A former Vice-Chancellor of the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Kaduna State, Prof. Ango Abdullahi, recently sparked controversy when he backed a statement by Arewa youths asking Igbo to leave the North on or before October 1, 2017. Abdullahi, who is the spokesperson for the Northern Elders Forum, in this interview with GBENRO ADEOYE, said Nigeria had been a polarised state for a long time.
He, however, stopped the interview after a few questions and efforts to get him to conclude it were not successful
Your recent statement has sparked controversy and Nigerians have described it as having the tendency to polarise the country and cause violence. What did you aim to achieve with it?
Since when do you mean the country has been polarised?
From 1966, the country has remained polarised.
Some people are calling for your arrest. Are you in hiding?
Am I too important not to be arrested if I have committed an offence? If I have committed a crime; of course, why not? It is also an opinion; some people may wish me dead. Is that not so? There might be some people who want me arrested. I thought that all countries have legal systems that qualify offences and depending on the gravity of the offence, measures are taken against offenders and so on. If I have committed an offence, I expect that somebody would have drawn my attention to it, but I don’t think anybody has drawn my attention to an offence that I have committed. All I have done is to express my freedom of speech and this is guaranteed in the country as far as I know.
But the issue had to do with some Arewa youths telling Igbo to vacate the North before October 1; a call you supported. Is that not calling for violence if the ultimatum is ignored and the youths try to force the Igbo out?
Go and get the full text of the youths’ press conference.
I have read it.
Were you there?
I have read it.
If you were not there, go and get a copy of the press release and pick what is important to you. The Igbo said they want to leave Nigeria. They have been saying this for a long time. They have wanted to leave Nigeria since 1967, when we had the civil war and they have not stopped asking to leave Nigeria. So this time, the youths must have seen that they needed help to leave Nigeria and it is a good thing if they can mobilise themselves back from every part of Nigeria, including the North of course, to go back home and really concentrate on building the Biafra state they have been dreaming about. And we will support them; I will support them in that direction.
But it appears that your support and the action of the Arewa youths are not popular in the North.
You are speaking from Lagos; you are not living in the North, you don’t know anything about the North.
The Deputy Leader of the Northern Elders Forum, Paul Unongo, came out to disown your statement, saying Igbo are always welcome in the North and that you are on your own. Does that not suggest that you don’t have the support of Northerners?
Paul Unongo, I agree, is part of my organisation, NEF. Yes, I am entitled to an opinion; I am not saying that our opinions in the NEF have to be the same. We may differ on this particular case. And he is entitled to his opinion just as I am entitled to mine. You just wait and see whether the matter is popular or not popular. You have to do a lot more research than what you read from Paul Unongo.
Southerners are angry that you attempted to rewrite history by saying that money from the North was used to develop the South. Why are you trying to rewrite history?
I am not rewriting history. My teacher in Barewa College has compiled the economic status of Nigeria from 1914 to 1960 and if you care to find that document, you will find what the financial relationships were between the Federal and the regional governments and how funds were moving from one part of the country to the other. That is one. You can look for it, you will get it. I can also tell you that the resources of the North were the basic sources of infrastructural development in this country, talking about the railway, the ports and so on and so forth. There is no question about that one. Also without doubt, the resources of the North were used for the exploitation of oil. You go and ask the first Minister of Mines, Power and Steel Resource (that was in charge of the oil portfolio in the First Republic), who is the longest serving up till date, Maitama Sule, he served as minister for six years. Shell asked him, this money that you are taking from the North, is it an investment or a loan? And our leaders at the time said the money belonged to a part of Nigeria and one day, the whole of Nigeria would benefit from it. So you see when some stupid comments keep coming from people who really did nothing about oil industry development and so on, I call oil money idle money. This is money that Nigerians have not worked for. The development of a country is not dependent on idle funds, which oil money is. You have to work for things and that is why from northern Nigeria where farmers are toiling to feed the country, they send goods outside the country and so on. Up till 1974, the foreign exchange of this country was dependent on exports of agricultural products, mostly from the North. So if people are not quite literate about the history of Nigeria, they should please go and read a lot more and they will be able to understand what I am saying.
Are you denying the fact that Nigeria made money from other regions like the South-West, which had cocoa and the Mid-Western Region that had palm oil and so on?
Of course, I agree. We agree! We agree! But all the same, the colonial masters that were running the affairs of the country had records and how funds were used to balance the budgets of the various regions and how the North played a major role in balancing budgets of even governments in the southern part of the country. Records are available; you go and check them. It was up till 1974 when commercial exports of crude oil began to really take over from agricultural exports; that is why I’m referring to 1974. And you go and check the speeches of Gen. Yakubu Gowon (retd.) in his last year in office and so on, when the oil exports began to manifest. For example, during the civil war, this country didn’t borrow a kobo to prosecute the war for three years under the leadership of Chief Obafemi Awolowo, a ‘veteran person’, who knew how to manage small resources.