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Restructuring: Nigeria must devolve power or die – Prof. Adamolekun

By Clifford Ndujihe

Deputy Political Editor & Rufus Ike

Professor Ladipo Adamolekun, 74, an Awoist, erudite scholar and administrator, is not happy with the state of affairs in Nigeria and has urged urgent solutions. According to him, the clamour for restructuring of the country is fast becoming a slogan in the face of a failing state. For the giant of Africa to return to the era when Nigeria worked with features such as educational excellence, meritocracy and strong institutions, the former University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University) lecturer said we must practice fiscal federalism with the centre losing most of its powers to the federating units.

Prof Adamolekun
Prof Adamolekun

Prof Adamolekun, whose rich academic and administrative career include stints at the United Nations and World Bank, said ongoing agitation for the Republic of Biafra is one of the easiest problems the Federal Government can tackle by simply organizing a referendum for the Igbo people, who he further warned, should be ready for the consequences of whatever decision they take at the referendum just as Britain is facing now after Brexit.

The Don, in a two-hour interview with  Sunday Vanguard, at his  Lagos home,  lamented that Nigeria’s democracy is still fledgling after 16 years of civil rule. Attributing the development to the long years of military rule and its continued rule through former generals, who have been elected as presidents, he said for the country’s democracy to be deepened, President Muhammadu Buhari should be our last president with military background. Excerpts:

With nostalgia, you keep talking about when Nigeria worked. What is the difference between then and now?

Educational excellence was one of the characteristics of when the country worked. Strong institutions were also some of the characteristics. Then educational excellence started from primary to secondary to the University level. Merit and meritocracy were emphasized.    There were educational excellence, meritocracy, strong institutions and civil service, which were able to implement the policies and programmes of the political parties.

The Western Nigerian civil service, for instance, was considered to be one of the best in the commonwealth before the advent of the military. The civil service in northern and eastern Nigerian were also strong.

When you look at educational excellence, it went through primary, secondary and university levels, you have meritocracy; scholarship in those days were won by the best. Meritocracy is not something you look for, you see it, and teachers were highly respected right from the small communities to the universities. So when I was choosing a career to be a teacher it was one for the best and the civil service attracted people of quality.

When I say institutions it is not just the civil service, the parties were also strong. The universities were strong, the civil service was strong and the Nigerian judiciary too. Then Nigerian judges were sent to East Africa, now who is going to invite your judge to anywhere? A Nigerian judge went to Botswana some two decades ago, Nigerian judges were in the Gambia. This time what we have is a huge corruption in the judiciary.


Where did we start missing the mark?

A whole book can be written about how the military underdeveloped Nigeria. I am paraphrasing ‘’How Europe underdeveloped Africa,’’ which is a classic. I think a young researcher can win a world wide acclaimed award by writing a book on how the military underdeveloped Nigeria.


How did the military under-develop Nigeria?

One, they undermined our competitive politics. Before the military, we had strong parties that mobilised the society and the parties had principles and ideology. You asked where we went wrong, all those characters in the National Assembly never knew what competitive politics meant; that you have to have ideas, fight for them and deliver for citizens. We are now in the era of politics of the belly, greed and rascality.

Although, it is in the nature of partisan politics to have competitions and problems which of course led to the coup, in a sense, if we had managed to muscle through without military interruption, the country would certainly have been better. All these characters in the National Assembly never grew up to understand what politics for service is all about.

I’m not the one coining politics of the belly, there is a book written by a French scholar on African politics. The lawmakers go there to save themselves from poverty and in the process they start saving money underground, in the ceiling, in water tanks, etc. That is beyond belly now, it is greed.

You get the whole point? When you look at education, meritocracy, those things were there, but the military came to proscribe parties for almost 30 years, no wonder there are no more functional parties, politicians move from one party to the other.

The military is a unitary institution; centralism is a major characteristics of the military. Others are uniformity and arbitrariness. You can see that in less than 16 months, former President Olusegun Obasanjo has visited Buhari more than six times. There is  cultural relationship, their military culture is strong, now they are operating under democratic umbrella but that cannot change their mind set and it significantly affects what they do.

Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah said recently that Buhari should be the last military president that will rule Nigeria. I agree. A military mind set operating in a democratic domain will have huge challenges. So, as long as Buhari is there we have to bear that in mind.

However, there are a few positives – his integrity, not all military officers have that. He is an exceptional person in terms of integrity, the level of corruption in the military is huge. How can a chief of air staff be earning N600 million a month and a whole officer’s job is to know how he will spend it and yet they are not in power?

The unfortunate thing for us is that the 1999 constitution did not have our input unlike the 1979 one where there was a constitutional panel chaired by late Chief F.R.A Williams. It is the only constitution in the world where local government headquarters are listed. There is also the federal character that was introduced in 1978, the federal character you have in the 1999 constitution is obnoxious and antithetical to merit. It is just meaningless and cannot be implemented, no one is implementing it; they only invoke it when it pleases one person or the other.

I think the military under developing Nigeria is in terms of the bastardisation of the federal system, de-emphasis on educational excellence and meritocracy and above all, weakening and undermining of institutions. The civil service and the judiciary were distorted by the military. The universities were also undermined by the military, my favourite example is posting VC’s like police commissioners. In the university culture, a VC must emanate from that institution, I’m not saying that he must be an insider, the Senate of UNILAG can say that this eminent scholar should come from Maidugiri, if it wants. If the process within the university produces the VC, that is legitimacy. You cannot stay in the barracks and command scholars to head the universities.


On arguments that if the military had not intervened, politicians would have destroyed the country

With the advantage of hindsight, I was an undergraduate when the military coup occurred and I led a rally welcoming the coup, so I can relate to all you are saying but they failed in their promise of restoring order and withdrawing to their barracks as against moving from one coup to the other. They ruled for more than 30 years, which is more than half of our 56 years of independence.

There are characteristics of the military that explain the under development of Nigeria. One is their centralism – their unitary command structure. When you juxtapose that with a federal system you get a bastardised federation.

It is not a question of restructuring or not, Nigeria has to devolve or die. I first made the suggestion in my contribution in 2004, 50 years of federalism in Nigeria. Federalism was first introduced in 1954, I said we had to devolve or the country would die.


Specifically what are the things that should be devolved?

I’ll tell you; that is why if they say implement Confab 2014, it is something broad. It is true that there are things you can do, an example is the issue of state police. You cannot have community policing from Abuja. Community policing is when they can speak the local language, know every nook and cranny of that community. There is a critical deficiency in police intelligence and military intelligence in Nigeria.

There are countries that have Local Government Police including Namibia, it is not just in the US where I lived for almost 20 years; there was police in my local government, the state and the federal had their own as well.

There are instances that we exaggerate and, for some reason, close our eyes to the reality that a single national police force is grossly inadequate. I think some time ago they said we need 90000 more policemen; that is not the issue. If the IGP is talking about someone who took away cars is that the IGP that will ensure security in Nigeria?

So, police decentralisation is imperative. The police commissioner reports to Abuja, we cannot get security that way. There is need to decentralise what we have now.

How can a local government chairman in Ikeja be earning the same thing as the chairman in Akure North or a local government chairman in Bayelsa or a small one in Taraba? A system that determines the reward for all local governments across the country is an over centralised system. It needs to be devolved in order to increase quality of service. In fact, nothing is happening in many local governments, they are only collecting money for salary while the state governments keep the rest and nobody can hold anybody accountable.

The revenue allocation formula that we have currently is a product of the centralism of the military that gives 52.5 per cent or thereabout to the Federal Government and the balance to the states and local governments.

There is strong evidence that it is because of the excess resources at the centre that made them go ahead to introduce UBEC. The federal government has no business being involved with primary and secondary education.

They set up a presidential committee to look at the unity secondary schools; the report said that performances at the unity secondary schools are poor and cannot be held as models for other secondary schools.

Proper devolution means that what federal government gets should not dictate what state governments get, it also means that the federal runs its own agencies and activities like universities. Why should there be the same salary in a federal and a state university?

In terms of revenue sharing formula,  I think the federal should have no more than 40 – 45 per cent of the allocation and the rest shared between the states and local governments


We have had democracy for 16 years going to 17, how far do you think the politicians have gone to resolve the “under development” brought by the military?

Our democracy is still fledgling and one of the explanations is people with military mind set, Yar’ Adua and Jonathan were the two exceptions, have remained in power.

To me, knowledge, integrity and courage are the three main things that make a leader and none of the leaders have combined these since 1966. In varying degrees, Awolowo, Azikiwe and the Sardauna had that.

Since 1999, it has been worse in the legislative arm of the government, talk about Saraki, Ekweremadu, now Dogara comes into the picture with budget padding that is being debated. A National Assembly that is led by these people cannot be one that will really grow or consolidate our democracy.

We have to move from fledgling to consolidation then to maturity. We are still fledgling and the second part of the explanation is the quality or nature of leaders we have gotten. None of them has combined the three attributes of knowledge, courage and integrity.

On the civil society side, since 1999, there has been improvement especially the media, civil society groups, public opinion, and freedom of speech, there has been no attempt to curtail that unlike what happened under the military. Former President Goodluck Jonathan was sitting there when I gave the presidential inauguration lecture in 2011. I was telling him the only way to fight corruption is to declare your assets and that of your wife, and also ensure that your ministers and your people declare their assets. I was exercising my academic freedom, freedom of right to speech, to say things that can appear to help. In terms of fledgling democracy that’s a good sign.

The other thing that can move us to consolidation is electoral legitimacy. The 2007 was do or die election, it was publicly admitted; 2011 was better, 2015, was good thanks to the introduction of the card reader, unfortunately that giant step fell short of being robustly grounded to such a point that when useless elections were held in Rivers and Akwa Ibom states and were appealed against at the Supreme Court, the apex court was saying, ‘what is card reader?’

According to reports and observers, those elections were not elections, the thing (card reader) that was praised in the 2015 election was questioned and mutually rejected by the Supreme Court. So, there is need to ensure that the progress made in the 2015 elections circle is sustained and improved upon in 2019.

On comments that the president is endangering our democracy with his interference in the affairs of the National Assembly

What kind of interference? First of all there’s a party and they will say they are imitating America, has minority party ever served as deputy president of the senate in America they say they are imitating?

His assessment of President Buhari’s performance based on the change agenda

If we take security, there is evidence of good performance relating to Boko Haram. The explanation, in my view, relates to Buhari’s understanding of the military; real understanding and courage to do what is necessary and the integrity to hold the military chiefs accountable. He moved their base from Abuja to Maidugiri, it’s someone who knows the dynamics of war that knows that you cannot be fighting in the North East and eating pepper soup in Abuja. Today, no part of the country is under Boko Haram’s control.

However security is not just Boko Haram, there are agitations in the Niger Delta by militants, agitation for the actualization of Republic of Biafra in South East, and herdsmen that are armed.

The Niger Delta issue is very clear, it is a clear and present danger to the jugular of the Nigerian economy and already we are feeling the result.

Yar’ Adua introduced the amnesty programme and it worked but again like all things in Nigeria there were inadequate monitoring and transparency. How much was spent? What was achieved? Did anybody account for all these?

There was an expectation that the thing would continue. We can see what is happening today unlike the Yar’ Adua period when there was amnesty and there was calm. So, there is urgent need to tackle the challenge. What is the level of military intelligence about what is really happening? If we don’t have adequate intelligence we won’t know what to do.

Referendum on Biafra

The one in the South East is very clear, people still want to talk about Biafra but there is discontent that follows it and that again needs to be brought out and openly discussed to know what to do. Within the South-East, there are disagreements over Biafra or no Biafra, which some people are talking about, which have led to occasional breakdown of law and order.

Tackling the problem is simple. The objective is clear, some want the Republic of Biafra to be actualised. Ohanaeze and some other Igbo leaders don’t want it. Possible solution is to set up a referendum. Britain just had their own and Ireland was thinking that they would remain, it was exit and they exited. So, if Biafra is going to have a referendum, they must be ready for the consequences.

The danger of armed herdsmen

The herdsmen who are no longer using sticks but AK 47 constitute serious danger because the entire North-Central states are affected, Parts of the South-West, South-East and South-South are also affected. There is also problem of militants in Lagos and Ogun states whether they are from Niger Delta or wherever. What is the level of police intelligence?  There’s need for police intelligence and military intelligence too.  Security is more than Boko Haram. When you move beyond that the government is not yet on top of the situation.

By the time Buhari enters year two, these security challenges should have been curtailed or at least there must be a clear strategy; clear understanding of what needs to be done and actions to be taken.

On the anti-graft war

I was a member of a 26-member group that drafted the World Bank anti-corruption strategy in 1995/1996 and I was one of the five core members that actually wrote it. I’ve made a point that the integrity of the president, his commitment to fighting corruption are necessary conditions for successful anti-corruption war. But it is not sufficient and one of the things I have suggested is the need for a strategy that will involve all the different tiers of government, appropriate institutions, the private sector, the media and the civil society.

There should be a national strategy. I am aware that a draft strategy exists. What is delaying the finalisation of it? Will they finalise it without even looking for public debate to make it participatory?

With a clear strategy, some people will not term the anti-corruption as selective. It is also necessary for states to adopt their own strategy because there is corruption in the states too, even up to LG level.

Strategy is one thing that is missing and here we have a retired general as president. You don’t go to a war without a strategy.

It is true Buhari said he will be merciless to looters. If by December, we do not have at least a dozen or 10 high profile looters in prison then his mercilessness is not clear to me.

However, nobody should say the anti-corruption war is just in the newspaper, the revelations we are hearing are very revealing- that the money that was dispensed to fight Boko Haram was used to buy some political favour, we are not talking of peanuts but billions of dollars, public officers including military officers own rows of houses when their salary is known.

Singapore solution for graft

I have a radical view on that and it is the Singapore solution. In Singapore, if you are a public official and what you have is more than what you earn you are the one to explain. My suggestion is, for one year, from January to December 2017, let us adopt the Singapore solution and focus on the strategic elitist institutions – judiciary, civil service, universities, armed forces, etc. During that year just make example of six to 10 from each of these institutions because those are the strategic institutions.

Unpunished corruption entrenches corruption. Since 1999, can you tell me of any corruption that has been punished?

Before December, if we don’t have six to 10 politically exposed looters in prison then the seriousness of this war can be questioned.

What about the economy?

On the economy, what Buhari promised as a candidate was to revamp the economy. That is what his manifesto told us. Now we are faced with a weak macro economy because we are being told that we are in technical recession, the naira is spinning downwards and the inflation rate is at 60.5 per cent; interest rate is also double digits.

So, in macro-economic terms, those are just illustrations of the technical recession that the minister acknowledged but the direct things that the masses feel are poverty, hunger and the possibility of famine. It is rare in democracy to have famine.

So, if we say we are practicing a democracy and famine should occur then your democracy would be less than fledgling.

By December there should be some report in terms of where are we with economic diversification and that is going to tell us whether revamping has started or not.

The National Assembly is part of the problem, beyond their padding they are supposed to do oversight that will help the executive to deliver. They spend more time discussing their useless projects than thinking of how they can do an oversight to ensure that the executive delivers service.



Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.