Chief Ayo Adebanjo, elder statesman and chieftain of the pan-Yoruba socio-political organisation, Afenifere, in this interview with Raymond Mordi, Deputy Political Editor, says restructuring is the solution to Nigeria’s problems
Some Nigerians say the problem facing the country at the moment is not restructuring, but corruption. Do you agree sir?
Anybody who says that does not understand the problems of Nigeria; he must be a newborn baby. To get to the root of the matter, we must re-examine how we have been governing ourselves and see what has been causing crises among the various nationalities. Is it corruption? Where there is no political stability, can you have peace? Where there are crises, can you make progress? People are just confusing issues, particularly when it comes to restructuring.
The issue is, in a heterogeneous society like ours, do we adopt a federal or a unitary system of government? People are saying all sorts of things, because they want to confuse issues. If we recognise that we cannot govern this country through a unitary system of government, because it is a heterogeneous society and that federalism is best suited for the country, then all the elements of federalism must be adopted, including resource control, devolution of power, state police, etc; they are all necessary to have good governance.
That system was what was decided for Nigeria at the 1954 Constitutional Conference in London; people should not speak out of context. If the All Progressives Congress (APC) administration of President Muhammadu Buhari is desirous of having peace and unity, why can’t it do the needful, by taking us back to where we started from? All the founding fathers of the country, including Sarduana of Sokoto, Alhaji Ahmadu Bello, Chief Obafemi Awolowo and Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, sat down and agreed to adopt the federal system of government, why can’t we go back to that system? Is the terms they agreed to, what we are practicing now? We must ask ourselves how we got here.
The problem started when the military came in and forced their system on us. But when they were going, they did not take us back to where we were before they took over. How can that be a problem? All these northerners that are opposed to going back to federalism, are they more knowledgeable than the Sarduana? It is only in Nigeria that you talk about true federalism. There is nothing like true federalism; it is only because the system has been corrupted by the military.
Do we need a constitutional amendment to restructure Nigeria?
No constitutional amendment is required. The National Assembly has become part of the problem and this is because it came about through the illegitimate constitution that has been forced on us by the military. How can we produce a new constitution by going through a constitutional amendment process? That is like mixing two things that are not compatible.
So, how do we go about restructuring?
The process of producing a new constitution is there. We produced a paper at the 2014 Constitutional Conference, why are we afraid of referring to it? Besides, foremost constitutional lawyer, Prof. Ben Nwabueze, has written papers on how we can go about it. It is a matter of referring to those papers.
The 2014 National Conference also called for the creation of additional states. Is creation of states compatible with restructuring?
Don’t let us confuse ourselves; I was a member of that conference. The major focus was that we must reduce the powers of the government at the centre and give same to the federating units. If people are sincere, there is no confusion; people are just bringing in obstacles. At the end of the day, the federating units can create the number of states or local governments they want. After the issue of devolution of powers has been concluded, we must also decide whether to continue with the current presidential system of government or go back to the parliamentary system. Having a federal system of government does not necessarily mean that we must adopt the presidential system. Canada is a federation, but it practices the parliamentary system. Australia has a federal structure, but it also adopted the parliamentary system of government, the same is true of India.
Can Nigerians trust the ruling class who are benefitting from the current system to restructure Nigeria?
How can we trust them? I don’t want to antagonize anybody, but the truth is that the present government is a product of an illegal and unwanted constitution. People should forget about the messenger and concentrate on the message. Let us forget those who set up the conference or their motives and concentrate on the outcome. Is the outcome acceptable or not? Does it reflect the wishes of those clamouring for restructuring today in Nigeria? If the APC government of President Buhari is serious, let it set the process in motion to implement the recommendations of the 2014 Conference. This is because the recommendations of that conference carry the bulk of what we are clamouring for; the bulk of what federalism is all about. There are 600 resolutions from that conference. I have always challenged the Arewa and other people who have been complaining about the 2014 Conference to tell us what they find unacceptable in those recommendations.
Do you see the ruling APC taking the initiative to set the process in motion before 2019 to restructure Nigeria?
I don’t mind who takes the initiative; all I want is result. If the APC takes the initiative, I will support it; after all, it is contained in their manifesto. Whether it is the APC that implements it or the PDP, all I want is a federal constitution that makes the federating units equal to one another. Under the system we are practicing now, a section of the country is dominating everybody.
Given the current state of the nation, what are your fears for Nigeria?
I will continue to say at the risk of being arrested, if we don’t restructure this country, this country will break. Don’t let us be sentimental about it: See how strongly the Yoruba are agitating for restructuring; see how strongly the South-East and the South-South are agitating for it too. Forget the irritation of Nnamdi Kanu; his Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) is an irritation. But part of the excesses of this APC government is the declaration of IPOB a terrorist group; the group is not armed; it is only agitating peacefully for an independent state. Fulani herdsmen who are carrying AK47 and terrorizing Nigerians have been left to continue killing people in different locations in the country. They are kidnapping and destroying villages all over the country without a single arrest. The man who is agitating for self-determination is the one they have decided to clampdown on.
The declaration of the IPOB as a terror group is a pretext to clampdown on all opposition against this government. I have said it before; the people who are agitating to leave Nigeria are only doing so because of the illegal and unwanted constitution that has been forced on Nigerians. If they are sincere about keeping the country one, why can’t they ask the IPOB why they want to leave Nigeria? If it had been a successful marriage, no section of the country would want to opt out of the union. If they don’t want the divorce, they should go and satisfy those complaints that those filing for divorce have adduced.
They should stop saying the unity of Nigeria is not negotiable; that is not the solution to the problem. We have been united by force since 1914 and we have enjoyed it. But what we are asking for is a review of our conditions of living together in an agreeable manner and that has been settled in London since 1954. Let us go straight to the point: should a country of diverse ethnic nationalities be governed under a unitary constitution? We should sit down and decide whether to continue with the present unitary structure or go for a federal structure.