Nigeria is built on falsehood, deception and corruption, says Osoba
Chief Olusegun Osoba, former governor of Ogun State was a member of the merger committee that gave birth to the All Progressives Congress (APC) and chairman of its Constitution drafting committee. He spoke to NIYI BELLO (Head, Politics Desk) and SEYE OLUMIDE on the position of the APC on restructuring and power devolution before the party took over the reins of government in Nigeria. The septuagenarian politician also identified some factors blocking the country’s path to true nationhood and suggested that rather than go through forced disengagement, the component parts that made up Nigeria should seek a negotiated peaceful dissolution. Excerpts:
Your party, the APC, has set up a committee to define restructuring in the light of the current agitations by many prominent Nigerians and ethnic groupings to go back to the drawing board and redefine the country. Many are surprised by the party’s move given the fact that you already had it in your manifesto. Is this not a diversionary tactic?
I was chairman of the Constitution Drafting Committee of the APC and also a member of the merger committee, and one of the issues agreed upon was the importance and demand for true federalism. That is why we had in our manifesto, fiscal federalism and devolution of power as parts of the core program of APC. Over the years what I have discovered is that we Nigerians are mostly pretenders. We have a nation built on falsehood, corruption and insincerity. When I say falsehood, we continue to claim different figures as our population and that is false because modern day technology, through satellite, has the capacity to view the total part of Nigeria. Google, without physical counting, can tell you the total population of Nigeria. We are pretenders because we pretend not to know when we know that we are deceiving each other. We are corrupt in the sense that we focus too much on cash. This I described as monetary corruption but the one we are talking about is far deeper. Nepotism, tribalism are forms of corruption. Election rigging is a serious corruption; the products of elections rigging are already corrupted and when they get to office, they become even super corrupt. I am saying all these because Nigeria is a false examples of false federalism and unity and all over the world, nations that have the semblance of what we have today have collapsed either by forced disengagement or peaceful breakup. And Nigeria, whether we like it or not, will follow either of the two situations. All over the world, forced or negotiated breakup is the way countries like Nigeria have been going.
Can’t there be negotiated unity?
No, there cannot be negotiated unity but only negotiated devolution. United Kingdom (UK) claims to be united and they have been living together for centuries but yet they are not united. The Scots have remained Scottish and the Wales retained their identity. The English who tried to force the Wales realised centuries after, that they have to devolve power. UK is still devolving power to the component bodies to the extent that Scotland still wants break away from the main body. This is a nation that has stayed together for many centuries.
The defunct Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) was forced together by Stalin and at the end of the day, each went their ways and the old Russia remain and even after disengaging, they went after the small republics like Chechen and Ukraine. That was an example of inequality in a federal system.
For example in Yugoslavia, Tito forced the country to be one, when it was going to collapse neighbours started killing each other. Neighbours that have lived side by side for decades were killing one another. These are examples of violent disengagement. An example of negotiated devolution and disengagement is Czechoslovakia. The country discovered it could no longer continue as one and it peacefully disengaged. That is why I say that Nigerians are pretenders. It is all over the world that nations that claimed to be united and preaches unity still struggle to live as one. Canada today is still struggling to live as one. Québec, the French speaking part of Canada is still struggling to break. Why do we think we are different?
You seem to corroborate what Professor Wole Soyinka said that Nigeria’s unity is negotiable?
Everything, even marriage is negotiable, husband and wives argue everyday and come to acceptable conclusion maybe on the children education or the management of the house. Therefore why do we think that different nations that made up Nigeria can be forced to live together? The ethnic groups are themselves not of the same kind. The shocking thing is that we have a constitution that centralised the major issues. Education as an example, the foundation of primary education is cultural. When I was young, the old people will sit us under the moonshine and taught us stories and songs in our language as a form of oral education. Other tribes also have their form of education, why then do you decide to have a form of centralised primary education in Abuja? It is impossible.
That’s part of the pretensions in our constitution.
How do you have a centralised housing policy? In the riverine areas and the coastal areas, the form of housing there is different to the type of housing that we have in the core north. Our forefathers built their homes based on the weather conditions of each of the areas. The coastal areas have heavy rain at a particular period of the year and the Sahara parts may not have as much rain in a year. How then do you think you can centralise housing policy.
Speaking about road construction, how do you think you can centralise that? The cost of constructing a kilometre of road in the Niger Delta cannot be the same with the eastern part where there is heavy erosion. Why then do we lie to ourselves? We are a nation of pretenders because we have forced ourselves on what we know are impracticable.
It seems Nigeria got to this level of forced unity because of military imposition over the years. Now how does the country resolve the problems caused by it without going through forced disengagement? How can the nations have a peaceful negotiation for continuity as an entity?
I am disappointed with some of the elite. We debate, pontificate, argue and insult one another. We are intolerant of dissenting opinions to our own. We are unrealistic, and some of us call on the presidency to restructure but the presidency is not a military presidency. We claim to be advocating democracy and we want military solution. We should face the reality; if we say we are in democratic society we should preach democracy. The place to start restructuring is through those that we elected to the legislative assemblies at state and national level. As useless as the 1999 Constitution is today, if you’re going to do true federalism, fiscal policy, devolution of power, you will start with the National Assembly. You cannot rule that out because nobody else has the power.
…Not even a referendum?
Even that has to go through the National Assembly. Therefore why do we elite just mentioned restructuring at the tip of out lips but we do not go out to canvass even before election within our families and our communities to insist on the minimum requirements from those that would go to represent us at the National and State Assemblies. Before you can change anything, the National Assembly must pronounce on it and two-third of the House must agree. We therefore should go back to the drawing board, face reality and do it right and force the so-called legislators by our votes and involvement in the political process, to create the change.
Are you passing the responsibilities of finding solution to Nigeria’s problems to a National Assembly that bungled an opportunity to devolve power to the states?
I am passing the bulk to all of us. On the day of voting, mostly you find market women and street people. But the elite and educated intellectuals don’t in anyway get involved. I have watched an election where voters sell their votes for as low as N5, 000. That is sentencing themselves to four years of slavery. I have also seen people used their mobile phone to take the picture of their thumb print of whom they voted for, to agents to collect money. This is happening because the elites lay back on the day of election. This is the reason we continue to get the type of characters today in the National Assembly.
But the Senate is toying with the idea of having INEC conduct council elections.
They are totally wrong. How can Abuja conduct election in a riverine area? What I would support is the review of the electoral law to allow electronic voting. They have drafted a law now which I think should be followed that INEC should publish the results of elections in their websites. If Google can have history, why can’t we have our voters register launched on the website where we can check it street by street. We don’t have to have INEC from Abuja to do things here.
You just described the 1999 Constitution as useless. Chief Bisi Akande said that the document should be thrown away and that we should go back to 1963. Are you of the same opinion?
The only way we can go about that is that we still have to follow the normal process. I agreed with him that it is a bad document. For instance, how can you legislate 774 local governments and put that in a constitution of a developing nation? Take for example, London as a city has multiple boroughs. The Lagos that I grew up in was not more than 200, 000 to half a million people but the state has an estimated population of 18 million today. How do you legislate local governments for Lagos that will attend to the city’s infrastructural development? The refuse generated by 500, 000 people is different from the one generated by 18 million people. I am of the opinion that the federating units are always at the states, the Federal Government should have no interest whatsoever in local affairs because each ethnicity has its own norms.
How do you, for instance, send a man from Maiduguri to go to Rivers to police the people? Does a man in Maiduguri know how to swim when a situation demands that? Does he understand their language? Security is communal; you have to know the terrain, the culture, communal sanctions and norms. Why do you now think that a centralised police can take care of the security, look at the cases of kidnapping, imaging Evans keeping a house in the Magodo neighbourhood and living there all this while.
The issue of restructuring is a kind of challenge to the integrity of the APC. Some party chieftains even condemned the call, don’t they understand it?
As a member of APC, I would rather go and argue my case at the party, I mean at our caucus than make public statement on an issue as delicate as restructuring.
It is like there is confusion in the country. The Arewa youths quit notice, the state of the health of the President, Niger Delta crises, what are your fears?
I have no fears. Every region has developed its own serious problem. Boko Haram in the North, IPOB in the East, the crises in the Niger Delta and the Yoruba that are keeping quiet is even more dangerous. If tomorrow anybody starts any problem, it will fall on us all. I know the consequence of brothers attacking each other; I don’t want a situation where we go back to the era of the civil war. We should all face it and work it out together.
You said something about the possibility of a negotiated disengagement. The fear is that with the issue of centralisation that has so much divided the country to the extent that no one knows who is in control of government, how can the nations, particularly the Southwest, come together and form a common front?
If we get to the devolution of power or true federalism, those in opposition to it are going to benefit most. The state may remain as they are, but there would be a connecting body somewhere. There is a united thinking of purpose among the Yoruba. There would be devolution of power to other parts not just Ibadan. Lagos will be very vital, because the revenue will come from Lagos. The Southwest will go back to the old region and maintain the current states. The same will be replicated in other parts of Nigeria.