By Omoniyi Salaudeen
President Muhammadu Buhari’s comment on restructuring is still generating reactions from many stakeholders. In this interview, Senator Femi Okurounmu carpets the president for dismissing the clamour for restructuring, adding that he lacks proper understanding of Nigeria’s problems.
President Muhammadu Buhari in his New Year address to the nation kicked against the agitation for restructuring, saying that is not the way to go. How would you react to that?
The statement he made is not new because everybody knows his position on restructuring. It is consistent with his known position. Before the 2015 general elections, he had made it clear that he was against restructuring. His party had also made it clear that they were against restructuring. Even his supporters in the South-west went as far as saying they were opposed to the 2014 conference, which was aimed at achieving restructuring. His primary constituency consisting of the Fulani and the North has always been against restructuring and anything that will change the status quo because the status quo is in their favour. The struggle for us now is to see how we can overcome their resistance. For those of us who want restructuring, how can we achieve restructuring? That is the challenge before Nigerians.
Has this then foreclosed further discussion on restructuring?
What I believe is that Nigerians should go beyond agitation. Agitation is a good thing, activism is a good thing. But we have reached a stage where we must go beyond agitation for restructuring. Restructuring has now become a political issue. And the way to achieve political issue is through party politics. If people want to achieve restructuring and the existing political parties are not willing to address it, then there must be a new political platform that is committed to achieving restructuring and also committed to gaining power on the basis of controlling majority of the people who want restructuring. This is a challenge to Nigerians. Those of us who want restructuring we must now establish political platform centred on restructuring and then allign with the people to win power. If those who want restructuring wins power, then the coast is clear for restructuring. But if we just keep agitating, it won’t lead us anywhere because the two leading political parties in Nigeria-APC and PDP-are not ready to see the country restructured.
The leadership of APC is against restructuring even though it was in their manifesto. When Buhari got to power, they renounced it. Up till today, he is renouncing it because he is against it. And he wants to seek reelection. It is clear that if he wins, he will continue to be against restructuring. The PDP again has zoned its presidential slot to the North, which is opposed to restructuring. Neither of the two parties will address restructuring, if it comes to power. So, we need an alternative political platform that is committed to a restructured Nigeria. Those of us who want restructuring should work the talk.
Atiku has been championing the call for restructuring. Don’t you believe he can do it, if he gets the ticket of the PDP and wins?
There are two reasons why we cannot trust Atiku. One, Atiku is a Fulani man. And I cannot trust a Fulani man when it comes to politics. They will say anything to get to power, but once they get to power, their first interest is the interest of the Fulani. I don’t think Nigeria should entrust power to the Fulani man left right and centre. This country does not belong to the Fulani. The Fulani constitute less than 10 per cent of the population of Nigeria. There is no reason why they should always think presidency must come from the Fulani. The others are not slave to the Fulani. There are competent people among the non Fulani who can also rule this nation. So, Atiku can say anything. When he gets to power, the people surrounding him from his immediate constituency will not allow him to do restructuring. Two, Atiku belongs to the same old political class who have been recycled over and again. What are the young men and women doing? This is the time for the young people to come forward and take over the leadership of the country. Any one above 60 should go and sit down. We want the youths to come forward.
There are killings going on in Rivers, Kaduna and Benue states. Is this government responsive enough to this wanton destruction of innocent lives?
The killings are going on the way the government likes it. If the Fulanis are killed anywhere, they will be ready to deploy the army or the Air Force and use their full military might to defend the Fulanis. But when other Nigerians are killed, it doesn’t concern them. It is a Fulani-centric government. I have said it before and what they are doing is consistent with that. If the people defend themselves against the Fulani, then the government will go there with full force to defend the Fulanis. But if is the Fulani that are causing the havoc, the government looks the other way. If other Nigerians are imperiled, the government looks the other way.
But let the Fulani be imperiled in any way, the government will deploy its full force. The lives of other Nigerians are of less value to them. If it is not going to continue like this, then there must be a change of power. It will continue unless we have restructuring. When there is concentration of power in the hands of the Fulanis at the centre, what do you expect? If we have restructuring and every region has its own autonomy, there will be less concentration of power in the hands of any group.
Do you say that anybody above 60 should go and sit down. Now that Buhari has declared his intention to run for a second term, are you saying he is unfit for another term?
The man said he thought he was 73 but the people had told him he is 75. Clearly the man does not know his age. Some sources even believe he is more than 75. Even if you forget the issue of age and watch his behavior, his behaviours show that he doesn’t remember many things. He is already suffering from dementia, which affects people in old age. Again, on the health issue, I don’t think he is fit to continue. From all he had done since he came to power, it will not be in the interest of Nigeria for him to continue in power for another four years. But it is not enough for us to just say we don’t want him to continue, people have to resolve to float another political party, a party that will be committed to the welfare of all Nigerians.
In his New Year broadcast, the president reeled out a number of rail and road infrastructure that are on the priority list in this year’s budget. Do you see him doing better than he had done in the last three years?
The man came to power in 2015 with a lot of promises and all of them have turned out to be empty, hollow promises. He has not been able to achieve 10 percent of what he promised us. In fact, he came out to deny many of the promises he made. Those he did not denounce, he forgot about them. If you see a man going into his third year in office and he is still promising, all of us will be fools if we are taken aback by those promises. We will be fools to keep believing those promises. This is a government that believes in lying to the people. Lying is now an instrument of policy of this government. It is for Nigerians to show that they are not fools, they are not idiots.
What is your take on the clamour for a return to the parliamentary system which he also dismissed in his address to the nation?
That shows the extent of his knowledge. Look at African countries that have adopted the presidential system, they have all ended up in dictatorship. It is a mistake for us to follow American system. It was the foolish copy of America that brought us the presidential system. We are anything but America in our composition, temperament and culture. If we are talking of the oldest democracies, the oldest democracy is in Europe. The first parliament in the world is the British parliament. All European countries practice parliamentary system. They are still the most successful democracies in the world today. The American democracy which is presidential was borne out of different circumstances. And we cannot compare ourselves with America. The factors that make presidential system manageable in America are completely absent in Nigeria. The average African leader does not have the temperament to exercise executive authority with humility, and sufficient restraints. African leaders are inherently dictatorial by nature.
You give him executive authority over a nation, he becomes dictatorial. Then corruption follows. That is what has happened to almost all the African countries that have adopted the presidential system. If we want to make progress, we have to go back to the parliamentary system. We can go back to history. Between 1960 and 1966, we know how much progress Nigeria made as a nation. And during that period, we operated the parliamentary system. In spite of all the internal problems we had, we made a lot of progress. But ever since the military took over, and imposed on us unitary system and presidential constitution, we have been going backward. The gap between us and the rest of mankind is getting wider and wider.
In view of this submission, would it be right to say that Buhari does not have proper understanding of Nigeria’s problem with the position he took on some of these issues?
Buhari has never understood the problem of Nigeria. In his first coming as the military head of state, his fellow military officers removed him because he lacks the understanding of Nigeria’s problem. Now, some civilians helped him to come back again as civilian president, all those who helped him are now biting their fingers because he has shown that he lacks the knowledge of the problem of Nigeria.
Apart from the fact that he is incompetent, he lacks the mental capacity, the vigour and every trait required to be an effective president. To ask him to come back for a second term is to wish Nigeria not too well.