AN Afenifere Chieftain and National Vice Chairman (Southwest) , Social Democratic Party, (SDP) Supo Shonibare, has called on the Federal Government to address the problem of insecurity in the country to save the nation from slipping into further crisis.
In this interview, Shonibare identified devolution of power as a major panacea to the nation’s problems even as he called for the amendment of the Police Act, which he noted empowers the President to be responsible for the operational responsibilities of the police.
He spoke on other national issues, including the June 12 struggle, Ninth National Assembly, among others.
The ruling APC succeeded in having its way in the emergence of the leadership of the Ninth National Assembly. What does this portend for the nation?
There is not much anyone of us can do about the decision of those who have been elected as senators rather than those they elect to be their leaders. But I think that all the power brokers in the legislature must be alive to the oath they take when they assume position of responsibility. The Senate President who has emerged has sworn to uphold the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, which means that he must not beholden to the executive. The question is whether or not those who emerged as rulers find more solace in representing a narrow interest or the interest of their political parties or the interest of individuals. Only time will tell whether or not they would be faithful to their creator in appreciating the fact that God gave them the opportunity. Political parties identify individuals for positions whether in the Senate or House of Representatives. But those individuals are elected by the people of their constituencies not their political parties. So, their allegiance should be to the Nigerian people. So, let’s see what they will do about their allowances and whether they will be different from the last Senate, which they say did not work with the executive. Let’s see whether they will be independent because the critical difference between a presidential system of government is that the legislative arm of government is not an extension of the executive arm. So, yes they should cooperate with the executive in enabling good governance, but they should not be a rubber stamp to what might be the antithesis of good governance. So, if there are issues that the people of Nigeria feel strongly about and it’s expressed in strong term, the legislature must align with the Nigerian people, not with the executive. There should be checks and balances.
Some analysts are of the opinion that the frosty relationship between the last National Assembly and the executive slowed down governance. Do you agree with this view and what are your expectations from the executive this time around that it has its own people in the saddle of the National Assembly leadership?
The taste of the pudding is in the eating. Let’s see what benefits we’ll have in this legislature, which the executive feels it can work with. Let’s see the dividend of democracy the people will derive here. There is no point saying the legislature is sync with the executive so that governance is not slowed down and we don’t feel the impact of their working together. We will like to see whether that will reduce the spate of insecurity in the country. Let’s see if their working together will improve the economy. Let’s see if there working together will address the issue of herdsmen’s rampart attacks, kidnapping that is so pervasive in the country, let’s see if their working together will improve the economy and If their working together can give us most of these things. But if their working together would only give comfort zone to them only, then it is of no benefit to Nigerians. The essence of governance is that we must see the government representing us. The essence of government is that there should be security. The first objective of any government is to secure the polity. If herdsmen and militias could overpower government in a country; that means there is no government. The government must demonstrate adequate power to subdue any insurrection in the country. If they cannot do that then what is the essence of the government in a country. If they cannot improve our economy, what is the essence of government?
The fear of bandits making incursion into the Southwest is one major issue that is giving the Yoruba a major concern. How best do you think this problem can be addressed?
That’s what I am alluding to. If this government cannot address that fear that means there is no government in place. I think our government should be more robust in enabling the police to man all these dangerous spots that have been identified along our highways. If there is any incident along our highways the head of the security operatives in that area must be held responsible. We cannot have a country and allow militias and herdsmen to take over our country. It is unacceptable. The more that happens, the more people will be forced to defend themselves. If you have a country and those in charge of security cannot protect you, you don’t have any other option than to defend yourself. And self defense is guaranteed in law. Even one of our governors said even his own convoy was attacked. So there is total break down of law and order. Our governors must be alive to their own responsibilities. If they can’t guarantee our safety, they should come out and say it.
You are an advocate of devolution of power which call reached its crescendo before the last elections. What would you say is responsible for the silence, so to say, over the call as we experience now? Should we take it as an indication that it is not achievable?
There is no silence. This is not something that we just woke up and started agitating for. We have been agitating for devolution of power as far back as 1994. After the annulment of June 12 election, because we were convinced that devolution of power is the only thing that can keep Nigeria together as one entity in a way and manner that is consistent with the federal structure that is the foundation of Nigeria. The final structure that is the foundation of Nigeria ceded economic, political and security issues at level of the federating units. Now that the states are at the federating units, states must be allowed to be in control of revenue generated within their territory. The federal entity should be by taxation, take a proportion of that wealth creation at the centre. State must be allowed to be in control. There will still be a federal police, which could have overriding authority on laws made by the National Assembly. But the laws made by the states must have an enforcement agency, which is the police of the state that will be responsible for the enforcement of its laws. These are real issues that will enable us address herdsmen insurrection, kidnapping and all other crimes. But I know that one of the problems people are afraid of is the misuse of the police by political powers, which is a legitimate fear. But I think even the issue of how the police have conducted itself at the federal level raises the concern that even at the federal level, the President should not be responsible for the operational responsibilities of the police as the present Police Act empowers the President. It is wrong. What we should do is that the Police Service Commission should be at the federal level, the one that will be created at state level should be the one that will be responsible for the operational responsibilities of the police in the states. The executive main function should be to fund the police. If the police at the state level is not alive to its responsibilities, it’s the people of the state that will take issues with the Police Service Commission. If the police at the federal level is not alive to its responsibilities, national legislature with take up issues with the Police Service Commission. We should remove the police from political control both at the federal level, out of control of the President, in terms of operational responsibilities, which means we have to amend the Police Act and when we establish state police, it should be taken out of political control as well so that we will identify the body which will be responsible for the operational control of the state police and then it will be a matter of determining those who will constitute the commission both at the federal and the state levels in a way and manner that will allow both the ruling party and the opposition party to be able to appoint members of the commission so that we’ll identify people, as fair as possible, that are neutral in being able to keep to the position in the collective interest of the people.
For the first time since 1993, June 12 was observed as national holiday. Would you say this is enough compensation for the June 12, 1993 struggle?
I don’t think we are really asking for compensation. Chief Abiola, the iconic leader of the struggle is dead. A brave man, he had a choice of giving up the mandate. If he had done so, that mandate would have been a debacle, it would have been forgotten. It’s own bravery that has led to our having a civilian dispensation otherwise the military would have been playing us like a football. So it is right that June 12 is celebrated as democracy day because it was that day that Nigerians defied all odds. If you remember, there was even a late push by the ruling military at that time to bring out some contrived judicial processes to stop the election but the election held. People went to cast their votes but the election was annulled and people protested the annulment. And that was the beginning of the protest. So, it is not a matter of compensation, it is a matter of identifying the fact that Abiola lost his life, Kudirat Abiola lost her life, some of us put our lives on the line because we were confronting a military that was prepared to kill anyone that would stand in his way. So, we are not really asking for compensation, it is enough that today is recognised as the beginning of our transition to democracy because we are not yet there. We have a civilian government, yes, but democracy is not yet in place because democracy only becomes an established process when you can have free and fair elections. We have very dubious elections in the country so we are not yet there.
That election (June 12, 1993 election) was a free and fair election. That process is a critical reminder as to what we need to do to transit to democracy. We have a civilian government in place but we are not yet in democracy because all the elections at both state and federal levels were massively manipulated. We have a civilian regime but at least we know the foundation of how to transit to democracy and that June 12 was the defining moment that showed us the way to transit to a democratic polity. So, it is right and just that we commemorate that day as a democracy day; not the day the characters that were championing the annulment of June 12 became members of state and National Assembly in 1999. That can’t be democracy day because some people who emerged through the May 29,1999 process were anti-democractic elements.
As Nigerians await the new cabinet, what are your expectations from the President?
The buck stops at the President’s table. So, whoever he appoints, how well they do; will be measured by the result that we see, but the most important thing is security because if you can’t secure the country, we can’t have good economy. He should be more mindful of how the country can be secured, how this mayhem being unleashed on us by marauding herdsmen, some of whom the president said are from outside the country. I don’t know why they are very difficult to arrest, because we have not seen anyone being arrested. The most fundamental problem that should be addressed is how to secure the country. if we can’t address this problem there will be no economy. If we don’t address it in few months time we will have problem with food production because a lot of the food we consume come fromMiddle Belt area. And the problem is preventing many of the farmers from going to their farms. So, very soon if the insecurity issue is not addressed, Nigeria may experience food crisis.