Nigeria came as an after thought –Akinjide

Chief Richard Akinjide came to full national prominence in the Second Republic when he worked as Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice. But he had earlier cut his political teeth during the pre-independence days as a Zikist, getting into parliament at the young age of 24.
In this interview, with Daily Sun in his law chambers in Lagos, he walked down memory lane in nostalgia to the evolution of Nigeria as a nation and the factors that impeded its greatness.
For the learned old man: “hen you look at the evolution of Nigeria, when Lord Lugard came to Africa, he didn’t come to create nations. He came to trade. They came to make money. The question of national and state evolution was an afterthought.”
The grand old legal Czar has very unkind words for the military leaders that seized power and dominated the political scene for a long time. “The moment the military intervened, the country’s total development was arrested and it eventually collapsed. The reason why is it that Singapore is so great; I have been to Singapore. I do eat there, I do shop there. A country that was far more backward than Nigeria. It is now as good as Germany, or any country in Europe or North America. Why? Because of leadership.
They haved a leader  who wrote a beautiful book which I enjoin all Nigerians to buy and read. The book is called “the sky is not the limit.” When you trace the history of that book, you will discover that he was highly educated. He had double first class in Cambridge. His wife had first class. And he ruled that country for almost 30 years. He met the country in poverty, but when he left the office the country was in enormous wealth and greatness. And it was part of Malaysia. They broke up from Malaysia and formed a separate state.
They are now planning even to have a tunnel from Singapore to Malaysia, so that you don’t have to go on a boat.
“When I started legal practice in this country, at the age of 24, life was very glorious, we were using British pound sterling and the sky was not the limit. And if as a lawyer then, you had 40 pounds or 30 pounds, (then there were few lawyers, then you were on top. You travel wide and far in the country it was very good. The Army at that time was small: only four battalions in Lagos, Ibadan,  Kaduna and Enugu. We had civilian rule. At 26, I was in the parliament. The sky was not the limit. Those who were older than me at that time were as old as my father. The sages like Awolowo, Zik and Balewa, etc.
We believed that  Nigeria was going to be as great as other foreign countries. We were right in that analysis, we were right in the projections, but what breached that dream was the coup. It was the military intervention that changed the history of this country completely.
At independence in 1960, Nigeria was more advanced than Singapore, Malaisia, we were behind India. We were targeting Europe. The moment the Military intervened, the country’s total development was arrested and it eventually collapsed. They reason was that most of the military boys who came to power came from background of poverty. I must admit, there were few of them that came from well to do family. But many were poor. Both in terms of wealth and education. The backpedaled the goal of the country. It was then that the sky began to not be the limit.
Are you saying they pludered the resources of the country or they were not noble in articulating her objectives.
They had no right to have intervened in the government. They should never have taken over the government. One, they had no education. Two, they had no experience in managing wealth; three, they didn’t have leadership knowledge. So, it was not just possible at that time. If you look at Asia that has become great now, you discover that those, who were ruling then and now were educated people from well to do families. The country was great, and they wanted to make it greater. But here it was the reverse. If people like Balewa, Zik, Awolowo, Okpara had remained in power, Nigeria would be like Canada, USA or Australia and  New Zealand, which were rated after Sierra Leone. But now Sierra Leone is not as good as their kitchen whereas Sierra Leone has a lot of wealth, brilliant people. The first capital of West Africa was Freetown. The first university in West Africa was Freetown. Later on Gold Coast now Ghana, then Lagos. That was the movement of development but out of these three countries there was no doubt that the best was Nigeria, in size, resources, population. Our population is enormous.
Under the projection we have now, in 40 years time from now, Nigeria will be the 3rd in world. Look at the resources we have we have, oil right from Senegal to SouthAfrica. But look at where black Africa is now in the world. Having said that. I must confess that we had some excellent leaders at that time. We have excellent leaders today and once we get it right, I must say that the sky is till not the limit.
Memories of those days
I was a Zikist, and a lawyer for west African Pilot. It was the biggest newspaper in West africa, and I was also a colonialist. My column was known as hotspot which substituted my name for Zik. Zik called me hotspot  anytime he saw me. I was very lucky to have grown up under such caliber of people with enormous education and love for the continent of Africa and Nigeria. I still believe till now that the sky is not the limit. We are lucky to have the present president. I believe that with sincere cooperation with him the sky is not the limit .
Where did the rain begin to beat Nigeria. We have been in democracy for the past 13 years, why have we not got back the lost glory?
Why is it that Singapore is so great? I have been to Singapore. I do eat there, I do shop there. A country that was far more backward than Nigeria. It is not as good as Germany, or any country in Europe or North America. Why? Because of leadership. They have a leader “Chun kwu yum know you” who wrote a beautiful book which I enjoin all Nigerians to buy and read. The book is called “The sky is not the limit”. When you trace the history of that book, you will discover that- he was highly educated. He had double first class in Cambridge. His wife had first class. And he ruled that country for almost 30 years.
He met the country in poverty, but when he left the office, the country was in enormous wealth and greatness. And it was part of Malaysia. They broke up from Malaysia and formed a separate state. They are now planning even to have a tunnel from Singapore to Malaysia so that you don’t have to go on a boat. You can then drive from one country to another, with, or without passport. Look at India, there is hardly any country of the world today that India hasn’t got something to do with. Again they have one of the biggest democracies in the world. Look at Ghandi, he went to England and read law.
And then, he returned to South Africa to practise. It was from South Africa that he went to India to wake up his people; that colonialism is absurd, it is worse than slavery. The same thing with Nehru. He went to England to read law. And his daughter, who later became Prime Minister, also went to either Oxford or Cambridge University. So, here are people, with background of good education, good family people, who are patriotic.
But if you have people who come from poor backgrounds, wretched families, lack of education, they will now contend with those who come from educated families or from those who come from families with good names. That is the problem we have look at Zik. When Zik came back, the first place he went to was Liberia. Then from Liberia, he went to Gold coast. He was working for African Morning Post Newspaper as a Journalist. And then he moved to Nigeria. And from nothing he became what he became. Who would not be proud of that?
You talked about leadership problems, which involves poor education and family background of all Nigeria’s leaders, which of them towers above the rest, using the set criteria you enunciated? 
I must concede that most of them are good. How can you say that President Jonathan is not good.  This is someone who has a good education, has a Phd. He has a clean background, but one person cannot rule a country. He is just one out of many. You have 36 states with different ethnic groups, different attitudes, and I believe that if we had not followed the colonial attitude; when the colonialists came here, they didn’t come to help us. They came to make wealth for their country. Even all the agreements they made with their country, when they were coming here, they never obeyed them. So that is the root of our problem.
Talking about party politics now, some people have also blamed it as the bane of the country; as against the just a potion that it is the Military that retarded the growth of the country. I say this because only recently about 149Nigerians were awarded national honours, and Nigerians are aghast insisting that should not be the biggest problem confronting the nation. What do you think should be done along that line to give the nation a leap forward.?
I don’t agree with those who criticise the honours awards. The honours awards were excellent. I challenge anyone to name any of those who were given who does not deserve the award. You may argue that some people deserve something better. That may be true. But the fact remains that from the list I read, they all deserved what they got.
I don’t believe in just criticising for nothing. It is not possible to give every Nigerian honours awards, and that is why, it is done annually. Those who did not get two years ago got it last year. Those who did not get it last year received it this year. Those who did not receive this year, will get it next year. So, the sky is not the limit for them.
But some people insist that there should be a reasonable gap or time span from one award to another in order to give it some prestige? They argue that the annual arrangement reduces it’s worth in the eyes of the people?
It may not be annual in some countries. But at the same time, it may be annual in other countries. It all depends upon the need of each country. How can you explain what they do in England. They not only give it annually but sometimes two or three times in a year. The same thing with the United States, France, Canada. We should not be like pigs just imitating people. We should look at our problems and circumstances and move along accordingly. I support the honours awards and I think our present president has done something excellent.
Now to National restructuring.  Recently former Vice President, Abubakar Atiku, and ACN leader called for restructuring of the polity. Tinubu went ahead to demand for the scrapping of the Senate. Do you think these are part of measures that can redeem Nigeria?
Everybody is entitled to his or her opinion. That is why we have democracy. You have different political parties, different views, yes.
But I played some roles in the evolution of this country. I entered parliament before independence and I played some roles in the drafting of the constitution. Those who are criticising now, if you ask them to go and sit down and produce a better constitution, I can assure you that some of them will produce something that is worse. Nigeria is an extremely complex country. It is not like United States of America. When America fought Britain and became independent, how many countries were with the United nations at that time? They were just about 13 or 14 countries.
They are now 50. It should not just be imitating people, it should be subjective. In other words, you look at the problems surrounding you and find out what are the agonising reappraisals? What are the problems you have? How do you solve the problems? That is exactly what we are doing now. If you look at the history of the world globally, you will see that in the evolution of Canada, their constitution is different from that of United States. Yet they are neighbours. That of France is different from that of England. Even that of Germany, which is next to France is different from that of France. So, you have to be subjective in this matter look at the problem of this country and have a way of solving them. And don’t think you can have one problem for all solutions. It is not possible.
With the benefit of hindsight and the knowledge of the present, where do you see Nigeria in the next 20 years? 
Your guess is as good as mine. But my view is that Nigeria will get better, greater. The biggest mistake which Britain made was evolving us as one nation. We were not one before. And there was no basis of putting us in one country. But they put us together into one marriage and we should try our best to make it work, and to make it succeed look at Switzerland. It consists of three main countries- French speaking, Italian speaking, and English speaking. And they are doing extremely well there, very happy. I have been to all the sections. Look at the United States. We have some areas where they speak Italian as their main language. You have some areas where the main language is English. What of Canada? You have Quebec where French is their lingua Franca.
You have two languages in Canada – English and French. So, we should be very, careful, the way we talk about all these things. Look at China. China had the greatest civilization today in the world. Many people don’t know that. And yet over there; the population is 1.3 billion people, or look at India. India is about 1.1 or 1.2 billion. And yet they have all sorts of regions, all sorts of tribes, and they are getting on well. These are the things we should imitate, we in one marriage, and the sky should not be the limit, in that marriage.
How many countries would you have rather wished for Nigeria?
One nation. Nigeria is one nation
I mean, if Lord Lugard had not lumped all the groups together, how many nations would we have had?
When you look at the evolution of Nigeria, when Lord Lugard came to Africa, he didn’t come to create nations. He came to trade. They came to make money. The question of national and state evolution was an after thought. That one came after the First World War. And then when we had the second world war, because of the conquest of Germany as a Nazi country and also because of the evolution of Soviet Union at that time with communism they had no choice but to give the African Countries Independence.
And we got our independence we remained independent. And at the Cairo Conference of 1971, all the African Leaders agreed that African countries should remain together. We should not break into pieces again, otherwise we should never have stability in the continent. I agree with that.
I want you to look at the state of prevailing insecurity in the country, and heightened apprehension on the future of the country. Do you think there’s still a future for Nigeria?
We have got excellent future : Don’t forget that when Shagari was president, we had the Maitasine problem in Kano. Many young people today were possibly not born then, or were too young. Maitasine began in Kano and spread up to what we now know as Katsina and Kaduna State. It spread up to Bauchi state. And I was in government then. I was the Attorney General. And we had to handle that enormous problem. We handled it efficiently, and were able to conquer it, and brought peace to that part of the country. I believe that our present president is handling the crises extremely well and he will win.
As Nigeria celebrates, what words do you have for the citizens?
Be peaceful. Be united and together. Don’t let the sky be the limit.

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