COUNT MINORITY OUT OF NORTH'S CONSENSUS CANDIDATE â€“ UNONGO
Paul Wanteran Unongo, former Minister in charge of Steel and erstwhile secretary general of the defunct Nigerian Peoples Party (NPP) says the minorities in the North would have nothing to do with any northern consensus aspirant.
Put correctly, Unongo is saying it is now payback time for those he aptly referred to as people who have cheated the minorities in the North.
'Rubbish. They know that they don't represent my interest. Who are they? How can Adamu Ciroma represent my interest? How can Babangida represent my interest? So, they make noise in the name of a particular place. What did I gain? I gained imprisonment when they were in power. Am I not from the north? Rubbish. They don't represent me.
'Babangida, Gusau and Ciroma do not represent me. I don't come from their place. I am a Tiv man. What did they do to us? I am an Idoma man; what did they do to us? What did they do to the Itsekiri and Etulo people? How can you pretend that because somebody comes from the thing that was imposed on you called northern Nigeria, therefore, he represents your political interest?' he queried.
Unongo truly hates pretences. That is why in this interview in his home in Makurdi, the Middle Belt activist demonstrated his aversion for certain elements in the North, chiding them for their roles in Jonathan's ascension to the presidency. He is angry that after the civil war, these elements have continued to carry on along regional lines. 'Then we wanted our region, they wouldn't give it to us. They forced us into one thing called northern Nigeria. Then the people that believe they should rule from northern Nigeria ruled. Whether it is a military coup we make, they rule. And then they want all these privileges to continue. What kind of a country is this that I will like to pass as my country?
He was in the Constitution Drafting Committee with Chief Obafemi Awolowo, a member of the Constituent Assembly, Unongo went for the review of the constitution. He was one of those who ratified the present constitution upon which all other amendments are based. Now a chieftain of the PDP, he became the minister in charge of power under Shagari. In politics, he is a great commentator. He stood election to be president of Nigeria and governor of Benue State but lost.
He spoke on current national issues.
Nigeria has Crashed
Tapping from Unongo's rich experience was in itself rewarding. He gradually warmed up to the interview after settling some official matters with scores of favour seekers in his home last Thursday morning. When he finally got his bearing, Unongo spat fire, as it were. Ask him if Nigeria is making progress and the former minister would put it this way. 'Nigeria is a very complex country. It is developing. To those of us that have big dreams for the country, it has been wobbling and coming very slowly. Sometimes people will say when you make haste, you will crash. I will say Nigeria has already crashed. So, we should have made haste.' But has Nigeria really crashed? You ask again.
Without wasting time, Paul Unongo, the man who was the only NPP minister in the Shagari cabinet would take you on a journey through history. 'Of course. Were you not here when we fought the civil war? A country barely six years; picked up arms and fought the most destructive war. When you look at your brothers and sisters in the eyes and you gun them down and kill them. Nigerians killed themselves in thousands. According to the Rt. Hon. Nnamdi Azikiwe, we killed ourselves in millions. Two million people lost their lives in the civil war, which we shouldn't have fought if we only listened. We have been making progress but very slowly. And we have been deliberately putting people who are not qualified in positions and refusing to use those who are qualified on the basis of their tribe.
This country should have passed that stage now. We are held back again by a group of funny people who benefited from this idea of talking about where I come from. It has become so ridiculous in the modern days in this country that some people are so funny and they say their man died; and that does not mean their political associate; they mean somebody who comes from the same defined areas as they. These geopolitical areas are imposed by the military; and the stupid politicians adopted them because they suit their politics of cheating the ordinary Nigerian. So they hang on to these unearned and unmerited rights. They will say if my man dies and he is from my place, I must be the one to replace him. No country as important, and I hope Nigerians know, as strategic, because Nigeria is a strategic country, thinks like that and acts like that.
After 50 years of independence, we are still talking about our primordial roots. So after living for more than 50 years as an Igbo or Tiv man, I am still not qualified to contest elections in Kano. We take it that if a Kano man wins election and he takes somebody as his deputy and he dies, we should not allow his deputy to take over? Then we wrangle to go and take a Kano man to take over; what kind of nonsense is that. That is why I said I cannot answer your question directly until I know what you are talking about. We seem to have developed economically that we lost a lot of our potentials to develop. We seem to have made progress on paper in terms of writing constitutions.
We are the funniest country in the world that has written many constitutions in the shortest time possible after as many as five. And every provision in the constitution that was written, they are all good. But we don't implement them because of vested interests and everybody wants to hold everybody down to their regions and places where they come from. When we wanted our region, they wouldn't give it to us. They forced us into one thing called northern Nigeria. The people that believe they should rule from northern Nigeria ruled. Whether it is – a military coup we make, they rule. And they want all these privileges to continue. What kind of country is this that I will like to pass as my country? This is not the Nigeria I dreamt of. From that intellectual view, I think we have made no progress.'
Needless row over succession via zoning
He wrote off the idea of a consensus aspirant for a region, especially the one that emerged from the Mallam Adamu Ciroma committee put in place by the Northern Political Leaders Forum. 'Why should we have a consensus person?' he queried and went on. 'Is that what the whole world does? No. We are a democratic country. In democracy we have rules. We are very lucky we are not like England. We are not like the UK. They don't even have a written constitution. We have a written constitution. And I am one of the people who wrote it.' He explained why power in Nigeria was centralized in one person. 'The legislators actually knew why we created certain positions. I think you are referring to the presidency. We felt that we should have a centralized authority that would represent Nigeria of our background as an African country. The oldest person, the chief, king or the emir is the most respected person in the community and that was taken and translated at the national level. We felt that the nearest type of suitable arrangement for us by virtue of us being multinational, multiethnic and multireligious should be a federal state. And in a federation, we will have the president that would represent the power of Nigeria centralized in one person. We will have an assistant called the Vice President who will, automatically, if the president becomes incapacitated take over as president.'
Unongo, a man who prides himself as one of those who wrote the Nigerian constitution lampooned politicians for applying selfish interest in the implementation of the clauses. 'Look at the joke we went through here after that man died. We didn't kill Yar'Adua. The Vice President didn't kill him. God felt he was sick enough and He took him away. Nigerians took over six months fighting over what was provided for in the constitution because the man that was going to take over happens to be from the south, happens to be from the minorities, happens not to come from Hausa land. Even if he is from the Hausa land, it must be from the same section where Yar'Adua came. We didn't write that in the constitution. Zoning was a thing that was brought by a political party. Every Nigerian believes in the philosophy of that political party. This country should have the best person that is a Nigerian to represent it. We have reached a stage we should tell people off. We are fed up. Some of us have gone to prison more than 34 times before we retired. We cannot go back to people telling us that someone in our political party is king and is God and Lord over Nigeria and that the laws of our political party are above the laws of the constitution of Nigeria? Is that why we came into a union? No.
We came into a union by the fundamental law of the nation state of Nigeria. That law that is fundamental is called the constitution. And it has priority to the extent that every other provision, procedure, laws of political parties, state assemblies that are inconsistent with it are null and void. Zoning is a thing that PDP should discuss.'
How then do we achieve justice, equity and good conscience without zoning? To answer this question, Unongo who by now has become worked up by what he considers the seeming bravado of the northern elite asked a rhetorical question in return. 'Please tell me how we will achieve equity and justice with zoning?
He continued: 'Because one Yoruba man is made president, all Yoruba are represented and all of them should be happy. Did Obasanjo represent all Yoruba? Do you not hear Yoruba people abusing Obasanjo, fighting him in the streets, saying he doesn't represent us? Gbenga is abusing him everyday and the young man from Lagos. If when Obasanjo becomes a president, the Yoruba are represented, what about the Yoruba from the Middle Belt or the one from Kwara. Oh yes, because a Yoruba man was president he should wait for 1000 years. Everyone of you that is qualified can never be president until 77 or 160 years. This can only happen in a mad country.'
Northern aspirants don't represent me
Unongo's emotion became visible when he was asked if the northern aspirant and former vice president are not acceptable to the minorities in the north. With a frown on his face and a voice that rose several decibels than when the interview began he replied: 'Rubbish. They know that they don't represent my interest. Who are they? How can Adamu Ciroma represent my interest? How can Babangida represent my interest? He is a coup maker. In a civilian administration if we are not mad people in Nigeria, we should have rounded up the Babangidas, Buharis, the Gusaus and charged them to court because they made coups and toppled civilian administrations. Why are we cowards in this country?'
At this point, the former minister, adjusting his traditional necklace looked straight into the eyes of the reporter and continued. 'These people usurped the power of the nation state of Nigeria, the sovereignty of Nigeria, suspended the constitution of Nigeria, ruled illegally, amassed wealth to themselves and they want to use it to come and impose themselves on Nigeria because they have impoverished the nation. So they make noise in the name of a particular place. What did I gain? I gained imprisonment when they were in power. Am I not from the north? Rubbish. They don't represent me. Babangida, Gusau and Ciroma do not represent me. I don't come from their place. I am a Tiv man. What did they do to us? I am an Idoma man; what did they do to us? What did they do to the Itsekiri and Etulo people? How can you pretend that because somebody comes from the thing that was imposed on you called northern Nigeria, therefore he represents your political interest?
It is more than that. The decision is right. It is based on natural justice, on the provisions of the constitution of Nigeria and it is based on our insistence on being a democratic state which we shed our blood to sustain. We were the people that this people used to fight wars. But for our role Biafra would have become a reality. What did we get for it? We got dead people. We got mad people all over the place. We are not developed. Our children are just trying to develop us, then a small minority person with whom we were doing politics with the Eyo Itas, fighting that the British deliberately put Nigeria on a tripod that would not be stable and put the nationality question to break up this Nigeria into the various unit that make it? And now, by accident, a minority person who suffered discrimination because he is not from one of the majority tribes, suddenly becomes the president of Nigeria by an act of God and then they are saying he cannot be. Didn't we know where he came from when we made him the Vice President? Didn't we know that by the provision of the constitution he was not to be Acting President? He was to be president if any form of incapacitation caught up with this man.
And the final one, death caught up with him and they will not allow him. We wasted six months dilly dallying and fighting and the people who ruled us, cheated us, stole all our money, riding rough shod in this country. They made all of us foolish people, calling us to join them. They are cheating us, we northerners. When they were enjoying, killing people, taking everything to themselves how many people in Benue were given the oil. I am the most involved Benue citizen. By age, I am the oldest educated politician in Benue State that participated up to the level of national politics, writing constitutions. I became a minister. Why was I not also qualified in the oil that people from the desert had. They are making noise about their billions when I don't even have ten million. And these are the people who want me to fight again so that they can continue to keep their unmerited and unused potentials that were made available to them to develop the country, which they didn't do. They ended up developing themselves.
No united north
When asked if the north is still united, going by his utterances, Unongo stopped the reporter midway, calling him a joker. 'You are a joker. There is nothing like a united north. I am from the Middle Belt. I am from Benue State. I fought for the creation of states during the British and during the military and I went to jail. And now that I have my state you expect me to lose the sovereignty of my children and submit myself to internal colonialism from the internal colonialists of Nigeria? No.'
But you used to be together,' the reporter asked. It was like pouring fuel on an already smoldering fire as the PDP chieftain chuckled and responded in a manner that displayed his aversion for certain elements in the north because of their perceived roles in the touted marginalization of the people of the middle belt.
Hear him: 'It's not me. Please check my records. When I became man enough that I could be listened to. I even blackmailed this country at a time of war. Please find it. I wrote two books – The Case for Nigeria and I wrote another one to the Tiv people direct, Where Do We Go from Here. I put the question very clearly and I have not changed after 50 years.
I was in the forefront fighting to put the nationality question across. I know I am not an Hausa, Fulani, Igbo or Yoruba man and I know the British were wrong to have decided to put Nigeria on a tripod of three major tribes. I do not come from a mega tribe and I know the contribution my people have made to Nigeria from the colonial days to the Independence days to the days of crisis. We made maximal contributions to keep Nigeria one. And I know my people have not benefited proportionately to the contributions they have made. So, when they call people to fight, they used to call our people when they were uneducated. I was the only person that taught at the university from the whole Middle Belt in the 60s. There are thousands of thousands of young men with Ph.Ds that are teaching in universities today. There are so many universities in the Middle Belt now. You mean what my father accepted and gave to me, his father accepted and gave to him, which I have now analysed and found it was cheating, it was false, it was destroying the country that I believed in intellectually, emotionally, socially and the concept of Nigeria's federalism. At my age and intellectual maturity, you mean I should go back and submit myself to somebody called Alhaji Ciroma just because he said so.
It is an insult.' It is like you are more propelled by anguish than merit for the job of the presidency if I followed your utterances very well. The reporter fired back.
'If you read me correctly you wouldn't have made that statement.' With his stabbing the air to prove his point, Unongo went on: 'I am a man who believes in merit. On a meritorious level, the first merit in democracy is that there must be equal opportunities to all citizens by virtue of nothing other than being a citizen of this country. Every good person that Nigerians feel is the good person…politics is about perception and it is Nigerians that are the sovereign people. Now if the sovereign Nigerians decide that this is the best person, even if by your own standard he is not the best, that person in democracy becomes the best. There is also a written law. The fundamental law of the nation state of Nigeria is called the constitution of Nigeria. It provides for succession otherwise there will be chaos. And it creates an office of the president and the next person to the president. The assumption is that in the event of anything happening to the president, the next person to take over the presidency of Nigeria is the vice president.
All the difficulties that were placed in the case of this young man called Jonathan were wrong, unfair and illegal. Having done all that, they want to use their arrangement within the PDP to tell us that 150 million Nigerians have decided to zone brains and capacities. I think when we go to war, they will zone the dying so that when the time comes, we will zone that so many people should die in the war front. And I know they cannot do it. It is just complete rubbish. I support Jonathan not because he is beautiful, not because he is Dr. Jonathan, not because he is tall. I support Jonathan because the constitution of Nigeria makes it imperative that he should be the president. So, all the people that were trying to subvert the constitution, they are used to subverting laws. The Babangidas are used to setting the constitution completely apart, abrogating it completely, seizing power illegally and some Nigerians, instead of catching them and charging them to court for treason because there is no limitation on charges preferred against treasonable felony, they allow them to use their money to confuse Nigerians.
When they seize power, they wouldn't work for you. But what has Jonathan been doing? He has been begging everybody, trying to give us light. Do we have light? He is talking about doing something about energy, water and the basic infrastructure that we don't have. Why is he not qualified? He is also talking about justice, free and fair elections. Why is he not qualified to be the president of Nigeria? I will canvass for him. I will vote for him. Then at political level, I come from Benue State. I come from Middle Belt. They were fighting for Rivers region and we were fighting for our own Middle Belt region. They wouldn't grant us that.'
Let all aspire
I have no worries. The only implication for Nigeria is that Nigeria should be democratic. Nigeria should guarantee free and fair elections and they should allow every Nigerian an opportunity to aspire to serve this country in the best position according to his capacity and the dictates and rules of Nigerians. The man Jonathan has begun well. I have seen his records on corruption, fighting for energy, international affairs so that the economic world that has become a microcosm, he fits.
Above all, Jonathan is from the Niger-Delta where there is crisis. In a stupid way, we have made Nigeria a mono economy. We have one thing the lives of Nigerians depend on. This is called oil. The oil comes from this man's place. His people have been disrupting it. And if Jonathan can be the apologia to say look gentlemen this is your own; he is the president now; leave us to diversify the economy using the gas that comes from your place, so be it. Do not forget one thing. Jonathan was the Vice President and a Nigerian. He has the right to canvass for votes; not Babangida, Gusau and Buhari because they will have to come and account for their own treasonable act of toppling an elected civilian government of Nigeria. They should leave us alone. These people believe in setting procedures aside. They believe in setting the constitution aside. They believe in picking up guns and killing people and seizing power, using it as they deem fit. Now is a democratic dispensation. It is time for them to pay for their deeds. They committed a capital crime. The law of Nigeria provides for how to deal with such people who topple power because that is an offence.
I am not queuing behind him; but I am supporting him. I cannot queue behind him. Why should I queue behind him? In terms of support, I am giving him my 100 percent support because of what he has done. It is also because of what my dream for Benue is and I see he is moving towards the realization of my Benue. Benue is a state just like my dream Nigeria where all people are equal. If an Idoma man is good for a job, they should give him. If an Idoma man is good enough to be my own doctor, he should be. If he is the best engineer, he should take on the construction of the road. I want a Benue that the citizens would be challenged. I believe Suswam has started well. Let's start from Makurdi and then let's go to Oturkpo.
Don't talk about villages yet. Were there paved streets in Makurdi? Were there tarred roads in Makurdi? This young man came and within two years we started seeing tarred roads in Makurdi. Was anybody working on the water works from Makurdi that has a huge river but no water? Go there and see what he has done in three years on our water system. Was there government house in Makurdi? Go and see with pride the office he operates from now. Now, go out into the rural areas, how many rural electrification projects has he commissioned. The other governors that were before him…I am from Kwande, my capital is Adikpo. I know that to go home from Adikpo to Kogem and from Kogem to Jatoka was impossible. Today I can drive with my eyes closed. He made the road. From here, I used to go to Ugba and I used to cry. And it used to take me several hours to go to Anyim. He made it through Abada. And it is a super highway. So this question of Suswam is a question of performance and communication. If you are providing for the people of Benue, for me it is ok. Give us water, hospitals and the good things of life and challenge us. Increase the infrastructure that would make us to develop economically. So as far as I am concerned, Suswam is doing the right thing. I am not only supporting Suswam, but I am standing solidly behind him in the game that is being played in Benue today by those who had the privilege to be in position to do these things and they didn't do.
So I support Suswam because he has read history correct; he is interpreting what I fought for; he is implementing what I went to jail for; he is implementing what I almost got killed for; the liberation of our people, the freedom for my people to show their capacities and their excellence which they were denied. I am for him.'