Senator Biyi Durojaiye, a lawyer and former Director at the Central Bank of Nigeria, represented Ogun East in the Senate between 1999 and 2003. A former member the 1988/89 Constituent Assembly, he was a presidential candidate under the Social Democratic Party (SDP) in 1992. In this interview by NAZA OKOLI, the 83-year-old statesman and chieftain of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) speaks about the need to review Nigeria’s current political structure.
What would you advise the President given the kind of ethnic tension we have in the country?
Yes, I think he needs to take a look at what people (including me) have been saying that there is need to restructure this polity. I am as patriotic as any Nigerian you can get. I can beat my chest and say that when it comes to loving Nigeria, I believe I can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with anybody else. I have always said that an experiment that has lasted over a hundred years can be passed as successful experiment. This is our one hundred and second year as a nation. So if there are those areas that there are stumbling blocks, we owe it to ourselves to identify those problems and remove them without necessarily breaking up the country. Well, I’m speaking for myself because there are younger people in the South West who would probably say “enough is enough, lets create our own country; we are being retarded by others. But in the present-day world, number counts. Look at China, with a population of about 1.6 billion; look at the US approaching the third of a billion in population. Number counts. It makes for easier economic planning. It creates a big market for production. So that is why I say cutting ourselves into small groups is not the answer. Nigeria has come to stay, but it has to stay properly. It is not just a union of a rider and a horse – one mounting on the other. How can we cohabit better and contribute together to build a greater nation. There is a proverb that says that the wind does not blow for him who has no destination to sail to. If someone’s destination is in the east, and the other’s destination is in the west, definitely the wind cannot be blowing for them at the same time. They cannot even paddle their canoe together, because they have no similar orientation, no similar ideologies. That is why it is necessary to revisit the constitution that our founding fathers handed to us, after a series of brainstorming with experienced and seasoned colonial administrators, lawyers, and professionals. And what was their recommendation? It was a federal constitution: three regions. Let every region develop at its own pace. But the essential ingredients of nationhood (like defence, armed forces, foreign policy, central bank, and so on) should be federal. Some others would be concurrent. But the bulk of the responsibilities should be regional. That was the essential ingredient of the 1960 Constitution
Now that we are in 2016, how do you think this structure would work?
Thank you for the question. Very simple. In 1960, the population of Nigeria was about 35 million. The regions were three; later they became four. Today we are about 170 million, so we cannot be talking about three regions. But we have six-geopolitical zones, and they have come to stay. What we need to do now is to give them power.
The six regions would have six Governors?
Of course. We can call them Governors or Prime Ministers. But we will have one President at the centre. Consider this: what is the business of the Federal Government with agriculture? Does the Federal Government have land for agriculture? We say that the Governor is the chief security officer of his State, but he has no control over the police?
Do you think this structure can cater to the needs of over 250 ethnic groups?
What is the alternative? Are you saying we should have 250 States? No, something has to be sacrificed. And this happens everywhere. Look at Britain, a small country by size. But it has the English people, the Welsh people, the Scottish people, and the Irish people. For more than 300 years, they have cohabited, as the United Kingdom of the Great Britain. It’s the same story in France and Germany. Are you telling me that there is only one ethnic group in China, with their population of 1.6 billion? So we have to learn to tolerate one another; to live together as one.
Your party, the APC, made a lot of promises before it came into power. One of their old posters says: ‘We will create 3 million jobs in one year.” In retrospect, do you think some of those promises were made rather too hastily?
No. we were sincere about them. But there is always a difference between a plan and an actualisation. Oftentimes, even with the best of intentions, there are some unforeseen forces that may block some of the things you plan to do. But what it does is to retard; it doesn’t mean to cancel. It only makes the process slow. APC will certainly do all it has promised to do. I have been elected to the Board of Trustees of the party, anyway. But up till now, we have not yet met even for once. But nobody would have imagined that millions and billions of naira went under the carpet, during the past administration. If Mr President had not been slow and steady… if he had rushed through signing the budget within a week or two after it was presented to him, maybe what was later discovered to be budget padding would have passed unnoticed. I was in the Central Bank, so I know. The billions that some people were alleged to have stolen, could run many countries in Africa. Now look at what is happening in the South-South; the militants are holding the jugular veins of the country in their hands, out of bitterness, destroying what could have kept the country going. These are some of those things that the constitution could address. What makes these people so angry that they have chosen to resort to treason? Granted, they may have reasons to be annoyed, only that they are overdoing it.
But do you think the President has done enough to show these people that he cares for them?
I think that he has tried to show that he cares for them. He was trained as a military man. There was the bombardment of Odi – we call it Odi Massacre. But the provocation in Odi was not as much as this provocation we are having here.
There was an incident in the Senate involving Senator Dino Melaye and Senator Remi Tinubu, where Melaye was said to have threatened to “beat up and impregnate” his colleague. You are a former Senator. Is that how senators talk during their famous “closed-door sessions”?
First, it is puzzling that what happened during a closed-door session became public knowledge. In my time, during the exclusive sessions, the gallery would be cleared; the president would come down from the high seat, and we would deliberate. Tempers might go high, but never to the extent of vulgarity.
That said, no matter the provocation, there are certain things a man should not say or should not do. This is the hallowed ground of the highest legislative chamber of this country. There are some utterances that would shock you if they were said at a motor park, how much more the Senate. No matter the level of provocation, it is wrong for a man to say those things reported. If I were in the Senate, I would have moved for his suspension.
There have been some calls to give immunity to the office of the Senate President, and possibly that of the Speaker, especially given the controversial trial of Senator Bukola Saraki at the Code of Conduct Bureau. Would you support such a move?
No. The ding-dong has lasted too long for comfort. In an interview I granted last year, I said maybe our party made a mistake, one way or another, in handling the process that led to the nomination of the Senate President, but whatever it was… in the interest of the party, in full consideration of the challenges ahead of us, we should let the sleeping dog lie. People have said he should be removed because of it, and I told them: ‘If you remove him, you would start a major crisis at the very beginning of the government’. But what I said we should never tolerate is to allow a PDP man to become Number Two. For two reasons: there was no agreement before the election to form a national government where two or more parties would share power. Secondly, there was no agreement to form a coalition government between APC and PDP. So how come the minority would provide the number-two position, such that whenever Number One is not there, Number Two would preside? Would the PDP have allowed that?
So now that the error has been made, what should be done?
He should be removed.
Would that not cause a major crisis?
Whatever it would cause!
It is widely believed among the Yoruba that what the region has got so far from this present government is not commensurate with the effort that they put towards making Buhari President
Yes, that is the general feeling. I can’t deny it. I am not unaware that if you do a headcount, you may probably say that the West hasn’t got enough, but it can get more. A philosopher once said: “For the best form of government, let fools contend. Whatever is well administered is best administered.” It doesn’t matter, but I may be alone in this. Some of my people may say we cooked the soup together, so we ought to eat it together. But I regard myself as a statesman, not a politician. If I were a politician, maybe I would have gone even further than I did in my political career. Let me give you an example. The plan to rig the 2003 election was leaked to me, and the people who leaked it to me told me the way I would return to the Senate for a second term. I refused to do it. I said I would rather sink or swim with my party. Even some party members blamed me later. They said I should have taken it, since it would mean that they would have someone still speaking for them. The whole of the West was swept away.
So to me, it’s not so much about what we are getting, provided the whole system works very well. If there is a well ordered government, and all these distractions (like Boko Haram and the Niger Delta militants) were not there, it wouldn’t matter who is working with the President, or who is occupying a political office. If the country is well run, everybody would benefit from it.