A chieftain of Afenifere, the pan-Yoruba socio-cultural organisation, Chief Supo Sonibare, has debunked the claim that the group is factionalised.
According to him, the division over which presidential candidate the group should support in the build up to the election was caused by some members who suddenly showed up in the group which they left since 2001.
In this interview, he speaks on other issues of national importance, including the reason the Nigerian youths are still struggling to find their feet in the nation’s political landscape.
The Yoruba are divided between former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, the presidential candidate of the People’s Democratic Party, PDP, and President Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress. With Buhari still commanding a large support base in the Southwest, despite Atiku’s promise of restructuring the country, do you consider restructuring as the major solution to Nigeria’s problem?
Yes! We know there are other issues like combating corruption, infrastructural development, contention for common wealth, security and other challenges are issues that devolution of power, which is basically the summary of restructuring, can best address. We have heard successive governments’ claim to address the problem of corruption. You will recall that the government of former President Obasanjo was overtly aggressive in the fight against corruption. A sitting Inspector General of Police was indicted during his time; a sitting minister was indicted also. During Jonathan’s tenure there were several public officers that were indicted. Even one of the governors then had to run away. Various governments have come out with different solutions in combating corruption, but the germane issue we need to address that can be anecdote to anti-corruption is restructuring.
Once we restructure, each of the constituent part will deal with corrupt public officers in a manner that won’t allow them to blame another region for having caused their lack of development, their inability to have a more secure environment, their inability to address the problem in the education sector. Restructuring is the panacea to all our problems. Anyone that is not addressing the issue of restructuring or devolution of power as a fundamental issue cannot be a candidate that SDP would support. That is why the National Executive Committee of the party took the decision in electing new officers to replace those who have shown that restructuring and devolution of power is not in the front burner of what they think our party should support. Our party manifestos and constitution are strictly laid on the foundation of restructuring. It is a bit curious that a party that’s responsible for trying to bring all members of the opposition together to come up with one candidate in order to realise the concept, would now attempt to support another party. It was a concept that SDP was a leading party. It visualized that concept and championed it. It will be curious that a party that was a leading candidate of opposition will now be suggesting to support the ruling party. That’s a very curious decision.
In the past when Nigeria practiced a system with the semblance of what we are craving for now as restructuring, every part of the country then had major reliable sources of income with which they were able to develop their regions. But with Nigeria’s major source of income being crude oil, don’t you think this could be a major challenge?
The oil is a depleting asset and with restructuring, you still discover that there will be substantial income from crude oil, from offshore exploration that goes to the government of the federation. There are more valuable resources in each of the states than oil. The problem is that those valuable resources have not been invested in and explored. There are mining assets, there are agricultural assets more valuable than the crude oil and in any event the crude oil income is depleting and we will get to a stage when what we are actually getting from crude oil will not be enough to sustain us.
So, anyone that has a long term approach to the survival of this country will know that we need to find other sources of revenue and the only way we can be compelled to have other sources of revenue is if we devolve power. Restructuring we allow the states to own the major share of the revenue derive from their soil. Every part of Nigeria has resources that are more valuable than the oil. There are several countries in the world that do not depend on oil for survival. Netherlands for example, depends on agriculture and their income is about three times higher than what we earn from crude oil in this country. Just two states in the North have the capacity to produce even more than Netherlands and earn far higher than what we earn from crude oil.
What would you say is the reason our leaders have failed to pay attention to other mineral deposits in the country?
The problem is because the Federal Government is the one that has the power to grant licences. That is why restructuring is important. It is the Federal Government that determines this and you have to go through the bottleneck of the Federal Government. It is so difficult because they are the one that is in charge of these resources. All these resources are what will make the country to grow. There are too many levels of regulatory authorities.
Over 70 political parties were cleared by INEC to contest this year’s election out of which two are dominant parties. Isn’t that an indication that Nigeria is not ready for a multi-party system as we currently practice?
Even countries that have two party system don’t only have two political parties. They only have two dominant parties. Countries like UK that have two party system, the two parties interchange. It is not just one political party for ever. It is not democratic to limit the number of political parties. Historically, Nigeria has always had more than two political parties so I don’t know the reason people have fixation on number of political parties. Limiting the number of political parties will encourage the ruling party to easily take over other few political parties and create one-party system. You remember during the PDP era, former President Obasanjo and his government at that time, took over Ekiti, caused a crisis in AD. So it is important for us to have a multi-party system for democracy to survive in this country. We can’t have a multi-party system, and a ruling party taking over the entire parties in the country. People will always find political parties where they can express their democratic rights. Labour Party was not a dominant party when Dr Mimiko won governorship election on its platform. Multi-party system is critical to survival of democracy in Nigeria. Pluralism, which is important for democracy particularly in developing countries, requires the ability of people who disagree with those that control political parties to be able to find voice in another political vehicle to contest and exercise their political rights.
Afenifere, the pan-Yoruba socio-cultural group, going by what played out in the build up to the election, appears factionalized
(cuts in) That is not true. Afenifere is not factionalized. Those who are claiming to be members of Afenifere have not participated in the activity of Afenifere since 2001. They left Afenifere since then and they suddenly woke up and called themselves Afenifere members. That is fraudulent. Who is their leader? How would somebody just wake up and claim to be the leader of the group? Baba Fasanmi is an elder who a lot of us hold in high esteem. I speak to him regularly, but he has never led us. He is an elder that most of us have respect for, but people are using him because he’s frail, that’s why they are using him. I will suggest you go and have an interview with him personally and also have an interview with Baba Fasoranti, you can make your mind from the feedback you get. We all hold Baba Fasanmi in high esteem, but all the officers who are claiming to be Afenifere chieftains met me in Afenifere.
Do you see the Nigerian youth establishing themselves in the nation’s political landscape in the nearest future considering the fact that they are still struggling to find their feet in this current dispensation?
The young are the majority of people in politics. They must be able to establish themselves politically either by floating a political party or by coming to populate the existing ones. Politics is a game of number and they are in the majority. So they can join a political party and choose one of their own and populate it and take over the polity. No one invited people like Chief Awolowo, founder of Action Group. People like Papa Awolowo were in their 30s when they formed political parties. There were existing political parties then before Awolowo, Azikiwe, Alhaji Amin Kano and others came on the line. People have to take their own future in their own hands. If you are expecting to ride on the back of an elderly person to gain prominence, and if that elder now determines the template of how things should go, you can’t blame that person.
So the youths must take their own future in their own hands. After all, young people own businesses, young people run several organizations, so why can’t they take over the political vehicle? And to be able to do that effectively they have to be able to offer something different from what the older generation had to offer. They should be able to have policies that will enhance the well-being of the people. It is not only enough to say they want to take over. They should be able to take over in a way and manner that will be different from the people they are criticizing. They should be able to bring something different and innovative. I am sure there are young people who are capable of leading this country, but they have to stand up and be counted. They should be able to face the risk; people should be able to forego, maybe their private business, if they are really determined to take the center stage.