By Chukwudi Nweje
Yinka Odumakin is the Publicity Secretary of Pan Yoruba group, Afenifere. In this interview, he says though there is urgent need to restructure Nigeria the legislation may not pass at the National Assembly because the legislature was part of the imbalance in the federation.
The National Working Committee (NWC) of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) has passed a vote of confidence on President Muhammadu Buhari. What are your thoughts?
I will not oppose them for passing a vote of confidence on the president and their exco; it is their prerogative, they have their yardsticks for doing so. However, I will say that people are placing too much emphasis on the APC. It is the best time for Nigerians who think that the APC is not doing well to think of what they are doing to get an alternative to the APC. It is the impression now that the APC is not the credible alternative that Nigerians yearn for; it cannot stand the test of time and cannot be trusted by the people. As we move closer to 2019, we will have the APC on one hand and also have other alternatives. I will not want to waste too much time on what the APC is doing, it is their internal affair.
What is your impression with the general state of affairs in the country?
Things are very bad on so many fronts in the country right now, there are so many faults. In terms of the polity, Nigerians have never been as divided as we are today since the amalgamation of Nigeria. We are divided politically, we are divided in terms of ethnicity and we are divided spiritually. There is no serious attempt to build an inclusive country. We have rather done more to promote division and even in terms of government appointments, policies and the rest of them, there seems to be a deliberate ploy to run an arrangement that is unhealthy for us in this country.
In terms of the economy, the entire citizenry have not fared better. If you open the newspapers today, all you read about is suicide and all sorts of horrid acts to humanity, which are occasioned by the downturn in the economy. We have been told that the country is out of recession, but that is tales by moonlight because it has not reflected on the lives of the citizens.
In terms of commodities and the cost of living, getting the basic things of life is poor, prices of goods are still at the roof-tops, the purchasing power of the people have been made nonsense of, people are owed several months of salaries. The economic possibilities are shrinking. The mono product economy based on crude oil is collapsing and yet we refuse to do the needful in terms of expanding the opportunities by changing the paradigm by reverting back to a proper federal structure where we can maximise the benefits of under our soil and above it. When you look at the state of our country generally, you can see that things have moved from bad to worse and if care is not taken, we are at the edge of the precipice. There is social dislocation and we are not doing enough to stem the tide, rather we are engaged in propaganda to deny the realities of our existence or pretend that they do not exist. This is not the best country that you can have.
The Southern Governors Forum recently met and among other things agreed on restructuring. What exactly is restructuring to you?
Restructuring is simple English that does not connote any complications as the opponents want us to believe. It simply means to do things in a different way. The Nigeria we have today is occasioned by the military arrangement we are running. In 1967, Obafemi Awolowo wrote a book, ‘Thoughts on Nigerian Constitution’ where he warned that any attempt to run Nigeria on a unitary constitution will produce disharmony, fighting among the people and that the administrative machinery will collapse under the bureaucracy except you get super-humans to run the system. That is where we are today. This idea of unitary system, where the Federal Government packs all the rent and at the end of the month the Commissioners of Finance go to Abuja to gamble and ask how much do we have and how do we share it, is no longer working. The oil economy is coming to an end and what we should do is to revert to proper federalism. We should take away mineral resources from the exclusive legislative list and bring them to the concurrent or residual list and allow the states to mine their resources so that we will move from a sharing economy to a productive economy. The states will now exploit their resources and pay a percentage to the centre and not the centre collecting all the rent, which is not helping us.
Unfortunately, there are entrenched forces who believe in this command and control and they are the ones opposed to restructuring. What restructuring simply means is to move from a unitary system to proper federalism, to move from a sharing economy to a productive economy, to move from an almighty centre controlling the lives of everybody to a situation where powers are devolved to the states, so that we have federating units that are co-ordinates and not subordinates, where federating units can make laws and have the capacity to enforce their laws. Restructuring is for the good of everybody rather than all of us fighting over a shrinking economy.
Who are these entrenched forces against restructuring?
They are those benefitting from this inequity, those reaping where they did not sow, those that believe that the best way to live is to exploit other people’s resources and not allow them to develop. Those who believe that they must hold others down to rise, those are the forces that believe we must continue to operate this feeding-bottle economy where you feed on the resources of others without contributing anything. Those are the forces opposed to restructuring.
If we are talking about reverting to the First Republic structure, what becomes of the present 36 states structure?
The present 36 states are not viable and they are not sustainable. When we say restructuring, we are not necessarily saying go back to the first republic structure, we are only saying go back to the true federal spirit in the 1960 and 1963 constitutions. Our fore fathers knew that we are a mixed people and that the best form of government for us was federalism. When we had the 1960 conference in Ibadan, all the major players in this country agreed on federalism and that was why we had a federal constitution in 1960 and 1963 until the military struck in 1966, abolished federalism and instituted a unitary system. For many years, the military were in power. What they did with the 1999 constitution we are using now is to codify all the military decrees and called it the 1999 constitution and it is not working. What we need now is to take a pause and know that this country is not working. There is chaos in every part of the country. There are military operations going on in every part of the country now because of crisis and the crisis is the crisis of nationhood and until we resolve the crisis of nationhood we cannot get anything right.
From all you have said, restructuring requires amendments to the extant laws. Is it not easier for the legislature to make the necessary amendments and pass same for presidential assent, rather than all the blame on the executive as opposing restructuring?
The National Assembly itself is part of the imbalance in the country and all kinds of gerrymandering went into getting the National Assembly as we have it. Out of the 360 members in the House of Representatives today, we have about 94 of them from the North West alone. With this, you will find that when it comes to constitution amendment the North West alone have more than enough number to block any amendment you want to push.
Even in the senate, before when we had Divisions in this country, Lagos, Sokoto and Kano were equal Divisions. But over the years, with the way states were created through military might, today, Lagos Divisions is one state with three senators, the old Kano Divisions has two states, Kano and Jigawa with six senators, the old Sokoto Divisions has three states – Sokoto, Zamfara and Kebbi with nine senators. So when a vote comes before the senate, the old Lagos Division has three people voting, the old Kano has six votes and the old Sokoto has nine votes. You can see the imbalance that has been created; the National Assembly today is a symbol of that imbalance. So if you take devolution of powers 1, 000 times to this National Assembly, it will be defeated because they have used this imbalance they have created in the system to ensure that a section of the country has over ranking imbalance over the rest.
In 2014, the Jonathan national conference came up with a document that some Nigerians ask should be incorporated into the nation’s laws. But that conference which you are a part of is also criticised because the delegates were not elected and thus cannot be said to represent the people. What do you think?
Those saying we did not represent the people are either mischievous or they did not follow the process. Before that conference, the Femi Okorunmu panel went round the country to seek the views of Nigerians on how the conference should be convoked. When that panel finished, it came back and advised the federal government. The convocation of that conference was done in the most representative way you can have. The conference gave us the assemblage of the best of Nigerians and it recommended that the each of the six geographical zones send 15 delegates, which gave 90 delegates out of the 490 delegates, they also said that each state should nominate three delegates, which is one per senatorial zone. President Jonathan, who convoked the conference only nominated one elder statesman (36) of them. The rest were shared between professional groups, political parties, students, the youths and all kinds of demography, including women groups, which gave us a complete representation of Nigeria and they assembled for two months. We have not had a conference as representative as that. Apart from the 36 elder statesmen nominated by the president and the two each nominated by the state governors, the rest were nominated by the people. So it is mischief to say that it is not democratic.
In 2011, you were spokesman of the Buhari campaign organisation. What did you see in Buhari then?
The basis of Pastor Tunde Bakare being a running-mate and myself working as spokesman was his commitment to restructuring. If you look at the Buhari/ Bakare manifesto, the first item on it was restructuring. Even now, if you look at the manifesto of the APC, it is very clear there that the party is committed to devolving powers to the states so that Nigeria can form a perfect federal structure. Why it is difficult for him now to restructure Nigeria is what I cannot understand.
Again, in 2011, you stuck your neck out for President Buhari. When you look at him today, what do you see?
Perhaps he has been taken over by those who want Nigeria to remain as it is and he has not shown that he is uncomfortable in the midst of those who want the country to remain as it is.