Comrade Zulu Ofoelue is both the General Secretary of Igbo National Council(INC), and United Action for Democracy(UAD), (national), which is a coalition of civil society groups in Nigeria. A
He is also the Registrar, African Thinkers College of Education(ATCOE), in Enugu.
In this exclusive interview with our Correspondent Maazi Ofoe, Ofoelue describes the Nigerian constitution as a defective document, and faults all its reviews due to military colouration.
He also condemns the continued detention of Dr Nnamdi Kanu by the Department of State Security, (DSS), and describes the protests as a reflection of the inequalities in the country:
The protest is a reflection of the current state of the country. People
feel denied, people feel that they are not being carried along in the scheme of things in the country called Nigeria. Its been a Nigerian system from the foundation which have been talked about by so many groups and so many people. But the authorities of Nigeria have never cared to correct the anomalies of the imbalances and the lack of justice and fair play in the country’s scheme of things. For instance, the country was founded by the British in 1900 and merged in 19 14, without the consent of the African leaders themselves. By 1960 when
the independence was given, we still remember vividly that the independent constitution was developed without the consent of
generality of Nigerians. It was not a constitution of the people but that of the British and Nigerian elites.
Since then, we have so many military and civilians constitutions and all of them have been non people-based constitution, so the people of Nigeria have never really come together to discuss how to be Nigerians. So you keep noticing so many imbalances. The old eastern regions- the Igbos, Efiks, Ijaws and so many other tribes still have a feeling that they are not been fairly treated in the country they
call their own. So when people are not happy about the way things are
being handled, they have a right to react, they have a right to protest, to make their voices heard. That’s exactly what is going on.
Nigerian army has twice threatened to take stringent actions against the protesters. But we are aware that they have been protesting without violence. As a human rights activist, do you think it calls for military action?
Nigeria is a military camp, Nigeria was founded as a military camp of
the British. These are offshoots of colonialism, these are reflections
of what we inherited from the colonial powers and they have not changed. In 1898, remember that the British Army attacked the Bini empire and destroyed the empire just to take over their businesses and turned it into British business. That was the same way the Opobo kingdom was attacked, and King Jaja was removed, the same way the Arochukwu kingdom was attacked, because they felt that the Aro people
were doing businesses they had interest in. it’s a military camp. When
they handed over to Nigerians, the same militarization continued.
In 1947 if you remember, coal miners at the Enugu coal mine were shot
dead by the colonial government, for nothing. In 1929, there was the
Aba Women’s riot, and the British soldiers shot so many of the women,
unarmed women. It is still going on today, and inheritance of the British empire.
The Nigerian Government has continued to believe that you can always use force against unarmed civilians. Nigerian government have
continued to run this dictatorial and uncivilised approach. What is civilisation? There are many countries where people run in millions, so many millions, we have that of China, we have that of France. Just a few years ago, students came out and protested against some of the country’s policies regarding the increment in schools fees. Nobody was shot, nobody was even arrested. But in Nigeria whenever you hear that
people are having peaceful protests to air their views, you try to suppress them. And our constitution made provision for freedom of expression. It is not freedom of speech, its freedom of expression.
That means you can express yourself based on what you believe. I have
observed so many of these protests- the one in Port Harcourt, Enugu,
Awka, Aba and the one in Onitsha. It has been very peaceful. The
organisers, IPOB have conducted themselves very peacefully, with the
utmost decorum. I am very surprised because you hardly have such a
large crowd of people numbering in millions being able to very properly conduct themselves. As a matter of fact, the PPRO of the Nigerian Police in Awka came out himself to attest that the protests so far have been conducted with utmost decorum and peace. So why should the Nigeria army now come in? What is the business of the army that is meant to protect lives and property, from aggression now turn to be the aggressor against the Nigerian people. This is what the army have been used to. That was how they went to Rivers State in 1987 and
shot people in Umuechem. That was how they went to Gbaramatu in Delta
and bombed the people of Gbaramatu. This is how they went to Zakibiam and killed people there.
The same way the army had gone to Odi in Bayelsa State and decimated
them. In some of these places, they people were said to have been
armed, even though they have not been aggressive towards the army, but the Biafran struggle in modern tims have never been armed since 1999 since it started with the MASSOB struggle. There has never been anyone caught with weapons, and in this very one nobody has been caught with even a stick, not to talk of a gun. So why should the army come in?
This matter is supposed to be handled by the Ministry of Interior, not
even Ministry of Defence, in the current scheme of things.so the
Nigeria system is still a very uncivilised and backward system. In the world of human rights, everyone will be shocked to hear the kind of
comments the Nigerian Army has been making over this issue. That’s
why I am advising the government to be very careful to avoid escalating the matter.
People are already angry, and you are choosing to kill them for being
angry. We can only talk of attacking them if they attack somebody or
if they destroy something. But they have not done so. If we really think
that we are democratic, which I strongly doubt, or we think we are
running a civilian government which I doubt, because in a civilian
government you don’t have to release the army from the barracks every
minute simply because of civil reactions. If we really think we want
to operate a modern and wisdom-based government, then we must have to begin to think about civilised ways of approaching civil disobedience.
We have to begun to resort to dialogue. Talk to the people, find out
what they really want. Also, learn how to ensure that these flared up
angers are doused.
We have a freedom, engraved I the United Nations’ Charter, of
self-determination, aside that, its provided by God Himself, not even
by man, recognised by members of the United Nations that signed that
charter, and Nigeria is a signatory to that charter. So government should be very careful the way they handle this to avoid causing further disobedience, to avoid causing further havoc. As a matter of fact, I don’t even think that the Biafran struggle, which have
lasted nearly 50 years can be easily doused. You cannot use force.
After a war where people lost everything about them, they still
continued the struggle, that means there is something they are fighting
for. Because if they can be frightened into stopping the struggle,
they can be stopped, if you watched the demonstrations, you will see
that most of those participating are not even those who experienced
the war. Something someone didn’t experience and decides to cary on
with it, that means he must be suffering the same thing his father
suffered to make him fight the war. So it moves from one generation to
another generation, and we think we can wave it away with our left hand is not possible.
Do you think the arrests of Kanu, Benjamin Kalu and others are justified?
If the government believes anyone has committed an offence, government will arrest that person, and prosecute that person appropriately.
Nnamdi Kanu was arrested, arraigned, and given bail. A court of
competent jurisdiction gave an order that the young man be granted
bail. The reason for this protest is not that Nnamdi Kanu was arrested. The reason is that he was granted bail, but they refused to release him. Benjamin Onwuka and some others are being held under a different agitation umbrella, they have ben held there for more than a year now. I don’t know the progress of that matter at the moment, but of the government have genuine reason to arrest somebody for committing a crime, let them take action against him, legal action. Its just like saying Nelson Mandela was a rebel who tried to attack the South African government in the 60s. What will that person be saying today? Can he come out today and still say Mandela committed an offence back then? He became a world class leader. We known that the offence he was accused of was simply freedom fighting just like the Biafrans are doing currently.
Its unfortunate that so many people who condemn the Biafrans regard
Mandela as a hero without realising that Mandela did things similar to
what Biafran aggressors are doing currently. If the government have
genuine reason, then the arrests can be justified. There are many people in the north who are bombing places. Some of them are being arrested and then released. But these ones without a stick in their hands are being arrested and kept in detention. For what?
If people have not committed any offence, set them free. I won’t go
into legal matters where the court is already handling it, because
there are lawyers there who understand the implication of the
accusations. But I think generally, all these attacks on Biafran protesters can be stopped if we can sit down and dialogue, and solve the problem that is on ground. Benjamin Onwuka, look at the kind of old men who he is being held with in the prison. Have you seen them? 13 old men were said to have gotten up to go and kill somebody.
It doesn’t make any sense to me. I wont say they are innocent, but it
appears to me they had a genuine cause of agitation in the first place.
If there is justice, they won’t even go into agitation in the first place. There wouldn’t have been any agitation. We can end the agitation by resolving the matter, the cause of their struggle, so
that we wont kill more people. If they kill somebody and you kill them, you waste more lives.
But we can solve it. We say we don’t know what Boko Haram agitators
are fighting for, but we know what Biafran agitators are fighting
for. We knew what Niger Delta boys were fighting for, and we wasted so
much of the nation’s resources giving them what we called the amnesty. Biafra has not asked for money from anybody unlike the Niger Delta boys. Book Haram has said they want to form their own empire in the north, and make it a full Islamic territory. The Biafran agitators have not asked for tat, all they are asking for is a right
to self determination they have not asked for any extra oil well, they have not asked for any seaport, they have not asked for anything. Just right to self determination, that’s all. What is wrong with that?
If somebody is being held in a place where he thinks nothing belongs
to him and he says, ‘I want to go’, why don’t you allow him go, or
you discuss with him, make him an offer that will make him stay?
You earlier spoke about the constitution as being faulty. Do you
think it will be right for the present government to resort to te
results of the constitutional conference held some time ago by the past administration?
Nigeria is a country used to wastages. There was a conference under Abacha, there was a conference under Obasanjo, under Jonathan, and they have spent trillions of naira being organised. But the current government does not even seem to be bothered about dusting some of the outcome of these conferences and implementing them. In some countries, the kind of money we have invested in constitution could be used for very massive development. If we are not serious about the constitution, we can forget about the conferences and really develop the country. But know that the country cannot even run properly
without these discussions, as a matter of fact none of them have been properly constituted. For instance, we made a reaction through the UAD, and the INC when the other conference was organised last year
under the last government. More than half of those who went to that
conference were picked by government.
People question your own constitution as a government, that you were not properly elected, and then you are the ones picking those who will speak for the people. It is madness. It is not democratic, it did not go through the process of mass based democracy. If nothing else is
obtainable, it is better than where nothing is done at all. Even the
National Assembly is better constituted than the conference, but at least it represented certain groups. Labour was there, Civil society
was there, and some other groups were there. So we can talk about
aspects of that conference and implement it, so that it will be a good
first step. It is only when we organise this conference and implement decisions taken in those conferences that we know we are actually taking a step. In the future we can begin to constitute conferences that are more mass based. Currently, we are still
operating under a dictatorship, because our constitution itself is a
You know that supremacy of a country, the authority of the country is
in the constitution, not in the president. The constitution is above
the president and the national assembly, but this constitution is a
dictatorial constitution given to us by the army, and any revision
of the same constitution is still dictatorial. Before you can
constitute something that is democratic, you have to remove the old one and constitute an entirely new one. What is constitution? To
constitute a country. Who are the people that constitute Nigeria? Those
people that constitute Nigeria have to come up with the method by
which they want to be governed. That’s a constitution. Some people
think it’s just a document- you go to your house and draw up a
document and give to people. Its not possible. So the military draw up
such and gave us and we have been pretending its ok. Its not ok. Only
a national conference constituting of the people that make up
Nigeria, the same people that the British ignored in 1900, the same
people they ignored in 1914 when they amalgamated Nigeria have to be
invited to discuss the way they want to live together. If they
chose to live together, beautiful. We will then have a very powerful
black nation that can lift the world. But if they chose not to live
together, you cannot force them to live together. If a boy decides
not to live in his father’s house after growing up, he has a right to
get out and build his own house. His father cannot force him to stay
back. It’s a choice.