Bashorun Sehinde Arogbofa is the secretary of the Pan-Yoruba socio-political group, Afenifere. He speaks with HAKEEM GBADAMOSI on the state of Nigeria at 56 and the way out of its challenges. Excerpts:
Nigeria is 56 years old as an independent country. What is your assessment of the journey so far?
We thank God that we are still Nigerians and that Nigeria is still one. That is what we can really rejoice at but in terms of performance as a nation, at 50, we are expected to be really matured and try to cross some ‘ts’ and dot some ‘is’. But in our own case, not much progress had been recorded. We seem to have been taking just a few steps forward and many backwards. At 56, such a thing is not good for a country like ours. We cannot be said to be young any longer; this is middle age and we should be seen to be in the vanguard of leadership in all aspects. Apart from the fact that we fought several wars and we have remained one and even our remaining one is still under threat from flashpoint areas because of the skewed federal system we are running. The Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASOB) is there; we have the Niger Delta Avengers (NDA), we have the Boko Haram and IPOB is there. The South-West is peaceful only because the Yoruba race is a highly civilised race; we have ways and means of doing our things, short of extreme violence. But everywhere in the country now, there is no peace.
What do you then think is responsible for this backwardness?
The type of federalism we are running is a skewed one, not true federalism. It’s almost like a unitary system of government which is not good for a country that has so many diverse nationalities. Nigeria is not one nation, but so many nations brought together at a time they were not very well forged or melted. The result has been this clamour for restructuring since the First Republic. Take for instance, Papa Obafemi Awolowo cried foul in the Federal Election of the 1950s when the election was rigged. Even after the election, nepotism was the order of the day, when some parts of the country were favoured and some were alienated as if they were no longer Nigerians; when the population census was manipulated for political reasons. So, all these things were already there.
The old started saying then that we need to restructure this country; it is a long history. But because of the imbalance in the structure, because of nepotism, corruption in government, alienation in the government, we were not surprised at the intervention of the military then, which in itself has done a great disservice to the country. The military should have come, put things in order and run back to their barracks. But because they have tasted the honey in government, they made it an open and close business-coming in and going out. On the issue of how to restructure this country to make it better, Awolowo did his best but Nigerians did not listen to him, even after his death. There were some impostors who claimed they wanted to restructure this country. Look at (former President Olusegun) Obasanjo, for example, who said he was going to restructure the country, only to use the restructuring as an extension of realising his dreams for the third term in government. No wonder he failed because he was not sincere.
But in 2014, former President Goodluck Jonathan, after very severe criticism by some of us, firing him that he must restructure this country, and after serious pressure, succumbed and gave us the free hand but warned that we must not divide the country. This was a place to ensure that we have a new order so that every component of the country can develop at its own pace and the Federal Government is going to be reduced and it will only be responsible for few national issues like defence, customs, monetary system, while issues like education and agriculture, would be left to the state and every state would be allowed to develop at its own pace. Issues like economy and the petroleum we are all dying for should be left to the state and the people but they must pay tax to the Federal Government.
We also did a research and knew that every state in this country had and still has some mineral deposits whereby the state could make a living and if the state could not finance the tapping of the resources, the Federal Government could loan the states the money to take off for the money to be refunded later. These states should be taxed and asked to pay to the centre. Nigerians at their best from all parts of the country, both high and low, were there at the Abuja conference for good four months and what people thought could not be a success became successful. We came out with about 600 resolutions, arrived at through consensus and we were very happy to take part in such exercise.
But the present administration is not thinking about the implementation of the report as it appeared it has been thrown into the bin…
That is why we are suffering now. We are talking of recession in the country today and this recession wouldn’t have taken place if, immediately President Muhammadu Buhari got there, he picked up what (the report of the conference) Nigerians from different religions, faith, classes and political views did to move the country forward. There would not have been any recession if the president had picked those that are relevant for the progress and development of this country. For instance, a lot was said about the agricultural sector and mineral deposit and we made provisions for all these things. If the president had embarked on some of these things, what we are now suffering might not have happened because he would have started and people would have been involved.
In Africa, we don’t love one another. We are very arrogant; whenever we are there, we behave as if nobody has ever occupied the leadership post or the world has never existed, whereas if we don’t look at the past we cannot know what the future is going to be like. To me, if that is our policy, I see it as hypocrisy. Why are they now talking of those who looted the treasury in the past? I think the president must have the courage to look at the recommendations because it is not too late. All this economic team put in place, to me, what are they going to achieve? Some of them are not even experts and some of them are even making suggestions that, maybe it will help or it will not help. Whereas, in that blueprint (the report of the conference), all recommendations were made. I think until we go back to the recommendations and in any case whether they go back to it or not, there is a ray of light that is giving us the impression that they are already stealing from the recommendations. Look at what happened at the House of Representatives; we talked about state police and they agreed that the 36 states should have their own police structure. Why don’t they call a spade a spade?
Is there any basis for comparison between the past leaders and the crops of leaders we have today?
No, no and no; it is like comparing a lion with the ordinary cat. Our founding fathers were highly principles. Look at Awolowo, the late Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe and the late Sarduna of Sokoto, Alhaji Ahmadu Bello; they were focused and knew what they wanted. Awolowo knew what he wanted to do in the West and had a very good team; he was hardworking and industrious. It was not a surprise that the West was the best in whole of Africa then when he was there as the Premier. Look at education for example, the Federal Government devoted only eight per cent of the budget to the sector, instead of the 26 per cent as recommended by UNESCO. But during the time of Awolowo, in the West alone, he devoted as much as 40 per cent to education. It was not surprising that he succeeded; he knew what it was all about.
In terms of dedication, honesty, devotion, service to the people and planning for the people, the past leaders were far ahead of what we have now. People we have now are just fighting for their pockets. This is one of the problems we are facing now; we are talking about selling our assets and to whom are we going to sell the assets to? To the same people? This is very wrong. So, there is no way you can compare them; there is a gulf of difference in our founding fathers and those who are there now. It is a stain if we start comparing them.
We have witnessed both military and civilian regimes in the last 56 years, yet most Nigerians complain about non-availability of basic needs. What do you think is responsible for this?
To start with, military regime is an aberration; it is an intervention in civilian area which they should not be involved in and if you come to civilian rule, the military have instilled their military etiquette into civilian administration. I think the best thing is for civilians to purge out some people who are with military etiquette in civilian administration. Some of them are still there; most of these people are the civilians the military used and they are still there. That is why we are saying that if every state is allowed to grow at its own pace, it will be better. It is not a matter of saying either A or B or which is better, civilian administration is not meant for the military.
What is the way out of this present socio-political and economic woes we found ourselves?
I am not an economist but as a layman, I would think that jobs should be more available to more hands; maybe little, little contracts for the people. Some of the suggestions we made during the CONFAB should be made use of. Let us go back to agriculture; let the Federal Government give some money to the states to develop; let those areas where a lot of our money go into waste be blocked. We have always said that lawmaking should be a part time job; our legislators should not be working on full-time basis; they should be paid sitting allowance and this must commence with the next dispensation. They waste a lot of money there. I read sometimes in the dailies how money is siphoned. How could a legislator have as much as 28 aides for Christ’s sake and some of these aides are earning the salaries of permanent secretaries? We must find a way to reduce these wastes.
Again, the president must be less political in his appointment. Take for example those who surround him at the Aso rock. Very many of us did not feel comfortable with the appointments, but he was saying that he wants them because they were people he could trust and I am sure he must have learnt a lesson by now. Is it not being rumoured that one of the people he trusted was involved in the MTN scam? What about his plagiarised speech, was that not coming from another person he trusted? I think the president should learn and try to see Nigerians as a people he could trust and not a set of people from a political zone.
Again, the president should stop the blame game; let him settle down and work. He has the goodwill of Nigerians who voted for him and he should not disappoint them. Not much is being achieved. He cannot be blaming his predecessors and except to get their full support. He is an experienced man; he should be more composed when there are burning issues and he should be able to absorb and should stop passing blame. He said he did not inherit anything, even if he did not inherit anything, that was why he was voted in to be there, to do something positive. Let him do something positive and should stop the blame game.