wanted to perpetuate military government. I have no regret for taking action aimed at sanitizing Nigeria.
Where were you that day, where were you in action?
I led the operation in Dodan Barracks the then seat of power where General Babangida lived. I was in charge of the operation while Major Gideon Orkar led the operation at Bonny Camp. However, I don’t want to be talking about the details of the coup, that is a story for another day. Nigeria is a blessed country, and we can attain greater height if we allow justice, fairness and equity.
Since the 1990 coup attempt, have you met with Gen. Babangida face to face?
We have met twice. Gen. Babangida is a gentleman and he knows that our action was not against his personality but against the system, which we considered to be rotten and unjust. We were soldiers, he was doing his own duty and I was also doing mine. Babangida and myself still remain as friends in spite of that coup. We exchange warm greetings whenever we meet.
Source: The Sun