We must change method of floating, bringing about political leaders’
What is your assessment of 21 years of unbroken democratic rule in Nigeria?
It is unprecedented that Nigeria has had 21 years of unbroken democratic practice after the other republics were aborted by the military with their usual excuses of corruption and mal-administration. But you know, there is what we call the democratic wave that griped the world, especially the developing world in the early 2000, which has almost made undemocratic states treated as pariah entities and with global nature of the world now, no country wants to be put in that category because it comes with a lot of sanctions. So, we can say that Nigeria strolled into that category that period. Consequently, it has, to large extent, sustained between 1999 and now and we have had no less than three to four major elections.
So chronologically speaking, it is kudos to the country but you cannot only talk about the chronological age of a being, but you go beyond that to talk about the achievements of that being or thing. One thing that you cannot take away from a democratic state is the issue of freedom. In fact, one cardinal point people yearn for when they are clamouring for democracy is that the constitution of the country must be restated, that has been done since 1999. But another question is, to what extent have we observed the content of the 1999 constitution, in regards to human freedom and other factors? When democracy started in 1999, especially with (the Olusegun) Obasanjo era, a lot of blunders were observed and those blunders were excused on the grounds that we were experimenting on this. Again, after about 26 years of military rule, you expect what is called military hangover, especially when the commander-in-chief was a retired head of state.
So, there were some breaches there; you still saw some kind of military authoritarianism playing out, but when President Umar Ya’Adua came in we saw some semblance of what a democratic state should be, probably because of his peculiar nature. He was a democrat to the core and Nigeria’s democracy was developing because that is the man that gave every tier of government the free hand to operate in line with the constitutional provision. You must give that to late Musa Ya’Adua. We wish we had many more Ya’Aduas.
Unfortunately, he died even before the end of his first tenure and Dr. Goodluck Jonathan came in and I can tell you a lot of hawks came in with Jonathan. At a point, some of us referred to Jonathan as a ‘captured’ president. In fact, when we talk about cabal, cabals in government are not new; it did not start with the incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari. To some extent, how cabal here has influenced the day-to-day running of the state is what matters. So Jonathan came in, with a few persons with so many others that descended on the national treasury like never before. Their major aim was pilfering. There were few exceptions, but largely speaking, our resources were stashed away in billions of dollars. That was the period Nigeria saw a peak in oil prices to the dollar that were flowing in and flowing out at the same time and then it got to a point that signals were showing that people have lost confidence in you (Jonathan) – just go. But hangers-on still gave him the impression that, look, as long as you pay out more money, you will get second tenure. And that is where the current head of state had the chance, because the people were fed up of what we called ‘Jonathan the sleeping President’.
Now that we are in the current dispensation, 2015 till date, I have to slightly go historical, because I am an historical scholar. I like recalling history so that we don’t make the mistakes that our forebears made. We should have the advantage of having their records so that we can avoid those areas they had shortcomings. From 2015 till date, the question is, how far in terms of the fight against corruption? Whether you like or hate him, you cannot take it away from this administration. When a war becomes a one-man war that is supposed to be a community war, one man’s efforts most times amount to nothing, because when the one man is no longer there, it is like reverting back to status quo. I don’t want to be a pessimist to say that what Mr. President is doing is not going to be sustainable, but to a large extent, that is the truth because the body language of over 80 per cent of those around him shows that once this man is out in 2023, they will continue.
We have seen it, under the strict watching eyes of the President through the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Independent Corrupt Practices and other related Crimes (ICPC), a lot of corrupt activities are still going on in Nigeria. But the joyful thing is that, with the relative posture towards corruption, Nigeria’s rating at international level has increased which is very important. That is why even, if you go and ask for credit now, because of the good rating, they will give. So, in that regard he has shown that there are some leaders that can eschew corruption, leaders that can say, ‘look, we can do without this thing.’ The anti-corruption policy of President Muhammadu Buhari has helped Nigeria to a large extent. We cannot say uhuru yet because an error of one 50 years cannot be corrected in just five years. What I want to believe is that President Buhari is trying to lay a foundation so that whoever takes over from him, if the pace can be sustained, then we can say that Nigeria is already moving towards a less corrupt society as there is no society that is devoid of corruption, not even America. But the way people get emboldened to get involved in corruption is what matters.
At least for now, you have seen an ex-governor go to jail; we can point to senators going to prison, House of Representatives’ members and other military officers and government officials being charged even if not sent to jail, including former Head of Service, Chief Justice, etc. Whether the process was right or not, but at least it shows that there is somebody who has gone into areas where others were so scared to go.
How has the country fared in the area of security?
Insecurity has been a challenge. Again, it is a factor that was inherited by the current administration. The issue of insecurity has become a hydra-headed monster in Nigeria, because it has to do, to some extent, on economic interests. Many people have been dogging away from this reality, but that is the truth. The military architecture has grown to what some call ‘conspiracy theory’ to the point that you have saboteurs within them. You have those who are benefitting from the seemingly Boko Haram activities. Three, four years ago, you can see the scramble in military agencies on how they could be in joint the task forces. Why? It is a huge budget. It has almost become a constant phenomenon in our budget; it would only be resolved when Nigerians are ready to face the fact and say human lives matter more than money.
Many people had thought that General Buhari would perform magic in solving this problem once and for all. It doesn’t work that way. That is what we talk about strong men. Nations that have made it and are still making it are nations with strong institutions, strong cultural background, nations where, irrespective of who sits there, the rules and regulations are clear. The person who sits there is only to press a button; it’s like a pilot; without you there other pilots can move the plane. That has been the major problem with Africa; it is an inherited problem, judging from our traditional upbringing where there were the traditional medicine man who knew what other person did not know and so on and so forth. Now we have brought it into modernity. We have to break away from it if we must make it. In terms of insecurity, I can tell you that some analysts have even argued that we have it more now than during Jonathan’s era and they have their reasons.
Yes, we can say during Jonathan’s era Boko Haram occupied some local government areas than now, but the casualty rate from 2015 to some extent has surpassed those of previous years and it calls for concern even in Covid-19 era. You can still hear about the activities of these people in the North where people are killed, kidnapped under this pandemic. One would have thought that with the lockdown our security forces would have had almost 100 per cent control over our territories.
So these are the issues, even when you hear that there are betrayals even among the security forces, it brings us back to the hierarchy of the armed forces. Many have argued and they have their point, too, that the current service chiefs have overstayed their importance. You can’t keep doing same thing and you expect good result. We hear from records that the Chief of Army Staff is supposed to have retired since two years now. What is he still doing? It still boils down to that concept that he is the only one to do it; he is the only one that knows it. The law should be law. Yes, the president has the discretionary powers to keep someone, one or two years after his retirement. Your keeping the person, is it that the person is productive or just because you just want to keep him?
These are some indices that give this assumption, which may be unfounded, that the president is weak with regards to taking major decisions in these areas. Probably, if the military architecture is rejigged with emphasis on new leadership, we may see a new phase.
Are you surprised that the clamour for restructuring of Nigeria has persisted?
Restructuring means so many things to so many people, although some people don’t want to hear about it at all. When it comes to state governors having control over their states, especially in this era of pandemic, they don’t know that is restructuring. For some people any talk about restructuring, you are just going to what we call fiscal federalism. They don’t even look at any other benefit that accrues to them when the country is restructured. What we really need is true federalism, but they have zeroed it down to this restructuring. True federalism means (I don’t say perfect federalism because there is none anywhere) is said to be true if it is evolved and practised in a way that it suits, to a large extent, the needs of the immediate environment where it is being operated.
For instance, Nigeria’s federal practice should be different from what is practised in Southern Sudan. Why because you have to take the peculiar characteristics of Nigeria into consideration. For example, our multi-ethnic religion and other diversities and strive to ensure some level of equity not equality, where to some extent almost all the ethnic nationalities have some sense of belonging. That is what we are talking about restructuring. So, for us to have that there has to be sincere effort of reviewing the constitution. The recent Executive Order 10 of Mr. President, I don’t hail it; we should not be ruling a country through that. We don’t need presidential orders; we need a constitution. American has a constitution that is well over 200 years old and it has never been changed. That is because the founding fathers were sincere in putting in paper what they know would sustain that democracy for a long time. You should know American practised confederalism for eight years before they converted into federalism.
So, what we need is a working constitution, a constitution that would be realistic and addresses the peculiar nature of Nigeria’s state. That is why when I pick up the constitution and look at the area that says ‘We the people of Federal Republic of Nigeria,’ when did we Nigerians make this constitution, because the nearest I could remember Nigerians made was the 1963 constitution. All other constitutions have been either colonial fiat or military imposition. If we can have a genuine federal constitution all this glamour you are hearing now, all will fizzle away.