In this interview, a former Managing Director of News Agency of Nigeria, NAN, and one-time presidential adviser, Akin Osuntokun, explains why it is a mistake to wish away the structuring of the country.
By Dapo Akinrefon
The trending story is that of the quit notice handed down to the Igbo to leave the north. What do you make of this and what signal does it send?
The sentiments they are expressing is not different from the frustration that every other Nigerian is expressing. It is their own way of expressing their frustration with the country. It is like people lashing out in the dark. The truth is that almost all Nigerians are frustrated with the way the country is going and the way it has remained. Everybody has issues. It is anotheridiosyncrasy of expressing that frustration. I don’t see it as if they have any particular hatred towards the Igbo people.People were shocked at the kind of grip Nnamdi Kane and his IPOB has over the South-East, the way he seems to personify their aims and aspirations which was put into concrete expression when they (South-East) heeded his call to stay at home for a whole day. That came as a wake-up call for everybody. That is a solid expression of leadership control.
But don’t you see such ultimatum capable of heating up the polity?
When is the Nigeria polity not heated? That is the truth and it will continue to be so.
The ingredients are there. The mistake people make about Nigeria is to believe that we would not have challenges. So, to that extent what you cited as heating up the polity are partly natural and can be anticipated as a universally applicable cycle of growth and decline, boom and bust, life and death and renewal. So it is not as if we won’t have challenges. What is important is how prepared you are to grapple with the inevitable challenges. There is a medical analogy. The reason you seek comprehensive and meaningful solutions to your problems is akin to the utility of regular medical check-up, it is anticipatory. There is no doctor, who will not tell you that going for regular medical check-up is of higher priority than waiting to catch a disease before you react to it. So, it is the same thing with Nigeria. In Nigeria, we are wilfully and blindly avoiding a medical check-up.
And what is that medical check-up you are recommending?
A medical check-up is a comprehensive assessment of the health of the country, taking your history into consideration; where you are coming from, your present health profile and then your potential to be healthy going forward. If you have cancer and it is manifesting as catarrh, if you attend to that catarrh, you are just wasting your time. That is the problem that we have and that is why we have people advocating restructuring especially devolution and decentralization of power.
Restructuring or more precisely, restoration of federalism is a proactive holistic measure that takes into cognisance wherewe are coming from, the liabilities we have acquired and then say that on the basis of this assessment, this is your healthstatus-prognosis, and these are things you need to avoid. So, restructuring is a strategic contemplation and response to the deficiency/strength make up of Nigeria and how you then take all those things into consideration and device a plan going forward.
Everybody who has a sound opinion about restructuringwould have undertaken a comprehensive medical check-up of Nigeria and reach the conclusion that the status quo isanalogous to a potential terminal disease. To prevent the body polity from realising the full potential of that terminal disease, you need a complete adjustment and adaptation to what the doctors prescribe-new structure. The thing about terminal disease is that if you catch it early and treat it early, you can be cured of it.
But the government in power say there is no need for restructuring. How do you place that?
On what basis would the government in power say that? The government was elected on the platform of a political party and that party has a prominent item on its manifesto and that is a clearly stated commitment to the devolution and decentralisation of power- the restructuring of the country. So, how do you then reconcile that? What do they mean that they are opposed to it? They proposed it when they were contesting the election. If they are saying that, then, they are showing themselves to be unworthy. That is flagrant abuse and deception.
Some have argued that one of the fears is that if there is restructuring, it might lead to the break up of the country.
I happen to think otherwise, actually that is the way to avoid it. People don’t disintegrate through a proactive initiative to consensually address the debility of the system. The cliché is that those who make peaceful changes impossible, make violent ones inevitable. To equate restructuring to disintegration is blackmail, it is far from it. Ironically, within the context of our political history, what we are advocating really is the roll back of the ill-informed restructuring of Nigeria from federalism into the present quasi-unitary absurdity that was imposed on the country by military dictatorship. In 1966, when the military took over the governance of this country, there were four regions, now you have 36 states, who took it from four to 36? Was that not restructuring?.
In any case, there is nobody who can challenge the logic that the present 36 states structure of Nigeria makes no sense from the standpoint of socio-economic development, there is no logic that supports that they are viable units of development. Are the states, as we have today, the optimal we can have in terms of their capacity to foster development, shouldn’t we strive for something better!
It is the politicisation of restructuring that inflames passion. My own idea of restructuring is not about Biafra, it is not about Oduduwa Republic or anything of sort. It is about rationality, about economic development. It is about increasing the potential of Nigeria and all Nigerians for abetter standard of living. It is less about each region or zone developing at its pace-there is no region of this country whose potential standard is not far higher than what we have presently.
It has been canvassed that recommendations of the 2014 National Conference should be used as a template for a new Nigeria. Do you share this view?
The document they came up with at that National Conference was a product of consensus of all the members. The way it is now been portrayed is as if it was a dictation by the Jonathan government. There was a buy in from every part of the country. So, at what point did it become something to be condemned? People like Auwalu Yadudu were there, the chairman was no less a dignified grandee than former chief justice Legbo Kutigi, a muslim from the North. How do you then reconcile what people are saying about the conferencewith this reality? Is it because it was Jonathan that convened it? This is the thing about Nigeria that frustrates and makes people angry-this persistent tendency to disown consensus once you are in a position of political advantage.
You hear somebody like Junaid Mohammed asking what is the meaning of restructuring? What he is saying in essence is that we have become mutually unintelligible, which, taken to its logical conclusion, implies we can no longer cohabit. This is the attitude that is pushing Nigeria towards disintegration. Critically speaking, that document (2014 confab) is the most elastic instrument of compromise, the irreducible minimum that every part of Nigeria can find something to run with.
No ideology in the nation’s political parties
Ideology is a frame work, a theoretical blueprint of conducting yourself in government. Here in Nigeria, we don’t have a nation yet, which is prior to ideological differentiation. For us to differentiate on the basis of ideology, we need to have the basic requisites. We are at a basic pre-ideological differentiation stage of development. Anyone prioritising ideology in contemporary Nigeria is liable to the charge of wilful obfuscation. If you want to expose the lie, I refer you tothe APC that declares commitment to federalism in its manifesto but now says otherwise, what do you call that? Where is the ideology? We have not gotten there yet, we are atthe rudimentary stages of development. All we need now are visionary, broad minded, competent persons, forget about ideology. In any case, the post-cold war global order has rendered ideological polemics redundant and superfluous.
I have been telling people that the way we can reach for the solution to our problems in Nigeria is to simplify and clarify it, not complicate it. We must eschew hypocrisy and escapism, we have to cut and chart a path forward through the thicket of the prevalent cacophony. So, those who are aiming for what we think is best for the country, must at all times, try and simplify and clarify precisely what the problem is. Isolate the problem, simplify it and clarify it for the people to understand. It will be naïve or pretentious of anybody to start talkingabout capitalism or socialism. A viable constitutional order through a rediscovery of development oriented federalism is prior to any ideological differentiation.
What do you think will happen if Nigeria fails to restructure?
I have told you that it will tantamount to an entity that chooses to blindside itself to a terminal illness, it will just implode. As I said, we have an abnormality and the abnormality is notmerely observable at the level of theory or remote observation, it has concretely cast a death pall over the Nigerian space as we speak. The people, who are shouting for Biafra are not mad, we can’t just dismiss what they are saying. It is an idea that has dramatically shifted from the margins to the mainstream of society. The sit-at-home directive that they observed is like the verdict of a referendum and a wake-up call to the rest of Nigeria. What that tells us is that wahaladey, that there is something fundamental we need to talk about, that we can no longer postpone the evil day. We have to respond to the sad development with reason and goodwill not resort to bully tactics. Everyone has his own individualbargaining position. It does not make it any less illegitimate or any less valid. The truth is that there is no section of this country that does not have a grouse with the status-quo but fear, anxiety, greed, selfishness is what is preventing all of us from coming together, to reason together