•Why North gave Igbo quit notice
Colonel Lawan Gwadabe (retd). Remember him? The colourful, debonair and intrepid Army officer who, along with a few others, formed the bulwark of the military power ring and protective rampart that propped the Generals Ibrahim Babangida and Sani Abacha juntas before he ran into trouble for allegedly plotting to topple the latter, whom he served as Personal Staff Officer and Commandant, Brigade of Guards in 1995.
But, since the former governor of Niger State, reputed to be among the most intelligent military officers who helped to steer the two regimes especially on policy and strategy was retired after being vindicated in the now famous phantom coup , he has consistently and deliberately kept a low profile.
However, he launched back into the limelight recently when he formed the New Arewa Vision Initiative, NAVI, a Pan Northern group that seems to be a rival to the Arewa Consultative Forum, ACF.
Saturday Sun’s ABDULLAHI HASSAN, tracked Gwadabe for his views on the various burning issues of national discourse. And the man, whose views carried weight then did not disappoint. He revealed why it has taken him so long to break his silence and spoke on a wide range of other contentious subjects including disunity among Northern groups , restructuring, the quit notice served the Igbo by Arewa youths and the Buhari administration.
Why did you disappear from the public radar for so long a time?
If you recall the years 1995 – 1999 was a troubling period for me and all those who were detained by the regime of Gen. Sani Abacha for what turned out to be a phantom coup plot. Naturally, it was wise for me to remain within my space. While the episode of the alleged coup plot of 1995 has become part of our national history, it was, however, pertinent to note that the entire conduct of the investigations and the trials were a complete charade. The findings and the judgments delivered at best were a manifestation of the descent of Nigeria into medievalism. Truth was the greater casualty, at the expense of our country and its future. We were released on the 4th of March,1999 and one of the greatest lessons I learnt from the entire charade is that, no matter how long it takes, the truth must prevail over falsehood. It also strengthened my resolve to continue to be fearless and outspoken against all kinds of unfairness, injustice, oppression and intimidation. Unfortunately tragedy struck in the year 2000 barely before I could fully adjust myself to freedom, when fire gutted our house at night and several people died, including my beloved wife and son (may their souls rest in peace). That singular incident coming after the great agony of our trials and tribulation was to say the least, very devastating. It took me a very long time to recover from the shock, to the extent that public parley became a secondary issue. However, as a Muslim I take consolation in the fact that the Almighty Allah said in Qur’an 3:145 “That no one dies unless Allah permits. The term of every life is fixed”. But contrary to what you said, I was quite visible during my tenure as the Chairman of the Federal Road Safety Commission. Now with my membership of New Arewa Vision Initiative, I am sure from time to time, I would be participating in national discourse. My background training teaches that we only talk when we have an important contribution to make.
It’s two years since the Buhari’s administration came on stream, yet Nigerians are full of complaints about economic hardship and difficulties of life. How do you appraise the situation?
The Buhari administration was unlucky to inherit a comatose economy and then it’s problem was compounded by the worldwide downturn of the price of oil. The pitfalls of a mono-cultural economy came to the fore. The agitations in the Niger Delta which was not swiftly addressed by the Buhari administration led to a tremendous loss of revenue which combined to send the country into recession. Having said that, the government did not also hit the ground running with a clear -cut economic policy to be implemented. This was, however, only corrected some months ago and hopefully if all those economic programmes are pursued relentlessly the nation may begin to come out of the woods. The change mantra also heightened the expectations of Nigerians, and the Buhari administration must do something seriously to reverse the current economic conditions of the country, because there is so much suffering in the land. People’s lives must obviously change for the better for them to appreciate government. Government must listen to the yearnings and the aspirations of the people, it also needs to constantly take stock of its actions in order to continue to re-strategise. Maintaining the trust and optimism of a population takes hard and continuous work. The challenges of the Boko Haram insurgency, corruption, youth unemployment, kidnappings, Niger Delta agitations, armed robbery, criminality and the lack of power to generate the revival of industries should continue to agitate the government. Unless these challenges are controlled to the barest minimum, I am afraid sufferings of Nigerians would continue unabated.
With your role in military politics viz-a-viz your experience in peace mission in Africa, Europe and America, one would wonder why you decided to get involved in civil activism like NAVI?
My roles in the realm of conflict resolutions in Africa and other parts of the world was a preparation for me to use these same experiences garnered to give back to my country what would be useful to ensure that Nigeria is a country that is at peace with itself. Joining the NAVI for me is like giving back to Nigeria what Nigeria has done for me. I could not have been the Chairman of the Sudan Peace Process, or the Mozambique Conflict Resolution, or the Presidential Envoy on the Peace Process in Angola, if I was not a Nigerian. We thank God today that all the recommendations we made for the resolution of the Sudanese conflict after four years of talks was accepted and implemented by the United Nations to the glory of our country, Nigeria. NAVI is a pressure group to sensitize our people on the need to promote peaceful co-existence and mutual respect in our country of diverse culture and religions. Ours is to continue to educate and propagate the lessons of tolerance and inclusiveness in the people of Northern Nigeria in particular and Nigeria in general. With my experiences in conflict resolutions, I believe there is a great contribution that I can make through NAVI for the desired objectives to be achieved.
What does NAVI stand to achieve?
NAVI means New Arewa Vision Initiative. It is a Non-Governmental Organization dedicated to the promotion of peace, reconciliation, peaceful co-existence and the promotion of mutual respect in our country of diverse culture and religions. Our commitment in NAVI is to continue to promote understanding among our various communities in the North. We are committed to promoting change in the perception of our people, so that they can’t be manipulated by self-promoters in the North. We will continue to raise observations that would continue to promote understanding and peaceful co-existence with the rest of the country. It is through the strengthening of the integrity of our country with justice and fairness that we can all live in peace and harmony. NAVI also believes that we are first Nigerians before we start talking about being Hausa, Ibo or Yoruba, or key in on our religious divides. We also believe that what hurts one group hurts everybody. That is why we are committed to mediation and reconciliation. In a similar vein, the Time Magazine last year indicated that there are 10 million children out of school in Nigeria and the majority of these children are in Northern Nigeria, we shall commit to advocating to the powers- that- be, to commit to the policy that no child should be left out of school. Every child has the potential to be discovered and developed, and it is their right to be educated. One other important area of our advocacy is the issue of drugs amongst the youths in the North. The phenomenon is very frightening and if something is not done to drastically stem this tide, then the future of our youths would be in jeopardy. NAVI would sensitize the state governments and also take the fight to the schools and through radio programmes sensitize the parents and the public at large. The foregoing gives you a bird’s eye view of what NAVI is all about.
You said that NAVI is a sister body of Northern Elders Forum, do you mean that Northern elders are divided?
NAVI is not affiliated to the Northern Elders Forum. It’s an autonomous organization, but it has some of its patrons as members of the Elders Forum. For all that I know, the Northern Elders Forum is still intact. I will also like to take this opportunity to commiserate with the members on the death of their indomitable and amiable chairman, the Late Alhaji Maitama Sule (Dan Masanin Kano). It is the cardinal principle of NAVI to also continue to interface with other Northern organizations for the purpose of cross-fertilization of ideas. After all, we are all working for a common purpose. That is the progress of the entity called Northern Nigeria within the context of the Nigerian federation. I would also want you to note that, Chief Paul Unongo is now the new Chairman of the Northern Elders Forum and it was a complete consensus to further buttress the fact that there is no rift whatsoever in that forum.
Unlike Southern Nigeria, so many groups are emerging in the North; Middle Belt Forum, Arewa Consultative Forum, Ahmadu Bello Foundation all talking about Northern interest. Doesn’t that multiplicity suggest disunity, or lack of common goal?
Let me correct your impression, there are more groups in the South South, South West and the South East than there are in the North. Therefore, the emergence of so many groups in the North does not connote disunity, it rather portrays a new awareness that, the government can’t do everything for the people. Therefore, likeminded individuals must cohere under various organizations to lend a helping hand towards the rejuvenation of the region and promoting its social and economic wellbeing. NAVI is only one group among many. I believe the more groups, the merrier, because it is through such interactions that we can initiate a process of rekindling societal values, leadership accountability and good governance, through transparent democratic view points and exchange between like minds. It is also hoped that through this process, a new crop of selfless leadership with vision, foresight, tolerance to plurality and desirous of inventing a new concept of leadership that is accountable, sensitive and responsive will emerge in the society for the common good of all. Every group in the North has a specific mandate, and at some point they do congregate to parley among themselves and to synergies for the common progress of the North. Therefore, to think that many groups have emerged because of disunity, is just an illusion.
Recently, Northern Youth Coalition gave the Igbo an ultimatum to pack-out from Northern Nigeria by October 1. Northern elders supported them, an issue that generated controversy and heated up the polity. What is the position of NAVI on this matter?
The position of NAVI on this matter is to call for caution. Remember our objective is to promote understanding among the component parts of the country with the North. Luckily, the Northern Youth Coalition recently held a meeting twice with the Ohanaeze Youth Group Worldwide, and some kind of understanding has been reached within the framework of one indivisible Nigeria. Similarly, on 4th August, 2017 representatives of Ndigbo in all the 19 Northern states held a meeting with members of the Arewa Youth Coalition in Kano, regarding the quit notice. These meetings, which were unthinkable before, are now holding, giving room for both parties to understand themselves. The Ndigbo representatives have reiterated their stand on one Nigeria and they have asked nobody to canvass for Biafra for them. The meeting rose with the understanding that the Arewa youth would hold further consultations and get back to their Ndigbo counterparts. In all facets of human endeavour, conflicts and differences must always emanate. But dialogue always leads to peaceful resolution of differences. I am sure this current impasse would not be an exception. The lesson in this saga is that we must learn to be tolerant of one another. What unites us as a country is really more than what divides us. Insensitive and hate speeches are cinders that promote only conflagration. Agreed, there are a lot of discontentment and unfairness in the country, but all these pitfalls can be corrected through peaceful and amicable dialogue. But hate speeches and downright insults and denigration only serves in separating us. We must, therefore, collectively guard against such if we are to survive as a strong and indivisible nation. The Coalition of the Northern Youths were agitated because of the continuous insults being directed at the Northern elders and the entity called North by the promoters of the dream called Biafra. The fact that these insults continued for a long time without anybody from the South East reining in the perpetrators annoyed the Northern youths, because to insult the Northern elders is an abomination by our cultural standards. Our communities are law abiding, very accommodating and their reverence for our traditional institutions is legendary. Therefore, to make insulting such institution a habit definitely has to encounter a counter-reaction. Hopefully this saga has come to an end and I hope the component parts of this country would embrace each other to give a true meaning to our unity in diversity. The Northern youths are not oblivious of what led to the Nigerian civil war. Definitely, the Nigerian Constitution guarantees the right of every citizen to domicile anywhere in this country, without any molestation. Therefore, no group or groups have the powers to change that, but that is the legal part. But, hate speeches and downright denigration of the elders of the host communities and rubbishing their traditional institutions and culture can elicit negative reaction that could lead to chaos. This was the case. There is no doubt that there are many valid reasons for all the different ethnic groups in this country to agitate, but, invariably, resort to dialogue to address them is the best option. Hate speech is antithetical to our moral and religious values.
You have been talking about mediation in conflicts, to what extent does NAVI intervene in other conflicts afflicting Northern Nigeria, such as the Fulani/Farmers conflict, Fulani/Tivs, Boko Haram and issues of herdsmen, etc?
NAVI is a relatively young organization and we are at the threshold of tabling our new re-organization plan for debate and ratification by our members. The re-organization would serve several purposes. Among which are the creation of zonal and state chapters for effective coverage and dissemination of our programme of activities. The Research and Contact, Mobilization departments as well as the Public Enlightenment Department have already swung into action to achieve this aim. When this is completed, it will enable NAVI to have an ear to the ground in all the 19 Northern states and other parts of Nigeria, in order for our mediation and conflict resolution mechanisms to be effective. We are currently studying the various forms of conflict raging in several states and the solutions applied so far with, a view to seeing how we can also lend a helping hand. We are already in touch with various chapters of the Miyetti Allah Associations and the findings and recommendations of our research department on these issues, would enable us to hold a roundtable with both parties to the conflict in the various states. In some cases, our observations and recommendations would be conveyed to the state governors concerned. We were quietly involved in the mediation in Benue State. NAVI arranged a meeting with the senior representatives of the Miyetti Allah Association at the heat of the herdsmen and the Agatu community crisis through Alhaji Saleh Bayari who was then the Miyetti Allah Secretary General. The meeting we were told, helped in at least resolving the crisis at that time. The state governments must create a permanent mechanism that would be monitoring developments before they escalate into conflicts. There must be a constant dialogue with the stakeholders for the sake of peace. Don’t forget that the issues of conflict resolution is always work in progress. NAVI recently sent a fact -finding mission on a solidarity visit to Ile-Ife on the unfortunate incident that took place in Ife on the 8th March, 2017. The delegation was received by His Royal Majesty the Ooni of Ife Oba Adeyeye Enitan Ogunwusi (Ojaja II). His Royal Majesty commended the reconciliation stance of NAVI and noted that it was the first group to come from the North seeking to help in restoring confidence among the communities, so that normalcy and peace could reign supreme.
Calls for restructuring the federation have assumed a big controversial dimension. Where do you stand on this matter?
Well, our position on restructuring is not any different from the rest of Nigerians. Because every serious nation must have a mechanism of reassessing how it is performing from time to time, in the sense that no condition is permanent. There is no doubt that there are a lot of distortions in the administration of the country, which needs to be corrected, if we are to address the issues of injustices agitating most of our ethnic groups. The greatest challenge about this federation is the over-centralization of power at the centre. Today, the national discourse is on re-structuring and the so- called faulty nature of the 1999 Constitution. The question is that, why are Nigerians not asking why all these instruments are not working? Is it really the fault of the system, or there is something wrong with the operators of the system? Britain runs an unwritten constitution and see how far their political system has progressed? Why is it that our own is not working? We believe that no amount of re-inventing, or restructuring or re-birth can really make any difference, as long as there is no dynamic and visionary leadership at all levels of governance. As long as there is no accountability in leadership and as long as the revenues of the country are pocketed by the powers that be. As long as favouritism and kleptocracy continues in governance, no amount of political restructuring would make any difference. What Nigeria needs is a return to the tenets of respect for constitutionality, respect for the rule of law and a combination of a leadership style with great vision and intellect. If Nigeria is well managed, it would certainly be a great country, given its tremendous God -given human and natural endowments. A great nation is the one run based on the principles of justice, equity and fairness, adherence to the rule of law and democracy. Nigeria needs the development of strong institutions that are guided by the laws of the land. Really, no nation would aspire to be great without strong institutions. Take for example our banking industry, why is it after all these years of existence that they have to be continuously bailed out by the government? It is a fact that bank executives are the problem, because of greed and fraud you find bank executives floating several fictitious companies and awarding bogus loans to themselves only to write them off as bad debts. Whereas those who take legitimate loans to create wealth and employment are usually frustrated by the banks. The end result is that, the banks would later sell the debts to AMCON, sending both the project and the borrower into oblivion. This clearly is the sign of a weak system. Another example will suffice. Ten years ago Okada Airline had a large fleet of Aircraft and several Airlines followed Okada’s wake, today where are all the Airlines? Even the contemporary Arik Airline is today resting in the bosom of AMCON. No amount of restructuring will do any good without strong institutions. We are running a democracy based on political party system. But, it is a pity that all the political parties are run on a faulty premise. That is why there is a lot of crises. Political restructuring should start from the political parties. Most of the parties have no internal democracy and politics of imposition is really a non-starter, because it demonstrates lack of party supremacy. Government should look into these endemic pitfalls in our political parties. Does the seat of government at any point in our nation’s history reflect the nation?
Do you think the Federal Government’s initiative and approach at resolving the ongoing conflict between North on one hand, and Igbo and Afenifere, are in the right direction?
It is the responsibility of the government to find solutions when the polity is riven with crisis. The current practice of the Acting President of meeting with the leaders of the North, East, South South and South West is a step in the right direction. This is a cardinal principle of conflict resolution, where dialogue is employed to prevent an escalation and bring about understanding. Conflict resolution is not a one-off thing. It needs transparency and commitment of all sides to the conflict for it to succeed. However, the Federal Government needs to urge the Centre for Peace and Conflict Resolution to do more than it is doing today regarding conflict resolution in the country. The Centre must develop a synergy with the National Defence College, and be able to sound alarm bells when something is amiss. This way, conflicts can be anticipated and nipped in the bud, before it leads to escalation. Another key factor is sincerity of purpose, which is a key confidence -building mechanism in conflict resolution, where all terms of agreements entered into by both sides are not only honoured but respected.
So, we should be expecting robust interventions of NAVI on national issues in days to come?
NAVI though a relatively new organization is certainly full of potentials to deliver on it’s mandate. NAVI would establish both zonal and state chapters in order to be close to the grassroots and enhance our working relationships with those whose perceptions we would want to change for them to appreciate our diversity as a nation. Northern communities living in the South Western part of Nigeria and the South would be co-opted into NAVI to give them an umbrella organization that will unite them, regardless of tribe and religion. NAVI would also shortly embark on solidarity visits to the governments of the Southern parts of Nigeria to correct the growing misconception about the position of Northern Nigeria. Similarly the meetings will seek to solicit the cooperation of the governors to continue to provide adequate security and protection of life and property of Northern communities domiciled there. We shall equally hold meetings with the Northern communities emphasizing the need for them to be at peace with their hosts and to respect their culture and traditions. Essentially, we have committed to help in creating an effective awareness and enlightenment on critical issues that would promote peaceful co-existence and mutual understanding. From the foregoing, therefore, it is clear that NAVI is a focused organization that is determined to make a difference. Therefore, we have a great future and we intend through our actions to remain continuously relevant. It is a truism that history guides us, and the present informs, but we believe that our work will certainly always look towards the future. We are also open to working with other organizations in other parts of the country in order to promote peace.