Former Chairman, Transparency International, Nigeria chapter, General Ishola Williams, believes that the South East and Middle Belt zones should produce the president, and vice respectively in 2023. In this interview, he speaks on various issues including the deteriorating security situation in the country.
Nigeria just marked its 59th independence anniversary today, how would you say the journey has been?
First you have to know that there is no country in the world that is static. You are either moving forward or you are standing still at one place. Ultimately, it is the people that will decide whether they will move forward or not. The country is merely a geographical entity. It is the people that will look back over the past few decades and decide whether their lives and the lives of their children have been better or not. However, the general expression you get from people is that things are not improving and therefore we need to do a lot of work.
Can you recall what the mood was that moment the Union Jack was lowered and the green and white stripe was hoisted?
The mood was that of excitement that we are self-governing and can develop at our own pace and make decisions without asking permission from London or any other place, but sincerely I don’t see any change. Look at the way Department for international Development (DFID) of United Kingdom, United States Agency for International Development (USAid) and others are coming into the country. Just recently, the Nigerian Immigration service (NIS) said they were doing a border management policy, which was funded by the European Union (EU). So, are we really independent? In the first six years of independence when we were running a true federal structure, the country made a lot of progress. But from 1966 when the military took over, we started running into problems because we made the mistake of tinkering the federal structure. We should go back to the federal structure of the 1963 constitution. We should go back to the parliamentary system and look at whether we want the British model or the South African model. I personally prefer the parliamentary system of South Africa.
From your analysis, you blame your own constituency, the military for the problems in the country by abolishing the true federal structure of the country?
Yes, to a great extent but since 1999 that the civilians have been there what have they done? What stops them from changing it again? After all, the All Progressives Congress (APC) said ‘Change’, that was their slogan when they came in. Now they are saying ‘Next Level’. How can you be talking of Next Level without bothering to find out whether you made any change?
Who is to blame for the situation of the country?
There are two sides to this. One is that we elect the leadership, therefore when they are not doing the right things, we must tell them No; we must not remain quiet. In Nigeria, we keep quiet a lot of times and allow few people to talk. Unfortunately, when these people who talk come out to contest so that they will put into practice all they have been saying, we will not allow them. Take for example the late Chief Gani Fawehinmi who was defending public interest, yet when he tried to get into public office, we all remember what happened to him. So, to a great extent if this country is not doing well, the followership has a problem because they are not choosing the right people to lead. If we want Nigeria to improve from 59 before it gets to 60 years, then we the followers must take the responsibility of making sure that our leaders do what is good for us.
The second point is that the National Assembly and the state assemblies need to reflect, both past and current members of the assemblies need to ask themselves whether they are making positive or negative impact on the nation and its people. The attitude of the members of the National Assembly and the state assemblies seems to indicate that they don’t care about the situation of the people. Look at their compensation. People have been saying that it is too high, but they don’t care.
Why is it that at every legislative session they will buy new vehicles? What of those that were re-elected? So, if a legislator has been re-elected four times now, he will get a new vehicle the four different times? They are not living a life that reflects the financial situation of the country and they don’t care about those that elected them no matter how they pretend, it is bad.
Many Nigerians believe the two-chamber legislature is too expensive to operate. What is your view?
What need we have for the Senate? We can sack the Senate and nothing will happen, though it will require an amendment to the constitution. If you want to counter the argument on the senate that regardless of how small or big a state is that they must get three senators, we can in the alternative introduce proportional representation in the House of Representatives, that way we can ensure that minorities everywhere are represented. The time has also come to allow independent candidates to contest elections in Nigeria. The two major parties we have are corrupt parties, during elections they buy over all the other parties and it is corruption galore. We need independent candidates so candidates who will rely on the support of the people to win emerge.
What kind of reforms would you suggest to actualise this?
If we are going to make any progress, we have to go back to the Parliamentary system, either the British model we had in the First Republic or the South African model. There is confusion all over the place and the politicians are exploiting it, and I will tell you it is not the fault of the politicians but the fault of the people that put them there.
What you also find now is that we are in a situation where the governors are negotiating with bandits. Unfortunately, you cannot also blame the governors because we are in a situation where the security agencies are not living up to expectation. The police have so many challenges but the way the authorities are handling it does not show any sincerity. Moreover, removing the police from the Ministry of Internal Affairs has disrupted and implicated the security system we are supposed to have within the country. In recent times, the Police and the Police Service Commission (PSC) have been fighting over recruitment of personnel. The Inspector General of Police (IGP) said he wants to create community policing that is not his business. The IGP cannot sit in Abuja and be policing people in Alkali or Isale Eko area of Lagos; it will not work. Lagos State has created a neighbourhood security agency, that is community policing, so why create another one?
The police should be divided into three – the state and local government should be responsible for policing while the Nigerian police Force as it is now should be responsible for crime, intelligence and investigation while the Mobile Police should be the paramilitary force of Nigeria.
How can the police be made more efficient?
Like I said, we must leave community and local government policing to the state governments. The IGP knows that what we have now is wrong; he has seen various police formations around the world, why should he be insisting on something that is wrong for Nigeria? Look at the situation we have now at the state levels, where they are negotiating with bandits, what it implies is that police service in such state is not efficient and that they need support. Increasingly what this is implying is that we need state policing, so what are the governors waiting for? The only thing they know is to demand for more allocation, but they dodge responsibility. What do they do with this money? There are very few states you go to and agree that the governor is working.
President Muhammadu Buhari recently reconstituted the Economic Management Team headed by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo and named an advisory council that will report directly to him. What do you think of that?
It is an act of the constitution that there will be an economic management council to be headed by the vice president. There is a difference between the economic management team and the advisory council. But I think where the president made the mistake is that the advisory council should report to the economic management team and not to directly to the president. If the management team is to manage the economy, why should the advisory council report to the president? I don’t know if there is any political reason for what the president did.
Talking about political reasons, do you think Vice President Osinbajo’s powers are being whittled down to clip his wings ahead of 2023?
That is not for me to say but in Nigeria, we don’t have politicians, I call them ‘politrickcians’ because they are always tricking us. You never know what they plan to do because governance is not transparent. Most of our politicians have no integrity. For 2023, no body knows what will happen, it is a case of man proposes, God disposes. But I will keep saying it that it is the turn of the South East to produce the president and the Middle Belt, the Vice President. If it works out, then one day, maybe, the Middle Belt will produce the president.