President Muhammadu Buhari has been advised to ignore the recent call by Northern delegates to the 2014 National Conference to jettison the confab report and recommendations, in order not to plunge the nation into deeper crisis.
Highly revered cleric, and President, Yoruba Unity Forum, YUF, Bishop Bolanle Gbonigi, gave the advice in an interview with SATURDAY SUN, describing the Northern delegates’ demand as selfish and unpatriotic.
Gbonigi, an outspoken and firebrand clergy man once described as “NADECO Bishop” warns that any attempt by Buhari to yield to the clamour, which, he describes as an afterthought, will set Nigeria on fire.
The retired Anglican Bishop also spoke on other national issues in this interview with TUNDE THOMAS.
Can we have your view on the renewed debate on the desirability of restructuring the polity?
I support those calling for restructuring. With the alarming way things are fast deteriorating in this country, only restructuring will save us from looming bigger crisis. There are a lot of things that are structurally defective in the country, it is only by restructuring that we can make proper changes. With the present way we are in this country, the type of federalism, which we practise is seriously flawed. We need to make necessary correction, in order to correct the injustice being experienced by some people in the country. Nigeria is supposed to be a federal state operating a federal constitution, but the system we are practising today is a negation of true federalism and this is why you have all these agitations over here and there, and without justice, there can’t be peace.
To address these injustices, one of the recommendations made by delegates during the 2014 national confab was that the country should be restructured. As it is today, too much power is concentrated at the central, that is, in the hands of the Federal Government, whereas the states, or the component units are supposed to be autonomous, using resources at their disposal to develop at their own pace.
One of the tenets enshrined in federalism is fiscal autonomy, which means that the states are supposed to use resources in their respective domains to develop their regions and then pay tax to the central or the Federal Government.
But what we have in practice today in Nigeria is the opposite of this – the entire country now depends 100 per cent on oil revenue from the Niger-Delta region. It is the revenue from the oil sale that is shared every month among the states, but this is wrong. In the First Republic when true federalism was being practised, you have each of the three regions, Northern Region, Western and Eastern Regions developing at its own pace.
That was the era when you have cocoa belt in the Southwest, groundnut pyramid in the North, and coal, and rubber in the Southeast. During that period, each region was exploiting resources in the region to develop the respective regions, and taxes were only being paid to the Federal Government. That time, there was healthy competition for development among the regions, but this was truncated as a result of military intervention in government, starting with the first military coup of 1966. When the military came, they introduced unitary system of government, and under this arrangement, the Federal Government became very powerful. This was where the foundation for the series of crises we are having today was laid. Until we return to true practice of federalism as we were doing it in the First Republic, peace will continue to elude Nigeria. To have lasting peace, we must restructure. It is the only way out. The way things are going, we are not making the kind of progress expected of us as a nation. We are retrogressing, and there is an urgent need for us to quickly do the needful.
Some eminent Northern delegates to the 2014 National Confab recently came out to disown the confab and implored President Buhari to throw its recommendations into the dustbin, as they said, because the exercise was anti-North. What’s your reaction to this?
Those Northern leaders are jokers. They are not only selfish, but also want to set Nigeria on fire with their action. Their utterances about the 2014 Confab are very uncharitable. Why are they just waking up now three years after to disown a project they were part of? Nigerians should be vigilant. The action and conduct of these Northern delegates to the confab is suspicious, it is an insult to all Nigerians that three years after endorsing the confab, these northern delegates can now come out to disown it. These northern leaders, Ahmadu Ali, Bashiru Dalhatu, Jeremiah Useni, are all jokers. They are all selfish and unpatriotic. Their calls on President Muhammadu Buhari to jettison that confab report is very unfortunate.
Now, my advice to Buhari is that he should not listen to these selfish and unpatriotic northern elements. Buhari should remember that he was elected President of Nigeria and not that of the North. Now, if Buhari panders to the selfish demands of these northern delegates, it will have far reaching consequences on the nation’s polity.
Some of these consequences are that should Buhari listen to these northern leaders and jettison the 2014 Confab report, the people of Southwest geo-political zone will boycott 2019 general elections and not only that, the Southwest people will also boycott the 2018 National Census being planned by the Federal Government. Let me state here categorically that these are not empty threats, but something that we people in the Southwest at a recent meeting of Yoruba Unity Forum have resolved to do, and we are determined to match our words with action. Buhari will be playing with fire, if he succumbed to these sectional calls by his kinsmen. He should not play with fire at all, because any attempt to jettison or dump the 2014 confab report will have a boomerang effect on this nation. It is also like Buhari himself is playing with fire by appearing to be taking side with the new position of the Northern leaders on that confab report. His silence and body language seem to suggest that he wants to toe the line of the Northern leaders, but he should remember that not only Nigerians, but the entire world are watching him.
Buhari should be very careful. Buhari should also remember his statement during inauguration when he declared that he is not for anybody, or group, but that he is for the entire Nigerians. He should match his words with action on this issue by proving that he was not just making a political statement. If Buhari and his advisers don’t know, many Nigerians are watching to see how he will deal with the 2014 Confab issue. It is an explosive issue and I pray that God will give him divine wisdom to take the right action.
How would you describe the action of the northern leaders urging Buhari to dump the confab report?
They are not behaving like men of honour. What shocked and amazed me is that all these northern elements, who ought to be statesmen-like in their conduct and utterances have behaved to the contrary. They were not only delegates to the conference, they also endorsed the confab report and recommendations. So, why the sudden U-turn now? I suspect foul play, but I don’t think they will have their way. Other geo-political zones will resist their plot.
My expectation is that Ali, Useni, Dalhatu and others would regard themselves as Nigerians and not as champions of sectional interests. I expect them to take actions that will promote peace and unity in the country. But with the way they speak, they spoke like enemies of Nigeria.
With the way things are going on in the country, with agitations here and there, and even outbreak of violence in some areas, some Nigerians have expressed fears about possibility of a break-up of the country, if the situation degenerates further, do you harbour such fear?
Nothing is impossible. But, our prayer is that Nigeria should not break up. It is better for us to continue living together in peace and harmony, but one thing we must understand is that justice is the basis for peace, where there is no justice, there can’t be peace. This is why Nigerians are clamouring for restructuring. Restructuring will save us a lot of headache.
But some individuals and even groups in the North have kicked against restructuring…
(Cuts in) … I don’t know why anybody would oppose restructuring. Anybody opposing restructuring is opposing reality and justice. What does restructuring entail? It means using resources in component regions to develop regions, and you then only pay tax to the Federal Government. This is what is called Fiscal Federalism, and Nigeria was practicing it in the First Republic before military intervention. Was the North not part of Nigeria in the First Republic? That was a period Sir Ahmadu Bello, the then Premier of the defunct Northern Region was using the resources in the North like cotton and groundnut to develop the region. That was the period when you have the famous groundnut pyramid in Kano – that same period late Obafemi Awolowo was using proceeds from cocoa farming to develop the defunct Western Region. Late Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe was doing a similar thing in the Eastern Region, and each region was developing at its own pace, and there was peace until military intervention destroyed everything.
Why should the North be afraid of restructuring? Are they saying that there are no resources in the North to develop the region? There are several mineral resources in the North that have been left unexploited, because everybody depends on oil allocations. Over-dependence on oil has made everybody including states to become lazy. We all now depend on oil from Niger Delta. Every month every state collects monthly allocation from oil sales, and this has made us to become lazy. The irony of it all, which is also most unfortunate, is that while we share free oil money from Niger Delta, the region is neglected – the people’s ecosystem is destroyed, and yet the money got from Niger Delta is being used to develop other places across the country. Where is justice in all this? Kano State, which is not an oil producing state has over 40 local governments, whereas Bayelsa State that produces oil has only eight local governments, and allocation to the states is at times made on the basis of number of local governments each state has. Then, where is justice in that? This are some of the reasons why we need to restructure. Restructuring can’t be wished away if we want to have peace.
President Buhari’s health challenge has become controversial, what’s your own position on this?
We are all praying for the President’s recovery. We are praying that God should give him good health. It is also good that he has decided to return to UK for further medical treatment. We pray that God will restore him to good health. However, it is he and only he alone that knows how his body feels. If he feels that he no longer has the capacity to cope with the pressure, demands and challenges of the office he occupies, he should put Nigeria first and do the needful by resigning honourably. No single individual is greater than the entire country. But, like I said earlier, we are all praying for his quick recovery.
In recent times, violence by Fulani herdsmen has become a major problem across the country where they graze their cattle – they are also now said to be involved in kidnapping. How can their menace be tackled especially in the Southwest?
Our governors in the Southwest have not taken any serious action against them and that’s why these Fulani herdsmen, whom I will also describe as terrorists, have been having a field day kidnapping, killing and maiming innocent Nigerians. This is not time for politics, but time to face reality. Our governors in the Southwest need to take decisive actions in order to deal with the alarming situation. Our governors in the Southwest, working hand in hand with the lawmakers in their respective states, should make strong laws to ban grazing by herdsmen in any part of the Southwest – Fulani herdsmen should take their cattle back to the North, and rear them there and anybody that wants to buy cow should go and buy it over there. After all, people go there, I mean to the North to go and buy yam, pepper, onions and others. Imagine the kind of atrocities these herdsmen have been committing. Look at the list of those they have kidnapped – those victims even include traditional rulers! Who can do that to them in the North? Kidnapping traditional rulers in the Southwest, and on their own land, what a sacrilege and insult! Look at how they also kidnapped Chief Olu Falae on his own farm, demanding ransom before he was released.
Our governors should rise to the occasion – they are not giving the issue the kind of serious attention it deserves. What can be more important than securing the lives and property of your own people from destruction by terrorists? Our governors should buckle up on this issue. It is a serious issue, which must be tackled with urgency. Is it not an insult, a very big one, kidnapping a traditional ruler in his domain, and now asking his family and subjects to pay ransom before they would release him? Can they do that to an Emir in the North? Our governors should please rise to the occasion and give this issue the utmost attention it deserves.
They should not be given grazing land in the Southwest. No Southwest governors should make the mistake of allocating any plot of land for grazing to these Fulani herdsmen. To do so is to invite danger into their own homes and territories. Why did I say so? Our governors should learn from what happened to the people of Southern Kaduna. The Southern Kaduna people welcomed these people, the Fulanis into their midst, but later regretted their action as these Fulani settlers later became a big problem to their hosts, as they started launching violent attacks on them, killing them anyhow, even up till now. Is this the kind of thing we want in the Southwest? No. No space for grazing land here, Fulani herdsmen should take their cattle back to the North.
We can’t afford to harbour dangerous enemies in our midst, we cannot allow these herdsmen to become a threat to us in our own territory; one would have expected the Federal Government to take a decisive action on the menace of these herdsmen and checkmate their excesses, but alas, it appears as if government is looking the other way. The Fulani herdsmen also continue their wanton destruction of lives and property across the country, because of the feeling they have that they would always get away with their nefarious activities.