We have leaders who have ideas, visions and wisdom to bridge these gaps and it’s when you bridge those gaps that you will have a united country.
Raphael Ede, Enugu
Former Presidential Aspirant of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) John Dara says Nigeria seems to have been blessed with visionless and mediocre leaders.
In this interview with Sunday Sun, recently in Enugu he claimed that President Muhammadu Buhari lacked the mental and philosophical capacity to address Nigeria’s numerous problems, saying that the president ought to have resigned for failing to address the senseless killings going on in the country.
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Why do we have a notion that at a certain time the North should rule and after, it would be the turn of the South?
There is a sense in what you are saying; however, rotation doesn’t just drop from the sky, it was canvassed in the several conferences in the past. I have been a resource person in two of such conferences and a delegate in two others and attended four national conferences in one capacity or the other. So, I know precisely the issues that led to our generally accepting rotation of power between the North and South as a convention. I want you to know also that in a pluralistic society, power sharing is always a problem; people always feel marginalized. The way to manage that is to introduce concepts like rotation of power and even federal character and things like that in other to make government more inclusive. Whether it had worked well for us or not is a matter for debate. What is important is that since 1999, there are facts that more southern or southern presidents have been in office for 14 years whereas the northern presidents have been in office for substantially less. Nobody says it is the turn of the North as priority, the North is incumbent now and if not for the poor performance of President Buhari it could have been taken for granted that he is going for a second term and he will be supported; unfortunately, he has not lived up to expectation. So, the North feels we may reject Buhari, but it doesn’t mean the North should not give it to another choice or alternative. In any case in one of the conferences it was recommended for the rotation of presidential power among the six geopolitical zones. So, if the man there now is from the Northwest, Yar’Adua was from North-West, then, the next president should come from either the Northeast or from the North central and things like that. So, it is part of pragmatic solution to our pluralism.
Nigerians are more skeptical that no president from the North will be courageous enough to restructure the country because the lopsidedness of the country favours them. What is your take as 2019 general elections approach?
Well, there is some truth in the fact that a section of northern Nigeria has been consistently opposed to restructuring. I believe it is reasonable to assume that anybody from that section of the North that has been consistently opposed to restructuring may not in the final analysis restructure Nigeria. Anybody may pay lip service to restructuring just to win election and the political will to make it happen will not be there. It is already well known that the Middle Belt is at the centre of the clamour for restructuring. As a matter of fact, I don’t believe that the South initiated the call for restructuring because some of us felt that we were shortchanged in Northern Nigeria. We have been put in arbitrary disadvantage, like constituency delineation. It was obvious that there was deliberate gerrymandering, deliberate creation of constituencies to favour the far North at the expense of the Middle Belt and that is why we want Nigeria restructured. However, it is right to ask what is the content of restructuring we are talking about? Nigeria needs fundamental changes both in the administration and running of government. It is not only about devolution of power; the 2014 Confab report recommended creation of 80 states. It has become more controversial, especially in the light of poor performance of the states and their inability to operate in a more self-reliant manner. Then, the issues of viability cannot be ignored. Ideally, even a ward is viable as an economic and political entity in a world. We have both small and big town mayor’s in America; the budget of the Mayor of California is bigger than that of Los Angeles or budget of the Mayor of New York is bigger than the budget of many countries around the world; sure you will say that it’s viable, but there are small town mayors whose budget is less than that of a local government in Nigeria and they are balancing their books too. So, viability is about leadership and managerial ability. There are principles of municipal management that every serious government must understand and apply, but we don’t care about best practices i.e, why mediocrity hold sway in our affairs. I want to say that ordinarily all the states are viable, but the reality on the ground is that even the technocrats and professionals who should know better are talking about viability. I am surprised that all kinds of people are talking about autonomy of local government, including labour leaders, but the same labour leaders are very vocal when it comes to the need for true federalism. You can’t have autonomous of local government in a true federation, but it’s part of the intellectual weaknesses in our public discuss and we don’t see contradictions. My own position is that if the states are the federating units, each state must be free to create its own local government. There is no reason there should be a list of local government in our constitution.
What is your take on the ceaseless killings in the Middle Belt?
I will like to look at the issue of security in a global holistic manner. The killings in the Middle Belt is very embarrassing to any decent human being. It is so baseless, so meaningless and crude and any leader that is unable to find solution ought to have resigned honourably. It is not only the Middle Belt that has become a killing field in Nigeria; Northeast that everybody, even the international community, believes that Buhari within one month will address the problem, till today he has not been able to solve the problem. So, killings are still going on in the North-East, killings are going on in the Northwest, killings are going on the North Central, and killings are going on in the South. So, the real issue is that Nigeria has suddenly become a bloody unsecured nation and Buhari has no answer. He doesn’t have even the philosophical grandstand that can make him to begin to address it because a leader must first of all understand that this is unacceptable, a leader must first of all understand the importance of the sanctity of human life before you begin to find solutions. The Nigerian Army is not concerned that they are being accused of colluding in the killings, what a shame. The international community has been saying you are colluding, that you are abusing human rights and all you do is issue statements denying it. You have not taken practical steps that would show the world that you are an army that wants to be professional, that wants to be excellent, and that wants to move forward. The military today is a very sophisticated profession, technological driven and ideological building. Nigerian military has bogged down and become mediocrity and nonsensical culture and that is while all they do is issuing denial and insulting those who built the institutions. For me, the way I look at the situation is still a reflection of leadership failure in Nigeria.
One North, one people, is it still existing?
It never existed because it was conceived by the First Republic leadership of the North. The Middle Belt forum was formed in 1960 as it was named then ‘Non-Muslim Peoples Movement’ in reaction to the gross blatant marginalization of non-Muslims in the Northern Nigeria. The forum is the oldest of geopolitical entities in Nigeria. It is older than Ohanaeze, and Afenifere. So, the North has never been as one, but some people like to delude themselves. But you know the irony, I can unite the North because there can’t be unity where there is no justice; there can be no unity where there is no equity, and there can be no unity where human dignity is not enhanced. Our constitution talks about egalitarian society; if Northern Nigeria were egalitarian, the children of the rich are going to school, the children of the poor are also going to school, the children of the rich are becoming somebody in the society and the children of the poor are also becoming somebody in the society then you can have a united North and then you will have a united Nigeria if you apply the same principle throughout the country. But you see Nigeria is a nation with a widening gap between the men and women; a widening gap between the poor and the rich; a widening gap between the Christians and the Muslims. We have leaders who have ideas, visions and wisdom to bridge these gaps and it’s when you bridge those gaps that you will have a united country. But if your own children are going to school and my own children are not going to school, if your own children are eating fine foods and my own children are hungry and you want us to unite; unite for what?
What is your take on the labeling of Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, terrorist organization while the murderous Fulani herdsmen have been left by the Federal Government?
The issue of branding IPOB a terrorist organization is that we like to chase shadows rather than substance. Boko Haram members are angry Nigerians who the state treated as sub-humans from birth to when they were trained by Yusufu, till when they killed their leader unjustly, till when they started killing them like dogs on the streets of Maiduguri and then they went underground. They went into the bush and started fighting the society that has given them nothing and no hope. They are angry youths and citizens of Nigeria. IPOB members are angry youths and citizens of Nigeria. The truth is that they are not only angry with Nigeria they are equally angry with the elders of Ndigbo who are living at ease. The Bible says ‘woe unto them who are living at ease in Zion.’ IPOB boys are angry, justifiably so. It is not only in the East; whether in the West or in the Middle Belt or in the far North, the Nigerian youths need to be constructively engaged and needed to be heard. President Yar’Adua showed that it is possible when he changed the narrative in the Niger Delta and engaged the youths and created what he called amnesty. Do you know the controversial herdsmen that we are talking about except the foreigners among them, are Nigerians who are also angry with the society. But when you mobilize the society in such a manner that no one is left out of the nation building efforts and everyone is constructively engaged nobody has time for insurgency. Attempt at indiscipline once adequate opportunities are given has to be ruthlessly dealt with, but at this stage, they are just labeling people, calling them names and hunting them around like dogs. Look at what is happening to the Shiites, those demonstrating in Abuja are they not young Nigerians? The general anger among the youths is taking many forms; cultism use to be limited to higher institutions, but now it is spreading to secondary schools. So, for me it is not about labelling, it is about the need for a new paradigm shift in getting the Nigerian youths involved in the scheme of things and motivated to do some great things for this country.