By Sunday Ani
Chieftain of the Yoruba socio-cultural group, Afenifere, and acting national chairman of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), Chief Supo Shonibare, has said that since Nigeria adopted rotating the presidency among the six geopolitical zones, though unofficially, it is only fair that the Igbo be allowed to take it in 2023. He, however, noted that if the presidency was by sheer merit, then the issue of president of Igbo extraction would not arise, as Nigerians would simply choose the best individual for the position based on their judgement. In this interview, the Afenifere chieftain spoke on a wide range of national issues including the security situation in the country, with a particular reference to the recent abduction of over 300 secondary school boys in the Kankara area of Katsina State.
Some people have argued that Nigeria is at a crossroads due to such security challenges confronting it like terrorism, banditry, kidnapping, farmers/herders clashes and armed robbery among others. With what happened recently in Katsina where over 300 students of Government Science school in Kankara were abducted, is Nigeria not truly at a crossroads?
There’s no doubt that the entire security architecture in Nigeria requires complete reorganisation and a definite tilt towards neighborhood security and catchment area personnel manpower, while we await the necessary national imperative of drastic constitutional changes in our present incurably defective constitution. Members of the pro-democracy groups, which I was part of, who risked their lives to ensure the present civilian dispensation, have been agitating for a constitution that contains inputs and self-governance provisions, in a manner similar to what was obtained in our independence and republican constitution since 1993. A desirable constitution will need to be a negotiated document containing ingredients that will enable the federating units, whether they are regions or states, to exercise judicial, legislative and executive functions on issues of management of all the resources within their boundaries, infrastructural development, education, economic priority and security issues. The federal entity will have no jurisdiction on those issues; its jurisdiction will be restricted to inter- federating units’ common services, security of the entire country and national economic policies. The federal entity’s judicial functions too should be limited to inter-federating units’ common services disputes and infractions of federal laws. The federal entity will, of course, continue to exercise jurisdictions on issues pertaining to the operations of international obligations and treaties to which the country subscribes.
We have not been operating a federation since the military interregnum in 1966. We should have been calling ourselves ‘Unitary Republic of Nigeria’ because there’s nothing federal in the administration of the affairs of this country. So, I agree with those who said that the country is at a crossroads and until we reorganize the structure of the country and soon too, things will continue to get worse.
2023 may be a bit far from now but politicians have started aligning and realigning ahead of the time, with the call for a president of Igbo extraction gaining serious traction, do you think the Igbo deserve to be given a chance?
All parts of the country deserve the right to occupy the position of President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. If it’s by sheer merit, then the issue of the president of Igbo extraction will not arise, as we will simply choose the best individual, in our judgement, for the position. But, if we are rotating, which we are, then rotation must be around the six geopolitical zones for fairness and to bolster the sense of all of us belonging to what is still a geographical expression. We all have to see a reflection of Nigeria in each of the major and minority ethnic groups for us to be Nigerians.
There are strong moves by some power brokers in the North to ensure that the zone retains the presidency in 2023. If that happens, what do you think will be the future of Nigeria?
If we review the emergence of leaders from the North leading us, in spite of the perception of some hegemony in the North in the 1960s and allegations of doctored population figures, Tafawa Balewa would not have emerged Prime Minister without the support of the National Council of Nigerian Citizens (NCNC) and Eastern Nigeria. President Shagari’s National Party of Nigeria’s (NPN’s) stronghold in the South was what enabled him to emerge as President in the second Republic. Umaru Musa Yar’Adua would not have emerged without Southern support and President Buhari was enabled by parts of the South West to emerge. It is, therefore, very self-evident that no matter how much planning a Northern clique puts in place; a Northerner can only emerge as President, with the support or acquiescence of the South.
So, their planning is inconsequential.
Does the Southwest move to clinch the presidency in 2023, not amount to sabotaging the chances of the entire south? Why is South West not supporting the Southeast knowing that it has produced both president and vice president, and South-South has also produced the president, leaving only the Southeast out in the entire South since the return of democracy in 1999?
I am not sure about a South West move to clinch the presidency. However, there are elements in the South West with such an ambition. One cannot deny anyone’s ambition. In 1998/99 when most Nigerians thought it was only equitable for the president to emerge from candidates of the South West, late Dr. Alex Ekwueme still vied for the position. A majority of us need to determine what we deem equitable and fair. The issue is not about sabotage.
The launching of the Southwest security outfit, Amotekun, came with much fanfare, hope and expectations, but today, it appears the outfit has become a toothless bulldog, what is happening?
Amotekun was not intended to be a paramilitary outfit, carrying out the functions of forces of coercion. That role is the exclusive function of the armed forces. Amotekun has been effectively gathering intelligence information and complimenting police and other security efforts. The panacea to our security challenges is a state police. It’s only a well armed security outfit that can address the issue of well armed militias and Boko Haram operatives marauding all over our territories, kidnapping, robbing and maiming our people. That’s why we want the polity restructured to have completely autochthonous security architecture.
Some Nigerians have argued that the future of Nigeria’s survival as an entity is strongly tied to restructuring, do you agree with that?
All over the world, even in countries with largely homogeneous populations, when issues of sharing and allocation of resources become contentious, the world best practices approach is to devolve the decision making processes and delivery of services, as well as management of resources. This was the template long adopted by our founding fathers in fashioning out our independence constitution. That was the agreement for us to be an independent nation. It was the military regime of Major General Aguiyi Ironsi that set aside that arrangement. Although, the counter-coup in July 1966, which eventually saw Gen Gowon at the helm of affairs, initially claimed Ironsi’s resolve to move the federation to a unitary system was one of the catalysts for their action, once in power, they too sustained the military edict and did not abrogate it. Subsequent central governments have not been truthful to us in acknowledging the futility in ever achieving any meaningful growth, political stability and a united country, by running a unitary government. We are actually a “Unitary Republic of Nigeria” and not a Federal Republic.”
What is your party, the SDP, doing to resolve the battle for the party’s chairmanship seat?
I am the acting National Chairman of our party, the Social Democratic Party (SDP). We commenced an action to flush out unelected individuals led by Professor Tunde Adeniran, who joined us in 2018 from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), and attempted to hijack the party. Chief Olu Falae, who I was the National Vice-Chairman to, resigned from the position of National Chairman in February 2019. It was upon that event that the National Executive Council (NEC) of the party elected me to act as Chairman. Prof Adeniran was the other person who was contending for the same position. That was part of what was presented to the court for adjudication in November 2019, as well as the status of the constitution of the party. Prof Adeniran himself, has since retired from active politics, but his lawyers have not alluded to this in the action in court, neither has the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), to which Adeniran’s letter of resignation was sent, and which body has now, through the Director of its political department, Alhaji Aminu, openly displayed bias for the Adeniran’s group. They are even now going as far as to begin to generate fresh contrived documents. It is most unfortunate for a body that is expected to be a neutral umpire. I know many people have their reservations about the impartiality of INEC. This tends to affirm the fact that the suspicion is not misplaced. After maintaining neutrality from the inception of the action in 2019, they seem to have now put themselves in the ring. We will expose their shenanigan in court.
The SDP is a political party sponsored by the progressives in this country, to be a dedicated political restructuring vehicle and we will resist any attempt to hijack it or to render it ineffective. During the processes leading to the 2019 general elections, the attractiveness and reorganisation of the SDP was gaining momentum in many parts of the federation; particularly in the Middle Belt. Some of those who are our antagonists in the present court action were sent into the SDP to sabotage those efforts. They contrived to manipulate primaries to favour weaker aspirants and generally discourage those with mass popular support. Party resources were also depleted on spurious projects. The court action we commenced would have been long resolved, if not for the COVID-19 pandemic, which probably made us lose about nine months of court proceedings. We hope the matter which has now been fixed for definite hearing in January, will be concluded in early 2021.
The All Progressives Congress (APC) and the PDP are two sides of the same coin; neither is it capable of providing for us the necessary trajectory to resolve our plethora of moral, economic, social and constitutional issues. The polity requires an alternative political vehicle, not tainted by the misrule of these previous ruling parties. We intend to offer SDP as that vehicle for all Nigerians interested in an alternative vehicle not tainted by past misrule. We also expect those who are determined that we usher in a truly federal structure to join. It will be an attractive platform for the young, middle aged and other active Nigerians anxious about our drift to the precipice and able to be the manpower nucleus for a new federal entity. The struggle continues.