Venerable Funsho Awe, a former Chaplin of Government House, Lagos was the governorship candidate of the National Conscience Party (NCP) in the 2019 general election. He decried the fate the Igbo are subjected to in Nigeria and the negative influences of religion in politics and why Nigeria must restructure. He spoke to Daily Sun.
The agitation for which part of the country will produce the president in 2023 is heating up the polity. What is your take?
2023 will be very interesting. I believe if the present setup remains in 2023, it will cause an implosion within the ruling APC. If the people continue to suffer the way they are suffering right now, I don’t know what will happen. Look at the level of insecurity. If the present setup remains in 2023, it will also prove to us that our foundational setup is faulty. The Igbo has not been forgiven for what is assumed to be their sin of fighting the Civil War, which I don’t see as so. Somebody cannot just wake up and start killing my people and I will keep quiet and allow it to continue. I will stand up and say this must stop, that is what the Igbo did and unfortunately up till now, the rest of the country are not ready to trust the Igbo with the leadership of the country. Before the election, they were saying after them, it will be the South East, now what they are saying is that the South East didn’t vote for them, that it will go to the South West and a lot of gladiators are already positioning themselves. Some are speculating Bola Tinubu when the Vice President has his own interest; there are other people in the South West that have their own interest, so it is going to be very exciting.
It was Chuba Okadigbo that was once asked his thoughts about Nigeria and he said Nigeria is like a woman wearing a pant, that the sight of it is exciting but that what is under it is even more exciting. I think the anticipation of 2023 is exciting but the 2023 elections will even be more exciting because it will be the defining moment for Nigeria.
President Muhammadu Buhari has inaugurated a 43-member executive council, 13 of whom served in his first term after he had said he didn’t make much progress in his first four years because most of the ministers were imposed by interest groups and that he did not know them. Why will he appoint people he does not know?
If President Buhari said he didn’t know them when he appointed them the first time and has now reappointed them in his second term, one can assume that he has studied them and now knows them. But, I will tell you that a lot of us are disappointed with his choice of ministers. The singular agenda he stressed on during his first term and while he was seeking re-election, was war against corruption. I have studied the setup for the last four years and I can’t say he has fought corruption. What we see as his ministers are people who the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) lined up cases against them. In policy statements, he says he is fighting corruption, but his body language does not reflect that. If you look at that ministerial list, you will see a potpourri of people who his own government accused of corruption while they were in opposition, but having crossed over to the APC have suddenly become clean.
Do we really need 43 ministers, does it not amount to increase in cost of governance?
I have also wondered the idea behind this issue of minister and minister of state. What we have today is that Nigeria has more ministers than the United States of America (USA) which has a territory and population. We have to tinker with the idea of having a minister appointed from every state. I don’t know how many of Buhari’s ministers are technocrats, he just appointed politicians and I think in the next four years, anything will happen. Everything about life depends on input and output and if you keep making the same input, you will get the same output. This government has been making the same input, they are recycling even those that did nothing in the last four years.
The constitution requires one minister from each state and one per geopolitical zone. How can we do otherwise?
The Nigerian president is the most powerful president in the world because the constitution made it so. If we had governments that are focused, this constitution should have been amended. What we have had are just people who gather together to make lives more comfortable for themselves. Nigeria presently is over-governed. From a three regional government, the North, the West and the East, Mid-West and later a fourth Region, the Mid-West, we now have 36 states and it comes with 36 deputy governors, 36 state Houses of Assembly, state executive councils, 774 local government chairmen and so on. You will never hear any of these people complain that their salary and allowances are delayed. It is only the workers that are owed.
The presidential candidate of the African Action Congress (AAC), Omoyele Sowore is currently detained over the #RevolutionNow protests. What is your reaction?
Revolution actually means a call for change, it means you want to evolve. So even in 2014 when the APC was campaigning and said they want a change, it was a call for revolution from the status quo, that is why their maxim was ‘Change’. Nigerians bought into it because we all believed that there was need for change. Maybe now, Nigerians believe that the supposed changer has not changed anything. When Sowore talks about a revolution, he is simply saying we want a change, that we want to move from where we are to something that will pay all of us. But if we really want a change, it has to be a total change. A change in the manner of thinking, the mindset and what we now call democracy, because I actually don’t believe we have a democracy now.
Restructuring has become a common agitation in Nigeria today and almost everybody has a different idea of how to restructure. What is your own idea?
If you have a building which is developing cracks, a good structural engineer will tell you it has a structural problem and that the foundation is faulty. If the foundation has a problem, no matter how you patch it without tackling the problem in the foundation, you cannot solve the problem. Nigeria as a country has a foundational problem that was put in place right from when the North and the South were amalgamated in 1914. I am a pan Africanist, I believe we are all one but we have to talk about how we will live together if we must live together.
There have been several conferences over the years to address the problems of Nigeria, the latest being the 2014 Jonathan’s conference. What happened to the reports from these conferences? The 2014 conference addressed the issues but unfortunately, the report has not been implemented. Right now, I can tell you we don’t have a constitution. The preamble to the 1999 document says we the people having agreed… and there was never a time we agreed to anything. The constitution we have is a military imposition. Gen. Sani Abacha put a lot of things into that constitution because he wanted to transform into a civilian president. Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar was in a hurry to leave, so he dusted up Abacha’s constitution and imposed it on us. That is the advantage the political office holders have today.
President Buhari directed that every minister wishing to see him must make the request through the Chief of Staff (CoS) while all Federal executive Council matters are to be coordinated by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF). The constitution recognises the SGF, what exactly is the role of the CoS?
The position of the CoS was a creation of President Olusegun Obasanjo and since then, everbody has bought into it including the state governments. They have made the CoS which is not even a constitutional role the most powerful person after the president or governor. The office of the CoS is usually the gateway to the office of the president or governor, so you can’t see the president without passing through the CoS. The implication is that where you have a weak president and a powerful CoS is in control of the government even though it is not a constitutional office, you would not notice lapses.
Most of the problems in the country are traceable to religious interpretations. You are a former Chaplin to the Lagos State Government and you also contested to become governor of the state, what do you think should be the relationship between Church and State?
Nigeria is a society where religion plays a prominent role in politics. It is the same way they brought in religion that they also brought in ethnicism. If you want to run for an office today, the first question people ask is where is he from? Then they ask, is he a Christian or a Muslim? Nigerians are very religious, the percentage who are not Christian, Muslim or traditionalist is very infinitesimal, but this shouldn’t be so. Governance shouldn’t be about religion. Religion has to do with faith. Nigeria should be a circular state, so people should stop exploiting both ethnicity and religion in governance.