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Nigeria’s biggest mistake – Richard Akinjide

•No agitation for break-away will succeed
•I don’t think army has business in politics
•The way forward is to adopt 2014 Confab report

C hief Richard Akinjide (SAN) is one of the respected statesmen in the country. As one of the founding fathers who agitated for Nigeria’s independence, he takes a retrospection into the past, points out what he feels was Nigeria’s biggest mistake and says no government, no matter how clever, should abandon the 2014 Confab report. This is his way forward for Nigeria. Excerpts:

By OLA AJAYI, IBADAN

How can you assess the country 56 years after independence?

It is very difficult to give an objective assessment of the country. We have gone through many phases. I was a member of parliament on the day Nigeria was declared free. I had that rare privilege and also I was an Attorney General of the federation. I served in the Ministry of Education.

Richard-Akinjide
Richard-Akinjide

When the army left and Alhaji Shehu Shagari became the president, I also served the government. Nigeria has moved very well and the Nigerian media has moved very fast especially in the North and West. Lagos is the citadel of journalism in Nigeria.

Before independence, I was a columnist with the West African Pilot. The column was called hotspot. So, when Nnamdi Azikwe saw me, he used to call me hotspot.

Alhaji Babatunde Jose was one of the best journalists we had in this country. I respected him so much. It is sad that we don’t have West African Pilot again. In my view, the history of Nigeria independence can never be complete without the history of Nigerian journalism and we had one of the best journalists in Africa.

Given your position in the agitation for Nigeria’s independence, did you ever imagine that Nigeria would be in this kind of situation it has found itself?

Never. I didn’t think so. The greatest Nigerians we have ever produced in our history, politics and journalism were the likes of Dr. Nnamdi Azikwe. He was the greatest Nigerian we have ever produced in politics. Second was Chief Obafemi Awolowo who produced the Nigerian Tribune and also worked towards the progress of Western Nigeria. After him, was the second Premier of Nigeria, Samuel Ladoke Akintola, who also did a lot for the development of the country.

The two of them served at the centre. Akintola was a federal minister and also a Premier in the west. Awolowo was the leader of the opposition at the federal level and also before that time, was a premier in the West. But, I think the biggest mistake that Chief Awolowo made was going to the centre. He thought he could become the Premier but he did not. I don’t want to talk much about the past. We should leave the things that belonged to the past like that.

You were in the Parliament in your hey days. Knowing the role of legislators in the country, do you subscribe to an idea being mooted that legislation should be a part time job?

Exactly. I don’t see reason any politician should take politics as a full time at all. If you go to the USA, you find that many of the politicians have their businesses, they are part time not full time politicians. When I entered the parliament in my 20’s, it was a part time job. When I started the legal practice, I was in Ibadan. I moved my legal practice to Lagos. As I was in the Parliament, I was also practicing as a lawyer to support myself.

Your vision as one of the founding fathers of Nigeria’s independence is not in tandem with the situation the country finds itself today, where do you think we derailed as a country?

We got it wrong through military coups because the military, instead of staying in the army, interfered several times in politics and some of them became politicians. I think that is the biggest mistake we made in the history of this country and I hope we will never make that mistake again.

You politicians and military always accuse yourselves of one thing or the other. When military coups were staged, some of their excuses then were that there was insecurity, violence and corruption. Nigerians accuse you politicians of the same thing in democracy.

I don’t think we are tired of democracy. We are not tired of democracy at all. Look at Britain which is one of the best democratic countries in the world. Look at the USA, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and many other countries in the world. I think the biggest mistake we made was the military interfering in politics. They should stay out of politics. Politicians should remain as politicians and military should remain in the army. The army should never interfere in politics again.

What should be our way to recovery? What do we do to progress?

I will say again that let politicians remain politicians and military should remain military. They have no business in politics. Let them remain in their barracks. One should not interfere in the job of the other.

What are the crucial issues we have in this country?

The moment the British went away, the army stepped in and pushed the politicians out of power. That was the starting point because I was in the cabinet when the first coup took place. I was the Minster of Education then. I remember when Aguiyi Ironsi came to meet us in the cabinet. It was extraordinary. Never had it happened in the history of the country that the army would come to the cabinet meeting.

We were puzzled. The view was that we should hand over to the army so that they can solve the problem. I can never forget that moment. Since then, we had been having them interfering in politics. Since then, we have never had peace again.

How do you feel as one of the agitators for independence when you hear militant groups like Niger Delta Avengers and Independent People of Biafra agitating for a breakaway?

The Niger Delta has been a problem since the colonial days. In fact, it was the economic problem in the country that brought in the army so to say. I don’t think anybody should think of breakaway. I think that is a wrong recipe for somebody or group to say they would break away. We are one and we will remain one. It is total nonsense for anybody to talk about breakaway. And if anybody tries it, they will never succeed.

APC is the ruling party. What have the leaders of the party left undone since they assumed mantle of leadership in the country?

First of all, I don’t believe that a man who is a soldier all his life should go and put down the military uniform and take on the civilian dress and become a politician. That is a total nonsense. An army man is not fit to be a politician because his mentality is that of an army.

I don’t know of any military man who has successfully become a good politician. If anybody thinks that is possible, it is rubbish, it is not possible. If you are an army man, be an army man, and if you want to be a politician, be a politician, a business man should face his business, you have no business being in politics.

Since this administration came on board, they have made effort fighting corruption. But now we have recession

Basically, I don’t think an army man has any business in politics. I think somebody would prove me wrong in that.

When you politicians and military men pass the buck, Nigerians are at a loss, where else should people look to for help because it seems you the politicians and military have failed us. Should we opt for diarchy(combination of both military and civilian government?

When I hear that, I laugh.

Many people think judiciary is one of the major problems of this country. For instance, a politician embezzles millions of Naira and a certain judge orders him to return just N750,000. Are people not right to pass such judgment?

I find it extremely difficult for me to pass judgment on judiciary. I am a Senior Advocate of Nigeria and the Chairman of the body of senior advocates. I preside over the meeting of senior advocates. Therefore, in this interview, I will not like to pass any judgment on the judiciary.

You are a chieftain of the PDP. Do you share the views of some of your party members who accuse APC government of being selective in its anti-corruption war?

You just make me laugh. I pass that judgment to you. I hope I will be able to accept your judgment and if I don’t accept your judgment, I will laugh.

Don’t you think there should be a committee of elder statesmen that should serve as think tank for government on some sensitive and serious issues?

I agree entirely with you on that. When Obasanjo was the President, he formed a committee of elder statesmen, we gave advice to government. Whether they were accepted or not, I do not wish to pass a judgment. But, the system worked well and I think we should go back to that system.

The former President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan organized the Sovereign National Conference before he left office and it seems that those recommendations are abandoned at the moment. What is your advice on this?

I agree hundred per cent that the government should look into those recommendations. I think I am right if I say I moved the last motion adopting those proposals in Abuja. No government, however, clever should ever abandon such recommendations. They are the best recommendations that the country has ever produced.

What is your advice to your party, PDP especially those leaders who are in some battle?

I think all the political parties are in chaos. I don’t see how they would achieve peace the way they are going.


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