Ango Abdullahi, spokesman of the Northern Elders Forum, says his support for the Arewa Youth groups that asked Igbo to leave Northern Nigeria before October 1 is not the reason for the division in the country as Nigeria has remained polarised since the first military coup in 1966.
The elder statesman said this during an interview with The Punch, adding that if the Igbo want to secede from Nigeria, the Northern region of the country will support them.
The former Vice Chancellor of Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) Zaria, was unapologetic about his earlier remarks which have since been disowned by majority of the Northern state governors and members of the Northern Elders Forum.
He reiterated his comments on the south’s former dependency on the north, saying this time that oil would not have been discovered in the south were it not for money from the north.
“The country has already been polarised. It is already polarized,” Abdullahi said.
“Well, maybe it (his support for the Arewa Youths) added another dimension to the polarisation but the country had been polarised. As far as I am concerned, the country has been polarised for a long time. From 1966, the country has remained polarized.”
Abdullahi further said that calls for his arrest were unnecessary, as he was merely exercising his freedom of speech and has committed no crime.
He said: “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.
“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.”
Paul Unongo, Deputy Leader of the Northern Elders Forum, had spoken out to distance himself and the NEF from the threat against the Igbos but Abdullahi said Unongo was entitled to his opinion.
“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.”
He maintained his earlier stance that money from the north sustained Nigeria until 1976 when crude oil was discovered in commercial quantities in the south.
“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.
“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 exploration 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.
“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.”
“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.”