It was a chance meeting with former governor of Kwara State, a prominent leader of the Middle Belt Forum and Afenifere, Chief Cornelius Adebayo, in his Ilorin residence. BIOLA AZEEZ brings excerpts of the interaction.
Former President Olusegun Obsanjo recently described unemployment rate in Nigeria as a time bomb. Also of late, economic recession has led to the sack of many people in both the public and private sectors. What do we do?
That’s a germane national issue. But it is also not a new issue. It has been with us for very many years. The global situation has worsened and deepened our own challenge to what I might call recession. I believe we have a new government. ‘New,’ because it’s been there for a year, but one out of four is still relatively new and from all we hear and see daily from what you guys write and publish, they are trying to tackle these issues. They are not things they can handle overnight. People are still talking i of increase in pay. They are difficult issues to tackle in a short time. I think our concern should be those that who are in power and who have the responsibility are doing the right thing to ensure that we eventually get over the serious hurdles before us.
Many people complain about rising cost of living, expensive items and hardship and there seems no way out…
You have asked the same question in different words. The recession we are talking about cannot leave out employment and purchase of essential materials, including what we eat and wear. That’s the issue we say the government claims to be addressing. We may have our views as to how they are tackling it. But there’s no question at all about their being conscious of it and they are going about it in the way they all understand.
Fortunately, ours remains a democracy; you are my witnesses. People can say anything they like and you journalists will carry it. So, if we have lost anything, that remains a precious property. People who have ideas are flying them. They are suggesting to government, institutions. We do believe that, ultimately, these will lead to improvement in our circumstances, economy, wage and all other areas of life in the country.
What will be your own suggestion as part of this national dialogue on the way out?
Hmmm….A serious confrontation of the problems. That’s the way out. And there’s no one way. We must learn from other countries which have gone through recession. It’s interesting that in recent years, one of the countries that was best known for democracy from the beginning, Greece—we all know what situation it got into. And the solution was beyond them. Thank God they have the European Union.
Even a country like Spain had its problems. The problems we have are not peculiar to us, in general terms. But what probably is heavier is that we know that things wouldn’t be as bad as they are if people had been more careful with the national resources. So, the management of our national resources, those that were denied us and we can recover and those we still have, would be the only areas where we could say greater attention is required and I am persuaded daily from all we see and hear, thanks to the press that these are being tackled.
Some people describe the anti-corruption crusade of the Federal Government as selective, what’s your reaction?
It is inevitably selective. You tackle what you can see. You can’t fight what you cannot see. And sometimes, you can’t see a mosquito but before you go to bed at night you spray insecticide. There are preventive measures and there are investigative devices which can help to ascertain those who are affected or those involved in leading us to where we are. And I believe they are tackling it.
To now talk of being selective, people have to show evidence that they have named x, y, and z who have also been involved and are not being looked at. But what people are saying which makes me laugh is that there’s concentration on a particular group. The Yoruba say that when two trees fall, you begin to cut down from the top. Is the government of today to start with 1960? What is immediately visible is what has been stolen and not yet spent and they are trying to recover as much of that as possible. What should be of interest to us is what they do with what they recover. I think that’s what we should face.
Generally, will you say this government has performed in the last one year, and what do you think they should do better?
Certainly, it has performed. It’s a matter of personal assessment as to percentage in terms of expectation. The great, huge word is change. People say there had been no change. I assert that there has been change. Whether it has been fast as everyone expects or not is a different matter. And don’t forget, there’s one thing that we are fortunate to have. We still have a justice system that assumes that a person is innocent until he’s proven guilty.
You can’t rush things when it comes to determining involvement in crime and level and depth of involvement. This government is going about it the way it knows best. If people have ideas of how faster it could be, they must be free to offer them. But talking in theoretical terms, saying they are too slow, they haven’t done this and that is not fair.
In essence, you are saying the government should go after treasury looters?
It should continue. They are already going after the suspected looters.
The restructuring of the country has been a germane issue among Nigerians over the years, what’s your position on the renewed clamour for restructuring of Nigeria?
My position remains what you’ll expect it to be. With all modesty, I was one of the leaders of the Middle Belt Forum, and I remain one of the leaders of the forum. I was at one point chairman of the political forum of Afenifere; I remain a very strong believer in Afenifere and of course the Yoruba nation. I believe Kwara wants and deserves the best share of whatever this country has to offer. So, beginning at home, we were talking restructuring. It has always been part of Nigeria’s history from the beginning.
There was a rush…let’s get independence first. We’ll sort all that out. We’ve never sorted it out to the full till today. So, there must be agitation. All nations are teaching us everyday. The United Kingdom is not a federation. They’ve restructured to the level that the Welsh, the Irish and the Scots have self determination. They are not dominated by the English. It came to a point the Scots had to decide if they wanted to walk out.
The British decided to get out of the Euro system. They are now reconsidering. It’s a matter of choice for each people where they belong and the role they play in government or who rules them. So, restructuring is crucial. That’s part of what we fought for.
I was secretary of the National Reformation Movement. And what the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) was about is restructuring of Nigeria. Until Nigeria is restructured, we won’t have democracy as it should be. So, that must be taken into consideration, and addressed. That’s one area where I have not been very happy with what the president has said about the last conference. The issue that is involved, more than anything else, is restructuring and a balanced federation, a federation in which every unit is satisfied that it is having the best possible for it.
Still talking about restructuring, which area do you have in mind, as many are looking at it from political or economic points of view?
Both. Are we enjoying our economy now that some people are protesting that they are not getting their due from Nigeria? That’s where the economy comes in. There are nations, and I am talking about conventional sense of the word nation, in the sense that Yorubaland is a nation. There are smaller and there are bigger. Who wants to be together?
My people in Kwara want to be part of the Yoruba nation within a federation. And so long as they have such desires, they must be addressed. And if they are not addressed, the people are not happy. They are not getting what they believe they need to be able to stay happily within the federation. I belong to another federation, Canadian nation, which recognises the sovereignty, up to a limit, of each of the provinces. Power is too heavy in the hands of the Federal Government in Nigeria. There must be devolution. Before devolution, there must be restructuring so that the oppression of the minority within a unit can be stemmed.
So, you want the resolution of the national conference implemented?
I want restructuring of the federation to be a high priority of the Nigerian government.
Since your tenure as Communication Minister, things have changed. What areas would you want improvement in what we have now?
Things are bound to change. I built on what I inherited. And I ensured that we did the best we possibly could to get the result that was anticipated. And those who took over when I left have continued in ways that they perceived to be the best. There are several organisations in and outside government, including yourselves, who determine some of the things that are done. I think, generally, we’ve done quite well in areas of communication. At one time, Nigeria was one of the fastest growing telecoms nations in the world. We had that pride at one time. We can’t retain that position forever. And things have improved. There are areas where there’s room for improvement but I am sure those who are in charge are addressing that.
One of the security challenges now is that of the Niger Delta Avengers. Do you see it as part of nationalist agitation, or how do you think government can handle the situation?
It will be presumptuous for me to think I can offer a solution from under the roof of my own home here. Those who are confronting the situation know what it is. In one respect, we are fortunate that a military man is in charge of government now, and he would have a perception that is different from those of us who do not know about warfare. Also, he is surrounded by politicians. So, it’s not as if he’s lacking ideas as to what might be the solution. That’s why we are talking about the need for restructuring. People want restructuring. People want reconsideration of the way the resources are deployed or the proceeds of national resources are deployed. And they should be given what they want.