Oluseye Ojo, Ibadan
Dr. Gbade Ojo is associate professor, Comparative Politics and a onetime Head, Department of Political Science, University of Ilorin, Kwara State. He is currently on a leave of absence and Chief of Staff to Governor Abiola Ajimobi of Oyo State.
Ojo is also General Overseer, Sanctuary of Christ Evangelical Church, Ibadan. In this interview, he spoke on why federal arrangement is not working for Nigeria and other issues.
How do you strike a balance as a pastor, teacher a politician?
By definition of being a politician, I am not one. I am a professional invited to govern, and the beauty of it is that you don’t necessarily have to be a politician before you serve in government.
If our country will move the way it would require at least professionals who may be scared of the associated risks with partisan politics. Those that didn’t participate in partisan that have been invited into government may have one thing or the other to contribute. It is good for the country to have few professionals that can be invited to govern, to contribute their own quotas.
What would you say were the challenges of a professional invited into politics from your experience?
I have come to realise that to operate as an adviser, you’ll advise. You are not the one elected. You are not the one voted for. You offer professional advice. The ball is entirely in the court of your principal to sieve which idea he believes may be pragmatic to him.
You are to advice objectively. Nobody will blame the adviser, who wasn’t elected. Everybody will blame the governor or president. I have not seen any challenge other than I will go back as a better teacher.
Are we are on the right track as a nation, considering our socio-cultural and political differences?
The answer is yes and at the same time no. Yes, in the sense that we are at the stage of democratic sustenance, not consolidation. There is what we call time test for nascent democracy. Nigeria’s democracy is still very young. It will take a minimum of 30 years before we can transit from the level of democratic sustenance to democratic consolidation.
The fact that our politicians and public office holders are wobbling and fumbling does not mean we are not getting it right. The fact that we are able to keep the military at bay is a major achievement of our democracy. If the military is kept at the barracks, we keep on conducting elections with flaws. Over time, we shall get over it.
Let me give you a very good example. Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) was in power and in government for some 16 years. When Nigerians were fed up, they were voted out. The beauty of it is that the sitting president conceded defeat and Federal Government caved in and the opposition party formed government that is what we call democracy.
The All Progressives Congress (APC) is there today, if tomorrow the electorates are fed up, they would go for any other political party. I can say our democracy is on course because nothing has disturbed regular election in four years interval and where there are controversies, the contending forces resort to the judiciary, rather than violence and the court adjudicates.
How would you rate the performance of opposition party?
When talking about opposition party or party in government, the textbook definition of political party, none of the political parties in Nigeria fits in. That is the truth. For instance, how do you define political parties? People of like minds with the ultimate goal of capturing power via the ballot box.
But where you have unlike minds, in an attempt to capture power at the federal level, the so-called progressive party – APC, opened all its doors wide and all characters came in. Do you call that a progressive party? Where corrupt politicians come in, those that have been tried by Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) could be members because of free entry and free exit.
It wasn’t like that in the First Republic. When PDP was to be formed, the likes of Bola Ige saw some characters and withdrew. When All Peoples Party (APP) was to be formed, he was invited he saw some characters he withdrew.
The progressives went for Alliance for Democracy (AD) that if it were only two states they could capture, they would govern those two states with progressive ideals and people would see. But today, all political parties lack what we call ideology. With ideological fluidity on the part of our politicians, you cannot expect much.
So, as our democracy grows, I expect ideal political parties to evolve. The system will continue to be like this until we have an ideal political party so to say and that is what is responsible for lack of responsible opposition.
Would you say Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) before the formation of APC played the opposition role well? What would you say the then ACN did that PDP is not doing?
I think the current opposition party is like a weakling and is like a vehicle that suddenly got an accident. Don’t forget the vibrant voice in the opposition was Olisa Metuh. But the megaphone of the opposition party is facing corruption charges, that voice suffers credibility problem.
Now, another person that could easily play that role, perhaps he has skeleton in his cupboard and that if he talks too much and you have skeleton in your cupboard, the sitting government could wield a big stick.
In the case of Ayodele Fayose, he is the governor of a state (Ekiti), he is not the official publicity secretary of the opposition party. He is not supposed to be doing that, but he is doing it because of the immunity he enjoys and what the man has been doing is not really the function of an opposition party.
Where you don’t have credible opposition, there is the tendency to technically run a one-party state. If there are 100 registered political parties, only one party can be in government at a time at the federal level, the remaining 99 are supposed to be in the opposition. The issue of opposition party should not be about PDP alone. There are other political parties on the political space.
What would you say is wrong with Nigeria’s federalism, irrespective of the party that is in power; what system of government is preferable for Nigeria?
So many things are fundamentally wrong with federalism in Nigeria. The first thing is the fact that the federal arrangement was imposed by the British colonialists and when it was imposed, it was an arrangement that negated theory of federalism.
John Stuart Mill (a British philosopher, political economist and civil servant) taught us that any federal arrangement where a part or a section is so big that it can swallow other parts, that kind of federal arrangement will suffer instability. When you look at the map of Nigeria, you can notice the disaster, that the Northern region is big enough, large enough, to be able to swallow both the West and the East and it has actually swallowed other regions. That is the fundamental problem. Structural defect.
In that kind of a federal arrangement, it is only principle of justice and equity, not equality but equity that can correct that kind of anomaly.
Number two, we run a federal system where we rob Peter to pay Paul and you expect stability. How? You are getting mineral resource in the Niger Delta. At least as high as 80 per cent of Nigeria’s foreign earnings from crude oil and you are returning Peters to that region despite the accompanying environmental degradation that they suffer.
In other parts of the world, wherever mineral deposit is discovered, it belongs to that locality.
You pay royalty to the Federal Government and that is why in the United States today, Texas is very rich because of oil deposit.
Look at the operation of Value Added Tax (VAT). You are generating a lot of revenue from VAT, and when you want to distribute, you are giving more to a state that contributed little or nothing, that is not equity.
Perhaps the third one is abuse of federal character principle, which started as a quota system and now federal character principle. Today, it is observed in abeyance, strict application of federal character principle could have given us a sense of equity in the federal arrangement. But a situation whereby the system operates in a way that you are holding certain part of the country down to assist another is not the best.
Let me give you an example in terms of admission requirement into the university. If you are from Oyo State and you apply to read Medicine at the University of Maiduguri, a candidate from Borno State or any part of the North, if the cut off is 205 to read Medicine, because you are from Oyo State, yours will be 270.
Federal Government secondary schools, when you look at the cut offs too, the gap is so wide. Application of federal character principle is promoting mediocrity instead of meritocracy and you expect that kind of a federal arrangement to be stable, no. That is deceit.
Federalism cannot give you what we call seamless unit. You work for it. Today, Nigeria seems to be a bit confused on whether they should operate a two-tier federal system or a three-tier federal system. Local governments are subsumed by the state government. Each state should be able to determine how many local governments they want to have. Local government ordinarily should not participate in sharing money coming from the federal because local government is not a centre of power.
That confusion should be removed if actually we want to run federalism as it should operate as it is operating in developed democracies that operate federal system of government. But over the years, we have been running a three-tier government and probably that is why the local governments are benefitting from the federal allocation.
No, we started with two-tiers. In Second Republic, state governments determined how many local governments they deserved. But because of military intervention in government and politics, and because of the command structure of the military, they came back to create ward and local governments and inserted it in the constitution.
That legally recognised number of local governments in Nigeria is 774. That was why they fought Lagos State Government to the Supreme Court level when it created local council development areas. It used to be two-tier of government until the military came with the idea of three-tier and even introducing presidential system at the local government level.