‘If Southwest gets political leadership right, it’ll affect other regions positively’
Kamar Gbadegesin Raji, a lawyer, is the managing partner of the Law Chambers, a commercial law firm in Lagos. A fellow of Chartered Institute of Taxation and Council Member of Chartered Institute of Arbitrators, United Kingdom, Nigeria Branch, he is the Assistant Secretary of Voice of Reason (VoR). In this interview with KEHINDE OLATUNJI, he speaks on the upcoming VoR annual lecture on September 12 and other sundry matters.
What is the upcoming event about and what is VoR known for?
The upcoming event is about a dedication of an annual lecture in memory of the late convener of Voice of Reason (VoR), Prince Nicholas Olagoke Omisore, the sobriquet for that annual lecture is Goke Omisore annual lecture. We have had two editions in the past and this is going to be the third edition. We couldn’t hold any during the COVID-19 period, but since then we have continued the tradition.
The next one, which is the third edition, is coming up on September 12 at Muson Centre by 11am. The theme of the event is in line with the agenda of VoR as an organisation. We are noted for pursuing restructuring of the political and administrative sectors of Nigeria. We are more focused around and within the southwest region of Nigeria, with the aim that if we could manage the affairs of the southwest properly, it will ginger other regions to be competitive and do things properly. The Southwest has been the leader in so many aspects of governance in Nigeria and people’s development. We want to bring back that status, respect, organisation skill and developmental orientation. We are advocating for restructuring of the structural system of Nigeria in terms of politics, legal, economy and social issues.
The theme for the conference is “Southwest Regional Integration.” We are looking at the Dawn Commission’s approach. Dawn Commission has a development agenda for Western Nigeria. It is an organisation that was set up by the forum of Governors among the Southwestern Governors and the idea is to provide some kind of intellectual backbone for the developmental objective of Southwest. We want to see how far they have gone and their vision so we could become partners in progress and assist in getting the objectives. The DG of the Commission, Mr. Seye Oyeleye, will deliver the keynote address and he will be supported by eminent personality, Dr. Segun Aina, the immediate vice chairman of Odu’a group. Also playing prominent roles at the event are an economist, Dr. Tope Fasua, and a social commentator and former presidential aspirant and one of our trustees, Mr Soji Awobade, to discuss on the theme paper that will be presented by the DG of Dawn.
You said if the Southwest could get it right, every other region would get it right. What are the observed gaps in the southwest that need to be filled?
We have a problem in political leadership selection. The problem is more pronounced because we learnt that most of the people (the elites) who are supposed to be the fulcrum of societal development were not interested in politics and by taking the back sit, they have allowed some other people to take control of it, to the extent that when you have elections, you will be choosing between the devil and the deep sea. The choices are not desirable and most of the political characters that are coming up are not the desired one. We have to look into that and ensure that intellectuals are interested in politics so that those who populate political space will be people that we can trust and be able to deliver the developmental objectives that we so much desire.
The second factor is that there is a lot of money being used to aspire for political offices and as a result of that when the political leaders get into the position of authority they tend to take care of what they have spent. You hear stories of people selling their houses and taking loans to contest. We believe that public service should be of selfless service to the society. After you have accomplished enough for yourself or if you have an idea to push then you can come to public office to serve the people. In the scheme of what they call servant leadership, we have had that in the past but unfortunately, people go to politics for self-aggrandisement and for whatever they can get out of the system. This has been the bane of our political system and it’s so unfortunate, that everywhere you go, you hear of corruption either in the executive, legislature or judiciary. This is not who we are and there is a need for us to change the narrative by encouraging people to be politically-minded and show interest in governance.
Some of the things that we do as an organisation are to sensitise the people to know their rights. We act as a pressure group to the executive arm of government to do things that will lead the region’s development. Some of our members have taken up legal cases, which has led to some kind of reforms in the law. As a group, we liaise with other ethnic groups like Ohanaeze, Middle Belt Forum, and Arewa group, among others, on the need for the country to be restructured and create a competitive environment for the region. The last major development that this country experienced was during the regional government, when we had the 1963 constitution. So, we are advocating for a return to the 1963 kind of constitutional arrangement.
We can do a kind of hybrid in the sense that some of those things that are not necessarily relevant can be removed and thereby create a kind of regional government such that each region will have its own constitution and cooperate on some of the things that are necessary, like immigration, currency, and customs, among others. We have examples in Dubai and Switzerland. Because the country is large, we have different cultures, people are not the same, the culture in the north is different from the culture in the west, and the culture in the southwest is different from the culture in the southeast. You don’t force people to behave the same way. People can still uphold their own cultural behavior within the law that is reflective of that.
Every region or state should have its own Supreme Court based on the activities that happen within that system. Anything that has to do with federal law should go to federal court but issues of land, chieftaincy, petty disputes among the people, marriages, among others, should not go beyond the state jurisdiction and if it’s important that you must have an appeal court, then each state should have its own appellate court, which is supreme within that entity. If this is the case, there will be decongestion of cases at the upper level; so, cases will not take as long as 20 years. Some of these are things that are causing problems within the system that we need to look at critically and examine and in our plenary session, these are some of the issues that we discussed.
You said there is a problem in the political leadership selection, are you talking about the current administration?
Not really. When you limit it to an administration, we may not dissect the cause properly, we may be talking about the symptoms. Things don’t happen in a vacuum. If you look at the onset of the fourth Republic, there was a doubt among the intellectuals concerning whether the signatory was sincere in military power because they cancelled previous elections that were held.
They head back and some people who were ambitious took over the political space and thereby became leaders and because of the influence that they have, access to money and the rest, they became godfathers and were the one responsible for selection of leadership and as a result people are beholding rather than the nation. The present government, if you look at it properly, you may say there are some issues with regards to the qualification or character of the leadership but that was the problem of the value system, selection process and the interest of people as to partisan politics. If you want to compare Nigeria with US were we copy this, everybody joins political party and they rise up from that political party, so, there is filtering system within the party hierarchy of who is going to be nominated but we don’t have that, in the 50’s and 60’s, those who were in politics, were equally responsible for the finances of the political associations. Those who joined will pay a monthly or annual fee as members of party and they will go through the rank and that’s why most of those leaders then were highly qualified and they were more concerned about the plight of the society, unlike now, where people see politics as a means to an end or a means to livelihood.
You said something about southwest regional integration; do you think the Southwest is divided?
What we mean by regional integration is physical development. There is nothing stopping the Southwest from having railway connections. Luckily now, the Constitution has been amended, railways have been brought back to concurrent list. Nothing should stop the Southwest states from linking all the states within the region with rail transportation. Nothing should stop the Southwest from coming together and having an airline for the region, These are the issues that we are talking about, how do we integrate the people towards providing the much-needed infrastructure or economic development for them, that’s what we are looking at. It’s not in terms of whether there are disputes among the people.
What is your advice to Southwest people regarding politics?
There is an adage that says that if you are not there, you cannot complain about how they shared things. There must be quality representation from us, from Yoruba. The idea of going into politics for personal or selfish interest should be banished. It’s not in our character to be selfish in anything. Even though this organisation is focused on Southwest, we are not discriminatory. It’s for those who are resident in the southwest, we take everyone that is resident here as part of the southwest because if the place is not conducive for them, they won’t come. As much as we want development in the southwest, we also want development in other regions, so that there won’t be concentration of development in one region to the detriment of others.
People will only gravitate to where there is development and that can lead to over population and inadequate infrastructure to take care of the bloated population. We are sending a message to other people that we can be united yet be different in terms of outlook, conduct and orientation but that does not take away the fact that we are all Nigerians. We are not ethnic jingoists but we are focused on development, not only for our people but also for all the residents within the southwest region.
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