By Dayo Johnson
Chief Sola Ebiseni, lawyer, politician and historian. Chairman of the former Ilaje/Ese Odo Local Government, Ondo State, he has also served three times as Commissioner in the State as well as being a representative of the South West at the 2014 National Conference and member of the Yoruba socio-political organisation.
WHAT is your assessment of Nigeria at 59? Have we progressed or retrogressed?
Progress or movement is relative depending on your perspectives. Nigeria, in the words of Obafemi Awolowo, is a mere geographical expression.
In my humble opinion, whichever way you view that statement either from the popular view that Nigerian’s ethnic nationalities have not blended into one nationhood or the fact that the country has not met the basic needs of the majority of the people within its territorial space, or the fact that even the initial achievements we took off with has been rubbished, Nigeria cannot be said to have progressed in real times. The happiness of the people is the measure of progress. It is even worse now that the Nigerian state no longer can boast of guaranteeing security of life and property as its most fundamental duty.
What is responsible for our inability, if you so believe, to achieve nationhood?
Nigeria is a contraption of entrenched nationalities. The Yoruba hold sway from the Niger River in the north to the Atlantic and extending westward up to the Ashanti. The Fulani-Sokoto caliphate which conquered and colonised the Hausa states was the overlord in the North West and had even made incursion into the Yoruba territory which pulled together and halted the Fulani in spite of their own internal conflicts.
The Kanuri and their Borno Empire not only successfully resisted the Uthman Danfodio jihad but also remain the dominant group in the North East. Within the Middle Belt are groups like the Tiv, Junkun, Birom, and Igala who also held their grounds. Benin was the Imperial power in the Niger Delta area shared by other groups such as the Ijaw, Ibibio, Efik. The Republican Igbo held sway in the South East. Many of these groups, in terms of territory and population, are larger than most countries in Europe. What I am saying is that there must be well designed, deliberate and sustainable political structure to give the constituent groups of the Nigerian state a good sense of belonging.
Are you saying that no effort has been made by the Nigerian State to blend the ethnic nationalities together or they have refused to see beyond their ethnic loyalties?
It is indisputable that allegiance is still basically to our myriads of ethnic nationalities and not to the Nigerian state but this is due to the fact that each group has been preoccupied by survival struggle in a structure that appears designed to annihilate them. The British initially sought to rule Nigeria in a unitary version, which they ironically and dubiously termed Indirect Rule through almost 500 Native Authorities. The reality of the diversity of the country later dawned on them and in conference with representatives of the various groups, adopted federalism which largely gave the groups autonomy in the governance of their respective territories.
Agreed that the structure was not perfect as many groups in both the northern and eastern regions which were lumped together in the First Republic, we made so much progress within 15 years (1951-1966) that the period and the gladiators of that era have remained a point of reference.
It was such a system that engendered healthy competition among the regions and so real that Sir Ahmadu Bello would prefer to superintend over northern affairs as premier while sending one of his lieutenants, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa to rule artificial Nigeria as prime minister. We were at par with India, Singapore, Malaysia. Western Nigeria had television before France.
Where did we get it wrong as a nation?
We missed it the moment we not only deviated from but put the federal structure in abeyance by the activities of military adventurers in power. Nigeria is becoming so unworkable that there is no more governance at the federal level so much that even while the election of President Buhari is still subject of litigation and has just selected his cabinet about a month ago, his government is being completely distracted by succession agitators, not on the basis of development ideology but of which the gladiators, using the ethnic card, should have it.
Are you then saying the States are not relevant?
On the contrary, the states are most relevant and you can see that in the pattern of voting in the last election. While in some states like Sokoto, Kano, Jigawa, the presidential election was evidently allowed to be rigged, the governorship was fiercely contested in all the states just a week interval. Unfortunately, the states, which activities impact the people directly have been held prostrate by the unitary constitution.
For instance, why do we refer to governors as the Chief Security Officer of their states which have no capacity to enforce their laws. In a federation, the states and the central government have to coordinate jurisdiction in the areas allotted them by the constitution. The basic bonding duty of any government, properly so called, is the security of life and property.
The existence of State Police is sine qua non in a federation and not dependent on the consent of the Federal Government or the consensus of other states. That is why, faced with war of evident annihilation, Borno State needed no consensus of other governors nor federal assent, before it put over fifty thousand men under arms in the name of Civilian Joint Task Force constituted by native Kanuri youths and local hunters in the defence of the State against Boko Haram and associated criminality.
The fact that Boko Haram complained more about the ragtag Civilian JTF than the national security forces underscores the imperative of State Police side by side the Nigerian Police. As agreed at the 2014 Confab, states, so desiring, shall have the power to establish their own police in addition to Nigerian Police. Even the police for the federation, its members, from the rank of a superintendent and below, shall be indigenes of the states of their deployment. These much were also re-echoed by the El-Rufai Committee of the All Progressives Alliance (APC) on True Federalism.
The argument against State Police is lack of funds and the fact that governors will abuse it.
Such comments are from minds polluted by unitary mentality and meant to insult the Governors. In the first place, the size of the Police of any state is determined by its purse and population. Borno State is not one of the richest states in Nigeria, yet it has committed so much to its local police forced on it by the imperative of survival. I have been Local Government Chairman and Commissioner 3 times at the State level.
I can tell you authoritatively that most of the infrastructure and operational facilities in the State Commands of the Nigerian Police, Civil Defence etc. are provided by States and even Local Governments. It is most insulting to the calibre of State Governors among whom are former Ministers, Senators, State Commissioners that they would abuse the Police at their commands.
In terms of civility, even the Nigerian Police performed better under the two former Governors (Yar’Adua and Jonathan) who eventually became presidents. The events in some states during the last elections did not recommend the Federal Government well in handling the police, even the armed forces.
In the areas of Development initiatives, how do you assess programmes such as National development plans, National Rolling plans, Vision 2010, Transformation Agenda?
It is like asking for the hair of a man who is said to have been consumed by fire, asking for such assessment. Of course they will not work. The government of the federation is regarded as nobody’s business. Such initiatives including the seven point Agenda, NEEDS, SEEDS all seem to have either failed or have been abandoned. The good philosophy behind the Ruga or NLTP programme for advanced life stock management such that will put paid to senseless killings in the name of herders/ farmer’s clashes is bedevilled by ethnic mistrust and the erroneous federal government’s resolve to own such a land based programme, in a federation in which all the land in a State are constitutionally vested in the hands of the Governor who holds it in trust for the people.
Political observers attribute the nation’s problems to bad leadership. Do you agree with this?
Yes and no. Yes, because every human organisation requires effective leadership for direction and harnessing individual aspirations for the collective goods of the group. However, leadership is helpless where the necessary tools for action are nonexistent. Obafemi Awolowo, Ahmadu Bello, and Azikiwe were men born among us.
The exploits they made were enabled by the constitution foundational structure on which they operated. The current foundation of Nigeria does no group any group even the President’s own Katsina State is almost now a failed state due to insecurity.
What’s the way forward for Nigeria @ 59 and the road to be taken?
First of all, I am a firm believer in the Nigerian project and passionate about its size and rainbow of ethnic nationalities. I was a Delegate at the 2014 National Conference amidst an array of Nigerians of all generations across ethnic nationalities, professional groups, traditional rulers, civil society organisations, all walks of life.
Even a few of them, all passionate about Nigeria’s continuity. After about 5 months of rigorous and animated debates, we came up with resolutions, arrived at by consensus on the way forward for Nigeria. Interestingly, the report of the APC constituted El-Rufai Committee virtually copied the Confab report. Ditto for the National Assembly which has been lifting from the report in its half-hearted amendment of the constitution.
Let’s adopt the Confab report to move Nigeria forward.