Damian Opata, emeritus professor of English and Literary Studies, University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN), and chieftain of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), speaks on the rising insecurity in the country, Igbo presidency, and Biafra agitation in this interview with Linus Aleke.
What is your take on the state of insecurity in the country?
Security threats are everywhere and the worst aspect of it is that no part of the country is safe any longer. It used to be Northeast, up to Zamfara in Northwest and a few other places. But it is everywhere now. We saw what happened at Owo, the massacre of innocent worshippers. So, any Nigerian even the president who tells us that the situation is not extremely disturbing is not telling the truth. Now the issue is not whether it is there but what we are doing to contain what is happening. The measures so far adopted by the government seem apparently to have failed. I think this is one reason why the former minister of defence, Gen TY Danjuma (retd), called for every state to weaponize her citizens because people have lost faith in the Nigerian state, in terms of security of lives and property.
Security is not just about physical safety. We also have food safety, emotional safety, job security, and others. The issue of this social revolution that people are talking about, in terms of voting during elections, is like giving the scorecard of the incumbent administration. This is because if the people are occupied, if they are busy, happy, and satisfied, then there will be no need for this type of reaction. There is now a determination to say if we register en masse and we actualize our dream by voting and the vote counts, then we may have a better regime. I think that is the logic for the upsurge in voters’ registration in the country today. If I am going to Leja now, I am not even quite sure of my safety. This brings us to road safety. When the roads are very bad, they constitute death traps. If we drive through our roads, we will see how bad they are. If we are going to Otukpa junction, between Obollo-Afor and Otukpa, what do we see? Very terrible roads. One day I counted about 150 checkpoints and security men are stationed where the roads are bad. They are not stationed at the good portions of the roads. Even where the thieves and other non-state actors unleash mayhem on road users are those bad portions of the roads. So, it is an overall bad phenomenon. Unfortunately, all we hear from authorities is about rejigging the security architecture. They keep talking about rejigging security architecture, and what they mean by that is not clear to us most of the time. It is a very disturbing problem and I think all hands must be on deck to curtail this menace. Communities and individuals must find a way of succeeding where the government appears to have failed.
Does it mean we adopted democracy foolishly?
We have not fully gotten used to the western democratic model, a capitalist model. We have not gotten adapted to it. When you have state actors, their powers are immense. It is not easy to impeach a governor let alone a president in a democracy. Not that the legislature cannot muster the muzzle to impeach a governor, but they will not be allowed. It is only a tree that you will see you want to cut down and it remains where it is without running away to save its life. There is this issue of interest in politics.
It is easy to break the will of the people at any level. Even the local government chairman can break the will of the people, the system itself. It is only now that people have fought somehow for the independence of the legislature. But if they are dependent on the governor or president for salaries and allowances, there is a limit of power they can exercise because of their self-interest. The legislature and the people should take a critical look at western democracy. They don’t come near the formulation of policies; they don’t come near people who are in the executive, and they don’t also come near the legislature.
As I said in my lecture, the Igbo had consensual democracy, where everybody had a say. Where there was some kind of autonomy. At least you will be allowed to say something, then when there are negotiations, you will make your point and when your idea is rejected, you will know why it was rejected. What is uppermost in a capitalist democracy is interest and all of them know that; even those who claim to be the conscience of the people. I don’t want to take a jab at journalism or the media. I don’t know how it is the conscience of the people when many people don’t even have a conscience.
None of the major political parties in the country fielded an Igbo candidate for the 2023 polls. Where did the Igbo get it wrong?
I would not say that they got it wrong or right. It is difficult for me to begin to postulate whether it is right or wrong. Whether we like it or not, the main issue is that elections are based on the majority of voters. An election is based on population, manipulated or actual, but we must have the population, either manipulated or actual. Those of us in the southeast don’t have the population. When you have a state like Kano having more than 40 local government areas and we have Enugu State with 17 LGA, and others with 16 or thereabouts, what do you expect? Three states in the southeast may not be up to Kano alone in terms of the number of local government areas. We had delegates based on the number of LGA. Kano will naturally have more delegates. It played out during the primaries. The southeast always has the least number of delegates. So, they have to negotiate with others. When we see our powerlessness, reality makes it mandatory that we have to adopt a strategy of lobbying, not noise-making. Not claiming that it is our right. Yes, it is our right but the right must be claimed. Zoning is to make things equitable. We claim it by quiet lobbying and not noise in the media.
There are insinuations in certain quarters that Igbos are being denied the highest office in the land because they dared to fight Nigeria in 1967. Do you share this sentiment?
It is a possibility that because we fought the war, we should be kept away from the plum office. The wounds have not healed on either side: on the side of those who fought for Biafra and on the side of those who fought against Biafra. It does appear that the wounds are not fully healed. But having said that, power is not something we wait to be given to us. Power is what we strive to get and we don’t get it by noise making. The insecurity in the southeast is also a big problem. I respect IPOB, and I respect their own opinions, but I don’t think that the way IPOB approached the issue of Biafra is the right way.
Those of us of the new Biafra, I doubt if we knew Biafra. Biafra was known for ingenuity. Lt Col Ojukwu then, I was in St Theresa’s College, went about from zone to zone mobilizing people for the Biafran cause. From zone to zone, even students from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN), came to address us at St Theresa’s College to mobilise us for Biafra. There was a well-prepared ideological ground for people to accept Biafra. What ideological thinking has IPOB done to get people to key into their struggle?