Current system can lead to Nigeria’s collapse —Olajide

Elder statesman and Secretary-General, Yoruba Council of Elders (YCE), Dr Kunle Olajide, speaks to KUNLE ODEREMI on sundry national issues.

 

Just about a little over a year after the presidential election, people are already talking about the next presidential race. In fact, some gladiators are already jumping from one zone to the other while groups have been canvassing for these people. How do you see this development sir?

It is a welcome development because after the election which was won and lost. Our experience in the last one and a half years has been very unfortunate and tragic and this has further been compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic. Nigeria now faces a lot of challenges ranging from security, unemployment to terrible economic recession and the like. So, for me, the earlier people who are genuinely interested and motivated to lead this country start showing up, the better for us. So that would enable us to look very carefully and microscopically into whoever we will decide to vote for in the future. So for me, 2023 is not too far away for it is next door. Our challenges are overwhelming. And if they are not addressed quickly, it may lead to the collapse of this country. And for me, looking at all the signs around me, the current administration does not appear equipped to lead us out of it.

 

The government was elected in 2015, re-elected in 2019. Are you saying the government has been a colossal failure?

I may not use the word ‘colossal’ but for me, the government has failed to meet the expectations of the people. They have failed to fulfill their promises and the people are now more endangered than they were in 2015. Between then and now, they have had two economic recessions which is not a good one for any country. So for me, the scorecard of the administration is low.

 

In totality, are you saying that there are no areas the government have recorded outstanding achievements?

I will not use the word ‘outstanding’ because when they came in, in the area of recovery of stolen wealth, they did very well. Initially, their aggression against corruption was obvious, but within one or two years, perhaps due to the health of Mr President and his age because these are important factors, he didn’t have the capacity to sustain the fight against corruption. Moreover, the constitution we are operating is very defective, because it is a unitary-military constitution that cannot work in a heterogeneous country like Nigeria because the country is made up of diverse nations with different cultures, beliefs and practices. In view of this, it cannot be governed centrally.  And the country is very expansive, being about over 900,000 square miles of surface areas of the Atlantic Ocean to the Sahara desert. And with different types of people and history, there is no way this can happen; though it appears as if the current administration is comfortable going on as it is. And this is why in the knowledge age, it cannot work. And that is why the country appears to be falling like a pack of cash under them.

 

Are we saying those who are working with the current president are not competent? He has ministers, a retinue of aides and professionals who many believe have the cognate experience having come from the private sector. Are we saying that all these people are incompetent?

No. I am not talking about individual competence here, but the system they are running makes it difficult for anybody. Even if they are from heaven, there is no way they can run the current system in a heterogeneous country.  So no matter how competent individuals are, they can only continue to take advantage of this terrible system for themselves and their colleagues, but for the majority of Nigerians, this constitution cannot work. Bring anybody from the moon, it cannot work. But, unfortunately, Mr President appears very comfortable with it because it does not appear to challenge his capability and competence. So, for him, it is business as usual and that is why we have regressed and retrogressed.

 

Of course, there is this clamour for restructuring while some are saying let’s just amend the constitution and allow the system to run. So what do you think we need to do?

There is no way you can continue to panel-beat a broken down vehicle and expect to get a new one out of it. In the first instance, how do you keep amending the 1999 constitution that lied against itself in the first sentence that “We, the people of Nigeria” when we were not involved at all. You don’t keep amending lies, hoping that it will become truths someday. Now, on the amendment, we have the ninth assembly now. But they have been amending this constitution from the first, second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, eight and now, ninth assembly. But you can’t be amending falsehood and expect to get results. So, for me, we need a brand new constitution that will be people’ constitution. But I am not optimistic that we can get it from this administration.

 

Others are saying that we should adopt the 1963 republican constitution. Is it possible to have that kind of arrangement now in view of the fact that there is a sitting National Assembly that constitutes the legislature in place?

The process is simple. If you have a leader, the head of the executive, who believes that this country is not working and it cannot work with the current constitution, then, they will now summon the necessary political will to initiate the process of writing a new constitution through the National Assembly to the state assemblies. Send a bill to the NASS, imputing referendum into our constitution. There is virtually no country in the world where they had a democracy without a referendum. That is number one. Immediately follow that up by urging the NASS to constitute the Constituent Assembly Commission (CAC) and send it in.

The moment they do that, Mr President will now appoint members into the CAC who will now be charged with the responsibility of organising a constituent assembly election. And once the elections are conducted, then, they go into the process of writing a new constitution. We have enough papers on the shelves gathering dust in the NASS. We have the 1979 constitution and the 1963 one which was the basis of our unity as a republic. We also have the 1994 constitution under Abacha. We have the Obasanjo 1999/2000 constitution.

Then, I participated in the 2014 constitutional conference, where we did what was next to a thorough job. Getting all these papers together, looking at the diversity of this country and the complexity of the nation, we then came up with the 2014 constitutional conference report. But you can see that when Mr President was elected, he said he had put the report on the shelf to gather dust. That tells his state of mind.

But, for me, if we have a willing president, within six months, the constituent assembly will be sitting and in another six month, they will be through with their assignment and then submit their new constitution for a referendum by the Nigerian people and not to the National Assembly anymore. And that’s all. That is what anybody who is genuinely patriotic and interested in the progress of this country will do. But personally, I have lost hope that during this regime, we will have what we want. But they will keep panel-beating. For example, on my own, I have a lot of axes to grind with the political system we are running.

 

How do you mean Sir?

The political system we are running is not ideal for us. We have a population of over 200 million and about 80 per cent of them live below the poverty line, less than two dollars a day. They are in abject poverty. And in that same system, you are running a bi-cameral federal legislature with members earning not less than between 15 to 20 million a month, while state governments cannot afford to pay 30,000 naira minimum wage to their workers. That is injustice. So, it cannot work.

 

But you will agree with me that the core political gladiators seem satisfied with what is on ground at the moment. And that is why many of them are already skimming around from one party to the other. What is your view on this?

There is no problem with that as long as we have among them people who are genuinely patriotic. It is now left for us, the media and Nigerian elite to look through piercing glasses and identify those whose track records clearly indicate that they have what it takes to lead this country out of this mess. So for me, I don’t see anything wrong with their junketing around.

 

But they appeared preoccupied with contesting for plum jobs in the presidency instead of looking at the structure on ground and how to improve and address key issues.

But I don’t blame them for that because unless you have power, there is no way you can change this system. Look at the Russian revolution; it was one of the children in the upper class in Russia that led the revolution when his heart was troubled about the injustice in the system. So among those junketing around, there are those who want to inherit power and promote their own political initiatives. But we will shove them aside, including those who had been on a similar agenda for the past 20 years. We will then begin to look at younger ones whose track record of performance in political office indicates that they have what it takes to get us out of these woods. So, for me, yes, it is time for us to wear our thinking caps.

 

Again, the North is in power. But some elements therein are still insisting that power must remain there. What is your view on this?

Definitely, that cannot work. In fact, if there is anything we have gained in the current dispensation, it is this adoption by convention because it is not in the constitution, moving power from the North to the South and South to the North. Whoever may be thinking of such now can, perhaps, be dreaming. And they must be very few because power must come to the South in 2023.

 

A former governor of Zamfara State is in the race and insists that there is no understanding or convention whatsoever that power must shift to the South.

He has his right to express himself but we, the Nigerian people, will ensure that power comes back to the South. The governor may be aspiring as it is his legitimate right. But there is what we call tradition and convention. And that is what has sustained this country in spite of the numerous challenges. Otherwise, there would have been a civil war. Anybody that is now calling for a retaining of power in the North is calling for a civil war and dismemberment of this country.

 

The South-East and South-West are equally skimming. Which of the zones do you think deserves to produce the next president and why?

As far as I am concerned, the next president will emerge from the zone that has played his politics correctly. And if you ask me which zone has done this in the current dispensation, I will say it is the South-West.

 

Why did you say so?

APC is the ruling party now and five states in the South-West are governed by APC. So, that is political expediency. And the party controls most of the states in the federal republic of Nigeria today. And I am sure even those states in the North controlled by APC will want a president from the party. It doesn’t have to be, but that is what they will want. So, in terms of political expediency, my zone has played its politics right and it is time power came to the South-West.

 

But there is this section of the constitution that speaks about equity and fairness. And a section of the country, the Igbo,  has alleged that they have been marginalised because they have not been allowed to produce a president for the country.

In politics, there is no equity and fairness. It is to play your politics right. You play your politics right, you get the results you deserve. The South-West today has played its politics right. And there we are. The South-East is unfortunate. It started with APGA and from there, they came into the PDP which lost out. So, it is not anybody’s making. But the South-West has played its own politics right and so, for me, the presidency should come here.

 

Let’s talk about insecurity across the land. The plague has been with us for quite some time, but the spate has worsened since this administration assumed power. What exactly can be done?

It is the same thing. And that’s why I said with the system we are running, there is no way you can guarantee security under this system. The Inspector-General of Police cannot stay in Abuja and start ordering police commissioners around and sometimes telling them to disobey governors who are supposed to be Chief Security Officers of their states. So you definitely need somebody at the apex who will believe that the current system cannot work for the country and then allow decentralisation. The states must have their police, since they have their own state assemblies. The state police must police the laws passed by the state assembly. Then, you must have local government police because local government councils have their own legislatures. So, they must have their own police. Then, you can have federal police for federal offences and inter-state offences. That is what is done in civilised climes. But you cannot have a centralised police in Nigeria and expect security to be right. It just cannot be. Then, Mr. President has been very quiet on this Fulani/herdsmen crisis, which is unfortunate because they are kidnapping people everywhere, killing and also raping our women. It just can’t continue. If you want to feed your cattle, then, go and do that in your area. Or you can import grass from different parts of the world. But you shouldn’t be destroying people’s farmlands, raping their women and kidnapping their children.

 

In the light of what you have just said, will you say Amotekun has been effective in terms of policing the entire South-West so far?

Yes and no. Amotekun is a very good initiative, but the federal authority is doing everything in their power to scuttle the security outfit. But our state governors stood their grounds and I gave credit to all of them. They insisted that Amotekun has come to stay and they have passed the laws in all the state assemblies; they have been inaugurated and they have already been recording successes. My appeal now is that the state governors should allow the federal government to fund its own federal police. The governors can then use their own money to fund and equip Amotekun, which should be properly staffed, to police our borders and ensure that we don’t have invaders. So, I am happy with the Amotekun thing and we should continue to encourage our governors.

Meanwhile, I want the Presidency to come to Ekiti State in the next dispensation, because since the advent of politics in this country, Ekiti, as a people, remain the most loyal to Yoruba ideological cause, especially since the pre-colonial days. Ekiti people were more loyal to Awolowo than others. They were loyal to the Action Group because they appreciated education which was topmost in Chief Awolowo’s agenda. He gave free education to people. So, I think Ekiti people should be rewarded in the South-West for their loyalty. And there are a lot of competent people in the state that can lead the country and I don’t see any reason why the current APC governor in the state can’t be president of Nigeria because he has what it takes. If you will remember, I said anybody that wants to be president of this country must not be more than 55 years old and must be very active, cerebral with high intellectual capacity. I believe we septuagenarians should sit in our homes now and offer advice to the people where necessary.

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