10 Nations Should Be Created Out Of Nigeria – Asagba of Asaba
Asagba of Asaba, Prof Chike Edozien, speaks with Newsmen on his centenary anniversary and state of the nation.
How do you feel about your forthcoming centenary anniversary?
I am very happy to be here alive and healthy to celebrate my 100 birthday. I thank God for the long life but as Bishop Chukwuma said, 100 years is for preparation and 120 years is the time to fly; so I’m preparing to fly.
Some have referred to Asaba as the first capital called Nigeria as it was once the administrative headquarters of the Royal Niger Company. What are your thoughts on the journey Asaba has made from that time till date?
Here is just a brief history of Asaba kingdom. From the information available, Asaba has been here for over 500 years; the first king of Asaba was Nnebisi, who came to Asaba from Igala land. When he died, unfortunately, there was no successor and the town was divided among five of his six grandchildren. And so, that was how we developed the five Ebos (quarters) and there was no king. These five Ebos lived independently for about 400 years.
How they managed to remain one town when there was not a single leader and cooperated is a mystery to me. After 400 years, they realised that for progress, they needed one leader; so they created the title of Asagba of Asaba as the king for the five units. Surprisingly, they created the title of Asagba of Asaba as the king but they did not unify the land. So, we have one king, five Ebos and five lands, but the king does not have control over any land. Therefore, people see Asaba as a kingdom with a king who does not have control over any land.
One of my ambitions, since I became Asagba of Asaba, is to complete the journey of unifying the land. We are in the process of doing that so that we will remain a kingdom with one king and one land. So, the end will be one king, one land so that we will become a full-fledged nation
With your years of experience as a monarch, what advice do you have for Nigerian leaders on how to keep the country one?
During the colonial era when Britain ruled Nigeria, we witnessed a civil war and the efforts to bring Nigeria together as one country. So, the concept of separation in Nigeria was born. We fought for independence and with the independence, we had a new constitution.
Britain ruled Nigeria as a British colony for many years for peace and development. I believe that the peace and development in Nigeria during the colonial period was a Britain-introduced idea of indirect rule. The British government ruled the people under the direction of the kings. So the Ebos of the five units of Asaba functioned like a local government.
At independence, politicians created the Federal Government of Nigeria and also created local governments following the pattern they observed in many other countries. And so, the people and the traditional rulers were out of the system. We had two local governments; a constitutional local government with the power and money, and the people’s local government with their traditional rulers and the land. And I think that’s the greatest impediment to developing Nigeria and the problem of rural poverty and insecurity cannot be solved until the continuation of the constitutional local government and the people government.
What steps can be taken to accomplish that?
To accomplish this, there should be a change and amendment of the constitution. When the government announced the amendment of the constitution, I sent this proposal to the Constitutional Conference but it was never done.
One of the problems that has faced Nigeria over the years is insecurity, what suggestions do you have for the government to address the security challenges?
I had those issues in mind when I sent my proposal for the amendment of the constitution. I believe that if the same idea of indirect rule is re-established, the traditional rulers will be able to identify those rebels and criminals in their domains. Those Boko Haram insurgents have parents and they are part of the community. The community can identify them, and by doing so, we will no longer have them among us in Nigeria. The traditional rulers should be recognised as the true local governments and the problem will be solved.
One of the issues confronting Nigeria is ethnic tension, what advice do you have for the country on how to tackle it?
On a personal point of view, I wonder why the ethnic issue is so strong in Nigeria. I said so because this ethnic issue was not an issue with me when I was a professor at the University of Ibadan. I’m an Igbo man from Asaba, my wife is an Egba woman from Abeokuta; my cook was a Hausa man from Bauchi; my steward was a Calabar man; and my maid was an Edo girl, and we lived happily together. Since we did not understand each other’s languages, we communicated in English; so why can’t Egba people live happily with Igbo people is beyond my understanding. At that level, I lived together with an Egba wife and there were no issues or problems. So, I think many people used ethnic issues to their advantage.
As the Dean of the Faculty of Medicine, one time I got to know Dr (Adeoye) Lambo, he was a psychiatrist; I decided that we would create a department of psychiatry in the medical school and brought him. I also contacted a very efficient surgeon in the United Kingdom and I decided to invite him to come back to Nigeria to Ibadan as a new surgeon. There were no funds available at that time for the position, so I met a foundation to get money to appoint him. That was what I did for Dr Lambo and the other man and they were Yoruba people.
The ethnic issue is a very strong feeling in the minds and hearts of the people in Nigeria. So, how we are going to cure it is difficult to say. One solution I gave in one interaction is to give autonomy to different units that make up Nigeria. For instance, separate Igbo people in Delta State and put them together to become one nation. So, Nigeria should create like 10 different nations and they can cooperate like the European Union is doing to reduce the tension of ethnicity in Nigeria, because it is a powerful matter that you cannot put aside.
Would you say that the ethnic problem is better or worse today in Nigeria?
From my observation and watching the interplay of personalities in the Federal Government, I think the ethnic issue is as strong today as it was 40 years ago, and one of the things I suggested was that universities should create a faculty or department of nation-building. We are trying to put over 250 ethnic groups into one nation. I know that the ethnic issue in Nigeria is very strong, so, I think it should be something to study in Nigerian universities; studying nation-building will reduce the problem of ethnicity because it is a very strong problem for over 250 ethnic groups to live in one nation.
What is your message to Nigerian leaders, especially on issues of ethnicity, security and the economy?
I believe that Nigeria can be a very great nation, the most populous in Africa. We need to have peace and development in Nigeria. And one of the major problems and setbacks in Nigeria is corruption. We need to fight corruption. Corruption is so deep in Nigeria; my observation is that we have come to a stage where everything we hear is false unless proven, and we are living in a nation where everybody is a suspect unless proven otherwise. It is a disease and we need to fight the disease. Again, we need to study how 250 ethnic groups can become one nation and we need to fight corruption.
What will you say to Nigerians to feel good about themselves?
In addition to what I have said earlier, we have to fight poverty; at independence, $2 made N1; today, $1 is over N1,300. How can you survive in this economy? So the economy has to improve, even those who work hard and save their money in the bank will have their money devalued over a thousand times.
Has Nigeria done well as a country?
I was listening to a conversation by some Nigerians in the United States. Everyone agreed that the level of corruption in Nigeria is surprising and some say it is not only in Nigeria, but Africa’s problem, and somebody else says no it is not Africa’s but Nigeria’s problem. The Benin Republic which is close to Nigeria is in Africa and there is zero corruption; if they can achieve it there, why can’t we achieve it in Nigeria?
There are two things to do; one is that everybody should be proud to be a Nigerian; another is that we have to comprehensively review the constitution and bring in the traditional rulers so that we will be one. The level of corruption in Nigeria cannot be compared to any other country. We need to fight corruption and the causes of corruption. Again, there should be a change of attitude in Nigeria. The current attitude can’t bring development. Review the constitution and fight corruption; these are fundamental things to do if we must develop.