28th February, 2017
1. We are a delegation of the Nzuko Umunna, a Pan-Igbo group, whose members are individual professionals within Nigeria and the Diaspora, as well members/leaders of most pan-Igbo associations and groups.
We were sent to pay a visit to Nnamdi Kanu and his associates currently in detention at the Kuje prison as part of a worldwide consultation process on the peace and development of Alaigbo/Nigeria. We visited to hear his own point of view, and we also shared our views with him. Our interactions with Nnamdi Kanu and his colleagues were frank and fruitful. That visit, as well as our concerns about the state of the nation, have warranted this press conference. We speak as Nigerians, on our behalf, and on behalf of the tens of thousands of professionals in these various associations and groups.
2. We believe that Nigeria has all the potentials to be great and one of the most prosperous nations on earth. Like most countries of the world, it has its own internal contradictions, challenges of national cohesion and development. Every country that has endured and prospered has devised a dynamic system for dealing with its internal contradictions.
No country has prospered by suppressing legitimate agitations or democratic expressions. Nigeria has greatly come short on these counts. Nigeria has never been more divided than now, with the agitations for self-determination becoming more strident and desperate.
Most discerning patriots have come to the conclusion that Nigeria as currently structured and governed is unsustainable and drifting to a failed state status. Since 2005, Nigeria has drifted from a rank of 54th position in the global Failed/Fragile State Index to 17th position in 2014 and now to a dangerous 13th position in 2016 (under the ‘Red Alert’ category of countries).
Perhaps no one sums the sentiments better than the respected Elderstatesman, Professor Ango Abdullahi (reported 12th February, 2017) when he asserts that:
“Nigeria’s project is not working, after 50 to 60 years the Nigerian project is not working despite everything we went through, constitutional conferences, the country is at a standstill……It is unfortunate we are still where we were more than 50 years after independence and have not been able to move away from where our colonial masters left us”.
Our founding fathers and mothers —Nnamdi Azikiwe, Obafemi Awolowo, Abubakar Tafawa-Balewa, Ahmadu Bello, Margaret Ekpo etc – must be turning in their graves. While this might appear an extreme characterization, it sums up the dominant sentiment of people who believe in the urgency of a fundamentally re-engineered new Nigeria.
3. It is our considered view that much of the increasingly desperate agitations are in response to the failures of the dysfunctional/looting elite and poor governance in the context of a failing state that offers increasingly vanishing opportunities and hope for its youth and future generations. We do not condone violence, criminality or brigandage of any sort, and nor should any state do so. However, by failing or refusing to address the fundamental issues and instead concentrating on the symptoms, Nigeria runs the grave risk of turning the entire country into a large prison yard or a police state.
4. Consequent upon the foregoing, we demand the following:
A) In 2015, Nigerians voted for change based on a prospectus contained in the manifesto of the party that won the General Elections.
That party is the All Progressives Congress (APC), which now controls the Federal Government and 23 out of 36 States of the Federation. As the ruling party, the APC has a duty to deliver on its most fundamental contract with the Nigerian people namely, to restructure the Nigerian federation. According to the APC Manifesto:
“As progressives, we believe that Nigeria is greater than any individual or the sum of her Federating Units, therefore the country can only succeed when all of us have equal rights, where no one is above the law, where the culture of impunity is abolished and where there is level playing field…As a change Agent, APC intend to cleanse our closet to halt the dangerous drift of Nigeria to a failed state; with a conscious plan for post-oil-economy in Nigeria.
To achieve this laudable programme APC government shall restructure the country, devolve power to the units, with the best practices of federalism and eliminate unintended paralysis of the center”.
So far, APC seems to have abandoned its cardinal contract with Nigeria. It is commendable that it is fighting corruption, fighting Boko Haram, and grappling with a deteriorating economy.
However, it is our considered view that without dealing with several of the foundational issues of the Nigerian state in a post-oil economy, much of its efforts will in the end amount to tinkering at the margins.
The current Constitution of Nigeria was designed to consume the oil rents and a system designed for consumption cannot become efficient for production in a post-oil world. But the task of rescuing and rebuilding a new Nigeria must be a multi-partisan, and all-inclusive effort.
There seems to be a national consensus that the current system cannot endure. The APC, PDP, APGA and other political parties, as well as all non-partisan actors and statesmen must come together to save Nigeria. We are in a state of emergency at all levels. The National Council of State needs to be convened urgently, and our legislative houses at the national and state assemblies should wake up to the new realities. If the only thing the current administration succeeds in doing is to re-engineer a new Nigeria, agreed to by its constituent parts and citizens, it would have birthed a new country for the 21st century!
B) The pre-occupation with where the next president of Nigeria will come from is an unnecessary distraction from the crisis at the moment and the urgency of erecting enduring pillars for a peaceful and prosperous country. We demand for a fairer and equitable system where it would not matter where the president or any officer comes from. We want a country where there are growing opportunities for the youths and future generations to live in peace and prosper.
C) We demand for the urgent release of Nnamdi Kanu, his colleagues and all prisoners of conscience, as part of the process of the search for national cohesion and building a new Nigeria.
There is a legitimate debate among Nigerians on the Biafra question, and there are indeed many Igbos who, like many other Nigerians, do not agree with Nnamdi Kanu’s objective or means. It needs to be stated, however, that no citizen of Nigeria deserves the kind of treatment meted to him and his colleagues.
Government has declined to obey the orders of properly constituted courts in Nigeria for his release. Nnamdi Kanu is not above the law; but nor should he be put beneath it. A situation where the state refuses to obey clear and legitimate court orders for his release and holds him until it gets a favourable order; moves the goalposts endlessly through endless amendment of the charges against him; and now seeks to try him in secret clearly constitutes circumstances that would fall well short of the constitutional guarantees of due process. These also would raise questions about our country’s adherence to human rights, the rule of law and transparent judicial process. We worry that there is now a clear design to place Nnamdi Kanu beneath the law and basic constitutional guarantees of due process. Without the rule of law, no sustainable economic progress can take place.
The charge of treasonable felony, which is now levied against Nnamdi Kanu has previously been used against Joseph Tarka and Obafemi Awolowo. His trial reminds us of the travails of these historic figures in our country and, indeed, of the more recent military-era treason trial of President Obasanjo. Not many people believe that Nnamdi Kanu and his colleagues can receive a fair trial based on the law. This makes Nnamdi Kanu and his colleagues political prisoners or prisoners of conscience.
At various times in Nigeria’s history, it became expedient to release such prisoners (e.g. Obafemi Awolowo; Yakubu Gowon and Odumegwu Ojukwu, as well as President Obasanjo) as part of national reconciliation and nation-building. Nigeria is currently a country at war with itself. Just like Nigeria wisely dealt with a potentially explosive “political Sharia” a few years ago, a time like this calls for a lot of wisdom and compromise in the interest of the larger picture.
Our considered view is that, for taking extraordinary steps to draw international attention to Nigeria’s failing state and the urgency of actions, Nnamdi Kanu and his colleagues deserve to be engaged and not to be held interminably as political detainees.
D) We demand that the right to freedom of association, assembly, peaceful protest, and expression must be accessible to all citizens of Nigeria as guaranteed by Nigeria’s constitution.
Trying to criminalize anyone who talks about self-determination or attempts to use brute force to main and kill innocent protesters in a democracy is a strategy for a time that we no longer live in. This is 2017 and Nigeria is supposed to be a democracy! More than 200 years after 11 states in the US failed their secession bid, their Confederate flag still flies in several of them—even on government buildings.
Since 2012, no less than 23 U.S. states had thousands of their citizens sign petitions to secede from the U.S. Currently, the State of California is still pressing for Calexit. There were protests all over the US following the election of Donald Trump. Similar examples can be cited in many democracies. But no one is killed, brutalized or incarcerated by the state.
E) As a people, we believe that our country is big enough for diverse voices to be heard in the confidence that these voices in their respective ways seek to correct our imperfections; to have a stake in constructing a more perfect union. We convey our thanks to the Federal Government and the Acting President, Prof. Osinbajo for reaffirming recently that citizens have the right to peaceful protest, and we are happy that protesters were allowed to express themselves in Lagos, Abuja and other venues recently under police protection. In particular:
* We condemn the use of disproportionate force and live bullets by law enforcement agencies resulting in the killing and maiming of unarmed protesters generally, especially the killing of IPOB/MASSOB members under whatever guise and call on the law enforcement agencies to take steps to ensure that those responsible are held accountable.
* We equally call on the Governors of the States in which these have occurred to exercise their powers under the relevant Commission of Inquiry Laws to investigate these killings through appropriate judicial commissions of inquiry.
* Additionally, we call on the Chief Judges of the respective States to order Coroners Inquiries into these killings as required by the relevant Coroners Laws.
We affirm our belief that it is better for a democracy that people should express their grievances or agitations peacefully and openly than to force them into more dangerous underground operations.
Thank you for listening!
Chukwuma C. Soludo; 2. Pat Utomi; 3. Chidi Odinkalu; 4. Law Mefor; 5. Rev. Fr. Jude C.; 6. Udenta Udenta; 7. Ebere Onwudiwe; 8. Emeka Ugwu-Oju; 9. Ferdinand Agu; 10. Tony Nnadi; 11. Sam Amadi; 12. Ikechukwu Onyia; 13. Innocent Chukwuma; et al