Elder statesman and nationalist, Dr. Paul Unongo, is one of the few surviving politicians who played key roles in all democratic dispensations and in the struggle for Nigeria’s independence. In this interview, he speaks on the state of the nation, pin-pointing where we started losing our way and the path forward.
On where the problem started, he said
The problem is that after Azikiwe scored a fantastic victory in the Western House as a member of the House and his party was to form the government, the man who brought federalism as a form of governance reverted to the game we are playing in Nigeria today, which is tribalism,quite different from federalism. I just want people not to be too angry with themselves. Awolowo felt, as the strongman of the Yoruba, Azikiwe should not have won the election in his place, and he could not countenance an Igbo man coming to be the premier or the first minister or prime minister of a predominantly Yoruba place. Night came, and when day broke, Zik discovered his majority had collapsed.
The Yoruba abandoned him and went to a strange person they did not know ideologically, that is Awolowo, on the basis of tribe. So, Zik was forced to rethink as an intelligent person, to relocate. He went back to his own part of the country to become the first Premier of Eastern Region. Some of us sprang up too, in going with Awolowo’s federalism, that the notion that there are only three tribes or sections in the country was so fundamentally defective that we called on the metropolitan power, Britain, to correct this before they would leave.
So, we in the Middle Belt of Nigeria came together and decided that we would call ourselves ‘people in the middle’ and that we were not Hausa, we were not Fulani.