Musician and social activist, Charles Oputa, popularly known as Charly Boy, speaks about the prospect of Nigeria’s continued existence as one country and his recent call on the Igbo to take their destiny into their hands by withdrawing to their region
The oneness of Nigeria is increasingly being questioned because the aspirations of the majority of citizens are not being met and the masses are finding it difficult to survive. Some are calling for the different regions to go their separate ways but others are saying Nigeria is better as one. Which of these sides are you?
Nigeria can’t be better as one country. They say to see the end (of a thing) you look at the beginning and our beginning and our foundation are so faulty that it is really not a wonder why we have this kind of problems that we have – the injustices, the oppression, etc. In the beginning, it was by the British. Nigeria was not just a geographical expression, it was seen as a transaction, starting with the British.
Initially, when they came down here, the South fought them hard but they found the people up North, especially the Fulani, quite easy to get along with. And in the beginning, it was just the South that wanted independence; the North wanted to live their normal nomadic life but the British saw in them a people that they could easily manipulate. So, that was when they started to use them and got them into the contraption called Nigeria and aided them to do what they are doing now. Therefore, when you have a building, for instance, and already the foundation is faulty, you can’t start talking about putting floors upon floors. It’s not going to work. If you have a marriage and the spouses don’t respect each other, the marriage will not last.
The only time Nigeria had a semblance of working and that things were seemingly okay was when we had regional autonomy and the regions contributed to the centre. But that is not the case now. Another scam is the constitution because it was the handlers of Nigeria that helped these people to figure out that kind of constitution that does not work for everybody. So, there is no way this union can go forward except we come to the table and talk about it and except we go back to the way we started, that is regional autonomy.
For me, I will say it has to get worse before it even starts to get better. That Nigeria will be better, I am not sure it is going to happen in anyone’s lifetime. And that is saying it as I see it. In the first place, democracy is alien to the African man; we are not that sophisticated to understand the dynamism of democracy. So, when you have people from the 19th century who are in charge in the 21st century and they are trying to use the idea of the 19th century to rule in the 21st century, the engine don knock nao, how can the country work?
So, you think restructuring rather than the regions going their separate ways is the solution?
It’s either we structure (or things remain the same way), but I don’t know how we want to convince them (the North) to agree, because they’ve carried on today on the wealth of the South. For a long time, Nigerians have lived on corrupt money. We’ve not produced anything; all we’ve done since I can remember is to consume. In the past, there was cashew, palm oil, groundnut, and so on. But since this psychology of ‘Get rich quick or die trying’ took root after the Civil War, everybody decided to face oil, which will soon go extinct. So, it’s big trouble. (This union) is not by force; I don’t even understand it. The wife says she is tired of the marriage, that the husband is mistreating her, should it be by force? It is either the couple talks to see how they can cope with each other, with some kind of understanding or they go their separate ways! Because if you ask me directly, I don’t see this kind of arrangement work; it can’t work!
So, will you support the call for a referendum for Nigerians to choose whether they want to stay in one Nigeria or the regions should go their separate ways?
Of course! (I’d support) anything because this is not progressive at all. You can’t be taking me back to the barbarian times, no! This is not how a country progresses, please!
You said restructuring may be the solution, but the government seems not ready to heed the long call for restructuring. How do you think this should be resolved?
That is what I am saying; because if they are really thinking about progress (they wouldn’t have ignored the call for restructuring). It is in the nature of man to lord it over his fellow men. It is written in the Bible that the heart of man is wicked. Can you believe that in my village till today, there is still the caste system – they will say some people are slaves. So, that is the way man is, originally. It is a case of Monkey dey work, baboon dey chop. It is not fair and this is how yawa starts to gas everywhere (this is how trouble begins), when there is injustice, inequality, oppression.
Some have expressed the fear that if the government does not allow Nigerians to peacefully decide on the oneness or otherwise of Nigeria, it will happen by violence, given the festering sectional agitations. Do you share this fear?
I want to warn Nigerians that the worst is yet to come but it will soon come; it is at our doorstep. The very worst, the things unheard of will soon begin to happen. This country has been badly mismanaged and damaged, for it to get better, it will take between 70 and 100 years.
That sounds bleak.
Oh yes! It will get so worse. The kind of things you’ve never heard of in your life will happen in Nigeria because Papa wey says im pikin no go rest, him too no go sleep. So, the only way out is that we have to slug it out with these oppressors. We have to slug it out, there’s no alternative way out. We are here building individuals, we are not building institutions. Look at what could have happened in America with Donald Trump if they didn’t have strong institutions. Do you know the kind of impetus Trump has given to these African leaders? He was more or less a dictator. It is only when you can sit down and talk to a sane human being, people who are also living in your time and they can negotiate, that is when you start to talk about democracy, not people who think that might is right; that era has passed because if you want to continue to take us back, the marriage can’t work.
You have proposed that people should move back to their different ethnic regions to take their destiny in their hands. How do you think that will work?
It’s simple and that statement is really for the Igbo race that enjoys gallivanting around the globe. Yes, I like them for their tenacity, their hard work, focus etc. But I think it is high time they started thinking of home. For all their ingenuity in developing other places, let them go back home, charity begins at home, and start deciding on what to do about their region because they have all it takes. It’s just that the Igbo don’t have political sense and that is a big problem. But they can go back and start developing their region and so should everybody, including people from the South-West, who don’t really go to other regions to develop other places. We should all pay attention to our regions because I don’t see the longevity of this contraption anymore.
Many Igbo people are businessmen; many are into the importation of goods from overseas. Since there are no thriving seaports in the South-East and government policies will continue to impact on whatever they do, because South-East remains part of Nigeria, how workable is this your call on the Igbo to withdraw to their region?
I know that once that region comes together and decides to do something, it will be done. It is the same for the South-West. The day that the Igbo man and the Yoruba can, just for the sake of these injustices, have a little understanding and agree, Nigeria will settle and make progress. But unfortunately, these people, who have some kind of political superiority, understand the game more than the Igbo and Yoruba people and that is why it is possible for them to be messing things up for all of us. And that is why they are setting us against one another because they know that the day the Igbo man can sit down and come to an understanding with the Yoruba man, Nigeria will work.
Recently Asari Dokubo declared a Biafran state where the Igbo will take charge of their own affairs independent of Nigeria. Did your own initiative take inspiration from that?
It is left for you to decide. This is something that I have been talking about for a long time. I am not saying this because of what Asari Dokubo said. I have been talking about this for long; I didn’t start talking about this today. And the people who are talking about Oduduwa nation, let them organise themselves and those in the North, who don’t want to stay with these people (should do the same). And it is just because of the so much injustices that you have in Nigeria, that is why everybody wants to go their own way. Is it by force? Did we start talking about this today? We’ve said let’s talk, they said no; we’ve said let’s restructure, they are saying no, what exactly do they want? We can’t continue like this. This thing that is going on has an expiry date because it can’t continue in perpetuity. It’s not possible!
Given the rising of people like Sunday Igboho in the South-West and Asari Dokubo in the South-East/South-South, are you afraid that if dialogue is not embraced on these sectional agitations things might turn violent?
The handwriting is on the wall, you don’t need Prophet TB Joshua to tell you that Nigeria don ka and yawa dey come. I tell you, yawa wey people never see before, wey dem never hear before, dey come! You that you are asking me, if you look around you will see that things are no longer normal. The other day, my village that used to be so peaceful, one of the most peaceful places because my people are predominantly fishermen, they don’t want trouble. Sometimes I look at them as very lazy, laid-back kind people because all they know is partying. But all of a sudden that place has turned to a gangster city. Boys are carrying guns in broad daylight, going to shops to give people bills to pay to them every month; they’ve begun to burn down people’s houses; they started with my father’s house. What did my father do to them? They attempted to burn down the house. It was the community members who arrested the culprit and took him to the police station. But the question I’m asking myself is: Am I pissed off with the guy? But why should I? That was his own way of showing his frustration. But it is also because the government has eaten the future of our unborn generations.
Judging from the recent #EndSARS protest by the youths; do you think if the youths take charge of the affairs of the nation, it will quell the growing agitations for secession?
That #EndSARS protest, you know it rattled the hell out of all of them and that was why they used that kind of force to intimidate the youths that were protesting. I have been holding protests for almost 40 years now. There comes a time fatigue sets in; I am not as young as I used to be, I am not as agile as I used to be; I don’t have the kind of strength I had 20 years ago. And that was why I decided to go back to my hobby, my music, and speak through it against all the frustrations because I no longer have good legs to embark on a protest, shouting ‘We no go gree!’ The youths who want a better future must know that before that better future will come, blood must flow. I don’t know how we can do it without that, I just don’t know because these people are demonic, they are evil, they are devilish. What they are giving us now is just sample, they are ready to do worse things. But are we ready for them? Look at poor me, I should be enjoying my senior citizenship status now, but every day I am looking over my shoulder. What kind of life is that? Look at my environment so toxic! What good can come out of this? And that is why I pity the young ones, how do they survive this toxic environment? Look around you, do you think people are sane any longer? You can’t be sane and be living in this place, we are all mad to certain degrees, no sane person can stay in this clime. Nigeria is a burial ground of the youths’ dreams. So, if the youths feel that they want to kill of all them, they should better die than to stay like this and be without a future. If they understand it that way, maybe there will be hope because anything that these people can do, the young people can do better. You can’t tell me that the people of 19th century can defeat people of the 21st century. It is not possible. I am just praying that the people who organised that #EndSARS protest can do something much bigger. But it is not a question of whether people will die – People will die! We’ve been docile for too long and we have allowed these people to get entrenched in the system, now taking them out is the problem.
Are there practical steps that the youth should take ahead of the 2023 general elections?
First of all, I found out, sadly, that most of the young people who were making noise during the last elections didn’t register. But all these elections, are they not mere selections? There are no elections but we can no longer help it. So, the youth should start thinking about setting up their own thing. Because if we try that one and it doesn’t work, everything must scatter. For this country to stand again, we have to raze the building down to the foundation and start again. That is the only way.