…Says S/East destroyed Nigeria’s federalism

By Charles Kumolu, Deputy Editor

Professor Umar Labdo is the National Secretary of Fulani Development Association of Nigeria, FDAN, and a professor of Islamic Political Thought.

In this interview, Labdo discusses the northern governors’ rejection of power shift, saying that power could only be won and not derived through blackmail or intimidation. With a caveat that his opinion isn’t an endorsement of northern elites, he said it’s irresponsible to demand that power shifts to anywhere or anyone.

The position taken by northern governors on power shift and Value Added Tax, VAT, has once again played up the North-South dichotomy. Why do the North and South often disagree on such issues?

Disagreement between human beings is normal. Two individuals hardly have one opinion on an issue. Even couples do not always agree. Fathers and sons do not agree always. Sometimes they agree, sometimes they don’t. It is normal for human beings because people have different opinions and different ways of looking at issues. As far as I am concerned, there is nothing to worry about if governors of the North disagree with governors of the South on the issues you raised.

You said there’s nothing to worry about but the issue seems to be overheating the polity…

I find the word ‘shift’ very odd. Now, what is the meaning of shift? How will power shift? Is it from one place to another or from one person to another person? If you are talking about political power in a democracy, I think power is always there for grabs. It is something to be contested, and the person with the highest number of votes according to the rules of the contest should get that power or that position. But for somebody to come and say he wants power to shift, it is either he wants to intimidate people or he is lazy. It could also be that he doesn’t want to work, he doesn’t want to contest, and he doesn’t want to use his intellect and resources to get power.

It appears the person just wants to sit in his shadow and ask some people to hand over power to him on a platter of gold. I find that idea odd. I can’t understand why power will shift. My understanding is that power is won. So, the northern governors were right when they rejected the idea of power shift. Let us find suitable contestants for any position. It could be for the position of president or whatever. Let us have sound rules which all parties would accept.

For example, if we are talking about the position of the president, the constitution says that anybody contesting the position must have majority votes in addition to 25 percent of two-third of the states of the federation.

This rule was accepted by northerners and southerners. If we play politics according to the rules, whoever wins, whether he is from North and South, becomes the president. But for someone to sit down and say he wants power to shift to him, I find that very odd indeed.

But the argument of power shift proponents is that rotation between North and South has always been practiced in Nigeria’s political landscape.

For instance, during the Second Republic, the defunct National Party of Nigeria ,NPN, had an arrangement that would have allowed a southerner to succeed the late President Shehu Shagari. The same method also saw the late President Umar Yar’Adua succeeding former President Olusegun Obasanjo. Do you think this argument holds water?

If parties agree on arrangements like the ones you have just mentioned, I think there is no problem. But to make something that happened 40 years ago in the Second Republic binding forever is not reasonable. If for example, the Unity Party of Nigeria, UPN, and NPN agreed on something like this or one party agreed internally that it would be rotating power between the regions, there is no problem. I think the constitution will not bar them from practicing it. What the politicians are saying now is that such an agreement doesn’t exist. They are saying it wasn’t written anywhere and no one can produce any of such documents, which was signed by both parties. So long as the agreement isn’t there, it is not binding on anyone.

Don’t you think any method of leadership emergence that doesn’t factor in Nigeria’s diversity is a precursor to disunity?

First, it is wrong to say the matter is overheating the polity. It is rather overheating the elites. It is only unsettling those who benefit more from ruling. As far as I am concerned, we are in the process of nation-building. Therefore, let us continue until we mature politically. But if we keep talking about regions, when are we going to have Nigeria? You talk about your region and I talk about mine. But all regions are supposed to melt in one pot called Nigeria.

READ ALSO: Need to respect power rotation in 2023

When that happens, there won’t be any difference if Hausa, Igbo, Yoruba or another tribe wins the presidency. Unfortunately, our elites keep going around a circle without motion and progress. I think this is due to selfishness on the part of many of our elites.

They want to keep power because they want to loot the resources of the people. But if power is gained for the sake of working for the people, I will say that people should not hotly contest power. Now, because power is about the national cake, the elites are fighting and they also instigate crises among the ignorant masses.

Don’t you think the position of northern governors and emirs on VAT and power shift strengthens the notion that the North would go any length to oppose anything that may lead to a weak centre and stronger sub-national governments?

First, let us look at history. Who were the ones that created the system that concentrated many powers in the centre? Were they northerners or southerners? If you read your history very well, you would find out that it was the East that promulgated a unitary system of government in Nigeria. It wasn’t northerners. I have also read experts in the field of taxation who said VAT is nowhere in the world levied by sub-national governments. In all countries of the world, it is the centre that collects the tax. What I am saying is that if Rivers and Lagos have their way, it would lead to a situation whereby Nigerians would be subjected to double taxation.

It is about resources. Lagos and Rivers need resources. Kano and Kaduna need resources also. In Lagos, almost all the banks have their headquarters, but the branches are spread across the federation. What do you think would happen if states introduce laws that would enable them to collect taxes from bank customers at the point of transaction? That would subject Nigerians to double taxation and it won’t be good for the economy.

Ahead of the 2023 elections, the conversation is just about North and South, with nothing being said about Nigeria. As an intellectual, are you not concerned about this sectional colouration of the political narratives?

It is as a result of the wickedness of our selfish elites. Instead of them to guide us, the masses, towards nation-building, towards unification and towards creating a Nigeria that would belong to all of us and a Nigeria we can die for, they keep moving aimlessly without progress. They also keep exhibiting ethnic sentiments that wouldn’t take us anywhere.

Now, for God’s sake, we are 61 years old as an independent nation, but we are still talking about our regions. Since we know we are more concerned about our regions, why do we still exist as one nation? Why do we keep deceiving ourselves that we have something called Nigeria? Why don’t we go our separate ways since everybody is more concerned about his region?

I think what is happening is not the problem of Nigerians, but the problem of elites who are after their personal interest. The fight over power is not for the country, but the desire of the elites to loot and acquire properties illegally. The earlier our elites realise this, the better for them and the better for all of us. If that is not the case, generations would inherit the current crisis in the country. Now, look at the mess we found ourselves in.

A country with wealth like Nigeria with potentials and minerals buried everywhere; its citizens can longer afford three square meals. Nations that were borrowing money from us many decades ago have been to paradise out of their ingenuity. And their people are living in peace and dignity. For us, our elites have failed us and if they are not careful, the table would turn against them.

Since there are fears that if power shift isn’t handled carefully there may be crisis, would you suggest that it should be incorporated into the constitution in subsequent constitution amendment exercise?

Of course, I wouldn’t mind if Nigerians sit down, discuss and have a unanimous decision that the presidency be rotated. But in a situation where some people would sit down, intimidate and blackmail others by telling them that they must give them the presidency is lazy and irresponsible.

But the North also strongly demanded the presidency in the build-up to the 2007 general elections. I could recall the Northern Union, led by the late Senator Olusola Saraki, moving around the country, just to convince Nigerians that Obasanjo’s successor must be a northerner. At the time, then governor of Rivers State, Dr. Peter Odili, had emerged as the frontrunner in the race…

By taking a position, I am not supporting northern elites. I am just saying the truth about how things should be. What northern leaders did at the end of Obasanjo’s second term was done because of the elites and not because of the masses. There is little difference between northern elites and southern elites. If you find them on the same table dining, you will see that they are of the same father and mother. It is only when they want to deceive us, use us, and set us against one another, that they use the platform of their regions.

Therefore, they, northern and southern elites, are one. Both of them do not have the interest of the masses at heart. Both of them are actually selfish. They are parasites. They want to keep power just for the sake of power. When northern elites come to power, it is not because they want to serve the northern masses. The southern elites are also like that. My position should not suggest that I am defending northern elites.

On bandits

I am not very much interested in declarations. I am rather moved by actions. It won’t make any difference if the President declares bandits as terrorists without enough personnel and equipment to defeat them. Whether they are declared as terrorists or they are just left as bandits, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that they are killers. They kill people. They plunder the wealth of people, burn hamlets and villages. Therefore, they are simply criminals and should be treated as criminals.

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