Nigeria’s survival has been hinged on the readiness of the leadership in the country to consent to the idea of renegotiating the basis of her union.
A chieftain of Afenifere, Yoruba socio-cultural group, Demola Folarin, in this interview, said that the nation has succeeded so far in navigating through myriads of challenges owning to previous re-negotiations.
He also looked at the EU report on the 2019 elections and highlights on why the nation electioneering system is fraught with anomalies, as well as major national issues, including leadership failure in the country, insecurity, among other issues.
Leadership failure has been identified as Nigeria’s major problem. Where and how would you say the nation got it wrong?
It is a long history, but let me just start from 1960s. The founding fathers of this nation in their enlightened self-interest decided that we should have a federation. As a matter of fact, of the three founding fathers, only one wanted a federation. In order words, only one of them had a nationalistic view of what Nigeria should be. He wanted a Nigeria that was fused, but also recognizing the rights of the constituents or the regions; that was Chief Obafemi Awolowo. Ahmadu Bello didn’t want Nigeria, to start with. He wanted an independent Northern Region; Zik wanted a confederation. So, it was Awolowo who had the nationalistic view of what Nigeria should be. Awolowo persuaded the two of them and they agreed on the federation. Then they had a federal constitution in 1960 and in 1963, a Republican Constitution that recognized the constituents. There were three main constituents –the North, the East and the West. That was the arrangement the founding fathers of the nation agreed upon. The arrangement worked perfectly well until the military intervened in 1966. Now, you could talk about the crisis in the Western Region. That was an internal affair that could have been resolved if there was no interference from the centre. It was a breach of that federal arrangement that the centre intervened the way they did; they took side with one of the warring factions and the crisis engulfed the Western Region, which eventually led to the collapse of the First Republic through the coup. And, of course, the injustice of what happened then clearly defined the intervention of the military. They clearly said that the elections were rigged. And they were not Yoruba; there was only one Yoruba amongst them. They were all from the East, they carried out the coup to install Awolowo as Prime Minister. So, you could see that up to that very point, most people saw Nigeria as an entity they thought they could lay their lives down for. It was only in that context that we see the coup of Ifejuna. And we’ve all read many accounts of that coup, but one thing that is consistent is that they wanted the coup to install Obafemi Awolowo. And these were people from the East. Before the coup the federal arrangement worked so well that Nigeria was advancing at a pace faster than most countries in Europe.
The health care system that America was trying to implement under Obama was already taking place and going very well in the Western Region in the middle of 20th Century American started talking about it in the 21st Century. We had free education in Western Region when it was a mere policy in most western democracies at the time. When the World Bank told the Western Region that they couldn’t fund free education, Awolowo laughed them out of court. Not only did they implement it, it was free and it was compulsory before the compulsory part of it was dropped after the protest over a proposed levy they wanted to impose at a time. So, everything worked very well until 1966 when Agunyi Ironsi introduced the unitary system. Now what has the unitary system done? It has brought everything under one military command, so to say, because that is what informed the attitude of Ironsi because he was a soldier and the only thing he understood was a military command.
Fast forward to this era, there is apparent lack of agreement over what Nigerians want. The Southeast is agitating for Sovereign State of Biafra. The South West is rooting for restructuring. The North on the other hand, which from the onset wanted an independent North, is averse to both ideas and wants us to remain the way we are now. What would you say is responsible for the reason the current crop of leadership in the North has refused to align with what their leaders wanted in the 60s?
Before independence there was little or no oil and we didn’t know the extent of the resources available to us at the time. I think the geological survey for Nigeria was not completed until the early 60s that was after independence when the resources were mapped out. From that moment on it became clear that was when we began to depend on our natural resources rather than our own effort. In 1959, the fact and figures available to us now were not available to Ahmadu Bello. I don’t know if those facts were available he would still crave to have an independent North, because at that time, the North was concerned about preserving their religion and their culture. They were North really interested in the modern state and you will see that that lingers till the very moment. But since oil and since the bulk of oil resources have been applied to the North, they have been the beneficiaries of the natural resources. So, you can understand why now they think it is not in their interest to have Nigeria dismembered. But in any event who says Nigeria must be dismembered before we experience progress? It isn’t that it is impossible or it is not even desirable, but it is not a necessity. It is something that can be avoided. But that does not mean that we should assume that Nigeria’s unity is not negotiable. That to me, is an unconstitutional statement in the sense that there is no place in the constitution, which says we cannot renegotiate the basis of our union. We have done it several times except people are reading unnecessary meaning to that phrase. We started with three regions, which was the basis and we renegotiated it, turned it to 12 states then we moved to 18, that is renegotiating the basis of our union. Don’t forget that Nigeria is not a natural entity; we were different entities that were amalgamated in 1914. So, those constituents still remain till date. The Yoruba existed before Nigeria ditto Igbo, ditto Hausa. It’s only the Fulani who came by conquest also before Nigeria, but they were not indigenous to Nigeria; they came from Futa Jallon and conquered the Hausa and that is how they came to Nigeria. We have been negotiating our union and there is no union that can progress without dynamism: we can’t afford to be static. The only reason Nigeria has survived to this moment is because we’ve been renegotiating the union. Why, for instance, did we create the Mid-West? It was because Awolowo recognized that we needed to give voice to the minority. So, things can move fast progressively and peacefully if people agree to dissect their problems and agree on common solutions. So, when we talk about renegotiating our union it doesn’t means dissolving or dismembering the nation.
The insecurity, which hitherto was confined to part of the North is gradually spreading to other parts of the country, with fear that it is currently making its incursion into the Southwest. How can this be permanently addressed?
First we need to understand how it started and how it began to spread. If you have eczema and you don’t treat it, it will spread to other parts of the body. The main problem we have with security today is because the Federal Government has failed to take decisive step about it. We have been crying about Fulani herdsmen, can you tell me how many of them have been arrested? If people get away with murder, they will continue to kill people. That is the main problem; it is not that we don’t have the resources to tackle it and that is fueling the idea that some people are trying to take over their territory. If there is a clash, let’s say, for instance, in Ibadan between Fulani and Ibadan people and the police arrest the Ibadan people, but the Fulani go scot-free. When you have that kind of situation repeating itself, you are sending a message that there is an official support for that kind of action. That will embolden the criminals to continue to do what they are doing. Many people believe today that there is a subterfuge, a clandestine plan by the Fulani entity to usurp the space and existence of other ethnic nationalities. And they have a very good reason to believe so. The current president before he became president as far back as early 2000 have represented himself as someone championing the cause of the Fulani and the cause of Islam. And his attitude while in government portrays him as lending supports to what is happening, he says nothing and he does nothing. Naturally, what will happen is that the attempt to conquer other nationalities is emboldened and is gaining ground and that can only lead to anarchy. What can be done within the context of the law to curtail the spread of armed banditry is limited for two reasons. The Southwest is politically heterogeneous. For instance, in the Southeast the PDP dominates ditto for the South-south. In the Southwest it is not so. Even though APC seems to have more states, the people of the zone are tired of the current arrangement, but those who wield political power, because of what they benefit from the current arrangement are not ready to do what their people want. So, within the confines of the law, the state governments are trying to do something. But they are not doing out of conviction rather they are doing it out of pressure because if you actually want to do it out of conviction, the approach ought to be different. They should rather call a meeting of the citizens, not just of security stakeholders, and address them and tell them what they plan to do. The other thing they can do may appear unlawful but people are entitled to defend themselves. If government fails to live up to its responsibility of defending lives and property of the people, the people have the right to defend themselves. In fact they are already trying to do so and nothing can stop it.
The EU report on the 2019 has once again put a question mark on the integrity of the 2019 elections. What would you say makes it difficult to conduct free, fair and peaceful elections in Nigeria?
The nation has been reduced to a space for barbarians who simply seek their own interest. It is now everybody to his tent. Those in the forefront of political activity do not believe they owe anything to Nigerians. Otherwise why would you install somebody who has been indicted for fraud? Why would you have a Deputy Senate President who has also been indicted? Why would you have a president who does not have a school certificate, yet you do nothing about it? There is also a claim that they distributed dollars to elect the new National Assembly leaders. In Lagos during the last elections, somebody brought bullion vans of money from the Central Bank in a regime that is fighting corruption. So, Nigeria is free for all; Nigeria has gone to the dogs. Good people have no chance of being in government because first they need stolen money. How many Nigerians have billions of naira to contest election in this country? Only very few people have the kind of money you need to contest an election and defeat corrupt people who have taken the reigns of leadership and who are not ready to let go. That is why we will continue to recycle corrupt and inefficient people in government, but as long as that remains there is no hope for rebirth.
Judging by the performance of the youths at the last election, what is your impression about the Not Too Young To Rule Act?
Nigeria’s problem is not generational. It is not about the young or the old people. The young people are as corrupt as the old, perhaps even more corrupt; and they are corrupt with vengeance. I am not sure it is their choice; it is the option they are left with. I don’t blame them; they want to retaliate, so to say. It is like saying “these people have stolen our future, let’s take what we can take”. It is not a generational issue. If you put a young man there, he will steal the nation blind. All these people you see now were young people when they came into government. The Not Too Young To Run Act is hypocritical. It’s like dropping crumbs for the so-called young people so that they would keep quiet. They are already disabled by the system. Kingsley Moghalu ran, to me, he was only wasting his time and money unless what he wanted was cheap publicity, there was no way he could win under the current arrangement. That is not what we need. It is not about age. What we need is complete rebirth. It means we have to uproot the current system and the starting block is the constitution. We have to go back to federal constitution. We have to give power to the constituent states. We copied America, but in America each state has own constitution. If we can’t go back to three regions, we can maintain the 36 states that we have as federating units. But people are saying we have gone beyond that. They will rather we dissolve peacefully and let each party go its on way. But that may be difficult. The easier thing to do is to sit down and restructure the polity. So, to retool the constitution and restructure the country are the only ways to move Nigeria forward.