To get Nigeria right we need a truly federal constitution, says Adeniran
• Nigeria’s Fourth Republic took off on wrong footing
• 2023 Presidency should be based on merit, not ethnic identification
Professor Tunde Adeniran was Minister of Education during the administration of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo. He was also a former Head of the Political Science Department at the University of Ibadan (UI). In this interview with ROTIMI AGBOLUAJE, he spoke on a lot of issues concerning the country and the need to support a ban on open grazing.
Twenty-two years after Nigeria returned to democratic governance, is the country better for it?
NOT really. But let us get it right. Fundamentally, democratic governance is, no doubt, better than military dictatorship. Those of us who worked hard for a return to the democratic process and others who actually mounted the barricades and put their lives on the line against military rule wanted something much better than what we are having. People were looking forward to good governance characterised by the rule of law, justice, equity, development and peaceful co-existence as well as the security of life and property. The Fourth Republic took off on a wrong footing and this has been compounded by economic and political mismanagement.
How can we get Nigeria right?
We can only get Nigeria right through sincerity and commitment. You see, it is not a sin or a crime to make some mistakes in nation-building but it is unpardonable when people realise their mistakes and they refuse to correct them. Our situation is like building a house on a defective foundation. It is common knowledge that the 1999 Constitution by which we are governed (Decree 24 of 1999) was written by some people handpicked by the military who were not guided by federal principles and the document was not subjected to any referendum as to qualify it as a constitution of the Nigerian people.
Looking back, the military whose legitimacy had become ineffectual was justified in its hurried departure. Former Head of State, General Abdulsalam Abubakar (rtd) was so anxious to hand over that principles and due process were pushed aside on some issues. For instance, in order to please some prominent leaders from the South West, even when the criteria set for party registration were not met by the Alliance for Democracy (AD), he waived the requirements! The political class was also generally of the view that, okay let us just let the military leave the scene and we would correct the constitutional and other lapses. Between then and now, the political class has continuously failed the Nigerian people and the nation by failing to produce a genuine constitution that will encompass the perspectives, interests and aspirations of the Nigerian people as to make them own the constitution. That is fundamental to getting Nigeria right. Nigeria and Nigerians need a truly federal constitution.
Some of your comrades in the Social Democratic Party (SDP) have returned to the PDP, are you still in SDP or you are planning to return to your former party?
I made it public through a media statement in September last year that I was disengaging from partisan politics. But like my friend and brother, Professor Ladipo Adamolekun, stated last week, silence on matters of governance is not an option for members of our generation. This means that while I am still in politics I cannot be jumping from party to party and so I no longer belong to any political party. When I joined politics actively on a partisan basis, it was to advance the vision of my generation of Nigeria as a humane and progressive society, an egalitarian community built on brotherhood in spite of the many divides, a political entity that meets the aspirations of its citizens and serves as a beacon for the rest of Africa.
With the limitations imposed on the two major political parties by their disregard for equity, fairness and justice and the impunities, which characterised them, some of us attempted a third force movement, which was sabotaged by sponsored agents. Anyway, as an irrepressible patriot, I continue to pray and encourage various groups that democracy can only be consolidated in Nigeria through a liberating and uplifting ideology that serves as a guide for action and democratic institutions with their supporting structures especially a workable constitution with appropriate legal and party systems. That is my stand. Call it the role of elder statesman or non-partisanship.
There has been a lot of furore over the zoning of the 2023 presidency. Are you in support of power rotation?
Rotation among whom and for what purpose? Power rotation and whatever that means is for political parties to decide as a policy or strategy.
If it comes to the South, are you for Igbo or Yoruba presidency?
If the political parties zone the position to the South, I don’t want the contestations to be brought down to levels we had passed. We don’t need a parochial overlord or ethnic supremacist or get someone to the presidency on the basis of a sense of entitlement based on ethnic identification. The irreducible characteristics that I am looking for in a President of a restructured Nigeria are: he or she must be intellectually sound and of very good health, incorruptible, must have demonstrated passionate regard for common humanity, the rule of law justice and equity, the workings of a federal structure in the 21st century and digital governance.
Afenifere recently said, No restructuring, No 2023 poll. Where do you stand?
I have been consistent in calling for restructuring. Way back in 1984, at the Annual Conference of the Nigerian Political Science Association in Ilorin, Kwara State, I presented a paper in which I drew attention to the institutionalised deformities in our political and economic structures. The Association then was Professor Sam Oyovbaire. He almost got locked up for the critical issues he raised in his Presidential Address. General Muhamadu Buhari was the Head of State then and Salaudeen Bola Latinwo of the Nigerian Air Force was our guest of honour as Governor of Kwara State. He expressed his discomfort with us but we owed it a patriotic duty to our country as scholars to display its mirror image reflected from our research findings.
Today, with the intervening variables Nigeria is in serious need of restructuring than ever before.
Nigerian youths under the auspices of Youths Earnestly Demand for Goodluck Jonathan 2023 promised not only to purchase nomination forms but also compel the Former President to contest the 2023 Presidential election. Do you see him taking Nigeria out of the woods?
Sometimes, youthful exuberance could throw up some jokes!
Some persons say Nigeria couldn’t survive beyond six months. Do you share this view?
I don’t share such a view. I have faith that with concerned patriots working together for justice, peace, unity and development against the self-seeking self-serving nation-destroyers, we shall overcome and reconstruct rather than destroy Nigeria. It was a similar feeling of gloom, which some days ago prompted Sola Aina, a nephew of mine, to ask whether we had become a knife that has no way of repairing its own handle by itself?
There is certainly no shortage of ideas with which to solve our national problems. But even the best solutions are useless if we are not going to carry them out successfully. When a person is extremely ill and is struggling against a paralyzing disease, no amount of advice, exhortation or remonstration can galvanize such a person into recovery. In a country where there is disunity among the populace, insincerity among the leaders and apathy within the government, the quest for a solution must go beyond eloquent rhetoric. Extraordinary problems call for extraordinary solutions, otherwise extraordinary consequences should be expected, so, time for all of us to wake up before it is too late.
The former General Secretary of the National Union of petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG), Chief Frank Kokori, charged the 17 southern governors in the country to arm youths and vigilante groups in their states as a proactive measure against marauding herdsmen and bandits. Is this an ideal approach?
As should be expected of a true federation, every state must work out the approach best suited to its peculiar situation and only borrow ideas from others where applicable.
On agitation for secession, some are of the view that the North is better prepared for it than the South. Do you share this view?
All of them, North and South, have not given serious thoughts to the implications of secession. Otherwise, they would not have been talking without sufficient caution.
With Sunday Igboho’s action and utterances, can we say he is using the best approach to achieve independence of the Yoruba?
My observation is that he is passionate about issues of justice, equity and freedom in his immediate environment. Ethnic nationalism could be elevated to broader nationalism, leading to the promotion of common humanity when and if properly handled.
What is your reaction to the banning of open grazing by Southern governors?
Those opposed to the banning of open grazing are wicked people. They take joy or benefit from using or seeing children of poor Nigerians trekking a hundred kilometres following cows about while their own children are in schools or in the comfort of their homes. We are in the 21st century for goodness sake and ranching is the answer. Besides, what the Southern Governors have done was to give effect to the judgment of Justice Adewale Thompson, which banned open grazing on 17th April 1969 in suit no AB/26/66 at the Abeokuta Division of the High Court.
Some regard the constitution review as a waste of time. What is your assessment of the exercise? Can the exercise give us the kind of Nigeria we crave?
I do not see the constitution review exercise as totally a waste of time. I see it as an opportunity to achieve two goals. The first is to enable the National Assembly members to have some psychological satisfaction that they are Nigeria’s lawmakers. The second goal is for Nigerians to use the opportunity to tell the legislators that they cannot put a stable and lasting structure on a defective foundation. The Nigerian people must first have a constitution before being subjected to the National Assembly’s power of alteration of its provisions. I believe that is Article 9, which is being over flogged. From the way the exercise is being carried out, it certainly cannot give us the kind of Nigeria we need and desire. They are showing beyond reasonable doubt that they, the organisers, are determined to protect their own interests.
Are you in support of the rotational presidency?
I have said it over and over that, I want the very best for this country. And we need to thank God that there is no section of this country that cannot produce an ideal President. The country does not deserve rotation among self-seeking and self-serving ethnic champions who do not understand the fundamentals of governance and nation-building.
General Kunle Togun recently raised the alarm that foreign Fulani herdsmen have saturated the Southwest. What will be your advice to the governors to nip it in the bud?
They should follow up the Asaba Declaration with appropriate actions and carry the people along, mobilize down to the grassroots and use effective security architecture to ensure the safety and security of people and properties in the Southwest. They should also encourage other zones in the federation to do the same.
How can we stem carnage going on in the East?
Dialogue. There is a need for dialogue vertically and horizontally. The people at all levels must be made to trust the governments at all levels while the governments must also earn the trust and confidence of the people. The trust deficit and the serious communication gaps between the governments and the people are largely responsible.
Some are calling for banning of Okada riders in the entire Southwestern states. What is your take on this?
The solution to the menace of Okada transporters is deeper than merely banning them. Long before now, serious thoughts ought to have been given to the problem of transportation generally in our cities, towns and villages. I know that the late Alhaji Lateef Jakande demonstrated vision in Lagos State in this regard but his policy was terminated in 1984. Now, while motorbikes could be banned in some parts, there should be serious re-orientation, regulation and control in other parts while a well-thought-out transportation policy should be formulated without delay.
Since 1999, our local governments have not met the expectations of most Nigerians. What reforms can you recommend to get it right?
At present, the local government system is not functioning the way it should. In view of this, there is no way the expectations of Nigerians can ever be met. Many things are wrong here and I will mention just three that could be the beginning of reforms to get things right. First, Local Government Areas (LGAs) must be treated as tiers of government in law and in practice. They should be autonomous. Second, the staff and political office holders of the LGAs must be people of integrity with solid background and experience to make them perform effectively. The local government reforms on which they were based anticipated that the LGAs would be managed by accomplished professionals, retired permanent/secretaries, directors and principals of schools etc. and not by those who never worked in their life, school dropouts and failed businessmen who turned political hangers-on and those drawn from the pool of glorified thugs. Third, communities, especially the development associations and civil society organisations, must show more interest in how their LGAs are being administered.
Also, the ruling party usually wins the council poll. How can we get out of this political quagmire?
It is indeed a quagmire, a frustrating sham that goes in the name of local government election. The shenanigans will continue and there will be no meaningful democracy and development unless and until there is a new constitution that would address the various lapses, which permit the mess in the entire local government system.
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