President Muhammadu Buhari has been charged to ensure that restructuring of the country is carried out before the 2023 elections.
Giving the advice in an interview with TUNDE THOMAS, Prof. Remi Sonaiya, presidential candidate of the KOWA party in the 2015 general elections, said a failure by the president to heed the calls for restructuring would have consequences that may spell doom for the nation. She also spoke on other national issues.
How would you react to the present state of affairs in the country, with banditry, kidnappings and other vices becoming serious national and international concerns?
It is very sad and unfortunate that Nigeria is being turned into an ugly nation where abductions, killings, and insurgency have made life unbearable for the ordinary citizens. With all these unfortunate things that are happening, you wonder what those who have been elected to protect us are doing. You begin to wonder whether there is even anybody in charge of the country. It has even become more worrisome that these atrocities are being committed on a daily basis. It is sad that Nigeria is being turned into a killing field where human lives are no longer safe and secured.
This is the time for government or those in charge of the nation’s security architecture to wake up and do their job. The security of the people is the primary and first responsibility of those that have been entrusted with power to manage their affairs. They should find out why it is impossible to keep Nigerians safe in their own country. It is unfortunate that it seems the government is incapable of keeping us safe. Is it that those in charge of security are either compromising or can’t do their work very well? What is really happening? Something urgent has to be done to bring the situation under control.
Some Nigerians have suggested that a state of emergency should be declared in order to bring the situation under control……
I don’t know about that. My concern is that those people that are being paid and tasked with the duty of protecting us should do what they are being paid to do. How can we be spending such huge amount of money on security and we are not seeing the result? I think this is wrong. There was a time some Nigerians gave advice that service chiefs should be changed. They were changed but still there has been no significant improvement. There must be something wrong or going on which ordinary citizens may not be aware of. Let those in charge of our security not toy with the lives of the people for whatever reasons. This is not right. It is unjust that this kind of thing can be happening in Nigeria. It is unthinkable.
Look at how long the Boko Haram insurgency has been going on. Who is funding them? I don’t believe that these insurgents can be stronger than the Nigerian state. I think that those holding public offices, the perks of offices they are enjoying, they are too significant such that it cuts them off from the realities that the rest of us ordinary Nigerians are exposed to. They live so far above the daily realities of the common people. They are so well padded, so well cushioned from the effects of the realities that ordinary Nigerians are facing.
Are you saying that the remuneration being collected by public office holders is on the high side, that it should be reduced?
All the money we are spending on maintaining the political class is too excessive, and what is left is not sufficient to fund governance. The excessive remuneration that we give to those in political positions is not to our own good as a country. There should be a drastic cut in allowances and emoluments being collected by public office holders. Otherwise Nigeria will not move forward, and we may have little or nothing to show or highlight as dividends of democracy.
Look at Nigeria today, has anything actually changed since Buhari’s government came into office? Nothing has really changed? Things have actually become worse. Things have changed for the worst. There was a recent report that seven million more Nigerians have fallen into poverty since Buhari came into office, and what this means is that things are sliding down, and this is not good at all for the nation.
How do we get out of the present quagmire? Is it through restructuring as some Nigerians have been canvassing? Where do you stand?
It is obvious that Nigeria need to be re-negotiated. This is why from the north to the south, and east to the west, the same call is being made for a re-negotiation of our union as a country, and I believe that the leaders of the nation should not turn a deaf ear to all these calls. It is overwhelming now. They should not pretend they are not hearing, and they should not pretend that they can’t restructure. For instance, people are calling for a new constitution with the on-going review of the constitution by the National Assembly, and this is an important call that should not be ignored. This current constitution is not fair and just to everybody.
However, members of the National Assembly are saying that they don’t have the power to give Nigerians a new constitution, that they only have power to amend. But some of us, especially a group I belong to called Fix Politics, are saying that the National Assembly members should make an amendment to the constitution which will enable Nigerians to hold a referendum on the present constitution, and this will allow majority of Nigerians to vote on whether it is a new constitution they want or the constant tinkering or amendment of the current one. If Nigerians now decided to have a new constitution after the referendum so be it. Nigerians should be allowed to hold a referendum on the 1999 constitution.
The message I will like to pass to the Presidency and the National Assembly is that they should not turn deaf ears to the calls by Nigerians for restructuring. Nigerians are suffering, and I believe that the various issues we are concerned about can be sorted out through negotiation, conversations and discussions. The leadership should heed the calls for change. Our leaders can’t say the calls for restructuring is only coming from one part of Nigeria. It is now coming from everywhere, and those calls should not be ignored. There will be consequences if the calls for restructuring are ignored. Our leaders should not play deaf to the calls. It is only restructuring that can save Nigeria from the impending doom. Buhari should do the needful now. Otherwise the nation may suffer an implosion.
Some Nigerians have expressed concern that the increased attacks on INEC offices across the country may affect the conduct of the 2023 general elections. What’s your reaction?
I can’t say whether it is capable of preventing 2023 elections from holding or not, but my own concern is whether we should hold the 2023 elections under the current political system. What I believe is that we should put in place those changes we need immediately. Like restructuring, we need it immediately now. Let us sit down and do this restructuring before the 2023 general elections. This is what will douse the tension going on in different parts of the country. Nigeria should be rescued immediately now. Without restructuring, planning for 2023 may be jeopardised.
Financial experts are warning about the danger associated with the foreign loans being taken by the Federal Government. What’s your take?
In the first place, there would have been no need to take such loans if we have been spending our resources very wisely. But unfortunately, we are spending a large part of our resources in paying emoluments and salaries of a small group of political office holders. We are not making most of our resources available for things that will be of benefit to the majority of Nigerians, and this is why we will keep on borrowing because the money we have is not limitless.
We have to borrow because we have used our own money to fund an over-bloated public service system. We have ministers, ministers of states, special advisers, special assistants, and so many others. With huge sums of money being paid these people we have little or nothing left to build infrastructures like roads, airports, hospitals and so on. But the danger in taking these foreign loans is that we are mortgaging the future of the coming generations.
What’s your assessment of the nation’s 22-year democratic journey?
I think we should situate this within the things that are happening in this country. The reality of our existence right now, I believe, is that there is an assault on democracy and democratic principles. It seems as if our current government is drifting more and more into a resistance of true democracy. This is because true democracy is government by the people and for the people. For instance, the ban on Twitter, under the guise of wanting to control hate speech and insecurity and so on, I think it is really an attack on democracy.
There is no democratic country that will not have people who are out there to foment trouble and so on and so forth. Will you because some people are using maybe the internet for hate speech and something like that and because of that impose a ban on it for the millions and millions of Nigerians who are using it in the right way and for good purposes? Some are doing legitimate business over Twitter. Are you going to make them suffer because you have some people who are using it wrongly? That is a challenge for democracy and that is the challenge I believe that our leaders are unable to know how to react to right now. If your solution is to clamp down on people because some are using something wrongly, then you are really not in democracy. You are an authoritarian regime.
Two years after, how will you rate the performance of the current National Assembly?
The National Assembly currently has recommended some bills for passage, which the president has not assented to. They themselves have refused to pass some bills that the public might feel should have been passed, like the Gender Equity Bill. So all that gives details of something. So the question is, who are they representing? Are they representing the interest of the generality of Nigerians or their own interests? Let’s take the current constitutional review going on. The House has had its own public hearing, the Senate has had its own public hearing, and people have said what is the use of that duplication? Why are they duplicating efforts? It does not look like our National Assembly is mindful of the cost their activities place on Nigerians. So the money is there and they can spend it anyhow. So they spent it for themselves, for their own remuneration personally. And they also spent it in duplicating efforts. Are they conscious of the fact that every single naira that they spent in an unnecessary manner, that they are robbing Nigerians of some vital services? So if they are spending money on things that are not critical, that are not vital, it means that they are going to have money to be spent on things that are more important. Fixing our roads, giving us better electricity, water, hospitals, schools and so on. These are the issues and that is why somebody like me, for instance, I would like to say I am for a unicameral legislature. I think that the state in which Nigeria is right now, and the resources that we need, do not allow us this luxury of a bicameral legislature.
I think that if the National Assembly really has the interest of this nation at heart, they would put as part of the amendment of this constitution that is currently going on, a change to unicameral legislature rather than a bicameral one.
And it is not as if we are saying something that is out of the ordinary. In 2012, Senegal needed money because they had serious drought that affected a lot of people. And they didn’t just start borrowing like Nigeria is so quick to borrow. They asked themselves, what can we do internally to save money? And what they did was to decide to scrap their senate. And they scrapped their senate and used that money to help their citizens that were affected by the serious drought. That is an African nation just like we are. We are confronted with all these issues, banditry, Boko Haram, herdsmen and so on. All of that requires money to do it. But we are not thinking at all of making fundamental changes that can help us to save money. A unicameral legislature will help us save cost. It will help us reduce the cost of governance. A bi-camera legislature is a burden on our democracy.