By Daniel Kanu
Otunba Bosun Oladele, former commissioner for information and orientation, Oyo State, represented Irepo/Orelope/Olorunsogo federal constituency at the House of Representatives (2015-2019).
He was a member of ECOWAS Parliament, as well as member, Nigeria delegate to African/Caribbean/Pacific—EU (ACP-EU) Joint Parliamentary Assembly.
The former legal adviser to the All Peoples Congress (APC) in this encounter with Sunday Sun spoke on the PIB controversy and why the Niger Delta should consider the option, the restructuring that Nigerians need and why insecurity is on the increase. Excerpt:
How do you feel when some critics say that the APC-led government, which is your party, has failed Nigerians?
Well, you have said it all, using the word some critics. There is nothing wrong with criticism so long as it’s constructive. Don’t forget that we too criticised the PDP government before we took over. So, critics will always remain even in the so-called best of democracy in America, don’t they have critics? Of course, they have. Criticism is part of politics, it is also part of playing the opposition, it’s also part of the weapon you use when you think you can take over government vis-a-vis the coming election. So, criticism is a never-ending thing when you talk about politics. So, I don’t feel out of tune or feel embarrassed. What I use to think which is supposed to be the basis for any engagement in terms of discussion is what and what the government that you are referring to has been able to achieve. The truth is that most critics of this government are ignorant of the facts concerning what the government has done and is still doing.
But one of the key things expected that any government should achieve aside from the welfare of the people is peace, safety, security, call it anything, but it seems this government has not lived up the desired expectation?
Let me talk about insecurity first, insecurity as we know didn’t start today and I can challenge anybody that will say it started after 2015…
But it is on an alarming increase now?
Well, if you say it is on the increase, have we looked at the factors? That brings us back to the first question: when you criticise, there is as I noted earlier what we call constructive criticism, which is different from calling a dog a bad name just to hang it. If you also look at it critically, you ask yourself, what is the role of opposition in this insecurity thing? Don’t forget it started when the current day opposition was those in power. It has always been part of the political firmament. Every country will have their own taste and challenges when it comes to insecurity. The best of the Western world is facing it which is even more terrorizing. If you work in some places like America you have to keep looking over your shoulder because anybody can just come out with a gun and start shooting. So, if that is the position you can classify some areas in Nigeria as more secured than the other. We don’t have a situation of sporadic gun violence in the country. We see a situation where some people see kidnapping and banditry as businesses and it’s wrong. But, again you ask yourself, how many police officers do we have? How many policemen to citizens in terms of population? What has been the situation before now? What is the ratio of the police to our population? When last did we have recruitment in thousands in the police force except from 2015 upwards? We have left a lot of such things unattended to for too long a time to the extent that when we needed to have those infrastructure in place we started having challenges because they are not in place. The advent of social media has also facilitated migration whether lawful or unlawful and the information you share on social media also tells criminals where they can have their so-called greener pastures. What are we doing as a region to address this global warming; of course, part of these movements of herders is caused by it. What are we doing to ensure that while they (herders) may have the right of freedom of movement the people they are moving to their area also have their own interest and security protected? I must say that it is commendable that the present administration started the recruitment of thousands of Nigerians in the police force yearly, they have been doing that for some time now. I am aware of most of the people from my constituency that were enlisted into the police between 2015-2019, the same thing with civil defence, and the same with the military. The government has also done much in terms of equipment provision which the previous government refused to give adequate attention. If these infrastructure were provided before now, we will not be where we are today because there will be enough firepower from our soldiers and the entire security operatives. Of course, there is still need for improvement, but it is not as if this government is not committed enough to this security challenge. If all these things have gradually been taken care of including their welfare package before now, we will not be in this type of mess now. If you say the government has failed all you need to do is to look at the indices before and now, what this government has done that the previous government refused to do that brought us where we are now. Again when we look at the issue of unemployment you can see how COVID-19 ravaged the whole world and brought a lot of world economies on their knees. To shut down the country for about a year or more, of course, the adverse effect will be huge on the economy. And you know that most countries are still under shutdown. But despite all that, the government is still soldiering on. I am not speaking for the government, but there is need to be objective in our assessment of all that has been done under the harsh economic reality that melted even the best of economies. What we are witnessing is not a Nigerian peculiarity that there is rise in unemployment rather it’s a global problem. By the time we are battling with COVID the EndSARS problem came up again and a lot of businesses suffered, some may not even bounce back again. What we are facing are challenges that may take some time to normalize. I think we need to be objective rather than just criticising without looking at the real facts. The government is trying her best in view of available resources and the environment in which we operate.
What is your take on agitations in most regions and the government’s method in quelling this protest?
The first thing I will say is that as much as I am not the spokesperson for the government, there are some of these things that we condemned while in the opposition which I expect the government not to do also. There is no doubt that the government has its own excesses. But looking at this empirically one may ask, are we operating a constitution in Nigeria no matter how flawed? The answer is yes, we are operating a constitution. Secondly, do we have secession in our constitution? Is it permitted? The answer is no, it is unconstitutional. Even if we don’t want to go by law, somebody gave you a package which is passed from generation to generation and some set of people want to fracture the package (government) when it is your turn to hold it, nobody will allow that to happen. If Nigeria will split, it has to be in a legally permissible way and everybody will have to sit down and agree on such. But as long as it is going to be a violent one, I will never support it and no government will allow such to go on. And don’t forget that it is the government that has monopoly of coercive power of state, no other person has it.
Do you think that without restructuring this country we can have peace?
My worry is that most people that yearn for restructuring, what exactly do they mean by restructure? I have asked some people that talk about it and the next thing they will tell you is, let every part of the country go on their own. That to me is not restructuring. Then if that is what we want we are not restructuring the country again, we are just fractionalizing it, it’s no longer a country. People have talked about going back to the 1963 constitution and I don’t think we can go back to such constitution. Are we going to say that the states created in 1976 should no longer be states, when people are agitating for more states now. It is the same people that are agitating for more states that are shouting restructuring. How are we going to do it? We cannot have our cake and eat it, we don’t need to shutdown the states or merge them as we had before. For me, what we should do is, give more powers to the states, give more powers to the local government, let the people know that they matter in the entity called Nigeria and let every area develop at its own pace and contribute to the centre.
What is your take on the PIB as it has continued to generate so much controversy?
The essence of PIB is to allow more robust participation in the petroleum industry and more benefit to the oil producing communities and the country as a whole, allow local content and all the rest. But if you look at it again, the bill was fraught with a lot of error in the 8th Assembly. The 9th Assembly has really done a lot of re-examination and re-engineering to it and it has now been passed. I think there is no bill that is final, there is no law that is final, there is no Act that is final, there is no constitution that is final, that is why there will be as many amendments as possible. Do you know how many years we have been on this PIB? I think the communities should allow the implementation considering the years we have been on it, almost 13 years or so. They should allow it to become operational first, we will learn more from it and then they can later present their case and more will come, there will be improvement upon the present provision over time. At least now there is a roadmap on the sector, more companies can now come and invest and things can never be the same again for those communities. For me, this should also be part of the restructuring that we are talking about. The three per cent may not be adequate, but I think we can begin from there and there will be more over time.
Recently, the Southern governors in their communiqué submitted that the next president of Nigeria should come from the South, but some regions in the South seem to be expressing worry that the Southwest geo-political zone is also strategizing and showing keen interest in the position. Don’t you see it as an overkill bearing in mind they have taken a shot and the present V.P is from the zone?
No, it’s not an overkill. A very good example is the Olympics that takes place every four years. The notice is four years so that whoever wants to participate will start preparing and its also a good length of notice. It is a competition that you need to be at your best to win. It is not for the unprepared and as you know power is not served a’la carte. You must show that you have capacity. If during the four years you fail to prepare, but you are rather waiting on other people that will equally fail to prepare so that it will be a contest between all people that are yet to be prepared, then the best of failure will be the person that will take the medal. But if you look at it, if you really want to go beyond participation in the Olympics you have to start preparing very early and it’s not an overkill if you hear people saying that Southwest should be the next, it is because we have been identifying candidates that we think we can push forward and in another case we have been grooming quite many of them and if I will tell you I belong to a group and the secretary of that powerful group (South- West Agenda for Asiwaju—SWAGA) that will say, look, we have a candidate and that is the candidate we want and we will push forward our candidate because we believe he is competent and good to go for that position. I am talking of no other personality than Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu. So we can keep pushing him because we have seen his antecedents, the great things he has done, even when governing Lagos State. We can see that Lagos is probably one of the states that is working well in the country today. He laid a strong democratic footing that has made the state stand out. I commend the Southern governors for their stand that the presidency should return to the South in 2023, so it’s left for the political zones in the South to prepare. I mean, each political zone that makes up the South must convince the people that you are ready, that you are prepared for the job. Nobody is stopping the Southeast or any other political zone from the South from preparing, but they must show class, that they are working to get it, not that it will just fall on their laps. No, you must prove capacity, competence and all it takes to occupy that position. It is not overkill for us to prepare early and to be drumming up support for our candidate because we are convinced he has what it takes to rescue this country.
Looking at the country today what are really your fears or you don’t entertain any?
Even when you look at your house, let’s not look at the country yet, look at your house you will have your challenges, you will have your plans and at times you sleep over your plans, you wake up again because you still believe that certain things are not yet right. So, there will be fear. Fear is part of human nature and that is why when there is fear there is also boldness which is also another part of human nature. It is the flip side of fear. So, even if there are challenges we need the boldness to embolden us to take the bull by the horn and I believe Nigeria will survive, I believe Nigeria will rise to the top.