Akin Osuntokun

•Says agitations for secession are a prophecy foretold

By Charles Kumolu, Deputy Editor

Mr Akin Osuntokun, a Yoruba leader, was Political Adviser to former President Olusegun Obasanjo. In this interview, Osuntokun speaks on the gale of defections from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to the All Progressives Congress (APC), the ruling party at the federal level, and the agitations for secession in the S/West and S/East regions of the country among other issues in the polity. Excerpts:

From the outset, Nigeria was an improbable proposition but let me qualify that note of pessimism right away. The prize of getting Nigeria right would have been massive and equal to the huge sacrifice and cost that will be required to make it the success we can only now imagine.

The Eastern and Western regions were on course to rival the likes of India and Brazil while the Northern region was set to compare favourably with the likes of Malaysia and Pakistan. Enough of daydreaming and let us go back to reality.

The British colonialists stated quite plainly that the amalgamation was spurred by no more a utilitarian vision than offsetting the administrative cost of governing the Northern protectorate with the economic surplus realised from the South.

In that singular objective, the amalgamation succeeded spectacularly. Beyond this hard headed motivation were the indicative assessments and projection of those who created Nigeria in the first place.

No less a colonial patriarch than the secretary of state for the colonies, Allan Lennox Boyd, wrote a memo on the 1957 London constitutional conference on Nigeria as follows “the North fears and dislikes the more educated Southerners and if they were not economically bound to the Federation would be glad to be quit of it. The tribal divisions that remain in Nigeria are so deep that the unity and stability of the country cannot yet be taken for granted.”

The neo Lugardian establishment pundit, Anthony Kirk Green, soberly reflected, “The tragedy of 1967 is that many of its seeds were not, as is often claimed, sown in October or even July 1966, but in the 1950s or, as some see it, in 1914 or maybe in 1900 itself.”

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On the basis of these two typically representatives views, Nigeria can be correctly adjudged a non-starter. So the current agitations for secession and self-determination was a prophecy foretold. But remember what we were told in the scriptures, that even though the crucifixion of Jesus Christ was foreordained but woe betides by whose hand that prophecy is fulfilled.

So even though there is the element of destiny in the implosion Nigeria is currently going through, the role of human agency especially the present incumbent has done the most to bring Nigeria to this sorry pass.

The characterization is severe but Nigeria has gone a long way in test running for the misnomer of apartheid rule which would sooner guarantee the dissolution of the misbegotten union.

Being among those who have been clamouring for restructuring, how did you feel when recently President Buhari said there was nothing to restructure?

I doubt if there is any other regular commentator who has accurately predicted the way the Buhari dispensation would pan out as I did. But as pessimistic as I was, my low expectations have been worsted in the rapidity and magnitude of the tailspin into the abyss we now found ourselves.

On restructuring (or any rational approach to governance), Nigeria and this President have become mutually unintelligible (by choice). You see there is a difference between “I don’t know what restructuring means and I don’t want to know what restructuring means”.

Buhari and his crowd have chosen the latter. Personally, I’m getting pretty exhausted by it all and now consider myself a victim of criticism fatigue syndrome. Nigeria has gotten to a stage where you now have to start exercising your mind on how to prioritize your safety and well-being (inclusive of the part of Nigeria you come from) over a country that seems to be running on autopilot towards doom and destruction.

Professor Wole Soyinka eloquently captured the prevailing situation with the analogy of bailing out of a plane that is nosediving to a catastrophic crash.

We are getting to a state where those of us still advocating restructuring (devolution and decentralisation of powers) rather than self-determination are liable to being labelled collaborators and traitors. We are beginning to lose initiative to the language and logic of the streets.

You have chosen to remain in the PDP despite being out of power for the seventh year now. I am sure this is based on principle. What comes to your mind anytime APC members try to compare and say PDP did 16 years in power without much to show for it and they are doing better now than when PDP was in power?

I don’t know the extent to which political division in Nigeria today can be validly characterized as PDP vs APC. I think it is more discerning to trace the division as one between a Buhari-writ-large dispensation and the rest of us.

If Buhari moves to PDP today, you will be amazed at the speed with which people like Ayade, Umahi, one Senator Nwabuoshi or whatever he calls himself will rush back to the PDP. By the same token, I don’t know whether someone like Governor Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo State still recognises himself as belonging in the APC.

The tragedy is the probable culmination of this trend in one-party dictatorship. Ayade and another Niger Delta governor are said to be furiously working to become running mate to whoever emerges from the North as the presidential candidate of the APC. You see, there are some people in life that whatever the height of the status and level of comfort they attained, they remain wedded to the slave mentality.

Any holder of high office from the South rooting for the presidency to remain in the North come 2023 is a glorified slave. What more do these people still want in and out of life that precludes them from a minimum sense of dignity? For me, when a man loses his dignity then he has lost all.

What is there to compare between the PDP and the APC dispensations? Is it security, is it corruption, is it governance competence? Where in all of these indicators is the APC government not rated as the worst in the history of Nigeria.

Earning less (on average) than what the Buhari government has earned in oil income, former President Olusegun Obasanjo wiped off the accumulated national debt of Nigeria within six years of his incumbency.

Typically, the Buhari administration has dramatically reversed this legacy with the accumulation of over forty billion dollars debts in new foreign debt ($500m of which will be spent on NTA) not to talk of trillions of naira domestic debt thereby driving Nigeria to bankruptcy.

What of the free reign of genocidal terror groups and homicidal militia gangs laying Nigeria to waste in rivulets of blood on a daily basis and there you have the clarification between the two.

Let’s look at the gale of defections from the PDP to APC. What do you think is driving it?

What is fuelling it other than the anomie of the mafia style crime syndicate syndrome? Having stolen the public treasury entrusted in their care blind and wreaked all manners of atrocities, many of these brigands are seeking protection and further enablement from the godfather.

Have you heard of the cases some of them have with the EFCC? To the bargain, they were spared of the EFCC accountability. Corruption in Nigeria has grown from the ordinary meaning of corruption to perversion literarily.

But some people said the defections mean the APC is doing well as ruling…

The APC is doing well as a party? You are probably correct if the parameter of doing well as a party is the capacity to attract and create safe havens for rogues and petty thieves in your party

If it is the capacity to host and treat fugitive defectors while murderous bandits are carting away hundreds of hapless citizens into captivity down the road in Zamfara State; if it is the capacity to cajole Tompolo to rule that the composition of the Board membership of NDDC is now the priority of Niger Delta freedom fighters;

If it is the capacity to somehow maneuver in getting the result sheet (presented by APC governorship candidate in which the total votes he claimed was more than the entirety of the votes cast in election as sufficient grounds for awarding him governorship winning prize

Many people are worried about the defections. They fear is that the opposition is dying and that this portends bad omen for our democracy. Do you share such fear?

It is not the opposition that is dying, it is Nigeria that is dying as a result. So-called defections are just an aspect of a dispensation in which all has gone awry; in which the degree of corruption, subversion and perversion of the system merit being cited as the equivalent of the fundamental objective and directive principles of state policy.

It is also mindless because you are thereby depriving yourself the utility of the semblance of multi-party system to legitimise the dubious victory and dominance of your party. One party dictatorship drives opposition underground and fosters the syndrome of paranoia and seeing ghosts everywhere you look 

Do you subscribe to the thinking in some quarters that Nigeria might break up?

Of course, such recourse has dogged the existence of Nigeria ever since its amalgamation. As a matter of fact and in recognition of the large scale ethno-cultural cleavages bedevilling Nigeria, the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo had proposed that the right to secession clause should be inserted into the Independence Constitution.

Subsequently in 1966/67, the three regions, North, West and East, publicly and openly contemplated secession but it was the Eastern Region that went all the way to declare Biafra secession from Nigeria in May 1967 for justifiable reasons.

The secessionist recourse almost always follow and intensify in direct proportion to the  depening and escalation of divisions and cleavages in the polity such as it is the case in Nigeria today and you know who to blame for that.

And there is almost the near unanimity of opinion that Nigeria has never been this divided and polarised as it is today. Once again, the fate of Nigeria is hanging in the balance by a very thin thread.

What is your take on the way IPoB leader Nnamdi Kanu was brought back to Nigeria to answer to treason charges?

On Nnamdi Kanu, you will have to acknowledge that for once in the lifetime of this administration, it has exhibited competence in the accomplishment of a mission regardless of how odious the mission is. But it is going to end up a pyrrhic victory.

Kanu is a symbol of the pain and anguish Nigeria has subjected the Igbo since July 1966. So long as this situation remains, so long will the young man remain the hero of his people.

I have reservations about his arrogance and recklessness but there is no doubt that he has succeeded in putting the plight of the Igbo front out and centre of national and international consciousness. His incarceration is going to further inflame passion and secure world attention on Nigeria and how it addresses the Igbo question.

Let’s talk about the agitation for where the President should come from in 2023. Election is only two years away…

If Nigeria is a rational society there should be no debate on where the next President should come from. We keep parroting and sermonising about national unity and integration, well here is the opportunity to put your money where your mouth.

Having said that, the long term durability of Nigeria is predicated on the minimisation of the relevance of the central government to the different regions of the country.

The most critical source of the political destabilisation of Nigeria is the overcentralisation and concentration of powers at the centre- thereby encouraging a do-or-die race to capture the presidency. For Nigeria to survive, this trend has to stop and the way to do that is the rediscovery of devolution and decentralisation of powers.

What do you make of the security forces raid on the home of Sunday Igboho?

The bull in a china shop mentality demonstrated in the assault on the house of Sunday Igboho is the MO (modus operandi) of this administration. Gangsterism is the rule rather than the exception.

It is getting increasingly problematic to make a distinction between the rules of engagement of the criminal bandits rampaging Nigeria and the conduct of the Nigerian security forces.

What has the vandalisation and destruction of Igboho’s properties, the abduction of his wife and little children got to do with his arrest?

They were probably looking to boost their ego with the reinforcement of the momentum generated with the capture of Kanu (with that of Igboho) and it typically blew up in their faces.

From random consultation and discussions with the Yoruba leadership, what the security forces have achieved is a groundswell of anger and sympathy for Igboho. If this is the objective of the Nigerian government, the attack has been wildly successful.

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