Oil mogul and former presidential candidate in 2019, Gbenga Olawepo-Hashim has dismissed those agitating for secession in the country. In an interview with ADETUTU FOLASADE-KOYI, he also speaks on how to resolve the country’s political imbalance and why a referendum, ahead of the 2023 general election is unnecessary.
There are calls for secession in two regions of the country now. Is that not worrisome?
This is just nonsense, to be honest with you. It is pure nonsense. Nigeria, in the Independence Constitution that we had, there were democratically-elected leaders. They were not handpicked and they went to the Lancaster conference in 1957 and 1958.
The Eastern delegates were led by Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, the Western delegates were led by Chief Obafemi Awolowo and the northern delegates were led by Sir Ahmadu Bello. And an Independence Constitution was negotiated. One of the critical elements of the Independence Constitution, which remains with all the constitutions that we have had, whether midwifed by the military or whatever, is the principle of indivisibility and indissolubility of the Federal Republic of Nigeria; this was agreed by all the regions.
So, this theory by some illiterates – and some of them may be professors – and they go about talking nonsense as if that is the truth. This theory that Nigeria was put together forcefully by the British is false because the people of Nigeria did negotiate the constitution, led by democratically elected leaders. And, the principle of indissolubility and indivisibility of the Federal Republic of Nigeria was agreed. In fact, it was thoroughly debated at the Lancaster Conference in London, where component regions should have the right to secede or not.
The South West wanted it, the Northern Region also did not mind it. In fact, the most compelling argument for national unity came from Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe who said that we should have a model constitution like the constitution of the United States of America where secession is an act of treason and that Nigeria should exist in unity in perpetuity!
But with the present realities, are you telling me Nigerians cannot renegotiate our unity?
I am not convinced that the unity of Nigeria is the problem. What I think is the problem is the mismanagement of our diversity. That is the issue.
What do you mean by that?
Well, in the sense that we have not allowed the elements that can guarantee efficient management of state power to operate. We had a coup in 1966 that took powers from the sub-national authorities that would have efficiently managed the situation like security you are talking about. If anything happens in a local government, the people who live in that community will know who the criminals are.
It is easier when security is managed at that level than when it is managed from the central government. There is always a problem with even trust. People will not volunteer information easily. So, some of the security problems we are having is traceable to the fact that powers that were residing at the local level have been taken away and dumped at the federal level. And, you know, interestingly, a lot of people like to blame the Fulani but, the people who carried out the 1966 coup were not Fulani.
So it is not about Hausa or Igbo or Yoruba, it is about the fact that we have distorted the most essential element of managing diversity; which is to have a level of control mobilisation and development and two key elements, security and the economy are the most important elements of activities in a society.
And when you have taken those powers and dumped them at the centre, then you snuff out creativity and efficiency and the state can no longer function at its optimum. When we decentralise, we will regain our balance and I do not think that the issue is our unity. The issue is that we distorted the essential principles of managing that diversity and now we must restore it. That is the solution, not secession and I have not seen an African country that achieved secession that has been better off. Eritrea is not better off than they were. They fought for almost 30 years to leave Ethiopia; what have they achieved after they left? Look at South Sudan; they are now even fighting and all that.
And, let me tell you, Nigeria is more of a blessing than a curse. When people are talking: ‘let us secede.’ Secede to where?
Before Nigeria was amalgamated, there was nothing called a Yoruba nation. What you had was Oyo Empire and the various sub-nationalities in the present South West were in 200 years war against Oyo, the Ekiti and all that. They were all fighting Oyo; to be independent of Oyo. There was so much insecurity. This was a war that was fought) for 200 years. So what do they mean by a Yoruba nation? There was no Yoruba nation before the British amalgamated Nigeria. There was Oyo Empire under Alafin and the Egbas had their own flag and they had their own generals fighting Oyo, fighting Ibadan. Ibadan was the city state that was aligned to Oyo. Even the lower flank to the North, Ilorin, that one had broken up from Oyo. It wanted its own independence. Everybody wanted independence from Oyo Empire. So what is the Yoruba nation that they are talking about?
And the ones in the East that are talking about Biafra, they didn’t even have a kingdom. They didn’t have any empire. What do you mean by Biafra? Everybody was at the clan level when the British came to that place. The only thing in the South-East and South-South that was a big kingdom was Benin and everybody was either a vassal to Benin directly or indirectly in those areas. Secession is pure nonsense. Secession to where?
Some agitators point at the current imbalance, saying one tribe was favoured over others in appointments. Yet you say our Constitution maintains our indivisibility and indissolubility?
Well, that is the problem with the character of a government; it is not a problem with the character of the country. Yar’Adua was president of Nigeria; were all his appointments from Katsina? So, must you break Nigeria because now you are having issues with appointments? If you are having issues with appointments, there are constitutional remedies to correct that. We have the Federal Character Commission; there is no state in this country that is not represented in the Federal Character Commission. Where is their report? Where are the voices of their state representatives? They all keep quiet; they don’t say anything! Then, apart from the institution such as the Federal Character Commission, where is the party? We have governed this country before, in 1999, and 60 per cent of all federal boards were appointed by the committee set up by the National Regulatory Committee. We zoned every big board appointment!
In our time, if the chairman of the Nigeria Ports Authority is zoned to the South-South, that of the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation cannot be retained in the South-South; it goes to another region. That was how we did it and, at the end of the day, even if (former) President (Olusegun) Obasanjo wanted to do otherwise, it was impossible for him to do. So, one of the problems that you have is not just with the government, virtually all the institutions have collapsed and they have to do with the character of the occupants of those institutions not because those institutions cannot work. Even if you go your way, it is not the guarantee that there will be development in those places. Some people will still be oppressive if you don’t have good leaders. If you don’t have people who are ready to speak up and take up responsibilities that they have signed for, those countries, if they become independent, will not do well.
In the Second Republic, whenever the party spoke, the state actors toe that line. After 2003, progressively, it is a different ball game for our political parties. Can we go back to that era?
Yes we must. Even in countries of Africa that were one party states, the party was strong. All the noise against (late President Robert) Mugagbe, he did not leave until the ZANU PF took a decision and said ‘okay!’ Mugabe knew it was all over at that point, even as the country was a one-party state. The ANC (in South Africa), when they turned against (former President) Jacob Zuma, that was the end of him. So, you need a strong party.
But political parties are not as independent as before. How do we go back to that era because moneybags, governors and political state actors have hijacked the parties?
Some of the people who are shouting today, they were the ones who killed the political parties. I was expelled from the PDP in 2000 because we were insisting on the doctrine of party supremacy. Some people in government humiliated those of us who formed the PDP because they wanted unlimited control over government. Myself, (late) Harry Marshal, some of the founding fathers of PDP then, we were all expelled in one day, in a well programmed attack against the national executive committee of the party, by some people who were shouting that they want to be president today, by some people who are crying that democracy is suffering, they were the ones who killed democracy!
They did not want the party founders; who are great men. I was one of the youngest of the Group of 34 that started PDP and these were great men, those were people who had been in government and they have never stolen money. (Late) Chief Solomon Lar never had a piece of land in Abuja here. (Late) Alhaji Adamu Ciroma never had a house in Abuja here yet, he had been governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria. He had been Minister of Finance. He had seen money more than anybody else had seen. We were inspired by leaders who wanted the best for this country and we respected them, not because they were moneybags. We followed them. We spent our money behind them because we believed in them.
Then, some miscreants came into government and they didn’t want this structure that brought them into government to have any influence on their policies and we were always fighting, it was war from 1999 between the party and some people. Do you know how many times the PDP secretariat was surrounded by armoured tanks? The party itself! They brought armoured tanks to the party secretariat because they wanted to get some people out of the party forcefully. The fight that happened in PDP, between 1999 and 2001 has not happened since then and this was why we lost it. Now, regrettably, the same people who caused the problem are busy jumping about pontificating! One of the problems of Nigeria is that most Nigerians don’t have a sense of history. There is a sense of collective amnesia in this country and people pretend not to even remember things that happened six months ago. So there is no way you can make progress as a country if you don’t have a sense of history.
So, back to the issue, it is not just about (President Muhammadu) Buhari. It is not about secession, it is not about any Fulani, you need strong institutions to have a functioning democracy. Some of the people that are saying they want to secede, how are their governors managing their states? Some of them don’t have five kilometres of functional local roads. Even with the money that is available right now. Is it Buhari that is doing that one?
So, we have a lot of issues but where we are is very simple. Let’s first of all deal with issues that we can agree on and then move forward gradually from there and the rest questions will be resolved politically, democratically on the field of the election if we allow programmes to govern our choices.
Once it is election time now, nobody is focused on the candidates, where is he coming from, who is he, what is his pedigree? You, the media, also have to help to moderate the debate about choices and what issues should govern the political contest. So, we all have our various roles to play in this issue.
Is a referendum necessary now before we go into 2023 elections?
That will be a distraction. Referendum for what?
Well, referendum to address how to move Nigeria forward
Do we need to complicate issues? Look, Boko Haram and the bandits are in Shiroro (Niger State) and few kilometres from Abuja. There are some bandits in the forest of Kaduna. Is it a referendum that you need now or you need to get those guys out of that place and move them back as much as possible? What we need now is to secure, at least, let us secure the North Central states that are around Abuja and that is what my six-point agenda is all about. We need to immediately guaranty security in the various states and local governments.
And we can write our lawmakers now, to amend the sub-sections of the constitution and get concurrence from the states. We can actually do this within the next 60 days. In fact, we can get this done, if there is the will, within the next 30 days. We can actually do it so that the states and the local governments can legitimately raise their local police instead of this vigilante stuff. We need proper police not vigilantes. The vigilantes themselves will become terrors. There must be standard operating procedure that is modern, that even civilised people who want to provide assistance can relate to. A modern structure. I mean, what assistant and support can you get when their insignia is like 15th Century village hunters?