In continuation of our series on “Essential ingredients of Equity, Fairness and Justice in True Federalism”, former president of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Dr. Olisa Agbakoba, SAN, in this interview speaks on present agitation on restructuring Nigeria and related issues.
By Bartholomew Madukwe
WITH the present agitation from various groups, do you see restructuring as a tool to calm tensions in the country?
I see every politician saying restructuring, but I disagree. I think there is a misconception error in assuming that restructuring will work. I also think the Acting President was wrong to say that Nigeria is indissoluble. There is nothing sacrosanct about Nigeria. It can blow-up any day. It is an artificial creation. It was made in 1914 and when it was amalgamated, we were not there. It was amalgamated for the interest of the colonialists who wanted to export things from Nigeria. And since 1914, till date, we have not had any home grown process in which people are involved in with creation of their constitution. Nigeria’s sovereignty is not sacrosanct.
Nigeria’s sovereignty is sacrosanct for those eyeing 2019. They will deceive us, and get to 2019, pretending that restructuring is the issue. They are now climbing on the band wagon of popularism. We are so gullible in this country. Among the 180 million Nigerians and 160 million youths unemployed, we have no road, no health care, nothing. Yet we continue to be deceived. This is part of the warning we need to pass on as civil society. Restructuring is not in the interest of Nigerians. How many Nigerians understand what restructuring is about?
Can it be said that the problem with Nigeria lies in the elite?
Listen to what I call the “conspiracy of the elite.” Most of these elites are found in either APC or PDP. We need to look inwards and determine how best we can grow our country. I believe we can do so by asking the real questions.
From what you have said about Nnamdi Kanu before now, does this not suggest that you support his agitation for Biafra?
It is not for nothing that Nnamdi Kanu has sprung up from nowhere. This is a guy who knew nothing and suddenly sprang up. Why? Is it because the politicians have created the space? Politicians are not on the ground, they sit in Abuja. So, Nnamdi Kanu sees there was an opportunity in the South East, he goes and sees marginalization, unhappy people and poverty and jumps in.
Meanwhile the South East politicians are in Abuja, canvassing for Abuja power, leaving their home base open. Nnamdi Kanu goes in, now they are complaining. I have nothing against Kanu, except he must do what he is doing according to the Nigerian law, than using force. What he is doing is called self determination. You cannot force sovereignty. The Catalans in Spain are talking of self determination today, same with the Scottish in UK. There is nothing that says any ethnic group in Nigeria that wants self determination, if they are organized within the context of Nigeria laws, cannot present themselves for departure from Nigeria.
There is nothing sacrosanct there. What is missing or sacrosanct is that we have to agree whether to live as one Nigeria. It is like a man telling his wife or locking her in a room, for her not to go out. If there is a problem, the man should just ask the wife what is wrong with their marriage. If the wife tells the man and he improves on those things, the marriage continues. You cannot force sovereignty. You cannot force people to continue to live together.
By the way, the restructuring is in whose interest? Restructuring, with what the politicians are saying – that power should be given to the regions. Will it not transfer the inequality from the centre to the regions? If you ask people on the streets what restructuring is, they have no idea. The said restructuring, is it political, economic or about Nigerians not having social justice? We have been doing this continuously since 1914.
In 1914, the colonial government put wool over our eyes and we followed like cattle. When they saw it was no longer relevant for them to continue, they colonially created the Independence Constitution- which had nothing to do with us. That collapsed! The military then came. When the military found out that it was no more possible, they engineered a military generated constitution. None of these represented the people. That is the problem.
You seem to be interested in politics. Do you really want to participate and what is the agenda?
How will I go into politics? I have a credential that only few Nigerians have. That will be very unfortunate if I go into politics. I do not belong to any political party. Green Party was formed by late Gani Fawehinmi SAN and I. The Green Association and National Conscience Association was to open the political space. It is us that need to be thanked because INEC, at that time, took the view that it was the only one that could register political parties. The only difference was that Gani got to Supreme Court before me.
You talked about the conspiracy of the elite, are you not also part of them?
I am not part of the elite because I am not a politician. What is playing out now is that the North is saying Obasanjo has given them two ineffectual presidents. And that in 2019, there is no way they will accept anything short of an effective Northern President. That is what is playing out. I have never shared political views. Those who share political views are very few Nigerians. They are the elite. They are the ones who change things over night.
You said the civil society needs to come together and take over power from the elite in Nigeria, how is that possible because presently nobody hears about the civil society?
That is the absolute weakness of the civil societies. Whenever I see people, in the squares of international cities abroad, gather en-masse as the voice of civil societies, I ask why is it that in Nigeria you do not have people to agitate. This is due to the fact that the civil society is fractured, religious society is also fractured, and traditional society is also fractured. The only society that is intact is the political elite and they understand this. I can tell you that when the political elite are meeting, they speak one language of power- not Igbo, Yoruba or Hausa. Their language is power. Somebody can move from APC to PDP or PDP to APC, provided he sustains his interest – which is power.
In your view, is Nigeria practicing a federal system of government?
Federalism has its unique characteristics. The best place to apply federalism is when you have diverse people. When you have multi lingual and multi ethnic society. It means Nigeria is perfect for federalism.
The problem is on how to apply the federal process. Of course, the colonials didn’t apply federalism. The only period that federalism appeared in its best form was in the first republic. You then had regional governments with their own constitution, their own authority.
Once that was gone, Aguyi Ironsi came and introduced Decree 34 of 1966, when he made the country unitary. General Yakubu Gowon came in with decree of suspension, notification Decree 1966 and created a Federal Republic of Nigeria, which is a lie.
Then the various constitutions resting on the Constitution of Abdulsalami Abubakar, which says Nigeria is a Federal Republic. Go to the schedules of the Constitution, you will find that there are 98 heads. Sixty eight of those heads are banking, maritime etc. Sixty eight of those heads are exclusively for the federal government. The states have no inputs because the federal government dominates it. The remaining 30 heads are those where the federal government tells the state what role to play. So if the federal government passes a law in any of the 30 powers, the state government becomes impotent.