“Today, everybody is talking of restructuring, forgetting the fact that the present Federal system itself is corruption personified.”
Godwin Tsa, Abuja
Former National Secretary of the Labour Party (LP) and legal scholar, Dr Kayode Ajulo, has insisted that corruption could only be eradicated if the country is restructured. Contributing to the restructuring debate, the human rights activist and Board Chairman, Egalitarian Mission for Africa, said he was not surprised with the position of Prof Yemi Osinbajo on restructuring, saying that the vice president is a beneficiary of the current skewed and jaundiced Federal system. He also spoke on other issues.
Ahead of the 2019 general elections, the debate on restructuring is raging unabated. Recently, the Vice President Yemi Osinbajo said that the country does not need geographical restructuring, but good governance and deeper physical Federalism. What is your position on this?
Well, one thing we should not forget is who the messenger is and from what perspective he is talking from. Today, Prof Yemi Osinbajo is the Vice President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. He is one of the beneficiaries of the chequered skewed federalism we have today. So, I will be surprised if he tries to say anything than to promote the position of the Federal government. However, one thing we need to let Osinbajo know, with respect, is that, one of the indices to show that there is nothing good in the present system of this country is the way the agitation for restructuring is going on. Today, everybody is talking of restructuring, forgetting the fact that the present Federal system itself is corruption personified. That is what Osinbajo must know and to change the present system is to deal a big blow on corruption. I know Osinbajo as a lawyer and a Professor of Evidence. He should not forget where we are coming from. He should not forget that the only time Nigeria successfully and legally discussed about the system of government we need was during the Constitutional Conference, in which his father-in-law, the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo and the rest of the nationalists, held in Britain in the United Kingdom. That was the only time, you can see that they had a perfect constitutional conference that brought about the constitution of that time. And if you know very well, one of the gains of that talk was to identify that we are different. That is why they coined the word “unity in diversity”. We are different and because of that, they talked about regionalism. They should be autonomous of each region. During that time, Nigeria had four ambassadors, four high commissioners, one representing the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the other three representing the Western Region, Northern Region and Eastern Region, respectively. It is out of corruption and military coup, which to me is even worse than corruption, killing each other, and subverting the will of God and the constitution that brought us to this present system of government that Osinbajo and co are talking about now. Almost three quarter of our resources is hanging on very few people in Abuja, who are sharing the bounty. In an ideal physical Federalism, the Federal Government should only be concerned with issues bordering on Defence, foreign affairs and economy. The skewed Federal system we have today itself is corruption and must be removed. That is why the biggest agitation against corruption is to have restructuring.
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Another issue that dominated debate in the country was the statement by President Buhari at the opening of this year’s annual Nigeria Bar Conference in Abuja to the effect that national interest supersedes the rule of law and fundamental human rights. As a human rights activist, do you stand with the President on this?
I am glad that the Nigerian Bar Association to which I belong has dealt with this issue and rightly too that the president’s statement is ultra vires to the Nigerian Constitution. Let me put it succinctly clear that the statement delivers yet another concern to patriots. The same stance raises genuine fears as it sweeps up the need for fundamental queries regarding both the conceptual and legal implications of this positioning. While national interest is often referred to by the French expression raison d’etat (Reason of state) referred to a country’s goals and ambitions, whether economic, military or cultural, the rule of law which is essentially the restriction of arbitrary exercise of power, the subordination of power to established laws. National interest in the context of political transactions may have its roots in a political association’s ideology or calculation. The same cannot be said of the rule of law. The president may need a candid reminder of the fact that the ultimate national interest is codified in the Constitution, wherein the fundamental human rights are given primacy of place and hinged on the rule of law. It, therefore, portends a dangerous trend where the rule of law now has to play the second fiddle and be at the mercy of a political power. It is rather unfortunate that no one in the president’s kitchen cabinet could be patriotic enough to guide him properly. I think both the Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami (SAN) and the president himself owe Nigeria a public apology on this.
There is a worrisome development in the country today where journalists are being abused, harassed, assaulted and clamped down in detention by agents of the state. Does this worry you too?
I agree with you that journalism profession is going through another round of repression in the hands of crude political leaders. The ugly tide has risen to a level where concerned citizens must markedly intervene. Journalism, the Fourth Estate of the Realm and the society’s watchdog, is a profession that has paid its dues in nation building and that continues to play the inevitable surveillance function so that the country for which generations of men and women have laboured to build would not go on its knees. The profession is going through another round of repression in the hands of crude political leaders. Journalists now have to be on guard, members of the pen profession have to put their houses in order on a daily basis as they do not know who is next to be picked up, locked up or even incarcerated by politicians who hate to see themselves in the mirror.