The general secretary of the Yoruba Council of Elders (YCE), Dr Kunle Olajide, in this interview by KUNLE ODEREMI, speaks on the position of the organisation on the week-long youths’ protests against police brutality, advocacy on referendum, new incentive package for teachers and granting of financial autonomy to local government.
The youths have been particularly restive in the last one week, holding protests against alleged police brutality, with dire consequences on the economy and other critical sectors of our national life. So, what do you think the #ENDSARS protests portend for the country?
For me, it is a welcome development because I have been very unhappy because in the last 15 years our youths have been too quiet and docile. Anywhere in the world, the youths are the leaders of tomorrow. Once you are above the age of 18, you must start getting interested in what is happening around you. The value of the naira is falling precipitously and I have not had a single outcry from the youths. Nobody is raising any finger. Unfortunately, a lot of them don’t even read newspapers; they don’t listen to news on the radio. They are always watching drama and films on the phone, and so on. So, when they woke up from what I regard as their slumber in the last days, I was excited that, one, it is a timely warning to the political leadership in Nigeria to know that they cannot do whatever they like any more. That the youths are getting wiser and they constitute about 45 per cent of the population of the country and that they can call the government out without us the elders lifting a finger.
So, what the Nigerian youths have done in the last one week can ground any government. I’m happy that the present administration responded to them by disbanding SARS and trying to patch up by saying the personnel will go for medical assessment. They deserve to be investigated; those found guilty should face prosecution; those who are not guilty should be demobilised because going with such mentality into the Nigeria Police will produce another SARS under the SWAT and that will mean we have taken one step forward and five steps backward. There is no part of the country that has not lost many hours of manpower, due to the protest and that would have reflected in our economy if we had an efficient bureau of statistics. The youths, educated youths and not almajiris, are angry. They know what goes on in the other parts of the world.
The Yoruba Council of Elders (YCE) recently convened what the members called an emergency on the prevailing situation in Nigeria. Is the situation so ominous to warrant such description? Or what informed the urgency of the meeting and what were some of the issues that fully engaged the elders?
The meeting was because of the state of the nation. The country is almost collapsing before our own eyes. Virtually nothing is working. We are all frightened by the security challenges everywhere. We are disturbed by the kidnapping, banditry and so on. In fact, the North has almost caved in. So, we thought we had a duty to save the country and review the dire situation and offer whatever advice we can to government and to all the citizens of the country.
Are you saying the government is not doing enough in order to restore sanity and order?
The best of the government is not good for us. The first sentence in our communiqué stated that the country is facing daunting challenges in spite of the seeming efforts of the Federal Government. In other words, they tell us every day that they are working. But we cannot see the result of the work in terms of the protection of lives and properties, which is the primary responsibility of government, particularly even at the dysfunctional 1999 constitution. Section 14 (b) states that the primary function of government is protection of lives and properties and welfare of the citizens. None of the two is encouraging in the present-day Nigeria. So, we have to speak out and offer advice as we deem necessary, which we have done.
In specific terms, what do you think the government needs to do to restore order and sanity?
The government needs to do quite a lot. We went further to say that the pain or bane of the challenges of this country is the 1999 military constitution, which is a unitary constitution in essence. The very first sentence of the constitution lied against itself by claiming, ‘we, the people of Nigeria,’ when we never assembled anywhere to write the constitution. It was written by a fleeing military dictator, General Abdusalami Abubakar and he picked 22 other people and put them under the leadership of my friend, Professor Yadudu and Professor Ben Nwabueze to write that constitution. Looking at the constitution, for me, it was an attempt by the military who had enjoyed political power for quite a while to perpetuate themselves in office, which to a large extent, they have been able to do in the last 20 years. The first president was a retired military leader, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, who spent eight years in office. The late Umaru Yar’Adua came in, though not a military man, there was a David Mark in the leadership of the National Assembly; that was another retired military man. Then, Dr Goodluck Jonathan came in and virtually throughout his tenure as president, David Mark was keeping guard, so to say, to ensure that the unitarism was not tampered with. Now, we ended up with a retired General again. So, as far as we are concerned, that constitution is the bane of the country and it must be discarded.
You must recall that there have been a series of amendments; each National Assembly session from 1999 to the current one has always set up a constitution amendment committee headed by the deputy senate president. So, I see it as a waste of public resources moving around the country on a so-called collection of memoranda. That was why the YCE did not present a memorandum before them and the major reason is that the political system is not from the 1999 Constitution is dysfunctional and at the heart of it is the National Assembly. It is not to write a constitution; they are to make amendments, but they should not make amendments a routine exercise.
But how can we afford a vacuum, as there is an ongoing process in the National Assembly to further amend the constitution?
Let the National Assembly keep enjoying themselves by attempting to panel-beat the wrecked accident vehicle, which will never become anew. But while they are doing their job, if it were possible, the president should present a bill to insert referendum into the constitution. He needs to do that as soon as possible; we are getting too late. There is no democracy in the world where they don’t have referendum. And for what reason? Sovereignty belongs to the people; it is only partial sovereignty that the people give when they elect you as president, governor or parliamentarian. The remaining sovereignty remains with the people, so whenever they are not happy with what you are doing, you come back to them in a referendum. But that is absent in our constitution.
Let a bill for referendum be sent to the National Assembly; it should be immediately followed by a bill for the establishment of a Constituent Assembly Commission, whose responsibility will be to organise a Constituent Assembly elections for Nigerians to elect members into the Constituent Assembly. The National Assembly will remain in place, so there is no vacuum. Once that is done, the president will be empowered by that Constituent Assembly Bill to appoint members into the commission. Once they are screened by the senate and sworn in, they go into action. They will organise a Constituent Assembly election for Nigerians to elect their representatives to give them their constitution. They probably will not need more than three months because of the simple reason that we have a lot of reports of conferences gathering dust in the archives.
Are you suggesting we waste another scarce resources, I mean funds, to organise such conference only to end the way of other conferences that gulped huge public funds?
Once you have inserted referendum, as soon as the constituent assembly completes its assignment, their draft document is given to Nigerians through the referendum.
The issue of referendum came up before the 2014 confab, but it fizzled out. What is the assurance that a similar thing won’t recur?
This is 2020. The general election is about early 2023. There is still a lot of time. 2014 was virtually next door to the election in 2015 and unfortunately, because successive leaders have had weaknesses that have made them virtually incapable of giving us what we want, Jonathan did not have the courage because he wanted to secure what he thought would give him maximum votes from the North; he didn’t want to hurt them; that was why he convoked the conference did not have the courage to even implement one group of our resolutions. Our resolutions were grouped into three: the first group was merely to be implemented by Presidential Executive Orders without recourse to the National Assembly. If he only did that, there are certain things in Nigeria that could have better now. He didn’t have the courage to do it. The second set was by National Assembly alone, legislation. The third one was by constitutional amendments, which would have required the National Assembly and two-thirds of state Houses of Assembly. But the situation would be different this time around if referendum is inserted into the constitution and that is presented to the Nigerian people and once it is adopted, it goes to the National Assembly for adoption.
The position of some stakeholders in the Nigeria project is that the kind of referendum we need now should be on if we want to live together as country. Do you belong to that school of thought?
I do not because we have successively lived together for 100 years. We have had inter-marriages; we have hundreds of thousands of Yoruba residing in the North who have been there for well over five decades. Ditto we have Igbo who have been in the South-West for five decades. In 2013, I was merit award winner of Ekiti State and my co-merit award winner was an elderly Igbo man who had been in Ado-Ekiti for over 50 years, dominating commerce there wholly. The popular Alaba international market in Lagos is dominated by the Igbo. They are also many other parts of Badagry road. About 90 per cent of the people hired as security guards in Victoria Island, Lekki, Ikeja, Ikoyi and other places are Igbo and northerners. Those who are agitating for the dissolution of the country must take all things into account.
Yoruba have been justifiably angry, I agree. The type of government we run in the country has taken us down; it has slowed the Yoruba nation down, otherwise, we would have been in the league of the best nations in the world. We are justifiably angry, but you must not lose sight of the current reality; we must be pragmatic.
What is the present reality?
The present reality is that what plan do they have for our people who have been living in the North for over five decades? Are they not southwesterners? How do they want to accommodate southeasterners who have been here for so many decades? So, we have gone too much into one another to hastening rush into dissolving this country. I can assure you that every ethnic group that makes up the country will suffer considerable immediate loss from the dissolution. Then, we must not forget that even in Yoruba nation, Lagos State repeatedly had said that they were not children of the Oduduwa. I was a member of the 2014 national conference; I was a member of the think-tank of the Obasanjo conference. I was a member of the team from the South-West; I was a member of the team from the zone for the constitutional conference of the Sani Abacha era. On each of the occasions, Lagos State had presented a different memorandum from the one presented by us. How do you begin to resolve that? Have we ever sat down anywhere, for example, in the South-West, to arrive at a consensus of where we want the headquarters of this Oduduwa nation to be? Have we ever sat down to talk about the form of government we would want to run? Have we considered all that?
Yes, YCE has been consistently supporting the Development Agenda for Southwestern Nigeria (DAWN), in other words, cooperation and integration among South-West states in the areas of transportation, railway, commerce, agriculture and lots more. But you do not, again, in an attempt to solve one problem, create a greater problem even among kinsmen. So the reality of the Nigerian situation is that we can make this country work; we are almost there.
Look at the #ENDSARS demonstration by the youths, it was virtually all over the country; it was not only the Yoruba like some individuals claimed during the June 12 annulment that were involved in the protests. And I received a post by one of the elders in the South-West about the Northern Elders Forum recommending that the only viable option for Nigeria was to have 12 states and apply the principle of resource control. That’s what we want. We don’t have a problem with that, except that we will need to sit down and agree on it. There must be a Constituent Assembly to discuss it because you must give states the option of which states they want to join. There are people that want to move from Kogi and Kwara states to join the Yoruba nation. You have the Bolos in Kwara; they want to join Osun State; the Ekitis in Kwara want to join Ekiti State. So, there is the need for a Constituent Assembly; their job will not be too much. You talked about wasting resources; no that is not so; you are spending resources wisely, otherwise, we will continue to confront security challenges till thy kingdom come. Once you have a dysfunctional government in place, there will continue to be youth unemployment, and in Nigeria today, I make bold to say that the South-West has the greatest number of graduates from that are unemployed in the country.
What evidence do you have to substantiate the claim?
The number of universities in the South-West, in two states, for instance, is enough to substantiate the assertion. The number of universities, maybe, in Lagos, Oyo and if you want to add Ogun State, by far outnumbers the number of universities in the entire North. In education, nobody is competing with the Yoruba nation; Chief Obafemi Awolowo put us far ahead and I know that for the next 50 years, they can never catch up. They introduced the quota system to catch up, still we are far ahead; they introduced the federal character principle, yet we are far ahead because while Awolowo believed in education as the liberator of the human life, the Northern oligarchy then believed in military power, which the whole world has rejected.
Lately, some queried the granting of financial autonomy to local government by the Federal Government; that the action negates a cardinal principle of federalism that recognises the centre and states as federating units.
Yes, it is against the principle of federalism because any federal constitution anywhere in the world does not include local government as a federating unit. Local government is a state affair. What is a state? It is a collection of local governments and for the federal government to say it was granting them autonomy, it is an abnormality. Yes, they could have autonomy, but it must be under the states. Why should senators from the North or East approve the process of creating a local government in Ondo State before it can be done? What’s their business there? So, the autonomy granted to the local government by the Federal Government is a further step at weakening the states and over-concentrate powers in the centre. The other issue is the package of incentives, including salaries, allowances, recently announced for teachers by the Federal Government. It is another smart way to undermine the states. They made a pronouncement and our people unknowingly applauded it. No consultations with the state governments and you didn’t utter a word about revenue allocation formula, whether you will review it upward in favour of the states so that they could accommodate the new incentives for teachers. So, the action of the Federal Government is wrong; they are increasing the Exclusive List in the constitution through the backdoor.
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