William Alade FAWOLE, a professor of International Relations at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife, speaks to DARE ADEKANMBI on the position of the Southern Governors’ Forum and other issues, including ban on open grazing, 2023 presidency, among others.
Could you give us your take on the state of the nation?
Actually there is not much to be said about the state of the nation. Things are not right in the country. The situation in the country is depressing. We have insecurity, banditry, terrorism, kidnapping and abduction of massive number of school children at a time. All these are things have made the country to become so fragile, so unstable and fractious, such that people now think this is no longer the country we used to have and we used to be very proud of. Nigerians are unsafe and those outside the country are not willing to return. People are kidnapped in their homes, towns and villages and on the highways which have become unsafe too. Anybody can be kidnapped and be callously murdered on the street. And we don’t see enough response from the Nigerian State to address the myriad of challenges Nigerians are facing. So, the situation is dire.
What do you think the Nigerian State should be doing to address the situation?
The Nigerian State has the primary responsibility to provide security for the people. A state does not exist in order to provide food, employment or education for its people. It can do all those. But that is not the primary function of a government. The primary function of a government is provision of security for the welfare of the people. Section 14 paragraph 2 of the 1999 Constitution as amended says the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government. Now, the government that we have has failed and continues to fail in the performance of that essential function. It does not matter how much of physical infrastructure you build or how many schools or universities you build if people are not safe in those schools. The government has the primary responsibility to make sure Nigerians feel safe within its territory. So, if the government is not doing that, such a government is failing in its primary responsibility.
The argument from government is that things are better now security-wise than when they came in 2015 and that Buhari deserves kudos. They would tell you 14 local government councils were in the control of insurgents before the advent of Buhari.
That argument is specious, unconvincing and self-serving. In fact, such an argument should never ever be made by a sensible government. And we have no business having to thank a government for doing the job for which it was elected. So, if government does that, we do not need to clap for it or go to the State House to celebrate such a government. But beyond that, the argument, as I said, is unreasonable in the sense that, talking about Boko Haram insurgency in North-Eastern Nigeria predominantly in Borno and some parts of Adamawa State then is not the same thing as the burgeoning kidnapping, banditry, armed robbery that are going on all over the country now. Before Buhari came, we had the insurgency and terrorism primarily in the North-East. Today, it has spread across the entire North. Today, parts of Niger State are occupied by bandits and terrorists. All over Kaduna State, kidnapping goes on daily. In fact, people have become so numb to the news of so many people being kidnapped or killed in the state. They now kidnap people not even in 10s anymore, but in 100s. This never happened before 2015. The only one that happened before 2015 was the kidnap of the Chibok girls, which was so surprising that the rest of the world created the hash tag #Bringbackourgirls. But who has created any hash tag now because it is now a daily occurrence? Let no government official insult anybody’s intelligence to say Nigerians are safer today than before Buhari came. It is nonsense. It is not correct. We all live in this country and we don’t need anybody to tell us what we are experiencing on a daily basis.
A chieftain of the ruling party in Kwara State, Alhaji Kawu Baraje, in an interview even said politicians brought some of the people that are now terrorists into the country for 2015 elections. What do you make of such claim?
I cannot comment on the veracity of that claim. Politicians make gratuitous claims all the time. It depends on which faction they belong to at any point in time. But the point is this, even if those bandits were imported into the country by the political party and they are now here, the same political party is in government now and which has a bounden duty to secure Nigerians. If those they imported have now become a menace to the country, the government has a duty to make sure that they don’t become a menace to the nation. Drive them out of the country or wipe them out. The state has the capacity to do all those things.
But the problem is that the Nigerian State has failed and it is not doing anything about it. You have people who go to forest to talk to bandits in the presence of military officers and state governors and we see armed bandits carrying weapons that Buhari said people should not carry and nothing happens to them. It is not a question of whether they were brought in for election or not. We have already gone past that. But the government is not doing anything about the matter and this is what makes Nigerians to be very angry. Somebody would claim that he went to the forest and met with hundreds of heavily armed young boys carrying military grade weapons that are not supposed to be in the hands of civilians and then you are negotiating with them. Somebody even said we should pay them salary, give them amnesty or find jobs for them and beg them not to kill people again. Is this what the State exists for? Instead of government doing something about it, it is busy chasing shadows, chasing Nnamdi Kanu all over the world and chasing Sunday Igboho. I am not a fan of either of these two, but compared to what the bandits have been doing in Kaduna, Zamafara states and in other places, this is just a distraction.
Questions are being asked over the manner Kanu was brought into the country and the night raid on Igboho’s residence with concerns that the Federal Government trampled on their rights…
I would like to separate the two issues, Kanu and Igboho, because they are separate issues, although the action against them occurred about the same time. As for Kanu, it is not yet clear exactly where and how the government got him to be brought into the country. All we have now are speculations. But my guess will be wherever they got him from could not have happened without the cooperation of the intelligence services of such a country. It is not easy to just abduct somebody on the street and transport him out of a country without the knowledge of some people that should know. But that is at the level of speculation.
Whether his rights have been violated or not, we cannot say specifically until the details come to us. But what I think is that even if Kanu was brought in illegally, now that he has to face justice, courtesy demands that he be extended all his due rights under the Nigerian laws and such rights must not be violated. That means he should have access to his lawyers, his visitors and appear in court to face the charges against him. Nothing should be brought to armstring him or deny him his rights. He should be allowed to face a fair trial, open, fair trial and then we will all be able to see what goes on thereafter. That is what one can say about Kanu.
Concerning Igboho, and I am not talking about Igboho’s activities now, the only point I want to talk about is the Gestapo night raid on his residence. This will happen only in Nazist Germany, that government operatives, without notice, will storm a compound, kill people, destroy properties and drag dead bodies with blood flowing all over the floor, kidnap people from the place and for like 12 hours, there was no information as to who did it, why they did it and things like that. This is not normal. The government has the power to arrest people if it wants. Summon them and if they don’t come, then bring a search and an arrest warrant. What the DSS did to me is gangsterism and Gestapo raid. In a civilized society, it is condemnable and that is why the whole world is condemning it too. And that is without prejudice to whatever the government wants to accuse Sunday Igboho of doing.
17 Southern governors met in Lagos recently and the issue of Igboho featured in their communiqué, though they did not mention his name. They said the agencies of the Federal Government should inform them, since they are the Chief Security Officers of their states, before they carry out such operations. Do you think the Federal Government needs the permission of the governors before such an action is taken?
I am not sure whether the southern governors specifically said the Federal Government should take permission from them. My understanding is that they need to be informed that something is happening to citizens who reside in their states. They are the chief security officers of their states and so they need to know what is happening in their states. Courtesy demands that they should be told. If what the offences or crimes they allege Sunday Igboho of committing are federal crimes, the Federal Government will not require permission. But courtesy demands that they should tell the governors. After all, the police extend the same courtesy to themselves. If police operatives come from Abuja to arrest somebody in Ibadan, they will first tell the Police Commissioner of Oyo State to say they have instruction from the IGP to pick certain people up from the state. They don’t just go and do so. The same thing can be extended to the governors who are the constitutionally prescribed chief security officers of their states. It is unfortunate that such a gangster and dastardly operation of that magnitude will take place in a state without the governor knowing and speculations were going on for 12 hours about who did it and why. If the governor does not know, it violates our federal system. We must realise that under a federal system, state governors or constituent units of a federal republic are sovereign within their own territories. What has been happening is this: Nigerian rulers have not totally divested themselves of the military mentality of power just flowing from the top, power flowing from the barrel of the gun. Look, I believe very strongly that President Buhari is still too stiff to be a democrat. He may mean very well, but that his military character, his rigidity is still there. In a democracy, it is not so. Government is answerable to the people. It owes people explanation about what government does on behalf of the people. It is not a favour that the Federal Government should inform the governors.
The governors also set September 1 deadline for the implementation of anti-grazing law. Do you see this being achieved by that time?
I think the deadline that they gave is for the law to be made. You can’t enforce laws that do not exist and what northern commentators have been saying is that the southern governors can’t ban open grazing. Well, the governors can’t ban it by policy, but they can ban it by law. If the state House of Assembly makes a law to that effect and the law subsists in the state, then the government of that state will enforce it. And if the government is remiss in enforcing it, then we know who to blame. But as things stand currently in most of the southern states, the law does not exist. So, what they are saying is: let us give legal backing to the policy that we want to make. I don’t see anything wrong in it. It is important that they do so against the backdrop of the Attorney General of the Federation saying something today and another person saying something else. If they have a deadline for it, then each state will state enforcing the law. If they don’t have a law and then they take a position that the Federal Government opposes, then it becomes a political hot potato in their hands. The legislature in each state is competent to make laws that will serve the purpose of that state for good governance, as long as those laws not inconsistent with the 1999 Constitution. I support the governors taking such a collective decision. That strengthens their hands because it is not impossible that some of the governors have been afraid of taking these steps that if others don’t buy into it, they will stand alone and become open to attack from the Federal Government. But if they take a collective action, then everybody will know.
If the governors must succeed in the enforcement of the law, they need the cooperation of the commissioners of police in their states. The police are federally controlled and the IGP will look at the body language of President Buhari before he can take a decision. Will there not be a catch-22 situation here?
Concerning the police, your assertion is correct. We know the police are controlled from Abuja and they respond to the body language of Buhari who is nepotistic and believes in ethnic exceptionalism. But that is not the point. Look, we make a law today and even if we are not able to effectively enforce the law today, the law is the law and it is the same law that will be used by successive governments. We will get to a point where we are going to have state police. It is on the card. Whether they like it or not, it is a reality whose time has come and we are going to have it. Therefore, state governments are going to be empowered to enforce certain laws within their domains. But right now, we have Amotekun in the South-West. That is a government organ that can legitimately do certain things in conjunction with the police. Why you don’t expect the police to go to the forests to chase people out, Amotekun can do so and hand them over to the police and even if the police release them, Amotekun can still go to the same forest to chase them out again. So, the governments of South-West have that agency to be able to so. In the Eastern region, they also have the Ebube Agu, which is another legally established security arm of the state governments. This can be done. So, we don’t have to give up or throw up our hands in the air and say we can’t do anything because the police is controlled from Abuja. Governors must do the needful to protect their own people and to guarantee security to everybody that lives within their territories. The Southern governors are not saying that Fulani people or herdsmen should not exist in their domains. They are saying that the reserve forests they have not given them, the herdsmen cannot occupy, even their own citizens can’t go and occupy same without permission. So, it is that kind of law that will be enforced. It is important to make the law. We should not give up that because the current Federal Government is not always in tune with them. That is not always the situation. We are going to have another president who will be more responsive and much more sensitive to the feelings of the people than Buhari’s impersonal and unresponsive behaviour. We have government of laws and not of government of force or power. Laws must be made. When we enforce the law and we see the limitation, then we know whether to amend the law or amend the modalities for enforcement. But without a subsisting law, I don’t see anything other than policies which can fail.
One key demand they also made is the need for the presidency of the country to shift to the South in 2023, after Buhari might have served out his constitutional limit of eight years. This demand has ruffled feathers in the North whose leaders are saying we should rotation of presidency is unconstitutional. Help us make sense out of the controversy.
Let us all hope sincerely that Nigeria will remain and exist as a country entity by 2023. That is a prayer. If we don’t have a Nigeria by then, every other thing will become superfluous. But if we assume that God answers our prayer that Nigeria will continue beyond 2023, then we can start looking at political arrangements. First and foremost, rotation or zoning is not a constitutional arrangement in the 1999 Constitution as amended. The issue of zoning is an informal arrangement within political parties. But if it is an informal agreement, then it behoves the political parties to respect the sanctity of agreement that they enter into without force. If they believe that Nigeria will work better by rotating the presidency between the North and the South, political parties should live up to the dictates of their own agreement. It will be immoral for you to use it when it is convenient and when it is no longer your turn, you start making other excuses. This is one of the things that can break a political party and can even break the country. The reason Nigeria is very fragile and unstable today is because there are sections of the country that feel marginalised and subsisting historic injustices concerning them have not been properly addressed. The Federal Government is pretending that if it ignores them long enough, the matter will go away. But it will not go away. We need to assuage the feelings of Nigerians. Many people have always insinuated that we should not insist that the president should come from one section of the country and just look for the best men to run the country. That argument is theoretical and not practical. We live in a country where primordial identity is stronger than national identity, where being Yoruba, Hausa, Birom is much more important than being a Nigerian. We can’t pretend that the sentiment of the people does not matter. When people agitate for presidency or governorship in a particular area, it is not because they think that everybody is going to benefit physically, economically and so on. But because it will give them psychological satisfaction that it is their own that is there and it is there turn and they have had it. Buhari is president now from the North. The North suffers more than the rest of Nigeria. All the banditry and kidnapping we are talking about take place more in Kaduna, Zamfara states than any other part of the South. The northerners are saying Buhari is their own. So, if the southerners want the presidency, let them have it. The Igbo have been clamouring for the presidency since 1999. If it is their turn, let them have it. It does not mean they are going to be the best. When we were voting in Buhari in 2015 over and above Dr Goodluck Jonathan, we thought he would better. We have since found out that he is a big disappointment. People, in a democracy, have the right to make mistakes and correct their mistakes in the next election. If political parties can’t hold binding, the agreement they made within themselves, how can we hold them responsible for whatever it is that they do when they are running the affairs of the country?
Power is not served à la carte. It must be decently fought for. How, in you view, do you think the Southern governors can ensure they don’t lose out in the power play for 2023 presidency?
There are diverse political parties. Each party should look inwards and see what unwritten gentleman’s agreement that they made and abide by it, for the sake of the unity of the party and for the sake of the country. If a political party does not have zoning or rotation in its own constitution, then we should not burden that party with it. The demand of the Southern governors is reasonable, but it is also something that could divide them because they are not all in the same party. I would have said they should have left that issue alone. It would have been a different thing if we have the APC or PDP governors taking such a position.
It would then be a reflection of whatever agreement exists in the party. But now that they have said it, I don’t see anything wrong in it. It is part of efforts to make sure that the unity of Nigeria is enhanced. It is also part of efforts to ensure that the sentiments and sensibilities of the people are not casually wished away by just anybody. If people no longer have a sense of belonging or oneness in a nation, then separatist agitations are bound to become rife in the country and that is what is going on right now. So, it means whether the Southern governors would agree whether it should go to the South-East or South-West depends on the strength of each party.
You said that power is not served à la carte. It is true. But then, if you give an ultimatum, you should not go to bed. You must be taking preemptive actions that will show that you mean it because the rule in the world is that if you are willing to bluff, you must be willing to have your bluff called. And if your bluff is called, what are you going to do about it? That is why you don’t give an ultimatum and go to bed because the other people will just call your bluff. The Southern governors should start taking incremental action with their parties to ensure that they get what they think they justly deserve.
Do you subscribe to the argument by some that the seeming nepotistic behaviour of President Buhari is what is fuelling agitation for power shift so early in the day?
I think it is unfair to describe his behaviour as ‘seemingly nepotistic.’ It is overtly, openly, undisguisedly nepotistic. We can see it. Let’s not couch this thing in some elegant diplomatic phrase. The present government is openly nepotistic. If anything, look at the security infrastructure of the country. It is overwhelmingly weighted in one section of the country and the government does not believe there is anything wrong in it, even in spite of the fact that both northerners and southerners are crying loud about it. Of course, it is what is fuelling all these agitations. Under the current democratic dispensation since 1999, we did not have separatist agitation for the eight years of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo or Umar Yar’Adua or for the six and a half years of Dr Goodluck Jonathan. The agitation we had under Jonathan in the Niger Delta was for government to rectify historic injustices. Now, we have Yoruba nationalists who are talking about Oduduwa Nation. We have IPOB who are saying it is Biafra and all kinds of things. So, it is clear that it is the insensitivity of the current government that is fuelling it. People are feeling marginalised in the country, feeling their interest is not being protected. We have seen instances where people claimed that some bandits were arrested and then the police would order that the people who killed fellow human beings should be released. The Federal Government is treating bandits with kid gloves. People are now feeling that since the country is unsafe, it is better for them to carve out their own territory out of the country where they can ensure their own safety. So, it is the attitude, the body language, the rigidity and nepotism of the Federal Government that is causing all these agitations.
Effort is being made by the federal lawmakers to again tinker with the 1999 Constitution to see if things can work. But there are those who have been saying we should discard the document wholesale and return to the 1963 Constitution, while others think a major surgical operation to the current document can strengthen the unity of the country. What is your take on this?
Let me put my case very clear. I do not want to join the controversy about whether it is the 1999 Constitution or the 1963 Constitution. My position is this: we need a constitution that recognises our federal structure and does not in any way compromise that federal structure. I don’t subscribe to the notion that the 1999 Constitution is a military constitution. For me, it is not its progenitor that matters. What matters to me is that the 1999 Constitution, as it stands, is fundamentally defective. There are so many provisions in it that violate the federal character of Nigeria that we claim to have such that though we call Nigeria a federation, the 1999 Constitution calls it something else. The content of the constitution makes it a unitary state. We need to have a constitution that will reflect federalism that we want in the country. How do we do that? There are two ways.
If I have the way, I think we should discard the current constitution and write a brand new one that reflects the feelings, the wishes and the sentiments of Nigerians for a proper federation. But I know that this proposal is like a wish which will not be immediately granted, not by the rigidity of the current government. If that is not going to happen, then the next best alternative is to surgically tinker with the current constitution. But the point is can we do enough surgical operation that will make the constitution a functional, federal constitution that we desire? Maybe not. This is because we are depending on the National Assembly that is terribly compromised, that is subservient to the Executive, to do the surgical operation. All they do is look at the body language of Buhari and if he is not in tune with certain things, then they won’t agree to it. The constitution as it is, is a clumsy document to read because under the current dispensation, it has been amended about four times and we want to do another one. It will be clumsy because the amended sections will be read in line with all the other amendments. Only lawyers will be able to do that. Regular teachers like me may not be able to do that. We don’t need such a boring document. We should have another document. I don’t believe the current National Assembly, as presented constituted, looking at its body language, philosophy, is going to be able to do justice to the constitution amendment. They may do some things and maybe that will be the best we can get under the Buhari presidency. We will have a proper document after the present government has gone.
The National Assembly has been pilloried for its unwillingness to give Nigerians an Electoral Act that will address some of the challenges observed in the 2019 elections. There were even speculations that most of them don’t want electronic transmission of results to see the light of day.
What is clear is this: we now know who the enemies of Nigeria really are. INEC has the capacity to do whatever it wants to do, but we see it is being hampered by those who claim to be making laws for and on behalf of the people of Nigeria. And the law they are making does not reflect the wishes and the sentiments and feelings of Nigerians. So, they are on their own. For me, the issue of electronic transmission is one whose time has come. We live in a digital age and can’t afford to continue to do thing by the analogue method of the past. We need to move and Nigeria needs to demonstrate capacity to show leadership on the African continent for others to follow. If we don’t do that, then we are failing not just ourselves, but also the rest of Africa.
Having said, I know that INEC has the capacity to do all that, but a government that does not want this thing done will always have a whole range of excuses to say time is too short and all that. For me, because we believe these things are good, pressure should continue to be mounted on the National Assembly members state by state to tell them they should ensure iniquitous provision in the Electoral Act is expunged. Nigerians, the media, political parties and civil society organisations must not keep quiet. It is important people start putting our legislators on the hot seat to let them know they are not there representing themselves, but us and that it is whatever we give them the mandate to do that they should do. Such iniquitous provision in the bill can be expunged and killed finally.
After 22 years of civil administration, Nigerians are saying they are not better off. It is an irony that during a civilian administration, Nigeria became the poverty headquarters of the world, contrary to people’s expectation in 1999 that the country would be ushered into El Dorado once the military guys are back to their barracks.
It is a highly controversial issue and we can spend a whole lot of time on it. But let me be very brief. There is a difference between democracy as a form of government and governance. We can see across the globe, even military governments under which people nations develop and people do very well. It is a style, a commitment to governance. Democracy just means that people are empowered to participate in how they are governed and you are correct to say what we have is not a real democracy. I have said it at different fora that what we currently operate is a caricature of democracy. We have bastardised it. We have made it so corrupted that people don’t know the difference between a civil administration and democratic governance. Democratic governance is about the rule of law, about adult participation in an election and their votes and views counting in how governance is done and government being accountable to the people. The government draws its power to govern from the people and therefore give account back to the people. These are the very tenets of democracy and all these have been violated under dispensation we have been having since 1999.
Nigerians are worse off today not because of democracy or civil rule, but because of consistent bad governance, a governance system where the people in the National Assembly gobble a huge portion of the national budget for their own avaristic indulgences. They know the law provides for what they should get, but the make legislation and just simply gobble the money without anybody doing anything about it. In the Executive branch of government at all levels, corruption is so rife. People loot the national patrimony such that there is not even enough to salaries, much less do any development projects.
So, how will the country get out of the throes of toxic leadership?
I don’t have a magic wand and there is no single silver bullet to solve the problem. If we have a new constitution that devolves a lot of powers, responsibilities and resources to the federating units, government will become closer to the people. If someone is living in Abeokuta or Calabar, how does he influence the government in Abuja that is far away? I live in Osun State and it will be easier for us to go and protest in Osogbo if the government there is not doing well. We can’t go to Abuja because of logistics concern. That is why we need a new constitution that recognises out federal system and gives due power to the constituent units in such a way that most of the things the Federal Government controls today will be at the state level. People get married in churches today and you see marriage certificate being given to them on behalf of the Federal Government. Doesn’t the Federal Government have anything to do than worrying about people marrying and get divorce? If most of these powers are given to the constituent units of the federation, governance will be better. One of the reasons governance was much better during the civilian era, not necessarily the best, was because most of the powers to do things were in the region. It was easy to hold government accountable then. But now, there is nobody to be held accountable, even the police commissioner in the state can’t be held accountable because he is accountable only to the IGP, not even the governor of his state. That is a crooked federal system and we need to correct.
Also, there has to be attitudinal change on the part of Nigerians, those who seek leadership too must have an attitudinal change too. They must love us and be interested in our welfare. That is what government exists for.
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