By Sunday Ani
Chairman of the Afenifere Renewal Group and former Chief Whip, House of Representatives, Olawale Oshun has again reiterated the need to restructure Nigeria, insisting that the country’s greatness is tied to that. He argued further that a restructured Nigeria would ensure equity and justice for all, which would also ensure that the diverse ethnic groups that make up the country live in peace and harmony.
In this exclusive chat with the Daily Sun, the former National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) chieftain spoke on a wide range of issues, including insecurity in the land, restructuring and the 2023 presidency among others.
Insecurity appears to be the greatest threat to the corporate existence of Nigeria as a country at the moment; how did we get here?
Well, I want to say that the decline started after the first military coup in 1966, even though we must concede that General Yakubu Gowon’s era was relatively a progressive period in the sense that the rump of the civil service was still intact and it was efficient enough to support a willing government to develop and make progress. But, we started getting everything wrong with the coups that followed, starting from that of 1975, because Murtala/Obasanjo felt that the civil service was incompetent, corrupt and useless, and they decimated it. So, the bureaucracy that should ordinarily support a government crumbled. All through the period of military rule and after that, governance failed because the people that were supposed to implement policy decisions originated by the government had already been decimated and dispirited to such an extent that they couldn’t care more or less. And the military, because of their own hierarchical command structure, felt that all they needed to do was to continue giving orders even in areas they were completely incompetent like in the area of economic management. So, what we have had is a consistent decline in economic development; a consistent decline in socio-development areas like education, health, transportation and all that. The decline is there; it stares us in the face. There was a time when we had regular train service between Lagos and Kano, serving all the routes – Ibadan, Minna, Kaduna all through to Kano, but all that failed; between Port Harcourt and Makurdi, all that failed. So, you could see that the failure of governance would ordinarily affect commerce, economy, as well as employment capacity and potentials, and if people are not gainfully employed, the devil will automatically find jobs for their idle hands. That’s my own simplistic interpretation of how we got where we are. That decline continued and the civilian administrations that took over in 1999 are themselves a creation of the military command structure. There are governors who don’t even relate to the cabinet they set up; they only give orders to their commissioners, yet, they say it is an executive council. That carryover of the military is still there. It becomes worse when you even have an ignorant governor, who thinks he has all the answers. So, they keep on stumbling from one error to the other and this affects the state and national administrations in the same way. That is the reason. The devil finds a job for an idle hand because if the states and the private sectors cannot create jobs for their population, what will you expect? People will take laws in their hands.
Does that mean you are in consonant with those who have consistently maintained that Nigeria is at crossroads? And if that is the case, what is the way out?
We have been at crossroads for quite a long time; since 1999. The thing is people have been asking that the foundation of Nigeria be restructured. Whether by 1914 and then by 1960 when we had independence, it was one in which our founding fathers had a role to play, but in which the federal was federal in name and indeed because all the federating units – the regions, played their respective roles. Now that we have states which are just federal agencies in name only, Nigeria has become a unitary government. So, what we need to do if we are at crossroads is to determine why we are at crossroads. And, I believe that the fundamental thing crying for attention now is returning the country back to a full federal state.
In other words, you are supporting restructuring of the country, like many people have said?
Yes, every Nigerian is talking about it. We must restructure the country. We must look at the constitution that works but let Nigerians determine what they want, not that it will be done by anybody. So, restructuring must take place and the kind of restructuring we are talking about is the one that the people will be involved in. The National Assembly, Senate and House of Representatives cannot, on their own, restructure Nigeria. It is no longer possible because it is more complex than that. And I believe that when a country is at a crossroads like we are right now, that we must fundamentally look at the structure of the country and there must be involvement of the people in the process of making changes.
In the event that the leadership of the country refuses to restructure, what hope do we have as Nigerians?
There should be no reason to refuse because I believe they also love the country. I like a great country with diversity but they must allow diversity to be our strength. In Nigeria, we have so many languages, cultures, religions and so on and they should be managed in a way that they become our strength rather than our weakness.
Talking of insecurity, almost everybody in Nigeria, at one time or the other has called for the sack of the service chiefs. The National Assembly, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and so many eminent leaders of this country have done the same thing but the president has remained adamant. In a situation like this, what can Nigerians do?
Well, the appointment of heads of security agencies lies with the president. He must have his own reasons for wanting to keep them. But, the National Assembly, at least, in this respect regarding the issue of insecurity is on the side of the people because they are also affected. My thinking is that the president will need to take steps or the security heads will need to take steps that will reassure the people that they will manage the security potentials of our country. If they are not doing so, if there is this open gap between reality and what they are able to do, then the president has a decision to make. If he decides to keep them, there must be a reason for that, but then, their failure must necessarily drop on him. That is a decision that only him can take.
The primary function of any government is to protect the lives and property of citizens. Now that this government is seen not have been able to do that, with killings going on everywhere almost on a daily basis. Does that not amount to breach of the social contract between the government and the people? What should Nigerians do in this circumstance? Should they just fold their arms and watch criminals kill them every day while the government does nothing?
No, they cannot just fold their arms, but you know that apart from the president, you have the 36 state governors who are the chief security officers of their respective states; what stops them from functioning? If you talk of the constitution not allowing them to set up security outfits, you have Hisbah in Kano State. It is functioning; arresting and prosecuting cases. What stops other governors from sitting down and taking firm decisions to tackle insecurity in their areas? At the end of the day, if there is security failure in one state, it is the people in that state that will suffer; it is their economy that will suffer. So, what is the governor doing that he cannot now at least try to carry as far as his state is concerned? And, if all of them are doing that, the president will be forced to sit up. Even the restructuring that we are talking about, you see the northern governors playing to the gallery by saying they don’t want state police. But, they themselves know that if there is state police everywhere, every state, to some extent, can manage the security challenges that are arising now.
We know about the Hisbah in the north but one wonders what has been happening to the Amotekun in the South West. It came with much fanfare but are we not hearing much about it anymore? Why?
We are beginning to see that they are working; they are being set up in so many states. When the wife of the State Chief of Staff to the Ondo State Governor was kidnapped, it was the Amotekun that worked and eventually got her released. It is still the same Amotekun that was announced to have located and arrested those who killed a traditional ruler in Ifo. That means if they were not there, they would not have been able to do that. So, it is the same platform that we are asking all those in the South West who have Amotekun to develop and strengthen. And if they are able to do that and it works for them, what stops those in the south East, South-south, North East, North West or North Central from doing so? And in any case, in the North East, you would have heard about the Civilian Joint Task Force (JTF); they carry guns because they assist the army. The situation would have been a lot worse in the North East but for their existence. So, think of it. Security cannot be the responsibility of only the Federal Government; it will be the responsibility of every governor and local government chairman.
Are you saying that part of the state police that people are agitating for is already being created?
Yes, bit by bit you are now seeing them. You see the Civilian JTF in the north, Hisbah in Kano and Amotekun in the South West.
There is already so much heat about 2023 with every zone insisting that it is their turn to produce the next president. The North is also bent on retaining power even as the South East is saying that for justice, equity and fairness, others should support them to produce the next president. Do you think the South East has a genuine case?
There are many factors here. We have always had rotations of the president. It is an unwritten rule but it has always been between the north and south. It is now in the north. If it comes to the south, all the regions in the south can struggle for it. In fact, the whole country can struggle for it but at the end of the day, they will still pick somebody from the South. In 1999, when the country decided that the presidency would go to the South, you still had some northerners that contested but the country settled for the South. In 2015, when Jonathan wanted a reelection, I think there was a general consensus that Yar’Adua had been there and Jonathan had also been there in between even though it was not up to eight; maybe it was time for it to go back to the North and it went back. Now, it must come to the south. Where in the south is more of a national question. Of course, as a south westerner, I will say let it come to the south west. If you are a southeasterner, you will say let it come to the south east. Even the south-south people where Jonathan emerged from, if they have their way there will be nothing stopping them from saying it should come from there. But, let it come to the south. I think that is the first struggle to cross.
Assuming it comes to the south, is it not fair for the South-South and South West to support the South East?
You don’t give power like that. Everybody struggles for it. Everybody works together to seek power. You will see people forming alliances and platforms to seek power.
Where do you see Nigeria beyond 2023?
If we decide to restructure before 2023 because we still have time, that’s fine but if we don’t, it is a very delicate process. But, if we restructure between now and 2023 and Nigerians agree, we will have a great country. And I can tell you that all genuine Nigerians want a Nigeria state big as it is with its people and resources. We want a big, strong and diverse country but we want to have that country because the Yoruba man is equal to the Igbo man and the Igbo is equal to the Fulani man, Kanuri man, Tiv man and others and then we are equal partners building a strong country. If we restructure, we will get that. But if we don’t restructure and it is the usual master-servant relationship, it will not stand.
The #ENDSARS protest has come and gone but do you think it will have any impact on the 2023 election? How will shape youth’s opinion in the 2023 election?
The youths have been late in talking and they have been lethargic like the elders. To them, they don’t have any stake but the truth is that they have a higher stake. I am now 70 and if I am lucky, I will live for the next 15 or 20 years. But a 30-year-old man still has 60 years to attain that age, so it is in his interest to pay more attention to what is happening. But, if all they do is borrow the culture of torn jeans from the American prison, then I am sorry for them. They have a greater share in the future. They are the ones who should be very active by mobilizing to elect responsible leaders. If all they want to do is that during the election, somebody will bribe them with bags of rice and peanuts, and they work for them, then it is their future that they are wasting. But, if they see themselves as the beneficiaries of that future which they are, then they must sit up and make their voice heard in 2023.