In this interview with TOLUWANI ENIOLA, elder statesman, Dr. Tunji Braithwaite, speaks on secession threat, Boko Haram, among other national issues
How would you react to the secession threats being made by pro-Biafra activists over the allegations of injustice meted out to their leaders?
President Muhammadu Buhari should not take the issue of the agitation for the sovereign state of Biafra lightly. It will be at the country’s peril to take it lightly. Politically, when there is no justice, we cannot get peace. It’s now a matter of social justice. Social injustice, as the Igbo activists have alleged, is fuelling the agitation for secession.
Nigeria at the moment is seriously suffering from widespread corruption, especially in high places. People do not trust national institutions like the judiciary and the electoral process. There is rising impunity. Poverty is raging and a few are appropriating the country’s money into their pockets. There is also an imbalance in our federal system.
With protests within and outside the country, are you not worried that Nigeria may plunge into another civil war?
Agitation for secession in the present dynamics of international and national politics is different from what we experienced in 1967 during the civil war. Now, the agitation for independence will not necessarily lead to war these days like in 1967. You cannot use force over a people if they do not want to continue under a system that denies them basic things and their fundamental human rights. Look at what is happening in the United Kingdom and other parts of the world. People have a right to demand self-expression. This advice is not for Buhari alone; we should find ways to reinvent Nigeria in a way that every geopolitical zone will have a sense of belonging. You don’t have a sense of belonging if you are being discriminated against.
What you are saying is that the South-East is being discriminated against by the Muhammadu Buhari government?
I am not saying that the people of the South-East are being marginalised or discriminated against. The people of the South-East are saying so. They are the ones crying out. I cannot answer that question one way. But let us put in place a system where everybody would have a sense of belonging. People would not revolt in an environment where their interests are protected. The overdependence on oil is also an issue. There are many other resources that can be exploited in this country that can bring more revenue than oil.
Are you satisfied with President Muhammadu Buhari’s response to the social injustices that you mentioned?
I am not. He promised to rid the nation of corruption but I am not satisfied with what I have seen so far.
Don’t you think it is too early to start criticising the President?
How long do we have to wait for a change? People are suffering under the weight of poverty-induced corruption through the siphoning of national wealth into the pocket of a few people. There is so much impunity.
I heard that President Buhari made a statement that he would not look at the outcome of the 2014 National Conference. He will be making a great mistake if he fails to address the recommendations of the National Conference. Of course, the National Conference of which I was a member addressed the issues of social justice as well as well as the devolution of power so that development can reach every nook and cranny of this country. If we continue with an unbalanced federal system, sooner than later, we will have a major crisis. Where there is no justice, there can be no peace.
The Rivers State Election Petitions Tribunal upturned the victory of Nyesom Wike and ordered a fresh election within 90 days. What’s your comment?
The tribunal ruling in Rivers does not nullify my observation that there is a deep rot in the judiciary. I don’t see that as an improvement in the judiciary. The tribunal has upheld the victory of Governor Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta State also, making it look like a draw. However, the fact that one was in the favour of the Peoples Democratic Party and the other in the favour of the All Progressives Congress is not the way justice works. If PDP won in the two states, according to justice, PDP must be given all according to the rule of justice. If on the other hand, the PDP loses in both states, APC must be given their mandates. According to the tenets of justice, it is the side that wins all that must take all and it must be seen to be done honestly.
Do you think the promise by the military authorities that the Boko Haram insurgency will end by December is realistic?
The promise that insurgency will be crushed by the end of the year is all speculation. I am sure that President Buhari is serious about his intentions to end Boko Haram insurgency by December. If it were possible, many Nigerians wish that insurgency had ended by the end of September. I would not put that promise of the present government as one of the unserious promises of the government. Definitely, Buhari is serious but it is all speculative. It is just built on hope.
You cannot say definitely that you will end all insurgency. He was merely expressing hope, which is speculative.