Professor Bolaji Akinyemi was Foreign Affairs Minister
By Olayinka Ajayi
…There is need to criminalise acts that demonize any religion
•Religious intolerance alien to Yoruba
•How Jihad introduced religious intolerance
•Nigerians ‘re entitled to peaceful protest
•Most time govt perform by being pushed
•Those reaping from the decay are against change, restructuring
•Why Nigeria must be restructured
•2023 not yet the problem of Nigeria
•With time Nigerians will fight back
•We missed the mark through rigged elections
•Colonial masters started election rigging in Nigeria
•Why Britain embargoed two files on Nigeria for 50 years
Professor Bolaji Akinyemi, former Director-General of the Nigeria Institute of International Affairs, NIIA, and External Affairs Minister, in this interview, spoke on the state of the nation, where and how Nigeria missed the mark, the Uwais’ report and the way forward among others.
What is your estimation is a state of the nation?
There is very little I can add to what everyone including the likes of Sheikh Gunmi, the Sultan, Prof. Wole Soyinka, Baba Ayo Adebanjo and General Olusegun Obasanjo, retd, even the President himself and the governors have been saying. I can’t add to their list of dissatisfaction on the state of the nation. So, there is insecurity, youth unemployment, hate and an unguarded speech by people who should know better.
Most disturbing is what now looks like religious conflicts. When I was growing up, there was religious tolerance. At least I come from a culture where you could hardly have a family that does not have Christians, Muslims and Traditional worshippers among them and they coexist happily. All of a sudden we are confronted by intolerance, murder, and mayhem targeting people of other religion. I find it very very disturbing indeed.
My grandfather once told me a story to illustrate the tolerance towards various religious groups in ancient times. He said an Oba (king) of a neighbouring town sent a delegation to the Oba of our town, asking our Oba to send a delegation to join them in a celebration.
Our Oba asked the delegation what they wanted to celebrate, and they said they wanted to welcome one of theirs who had gone on a pilgrimage. Our Oba sent a delegation to rejoice with them and take part in their celebration.
When the delegation came back and briefed our Oba the story of the celebration, he called a meeting of the heads of the quarters in the town and said to them, the other town now has an Alhaji, while our town does not. What he did was to levy every quarter, every religious institution in the town including Anglican, Methodist and Aladura so that we can send somebody from our town to Mecca the following year and also can claim we have an Alhaji. And that was what happened. How did we come to a situation where even among Yoruba we are now talking about religious intolerance? You have governors in the South-West who for political reasons are exhibiting religious intolerance not to talk about the whole country. It’s very disturbing and unnerving.
Some are of the view that there had been religious intolerance before independence…
We had four sources through which religion penetrated into Nigeria before the Europeans came. The first was the Islamic region that came through traders from Mali. Another Islamic religion came through Turkey to the Southern part of Nigeria. That’s why you have titles like Shitta Bey in Lagos. Christian missionaries also came into the Southern part of Nigeria. The last was the Jihad, which came from Futa Jalon that led to the establishment of the Sokoto caliphate.
The penetration of Islam from Mali and Turkey and the Christian missionaries were peaceful but the Jihad was not. So that was where problems of intolerance started. The moment you decide to establish a religion by force you talking about intolerance.
Intolerance was evident when the British came. They were able to curtail it but it has never left. Organizations and movements respond to external factors. Look at what is going on in other parts of the world in term of conflicts: the ISIS, the Taliban, the problem between the Shiites and the Sunni Muslims. All these are world phenomenon and Nigeria is not immune to them. Nigeria has just become another theatre to be fought over by these developments.
On Northern Christian Elders Forum, NCEF’s stand on Islam (Sharia) as a form of ideology battling over democracy
They made a good point and I think we shouldn’t lose sight of that. They said the problem is not with Islam as a religion. This is what I meant when I said there was no problem when we had Islam from Mali and from Turkey. NCEF claimed the problem started from those advocating that Islam should be more than a religion and become a political ideology. It means putting Islam in competition with other religions. There is a problem with Islamic Jihad and Christianity. The Jihad embodies competition, conflicts, imposition and violence. The way forward is to separate Islam as religion from Islam as a political weapon.
So how do we separate Islam as a religion while some forces are using it as a political weapon?
Laws should be enforced to protect each religion from intolerant acts by another religion. We have to accept that Nigeria is a multi-religious nation. Both Muslims and Christians have a right to exist in Nigeria. Also, there is a need to criminalise speeches and acts that demonize any religion in the country.
His thought on Omoyele Sowore and #RevolutionNow# protest
The Constitution provides us with a right for peaceful protest. The moment you go beyond the margin of peaceful protest, you are asking for a push-back by the institutions of governance.
You could see it in Hong Kong when the protest by the activists is peaceful, the push-back by the police is peaceful. When the protest by the activists crossed the red line into violence, the push-back by the police is violent.
People who are dissatisfied with the way things are in Nigeria are entitled to peaceful advocacy. What they are not entitled to is violent advocacy because the push-back from the system is then likely to be violent. Peaceful protest is a right and entitlement by people who are dissatisfied with what is happening. What is not an entitlement is a violent protest, whether that violence is by language or activities. Language could be violent. If I am planning a Revolution, I will not go on the pages of Newspaper or radio to argue and advocate for a Revolution. I will plan under the ground. That is the way you do it if you are planning a Revolution. You do it underground, hold secret meetings because the moment you broadcast that you are planning a revolution, the push-back by the system is also likely to be revolutionary in terms of being violent and that was what you got in this case you’re referring to.
If there is dissatisfaction with what is going on in Nigeria, I expect the youth to rise up and say this is our future we are fighting for because unless things change, Nigeria is in trouble.
The economy is not growing, youth unemployment has been described as a time bomb. Elections were rigged mercilessly. Elections have always been rigged in Nigeria, but I don’t even see a mass movement for electoral change. I served on the Justice Muhammed Uwais committee for electoral reform. We wrote a report that we felt addressed the issue but that report was buried by the government of the day. No reaction but the law of Karma had actually set in that the government of the day is now the opposition, they’re now screaming their head off about how elections were rigged. When we submitted the report to them they did nothing about it. Now they are screaming.
Former Governor of old Kaduna State, Alhaji Balarabe Musa once referred to the call for restructuring as separatists agenda, what is your thought on this?
How would the call for restructuring be equated to separatism? People calling for restructuring said look at the Constitution at Independence or if you like look at the Constitution of 1963, compare it with the Constitution we have now and you will realise that there is too much power vested in the centre while very little power is vested at the state and local government levels.
It was not like this at independence and on the eve of the coup. It was the military that changed it. Now that civilians are in charge, let us go back to 1963 so that local governments can manage affairs at the local government level, state governments can manage affairs within the state environment and the Federal government would then manage very limited issues like foreign affairs, currency, and defence among others.
That is what restructuring is all about. What has this got to do with separatism? I was the deputy chairman of the national conference, we came up with about 600 recommendations. And each recommendation was adopted unanimously. The report is there if you don’t like the report, set up a committee to take a look at all the reports on structural changes in the country that have been advocated and take the ones that address the problem of the day. Has as the Nasir El-Rufai committee not also called for restructuring?
Who then is afraid of Restructuring?
I don’t know. Maybe Balarabe Musa. People who don’t like restructuring are the people benefiting from the overwhelming power attached to the centre.
On the call for State of emergency on security in South-West by Professor Wole Soyinka
What would be achieved by the call because all the elements of security are under the control of the Federal Government? Without changing the Constitution, you cannot transfer some of these powers to the states. You cannot transfer by just declaring a state of emergency on security. Declaring a state of emergency will not give governors power over the Nigerian army within the South-West region. Prof. Soyinka means well as he is fed up with the state of insecurity. He’s angry about it and he came up with what he thinks is a solution to it but if we think it is not going to yield the desired result, let us think about other alternatives.
How can Nigeria live in peace and unity?
The totality of what we desire is to allow local governments to handle what should be handled at the local government level, state governments to handle what needs to be handled at the State level. That’s the sum total of what will work. ome colossus called the federal government. The restructuring was advocated even when Obasanjo was President, it was advocated when Jonathan was President. Jonathan was in power when the 2014 national Conference was flagged off and we created the blueprint for decentralization of the country. All I am saying is not targeting Buhari but targeting a bad constitution which needs to be rewritten.
Who will re-write the constitution? It is the responsibility of the National Assembly
The National Assembly will not do it if the NGOs and civil society groups sit on their behind and without putting pressure on the National Assembly.
It’s easy to blame the government but what are the NGOs and the civil society organisations doing? There are so many cases that should go to court. You know the Court can amend the constitution through interpretation. But if you don’t take a case to court, how can the court help to amend the constitution?
Unfortunately, civil society organisations, NGOs are busy fighting other battles maybe because that is where they get their money from; they have their own agenda different from the agenda at home. How will the National Assembly feel the heat from the people if there are no demonstrations? When I say demonstration, I don’t mean a one million march. Twenty thousand people can paralyse the work of the National Assembly.
What is your thought on the issue of zoning the presidency?
That is not the major problem facing Nigeria. There are many more critical issues affecting the existence of Nigeria than talking about zoning ahead of 2023.
What are the issues?
We have the issue of Ruga. We have youth unemployment. We have the issue of an overburdened Federal Government as against decentralization we have been talking about. We have the issue of State police and local government police. Are these not issues that have an immediate impact on the existence of Nigeria? After all from 1979 up till now, we have rotated offices, what good has it done this generation in providing employment for the youths? What good has it done the standard of education in our universities? It hasn’t raised the status of our universities to be among the first 100 in the world. Instead, we clap for being among 20 in Africa.
In the 60s, I grew up at a time when Nigerian universities were rated among the best in the world. We keep going down. There was a time a coup took place and they announced that one of the reasons was because our University teaching hospitals were mere consulting clinics. Has it gotten any better since then? And we are talking about zoning presidency.
How did we get here?
We got here because we have never been allowed to have a free, fair and transparent election in Nigeria. Even the British rigged elections in Nigeria. I was reading how the British rigged elections in Nigeria. There are two Nigerian files in the British secret archives on Nigeria’s history. These files are supposed to have been declassified so scholars could have access to them. The British two years ago re-embargoed it for another 50 years. What is in those two files that the British don’t want us to know? What exactly are there? They want this present generation to die off before they declassify those files. We have never been allowed to choose our leaders, maybe that’s how we got to where we are.
Is there light at the end of the tunnel?
It may be the light of the train that is going to crush all of us. But I don’t see any light at the end of any tunnel. I don’t even see the end of the tunnel not to talk about seeing a light.
Do you agree with Prof. Soyinka that Nigeria is heading toward the abyss?
It is heading that way but it doesn’t mean it will get there because of the indomitable spirit in people to fight back. Maybe, when we actually see the edge, all of us would say no, we are not going to allow this. Never give up hope. Keep hope alive. Human history is not made by people giving up hope. It has never been and it will never be. We just haven’t got to our stage of fighting back. We will get there. We will eventually fight back.