The Leader of the Afenifere Renewal Group (ARG), Olawale Oshun, has dedicated most of his life to public service, and finding ways to attain a better Nigeria. In this interview with EMMANUEL OLADESU and RAYMOND MORDI, Oshun, who turns 70 today, bares his mind on the restructuring of Nigeria’s governance structure, President Muhammadu Buhari’s war against Boko Haram insurgency, the Afenifere crisis and other national issues.
ONE of the credentials that secured the presidency for Muhammadu Buhari in 2015 is the fact that he is a retired General who is familiar with fighting terrorists. Ironically, five years after, insecurity is on the increase. In your view, what is responsible?
My first submission is that we Nigerians are unrealistic people. We all believed because he is a military General and because he said it was something that he can tackle, without considering the causative factors. Are those factors being genuinely looked at? I have spoken about unemployment; it’s a major factor in what is unfolding. But, there is also a need to look at the larger Nigerian nation. People are speaking of the need for restructuring, which is to say that the way Nigeria is being governed needs to be looked at again. Nigeria didn’t just come about. In 1914, different nationalities were brought together to make up what is known as Nigeria today. This is to say there were independent people of various values, cultures, nationalities, and civilisations. Then, you want all these people to act and behave as one species? It is impossible.
So, fighting insurrection, which he promised to do, is not a war that can be won on the battlefield. Experts are in agreement about this. So, there is a need for us to address the root cause. Now, what is the root cause? I have told people that the gap between the rich and the poor in Nigeria is so scary. This is Makoko, just behind me here (pointing to the direction of Makoko). Take a drive there and take a drive to Banana Island. Take a drive to Orile-Iganmu, take a drive to Victoria Island (all in Lagos) and see the contrast. To think that somebody is waking up in Makoko every day; there is rain today; maybe water has washed off a large portion of his household or compound. You think he is happy, to take a drive to Ikoyi, to see the well-laid out lawns, to see the beautiful houses. And he works hard too; maybe he is a fisherman and he is on the lagoon for 18 hours a day. Take a look at the epicentre of the insurrection and see the affluent lifestyle of the elite and then the lifestyle of the ordinary citizens. There is no way we would not have an insurrection; there is no way. Addressing this problem cannot be by might or force; it can only be because you have removed the causes.
So, Buhari would need to address himself to removing those causes by allowing for a restructuring of the country. I keep saying to people; if 80 per cent of the people are Christians or Moslems and they say they want a theocracy; that is what they want. You cannot say you must be secular. If they say they want to send their children to school, you must not stop them. This is to say that the mode of governance in a particular area must reflect who the people are. That is the whole essence of the clamour for restructuring in Nigeria. If, today, the government decides to allow effective constitutional amendments, to allow the federating units to decide how they want to be governed internally. They could then set up a federal unit which they will contribute to, which would not be overriding or undermining. Imagine, we have a single police force to man the whole country. Go and read the interview of a commissioner in Delta State in The Guardian of last Sunday, I think. He spoke about the problem they are having in the area of security. This kind of security problem would have been resolved if internally they could govern themselves.
Recently, two former leaders, Gen. Yakubu Gowon and Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, called for a brand new constitution for Nigeria to avert another civil war, rather than amending the existing 1999 Constitution. Are you in support of a new constitution?
I was a member of the 2014 National Conference. I thought that was the beginning of a process to evolve a brand new constitution for Nigeria. Unless the people of Nigeria – Yoruba, Hausa, Fulani, Ibibio, Igbo, etc – are allowed to come together unfettered and agree on how the country would be governed in the best interest of everybody, there will be no peace. We are not in a military era, so there is no need to have ‘no-go areas’. We all love Nigeria and believe everyone would like to be part of a big country. But, the central government should concentrate on being able to represent our overall interest in the international arena, create a monetary policy that is consistent with the wishes and aspirations of the people and then manage our armed forces. All other forms of government should be internal and should be specific to the values and preferences of the federating units. How can somebody be Minister of Housing and you want to be the one in charge of building houses in Maiduguri, Port Harcourt, Lagos and many other places in the country? It is not possible because the concept of housing in Maiduguri is different from the concept of housing in Lagos. That is something each locality, each federating unit should be able to handle. That should also apply to other areas, including education, health or infrastructure; they should be within the powers of the federating units. Research and development could be a federal obligation, but everybody would contribute to fund it. But, in terms of implementation, why does the Federal Government want to decide the kind of house I should live in or be involved in the type of food I eat? In fact, we are so diverse that we would require a brand new constitution to sort out everything in an amicable way. This book (holding out one of his books) was written in 1999 and the concluding part of it is on the need for the country to be restructured. The last sentence in the reads: ‘NADECO would continue to be in the vanguard of this demand’. That Obasanjo is now talking is not an issue; he had eight years to do something about it, but he failed to do anything. So, let him spare us the sermon. Let the activists who have been hammering on it reawaken, because unless the country is restructured we cannot move anywhere.
The idea of Amotekun has been hailed all over the country. Where do you see Amotekun in the next five to 10 years under the present constitutional arrangement?
I have said elsewhere that unless the country is restructured, it may not be there in the next 10 years. So, I believe everybody would have removed the scale in their eyes and agree to have the country restructured. If we do that, the need for different levels of policing would have been agreed upon. It would also mean that even local government policing and community policing within the local government structure would have been agreed upon. People say it would be abused, but the Nigeria Police Force is also abused. If you have money today you can subvert it. What we should do is to put a structure into place to ensure that such abuses are reduced. That can be worked into the system. So, Amotekun, as you said, would have metamorphosed because as has been noted it is not possible for one central police to man the whole country. Policing would be decentralised and maybe the Nigeria Police would be solely involved in inter-state crimes or in much more serious crimes of state against the state. So, all the federating units would have established their own policing system and so Amotekun would evolve into a system like that. Talking about that now may put people on the alert and they would start asking is that their intention? The intention is, we need to protect our people because Nigeria is failing now and we need to have a local structure that would ensure that our people are given the necessary security.
You were the Chief Whip during the aborted Third Republic. Are you in support of the recent move to amend the constitution to grant immunity to principal officers of the National Assembly?
They don’t even need to amend the constitution to exercise immunity; you see the way people drive on the road, every Nigerian is exercising immunity if you are not careful they would knock you down. Then, perhaps you have an issue with somebody; he will tell you that he would deal with you. That has been the Nigerian attitude. We need to take this out of our brains that laws are meant for human beings. You who are making the laws should realize that you must be bound by those laws. They want immunity from what? Prosecution? Stealing? Or violating another person’s rights? You have made laws that should protect every ordinary citizen of the country; why would you want immunity from those laws? There have been arguments that even the president and governors should not be granted immunity but I disagree. I believe that because of the enormity of the decision-making process that they carry out, governors and the president deserve immunity, which is not even on a permanent basis; it is only for the period they are in those offices. I absolutely see no reason why it should be extended beyond those two categories. Those making the laws, if they have confidence in the laws they are making, they should be happy to subject themselves to those laws.
Are we likely to witness reconciliation within the Afenifere family in the nearest future?
The Afenifere family is a big family and the Yoruba have a saying that when two brothers go into the room and come out smiling, you know they’ve just gone there to deceive themselves. In our own case, I don’t think there are differences per se. Yes, there is a public perception that there are differences. In recent times, the differences are more political, than ideological. You see, in the past, if you look at the basic demand of the Afenifere Renewal Group (ARG), it is that this country must be restructured, to ensure that each nationality can exercise authority over the lives of its people; taking into consideration their values of life, their culture and all that. I’m sure that if you ask the Afenifere elders, like Ayo Adebanjo and co, their fundamental belief is also restructuring. I wish to say that somehow the Bola Ige crisis and then the role of General Olusegun Obasanjo at a later stage-managed to drive a wedge between members of the family that used to bond together and even when there are differences still act together. For instance, under Obasanjo, it got to a point where a section of members were being instigated by the Obasanjo security apparatus to humble another section. That probably would not have happened before, but it happened. The basic philosophy of the Yoruba person predisposes him to associations with good welfare packages, a tendency for good governance and what have you. I still believe that is the philosophy of the two sections or indeed all Yoruba people. We saw that manifesting with the issue of Amotekun because we would be better secured. If it has to do with education, people are likely to come together and say, this is what we would like to see. Up to that level, there would be that gradual unanimity, but at a point in time personalization came in. I don’t want to open wounds, but if I start talking about personalization — Bola Ige, then later Bola Tinubu and so it went on. Because you are opposed to Bola Ige, you must bring him down; because you are opposed to Bola Tinubu, you must bring him down. Or Bola Ige is opposed to the real leadership, I must bring them down. Or that these elders are crossing their path, we must put them in their place. These things are personal and it happened. No side of the divide can claim innocence. As a result, when we came together in 2007, we were asking ourselves, where did our leaders get it wrong? When I say leaders, I don’t mean strictly aged people but those who decide for us, whether they are governors or our babas. We went to IITA Ibadan to discuss the problem and bring them together and everybody came and spoke their hearts. So, it still boils down to that personal issue. For instance, by the time we left IITA, somebody granted an interview and attacked the others, calling their integrity into question. And they also replied. But the real issue of love for Yoruba people, the issue of welfare, if they arise, as it arose during the quest to institutionalize Amotekun, you will see them bonding together once again.
What is your position on presidential zoning?
Let me say this; Nigeria is big and diverse and I believe it will take time to evolve political acceptability based on just the single factor of merit. It will take time; it cannot be done within a short time. When the Abiola issue came up, it was simply because we were dissatisfied with the military. The presidency must be something that every part of the country must have access to; the door must be open to every part of the country. Of course, all Nigerians cannot be president; everyone cannot be a governor or a local government chairman. But, since our democracy is still at its formative stage, we must have an arrangement in which you can assure people of diverse nature that we all have a stake in this nation. That is the thinking that led to the zoning of the presidency. It is in the North now and after President Buhari, it must come to the South. It will get to a stage when everyone would agree that it doesn’t really matter; the president can come from any part of the country at any point in time.
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