Barrister Remi Olatubora is one of the three delegates representing Ondo State at the ongoing National Conference in Abuja. He is the Commissioner for Adult, Technical and Vocational Education in his home state. In this interview, he spoke on some controversial national issues. Excerpts:
By JOSEPH ERUNKE
When we talk about the Yoruba agenda, we are not talking about something that is secret, we are talking of the position paper distilled out of the Yoruba states, because every region, before coming to the National Conference must have held meetings and you also must have seen from the representation that much of the representation in this particular confab is based on ethnic nationality and geo-political consideration.
And so it is normal that every region or geo-political zone would have met and then did some sort of assessment or evaluation of some national question and then come up with their own position paper.
That is the perspective in which I want the Yoruba agenda to be seen, I don’t want it to be seen as a form of a secret document hidden somewhere. Having said that, the Yoruba agenda basically addresses issues such as federalism, devolution of power, resource control, desirability of state police and then of course, other sundry matters. So, we came with it, it is a document that is endorsed by the leadership of the South-west.
Are you hopeful that you are going to achieve all these at the end of the day?
Yes, when you bring a memorandum to a panel, which is going to be composed of other individuals, you don’t insist on your own position ultimately because we are here for bargaining. We have our own position, the South East has its own position, the North Central has its own position, the North West has its own position, the South South has its own position and the North East has its own position.
When all of us meet together, we will be able to also see whether there are issues that form common ground across board or that will enjoy the support of the majority of the people. So, you don’t come with a fixed position.
All the positions of the Yorubas are flexible, they are not cast in iron but we came with the consideration of what we felt are in the best interest of our people. We are here to make suggestions on how to run the Federal Republic of Nigeria, we are here to make suggestion on how to strengthen the Federal Republic of Nigeria, we are here
to make suggestions on how Nigeria could become the biggest and the most successful black African country in the world. So, nobody came here with any selfish interest. The Yorubas are not here to secede from the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the Yorubas are here to make the Federal Republic of Nigeria more functional and successful in the comity of African and nations of the world.
How flexible do you think the conference would be on devolution of power?
To understand what we mean by devolution of power, one would need to go back to the Independence Constitution and do comparative study of constitutions of other federations all over the world.
Nigeria is not the only country practicing federalism, we are of the view that we are not in the position we were at Independence. At Independence, several powers and functions were vested in the constituent units, regions and later states.
As a result of the military coup of 1966, conceptually, the military abrogated the federalism and promulgated a law that united the entire country and we now began to run a unitary system that was consistent with the command of the military.
We owe the coming generation of Nigerians and the young ones that are here with us the principle of what I would call inter-generational equity.
We must not exhaust all the resources that we have in our own life time, we should not eat the fowl and the egg, let us eat maybe the fowl, preserve the egg, let the egg hatch for our children to eat. The situation is that we are behaving like crocodile which eats its own egg, in this country.
We are eating our own eggs and that is not good for us. So fundamentally, this conference, I must tell you may not be the end of all conferences; we are going to cover some mileage in this conference and I want to assure you that at the end of this conference, Nigeria will not be the same again but I would assure you also that this is not going to be end of conferences, there will be further conferences.
Why do you say this would not be the last conference?
You would also have agreed with me historically that we have been having conferences in Nigeria. In the period before Independence, there was the Lancaster House conference of 1957, there was London conference of 1958 that followed it and then over these years during the military intervention period, we have had several conferences and Constituent Assembly, and Constitutional Conferences and so I do not see this one as the last of them because we are not going to address all the problems of this country in three months.
But we will cover some mileage. The making of a nation is not a thing you do overnight, the making of a nation is not even a thing you do within 60 years.
Let me also tell you that comparatively, the United States of America that all of us are looking up to today as the biggest country in the whole world, as the most advanced country in the whole world, also has its own history.
What is your take on the issue of resource control that has been highly contentious among delegates to the ongoing National Conference?
Well, resource control will always be a very contentious issue and it does seem as if there will be no peace until the owner of the yam is allowed to eat his yam alone.
In this country, resource control will continue to be a problem because there are individuals who felt that the Federal Government has invested so much in the exploration and exploitation of oil resources, particularly in the South South and that part of the funds invested in exploration and development of oil resources are money sourced from all zones of this country.
A time there was, according to this submission, that the groundnut pyramid of Kano was a major sustenance of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, a time there was also that people contended that the cocoa resources from the South West of Nigeria was also a major source of economic activity in this country and that the revenue derived from these resources in the past went into the commonwealth and was part of what was invested in the exploration and exploitation of oil resources and some of us, particularly the people from the South West.
We are of the view that yes, even though we don’t have oil, we believe in resource control because we believe that what is fair is fair. It does not matter whether it is the Yoruba land or in Ijaw land or Fulani land or Hausa land or Ibo land. We believe that what is fair is fair, that the owner of the yam must be allowed to eat his yam alone and if he wants to share the yam with any other person, let it be on the basis of his consent.
I am of the view that there should be full resource control in this country but that there should be a period of moratorium, it could be ten years, it could be fifteen years, it could be twenty years. Let the Federal Government also look at other natural resources in the northern part of this country, in the south western part of this country and invest heavily on them.
There are some of the northern states where we have illegal mining of gold! What is the Federal Government doing? The entire South African mining industry survives on gold and when there was strike in South Africa about a year or two ago, it affected their economy. Today, Nigeria economy is the biggest in Africa because the gold industry in South Africa had problem that they could not manage. Forget about rebasing, three years ago when South Africa was still successful with their gold mining, there was no talk of rebasing of our economy in Nigeria.