Survival Nigeria: Why Buhari must listen to the people —Ladigbolu
Archbishop Ayo Ladigbolu is one of the strong voices among the southern leaders agitating for the restructuring of the country. He speaks with MOSES ALAO on the likely fate of Nigeria if the current leaders failed to act on the agitation of the people.
RECENTLY, former Kaduna State governor, Alhaji Balarabe Musa, noted that the South-West has been secessionist from the beginning, calling to question the position of the Yoruba on Nigeria’s unity. As a Yoruba leader, how will you react to that claim?
Let me take you down memory lane. When the sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, was arrested and jailed on a trumped up charge of treasonable felony, the late Prime Minister, Alhaji Tafawa, was quoted to have expressed it as “a sad event for Nigeria.” In reaction to him, according to the book, Post-Independence Political Evolution of Western Nigeria: The Obafemi Awolowo Factor, by Pa Adio ‘Mosanya, Papa Awolowo said; “Balewa’s heart is right but his head wrong.” The fact that Balewa felt distressed by the jailing of Awolowo and expressed it as a sad event for Nigeria says a lot about the political game playing out at the time the Coker Enquiry and treasonable felony issue came up. To answer your question on my reaction to Balarabe Musa, let me start by saying that he is a person I respect as a Nigerian and a politician. He appears to me as a detribalised Nigerian and as a man who would, in most cases, call a spade a spade. I encountered him personally some years back in Ilishan-Remo when the late Papa Sir Hassan Odukale died. Musa flew all the way from Kaduna to pay his last respect to Sir Odukale and he spoke about the late great insurance icon as a Nigerian that recognised no tribal or religious boundary like himself. From that encounter, I have had a whole lot of respect for former Governor Balarabe Musa. Of course, everyone would remember him and his experience with the opposition in the past.
But for Balarabe Musa with his political experience and depth of knowledge about Nigeria to be seeking now to rub the treasonable felony and issues related to the Coker Enquiry on the face of the Yoruba nation is, to me, insulting. Nobody will claim ignorance of the fact that the judge who presided over that case said openly that except for the fact that he had jailed the smaller ones co-accused with Awolowo, he would have allowed him to walk free and he also said because the case was a political one. How could anyone use the kind of instruments or tools they said they found with Awolowo and his co-accused to stage a nationwide coup? I am sure historians are still going to do their thing and tell us about those events that were significant landmarks in our history as a nation. But for a man of former Governor Balarabe Musa’s dignity to have claimed that the Yoruba have been secessionist from the beginning, it is, to say the least, insulting.
Have you taken into cognisance the fact that he might have made that position based on Yoruba’s age-long stance on self-determination?
There was no corporate Yoruba effort to forcefully opt out of Nigeria. Our leaders and fathers were co-builders of the house called Nigeria. Of course, the British were the architects of Nigeria. But at a stage when our people had to participate in determining which direction this contraption would move, of course, the Yoruba were significant participants and contributors to what later stabilised as Nigeria, with the regions operating as equals and developing at their paces. And this is all we are calling for again in this matter of restructuring. So, I have never seen a point in Yoruba history when there was a corporate determination to opt out of Nigeria. Surely, there might be individual aspirations to free the Yoruba nation from the perceived tyranny of oppressors, because we are known to be a people who can always fight for ourselves, if we feel like anybody is cheating or oppressing us and we still are such a people. So we were, so we are and so we will ever be. But I do not see anything, apart from the stigma of the treasonable felony case that could make anyone say that the Yoruba have had secessionist tendencies from the beginning. From which beginning? Balarabe Musa has to state clearly from which beginning.
But there are claims that the Yoruba, in cahoots with the South-East and South-South, are working for the break-up of Nigeria, which is why the agitation for restructuring has always been more intense in the South. How true is this?
Well, I belong to some socio-cultural groups that work with the leaders of the South-East, South-South and together we are working as southern leaders. I have not seen anybody coming out like Balarabe Musa to say that the body has been secessionist from the beginning. We are working together, hands in gloves with leaders from all segments of southern Nigeria.
Is the plan not to bond together as southern leaders so that when the secessionist agenda comes up, southern Nigeria can go together?
Oh my God. That is most laughable. This is because if the North, diversified as it is, is working together, what stops the South from bonding, talking and working together for development, good and growth of the people of southern Nigeria? What stops us?
But the bonding is being perceived as a conspiracy of sort against the North…
Of course, some people are suspicious and that is part of the problems of this country. Until we are able to sit together and determine what kind of country we want, what kind of vision we have, what kind of legacy we want to leave for the upcoming generations, until we are able to do that and forget all these stupid suspicions, we will never move beyond where we are.
Is that not a tactical way of calling for a Sovereign National Conference again?
Certainly we need one.
A sovereign national conference?
A national conference.
One was organised in 2014…
You are a witness to how the Muhammadu Buhari administration is reacting to the outcome of that conference, which he said is not inclusive enough and so on. Though that National Conference dealt with most of the major concerns of Nigerians, you know the position of the government.
So you are calling for a fresh National Conference?
If that is possible, yes. I do not know how we are going to leave this matter of restructuring without some ways of sitting down together by Nigerians, whichever way it is going to work out, to talk about the kind of country we want and if we are going to restructure, along what lines.
At the Southern Leaders Assembly, where the issue of restructuring was raised and there were talks about resource control, devolution of powers, fiscal federalism and true federalism…
There is no false federalism. Federalism, full stop.
When you talk about all those things, what some see is an attempt to renegotiate the unity of Nigeria, as if the present union has not been working.
For anybody to see things that way is myopic. We are all going to be much better in one great, united Nigeria. That is my own conviction and that is the conviction of most of us, or I can even say all of us, who are leaders of the people in southern Nigeria. It is our conviction that if we remain as one country, with clear understanding of what kind of country we want to live in together, then we will be the greatest in Africa and perhaps in the world, because of all the resources with which God has endowed this country Nigeria. Nobody will gain anything from a fragmented Nigeria. But how do we have that Nigeria and on what kind of understanding are we going to have that Nigeria? Because I believe that from 1954 to date, there have been reviews and reviews of the constitutions, which to me, were all certain forms of negotiations of how do we carry on together; what do we need to amend or adjust? What have we been doing wrong that we have to change? What have we been doing right that we need to reinforce? So, the current calls for restructuring are just in furtherance of these needs; people are beginning to realise that instead of running a federal system, we are running a unitary kind of government bequeathed to us by the military. And so people are saying, common, let us look at ourselves. Every family, every community should do that kind of reassessment, re-evaluation of itself from time to time. I believe this is the right time for Nigerians to sit down and look at ourselves.
At the time the southern leaders are coming together to ask for federalism, at the time you are saying we must re-evaluate the country, the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB) and some groups claiming to want Oduduwa Republic are also calling for breakup of the country. Some people are even calling for a referendum, which people know that when it comes up, is always about the dismemberment of countries. Don’t you think this could be the reason the Federal Government and the North are opposing restructuring?
You are free to import into our system things happening within the world, because the world is now a global village. But to impute unrighteous motive into other people’s actions just because they are asking for what they believe will help the country to progress, I don’t believe that is right. By your question, you are already indicating that if they ask for a referendum anywhere, all they are asking for is to break away and that if IPOB is coming up at this time to say we want a sovereign state of Biafra, of course, southern leaders are backing them. I have said it earlier and I am repeating it: all of us will be better off remaining in one strong, viable and united Nigeria than going into any other thing. If anyone was alive when the Civil War broke out in Nigeria ( thank God some of us were alive, grown up and knew what it involved) nobody would say I want to get out of Nigeria by hook or crook, because it is not going to be easy. But what we are saying is, don’t even give anyone an opportunity to demand a forceful exit; let us sit down and talk about the kind of country we want. The unity of Nigeria is assured as long as all Nigerians, or at least, most Nigerians are happy about what is going on in Nigeria. And if things are not going well in Nigeria, Nigerians have a right to call those in authority to give us a chance to discuss. We discussed it in 2014, but now they are saying that discussion is null and void; why don’t we discuss it again? We knew those who participated in the National Conference and those who did not. Now that we are reading from the same page. Why don’t we arrange and meet again? And it is better for us to spend some of our country’s resources talking about what kind of country we want than to waste such resources on fighting.
You said everyone will be better off in a great, viable and united Nigeria; what if the Buhari administration refuses to organise a conference or yield to calls for the restructuring of the country, what do you foresee for the country?
That is not my dream for the Buhari administration, because I see at the moment an administration belonging to a political party which has changed its focus, because it is listening to the voice of the people. I am already seeing a Federal Government that is beginning to say these are people talking to us; let us listen. Recently, the ruling party set up committees and held summits in different parts of the country to collect the opinions and feelings of the people; I am sure they are not doing that as a joke. I am sure they are not doing that to deceive Nigerians. I am convinced that something for this country is going to come out of those consultations, so that it will not be just talk alone. Certainly, I am hoping that, before too long, some concrete things that will form part of the policies of this government in response to the agitations of Nigerians for restructuring will come out. I am sure there will be clearer definitions of restructuring and, perhaps, out of this will come a clearer vision of what kind of Nigeria we want. One people, great nation, wasn’t that our slogan at a time? I am sure that kind of thing will be part of the new things that will happen in this country. If the ruling party has been courageous enough to set up these committees and hold summits and so on, I believe something good will come out of it. So, I don’t want you to be so pessimistic as to say what if in a negative manner.
But what if…
I don’t believe in what if, the way you are thinking, that this government will close its ears to the agitations and say go to hell if you like. No. This government will not do that.
This government has less than two years in office…
But this is an elected government and not a military government. So, the people have the powers in their hands…
The 2014 National Conference was scheduled to last three months, but it eventually took more time, with no clear vision of whether a conference would be convoked. You don’t think time is already going…?
Wait a minute. If Nigerians, if all Nigerians are calling for restructuring, if the people are saying let us look at this arrangement and make amendments, I don’t think any government can be so foolish to say it will not do something. So, I do not want to consider your what if. But if your what if eventually comes to pass, the people are there to, without violence or fighting, use the greatest tool in their hands to let government know what they think.
What could that tool be?
Have you forgotten that this is a democracy? And if democracy is a government of the people by the people for the people, then the power still resides in the people. That is my response to your what ifs.
You just talked about the people using their power, but that is not to come until the 2019 general election, with lots of things going wrong on a daily basis, such as the failure of states to pay workers’ salaries, threats by Arewa youths and IPOB against other tribes resident in their domains and so on, do you think Nigeria can survive without restructuring for another two years when Nigerians will be able to vote for a change of government?
I believe that the rulers of this country, one way or the other, will find the wherewithal to continue to run this country. Recently, I think a minister said budgets will be implemented depending on what we are able to borrow. I think it was in the newspapers. So, I think the country will continue to run, whether on spare tyres or low fuel, that will be determined by those who are responsible for its running. And I am sure that can still be done for another two years without restructuring. But it will make better sense for us to make hay while the sun is still shining. And that is really all I want to say.
There is the claim that those agitating for restructuring are actually confused as to what they want; some of them say restructuring is about return to the 1963 constitution and regionalism. The question is how will regionalism work at this moment? And with the deep-seated mutual distrust among the ethnic minorities, do you think they will want to go back to regionalism? Have you looked at all these differences and how they will be addressed?
You are helping to deal with some of the issues, because when people come together as a family and decide to sit down, they will look at all the problems and all the tough questions and seek to deal with them. Once the agreement is this one family and we are not going to break i, the question will be how do we remain together as a family and still carry on functioning and meeting the needs of every family member so that everyone remains a happy member of the family?
Those are the issues and that is why we need to talk more. We talked a while in 2014; it is certainly evident now that we need to talk some more. So, let us make room for that discussion. Call it whatever name, and let us make room for a close and sincere relooking at ourselves: where we are now, why we are there; where we want to go, how we will get there and if we get there, how we will stay there. These are the issues. So, all the points you raised will be relevant issues for discussion. And I am sure that Nigeria is resilient; we will be able to deal with these issues and we will come out stronger as a nation where no man is oppressed.
But do you really think regionalism can work in Nigeria of today?
It will be difficult to go back to the regionalism based on the model of East, North and West. But we know what that model represented and if you hear people saying publicly or privately that we should return to regionalism, it is a reflection of the nostalgia of the greatness Nigeria can achieve if the military had not come and destroy that model of regions. Then, people were free and they were able to develop at their own pace and utilise their God-given resources and contribute to the centre without either the centre suffering or the regions playing the underdogs. That is the kind of model that agitators for restructuring are looking at. They are not saying, get all the states and make them Western Region or Northern Region. They are saying we should be able to find a model that replicate the kind of governance system that operated in the days of the regions. And I am sure if we sit down and talk, we will be able to create something that will match those glorious and beautiful days of the regions in a new Nigeria, a new Nigeria where all of us will be able to grow together at our own pace and be able to take development into our hands and still maintain a centre that will be able to take care of everything that is central and related to our welfare and wellbeing. So, if you hear people say regionalism in that sense, you have to put regional in quote, because it has to be modified and redefined.
Agitators for restructuring often present their facts as if a restructured Nigeria will be a state of Utopia, a perfection where the practice of federalism the way it should be will solve all problems. But some people have always been quick to raise the leadership question, that the country has not had the opportunity of, again, having leaders like Chief Awolowo. Do you think this is an issue to be concerned about?
You know Balarabe Musa talked about thieves having hijacked politics and their roles in elections and politics of money and I really took serious note of those positions of his, because they are true. But then, you are talking of Utopia, I am not. We did not have Utopia in the days of the regions but Nigerians were happier. We did not have Utopia in the days of the groundnut pyramids, the cotton gins and the cocoa farms; the days of the oil palm produce in the East. We did not have Utopia, but Nigerians were happy to be Nigerians and people enjoyed living where they lived and being where they were. And that is what we the agitators for restructuring are calling for. If we can recreate that with modifications to suit the mood of the moment, then fine.
But what do you do about the leadership question?
You mentioned Chief Awolowo; we cannot recreate Awolowo but I believe we can create a corporate leadership that will enunciate the principles of Omoluabi and I am talking more and more now of the Yoruba. We can create a leadership that will enunciate the strengths in honesty, hard work, caring about your neighbour, looking beyond your immediate environment and working with others to achieve greatness. These are all qualities of the Omoluabi and I believe that if we look more carefully and create that kind of corporate leadership, it will influence the present and the future. But the deterioration of the past cannot be eliminated in just one moment. If we are a government that is ready to exterminate and reorient the people and it takes it seriously and it is not done in a tyrannical manner; Nigerians can change. Nigerians, I believe, are teachable people and we can change if we know that change will lead us to greatness and a better life.
Talking about Nigeria being resilient, a couple of weeks ago, the country celebrated 57 years of independence. People talk about the regrets: what would have been and all that. You have been active in the religious and political lives of the country for some decades; did you ever envisage that things would get to where they are now?
Well, I want to confess that in 1960 when we gained independence, I expected things to be going as smoothly as they were going and that things would be getting better and better. And they were, at least up to a stage, before deterioration set in. In-between, we had the civil war and so on. So, 57 years after, is this the Nigeria of my dream? I will say yes and no. Yes because up to a point, dreams were fulfilled and our hopes were raised. No because we could be doing much better than we are doing at the moment. But I see hope that we will get there in spite of the wobbling, in spite of the crumbling and everything, because I did say something about the resilience of Nigeria and Nigerians. I believe that if we, as a country, could survive the civil war, then there is nothing else we cannot survive. And out of the rubble of that, we can create a greater nation for our children.
In 57 years, people have talked about the impact each government has been able to make on the country. With the President Buhari government being praised as fighting corruption, would you say that there is hope for the country with the way this government is tackling corruption?
I will say there is hope, simply because I have laboured for Nigeria on the side of my conviction that righteousness exalts a nation and that sin is a reproach. As a clergy man, I believe that the church and the mosques and all religious bodies have contributions to make towards sanitising the morality of our country and to help build a country of righteous and god-fearing people. Corruption, in all its ramifications, is unrighteous and it can only destroy any nation, nay, Nigeria. So, if any government comes and says boldly to the people that I know you have this sickness; I may not be able to heal you in one fell swoop, but I will try as much as possible to ensure that you are cured of the disease called corruption and it sets up agencies to do that job and people can hear and see the evidence of the job being done, then the best thing the people should do is to cooperate with such government.
Can you see and hear such evidences?
From all the reports in the media, we know that this government is fighting corruption. But like all evil agents that have their ways of fighting back, corruption does not die easily and that is perhaps the reason we are beginning to forget all the reports of discovery of millions of dollars and Naira that have been recovered by the EFCC and all the public figures whose swollen accounts have been exposed. People have forgotten the convictions and the fear created in the hearts of people with the tendency to be corrupt. So, I think this government should be commended and supported to succeed, because if we become so sceptical and so uncaring and as careless as we have always been about corruption, then corruption will kill Nigeria.