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‘There should be no election in Nigeria in 2019’


Nigeria Elections

Chief Adetola Adeniyi, a veteran journalist and columnist in several national newspapers both home and abroad is the longest running columnist in Nigeria who has been writing since 1958. In this interview with Adelowo Adebumiti, he spoke about his forthcoming book launch, restructuring of the federation, 2019 election and role of the media in setting national agenda. Excerpts:

Looking at the political climate and the challenges facing the nation, why did you decide to launch the book “In the Belly of Vultures” at this time?

I am actually bowing to pressure from several people, my contemporaries, people older than I am and people younger, who have been clamouring for collection of some of my write-ups.

Over the years, they have been saying we want to have a compendium, maybe 20, or 30. So I called some editors to collect some of my writings in Punch, Compass, Sunday Sun and City People, some actually dating back to 1973.

This is just the first volume. It has about 1,138 pages. It comprises of about 600 articles.

What is the common theme in this particular volume?

Over the years, I have not really been consistent in my agitation for good governance, agitation against corruption, fanaticism in religion, dogmatism, agitation for feminist rights, human rights, agitation for minimum government for maximum impact, agitation for confederation, and if possible, for Nigeria to go into six distinctive republics.

And if people do not agree that we should have a confederation, maybe go their separate ways. But it does not appear that we are making progress with the experiment that we have been having since 1960.

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And more so, since military incursion into Nigeria polity, we have actually drifted to a unitary system, which is the very antithesis to federal system. What we have now is a hydra-headed Federal Government that takes more than 80 percent of all resources of the country and gives out maybe just 20 percent to the rest of the country. No state is viable and no state can pay salary.

There is no money for development, no money for infrastructure and capital development. Because the Federal Government is consuming more than it needs and takes too much more, there is huge corruption in the system.

All this can be addressed if we restructure the polity and every nationality is allowed to develop at their own pace and allow to use their resources for their development. What we are having right now is a Federal Government that does not have land having a Ministry of Housing and Agriculture.

Are you calling for true federalism?

There is nothing like true federalism. It is always federalism. What Nigeria has today is not federalism. So it is either you have federalism or you don’t. Right now, we don’t have federalism. What we have is a unitary system, which is a carry-over from the military, a command and obey structure.

Most advocates of restructuring are calling for a return to the 1963 constitution, what is your own position on this?

I agreed with what elders like Ayo Adebanjo and Ben Nwabueze are saying on the issue. They agreed that the military ruined the federal system that we had. And for this country to have peace, we should go back to regionalism.

We should go back to 100 percent control of resources so that when a region is producing cocoa, groundnut, timber or oil, it should control its resources and give a percent on agreed formula to the Federal Government.

Because the Federal Government does not have much to do but can only concern itself with defense, finance and foreign policy. Even internal security to a large extent depends on regions and provinces. They have no business keeping a large police force.

Nigeria is the only country in the world that has centralized police force. The police should go back to what it was before 1966. That time, we had local, city and regional police.

2019 is now in focus, what are the issues Nigerians should concentrate on as elections approach?

As far as I am concerned, there should be no election in 2019. The reasons are simple. If you have elections today, it would just be continuity of the rubbish that we are having. We are going to have governors that you would not even know their salaries.

You are going to have senators that would be taking hundreds of millions of naira that they are not accounting for. It would just be returning to status quo.

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So rather than go for election in 2019, Nigerians should first of all sit down and correct all the ills that we have now. We cannot just continue with the bad government, bad politicians, bad governors that we have since the military came on board. What is important for Nigeria is not just election.

What is important now is to address the national question and redress ills in the society so that we don’t just have continuity of poverty, bad roads, kidnapping, herdsmen butchering people all over the country.

How does the country go about correcting the ills?

Nigerians are not bereft of ideas, but there are bad politicians. Politicians are the second biggest problem of this country.

When you take the military that ruined our political structure and architecture, the next terrible people that we have are the politicians who because of selfishness and greed, have refused to take into consideration the wishes and aspirations of their people because the want to get to power and continue to enjoy the privileges.

Nigerians have solutions to their problems. It is just that they are unfortunate to be encumbered by bad politicians.

What is the way forward for the country now?

It is difficult to really lay your hand on a particular solution for now. Because even when you say they should talk, they would say how do they gather themselves to talk. Where are they going to talk? But other countries achieved it.

When Czechoslovakia broke into two, the people met, talked and agreed on it. The same thing when India broke into three namely Pakistan, Bangladesh and India, people discussed, they gathered. We don’t need to resort to war to sort out the problem that we have.

Everybody knows the problem confronting Nigeria but those who should take decision are not honest and courageous enough. They don’t have the strength to lead or the political will to resolve the problems of the country. I think what they are waiting for is force, because the military was able to destroy the architecture of this country since they carry arm.

So what some people are waiting for is that it is only force that can knock reasons and senses into those against restructuring and those saying we must continue with this barrenness of ideas, with situations where people can no longer sleep with their two eyes close. Where people can no longer have peace and are feeling insecure.

Where we have more than 20 million of our children roaming the street for non-existent jobs. Where we have thousands of Nigerian girls being prostitutes all over the world.

That is what some people are enjoying and what they wish to continue. And that is why they shy away from coming together to seriously discuss how best to advance the modality.

What role should the media play in all these? What they should do is set agenda. I believe in agenda setting journalism. The journalists in every locality should be able to say to politicians in their areas “if you are going to represent us, this and this are what we expect you to do for this community.”

Newspapers should set agenda as they do in advanced countries. What we are doing now is reacting to events, rather setting agenda for politicians or political office holders to follow up. And they must do more investigative journalism and confront the bad people with facts and figures.

What is your advice to Nigerian politicians?

They should search their conscience. They travel abroad to other countries and they see what is going on there. They have been to Canada, United States, Switzerland and so on, so they know what is going on there. They see senators and members of the House earn little and still serve their people well.

So they should search their conscience and they should all work together to ensure that they destroy this unitary form of government, support Nigerians to create a constitution that would best serve the majority of the people.

They should be less selfish, less greedy and should always remember that they would not be there forever. They are answerable to their Creator and they should remember if the country were not at peace, they themselves would not enjoy any peace.

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