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Wednesday, 15 June 2016
Unless we restructure, Nigeria’ll not know peace –Okurounmu
Senator Femi Okurounmu
In this interview with SAMUEL AWOYINFA, Afenifere chieftain and Chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee on the 2015 National Conference, Senator Femi Okurounmu, talks about what the confab report recommended and the implication of not implementing it, among other issues
Sometime in 2015, you said the neglect of the Confab report fuelled pro-Biafra protests. Is that not making excuse for the protesters?
There must be an excuse for people to protest when they feel marginalised. We felt cheated in 1993, we protested. After the Biafra war, the Igbo have been struggling to integrate themselves back into Nigeria as equal citizens with every other Nigerian. Successive regimes have done their best to reintegrate them back, but (President Muhammadu) Buhari’s administration has re-opened their wounds by extremely marginalising Igbos simply because they did not vote for him. The President in his speech on May 29, 2015 said he belonged to nobody but to everybody, which means he will treat everybody equally. But the same Buhari later contradicted himself, by saying he could not treat people who gave him 93 per cent of their votes the same way he would treat those who gave him five per cent. Apparently it is the latter principle he has been following. Recently, we looked at the 59 appointments which he had made, only three came from the South East whereas the North West, the zone from where Buhari comes from, had 26. So where is the justice? Why will the Igbos not feel marginalised? When people feel marginalised, they will resort to all sorts of measures, part of which is to seek to take their own future in their own hands. That is what IPOB is all about.
Don’t you think the plan to secede may be treasonable?
The agitation for self determination is allowed by the United Nations. It is a right of all people across the world. Last year, there was a referendum in Scotland, they wanted to break away from the United Kingdom, but it did not sail through. If it had sailed through they would have been somewhere else.
One of the issues confronting the country at the moment is the issue of the Niger Delta Avengers and Fulani herdsmen. Did you discuss these during your deliberations as well?
We only talked about grazing reserves. I believe whoever wants to rear chickens must have a poultry; likewise whoever wants to graze cattle must build his own cattle ranch. That is the practice all over the world. We opposed the idea of the Federal Government creating grazing zones in every state of the federation but each state can create its own if it so wishes. But since the menace of Fulani herdsmen was prominent in the Middle Belt, we decided to create more states to liberate them from the tyranny of the Fulani herdsmen. We approved nine states per zone, and with six geo-political zones in the country, that makes 54 states. That was the only condition the Middle Belt gave for them to support the restructuring of the country.
Your comment gives one the impression that the Confab report is all Nigeria needs to overcome its problems. Does it mean the country may not have absolute peace if the Confab report is not implemented?
Unless we restructure this country, Nigeria will not know peace. We must have a country where everyone is first class citizen. As we are today, you are not equal to a Fulani man. The Fulani man is superior. What a Fulani man will do and get away with, you cannot do and get away with it.
With the issues at hand currently, could you tell us in plain terms how far the Confab report would have helped to solve some of these issues?
If Buhari had embarked on the process of implementing the report of the 2014 National Conference, a lot of the present agitation would not have arisen. Even though the conference did not approve the present six geo-political zones as the federating units, the Confab strengthens the autonomy of the existing states. For example, it gave each state the power to mobilise and develop its own mineral and other resources. Under this arrangement, oil producing states will be responsible for the exploration of their oil – no external persons will come and pollute their land, but they may work with technical partners on this. States will only pay a fraction of their earnings to the Federal Government. That is how it is done all over the world. If the Niger Delta people are in charge of their oil, they will protect their environment. Also, the Confab gave neighbouring states who feel inclined to merge to do so to form a larger unit and such merger is only subject to the condition that each of the states wants to merge. Such merger must be approved in a referendum by 75 per cent majority and the Houses of Assembly too in the states must also approve the merger by a two-third majority. The Confab further gave each state the right to have its own police to take care of its security, including having lower level of police even at the local government level. Above all, the Confab provided that each state will be in charge of creating its local governments, so that local governments will not be the concern of the Federal Government at all. In fact, the list of LGs will be expunged from the constitution, so that the states can have as many or few LGs as they want, without affecting the quantum of allocation coming to the states. We also changed the allocation formula. We reduced the Federal Government’s allocation and gave more to the states and LGs. Those are the aspects that will strengthen fiscal federalism, even with the existing structure.
The APC leadership does not believe in the Confab because they feel it was politically-motivated and because of the timing. How does that make you feel?
Who are the progressives? The APC leadership; Tinubu and Buhari. Though they condemned the Confab, their people came. The APC governors sent people from their states, some came through the civil society groups, Chief Bisi Akande’s boys were there. Chief Segun Osoba was there to represent the media profession. The opposition was just a smokescreen to deceive the people. The present constitution favours Buhari and the interest of the North, which is to preserve the current constitution, put together by successive military regimes to favour the North. Asiwaju Bola Tinubu aligned with Buhari because he wanted power, and compromised his earlier stand on restructuring. I ask, what has he got from Buhari so far? Atiku Abubakar is from the North, he favours restructuring, but the Southerners in this government are cowardly, they cannot come out and say they want it.
But there are renewed calls for the restructuring of the country now as championed by former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar…
Anyone who has been following will know that I favour restructuring the country. In this commitment, some of those who are against it now are people who have been calling for it. The agitation took heightened significance during the struggle to de-annul the June 12, 1993 presidential election, won by late Chief MKO Abiola. We saw the annulment as the height of marginalisation of the South, most especially the Yoruba by the Fulani North. It is a marginalisation that has been occurring since we got independence. Many times, Awolowo was denied presidency, they would rig it and say he did not win. The worst rip off was in 1983 presidential election, which Awolowo won but they rigged it. Then Dr. Walter Ofonagoro came out and said the NPN won with moonslide, landslide. At the height of their desperation, they wanted to take Ondo State, but court reversed that. We all knew what followed that desperation of the NPN, so many lives were lost. Then Chief MKO Abiola was still with the NPN, thinking that if Shagari leaves, he would be the next president. But the late Umaru Dikko told him that presidency was not for sale. That was when Abiola retraced his steps back to the fold of the progressives.
Abiola won in 1993, but the North said no, and they annulled the election. That was what led to the call for restructuring. It is painful that we Yoruba do not learn from history and we don’t use history to direct our actions. The Northerners had told us they wanted to rule for ever. In 1960, immediately after independence, the Sardauna of Sokoto, made a public pronouncement reported in all major newspapers and one of them was the Daily Parrot of 12th October, 1960, which quoted the Sardauna as saying “The nation called Nigeria we shall regard as the territory of our great grandfather, Uthman Dan Fodio, and we shall ruthlessly prevent any change of power. The Middle Belt we shall use as our conquered territory and the South shall never be allowed to have any control over their affairs.” Their aim all along had been clear that the Fulani had the imperialist idea of other parts of the country. The cry for restructuring during the pro-democracy struggle following the annulment of June 12 presidential election was aimed at having each section of the country have substantial control over its own affairs, be able to develop its own resources and move at its own pace without being compelled to move at the same rate with other sections.
So, where will the restructuring lead us?
Each section should make its development programmes. That involves fiscal federalism. Each section will collect its own revenue and pay certain portion to the Federal Government. The section will retain the rest for its own development instead of going cap-in-hand to the Father Christmas at the centre. With proper restructuring a lot of institutions, such as the police, security, and judiciary, among others, being controlled by the centre will now be controlled by each section within its borders. A lot of powers at the centre will devolve to the sections or regions.
Some people are calling for regionalism. Do you see this as an option?
We used to have three regions – West, East and the North, but later we had the Midwest, which made it four. Again, during the civil war, there has been this continuous demand from the minorities in the North and South for their own regions. They felt the majority ethnic tribes were breathing down their neck. Then, Chief Awolowo as the vice-chairman of the Federal Executive Council under the Yakubu Gowon administration, in order to get the cooperation of the minorities in thwarting the Igbo self determination plan, created states for them. That was when Nigeria had 12 states. These 12 states are also relevant as a basis for restructuring today. I say this because the 12 states embody equity between north and South. Six of them were in the South, while six were in the North.
Would you have expected civil society groups to compel the government to look into the report and implement some of its recommendations, especially those that do not require passage by the National Assembly?
There is little the civil society groups can do, only to mount pressure through the media. what I believe can happen is that if there is an internal split within the APC, and they confront Buhari, then it will be possible for the civil society groups and others to align behind the Atiku Abubakar group.
Are you implying that the APC may not be able to achieve much in its four-year tenure if it does not implement the Confab report?
Under Buhari, it is doubtful, if they will achieve much. If we have a detribalised leader, Nigeria will still make a lot of progress even without restructuring. It is because such leaders are rare, that’s why we are calling for restructuring.
You were sympathetic to Jonathan’s re-election, but with the level of corruption and money stolen during his administration, do you still feel comfortable supporting him or are you disappointed?
Jonathan inherited corruption ethos from the administrations before him. Have we compared what was stolen under Obasanjo, Babangida and Abacha? I had constant agitators against corruption, but all of them did nothing. If Jonathan had had the courage of digging out the skeletons of others before him, people would have been startled. But because they made him, he could not do that. We should have re-elected him.
You think Jonathan’s reelection would have been better?
I criticised him, and we in the Yoruba Unity Forum critcised him on three issues – corruption, insecurity and the need to hold a National Conference. He did agree to hold the National Confab. We also formed the Southern Nigerian Peoples Assembly, jointly led by Bishop Gbonigi leading the YUF, Dr Alex Ekwueme who led the Igbo group and Dr. Edwin Clark who led the South South wing. We visited him on that platform and insisted on those three issues. He agreed and convened the Confab. The Confab is the key to Nigeria’s problems. That was why I supported Jonathan for the second term, because he had promised to implement the Confab report.
Was that why you opposed Buhari presidency?
I was opposed to his presidency because I know the kind of person he is. He is a Fulani Jihadist. He believes Fulani must rule Nigeria forever. It’s either they rule or choose who will rule, so that they can control them. I warned our people against any attempt to make any political alliance with the Fulani, reminding them of the Afonja alliance with the Fulani man called Alimi in Ilorin, which led to the loss of the empire to the Fulani. What will save this country is a brand new party with committed and principled people who are ready to give their lives if necessary to chart a bright future for Nigeria. We need intelligent and focused young men to lead the kind of movement that Awolowo led in forming the Action Group. That is where the salvation of the country lies. All the present political parties and majority of the present political leaders are politicians of fortunes seeking after personal wealth and aggrandisement.
And how will you rate the President’s performance after one year in office?
If one is to be objective, it has been very disappointing. This is not because I did not support him. Even for those who supported him, they are all disappointed and disillusioned, because many of them when they listened to the mantra of change, they expected change for the better and not for the worse. They supported him because they thought he would change their lives for the better. But what has happened in the last 12 months? The lives of Nigerians have gone from bad to worse under President Muhammadu Buhari. Let’s talk about electricity. When Jonathan was there, it wasn’t that we had 24 hours electricity supply, but when compared to what we have now, it is like moving from the First world to the Third world. The electricity supply has gone down drastically. What was being generated and distributed is 1,200 megawatts, sometimes it drops to zero level.
But the power situation has never been good?
Before President Goodluck Jonathan left, we were able to get electricity for roughly eight hours per day, but today one is lucky if one gets four hours of electricity in three days. Then let’s talk about petrol and diesel. Their prices have gone up astronomically since Jonathan left office. Then let’s go to the economy. The exchange rate of the naira to the dollar has gone up. On Wednesday it was N375 to a dollar, compared to when Jonathan was there that it was N200 to a dollar. The effect of that is that the cost of everything has gone up. Even the market woman now tells you that her goods are costly due to the exchange rate. Again, the level of oil production. When Buhari got there, they were projecting to produce 2.2 million barrels of crude oil per day, but today they are producing between 1.2 and 1.4 million barrels per day due to the agitation by the Niger Delta Avengers. Workers are now being sacked everyday. The manufacturing industries are running at 30 per cent capacity because they do not have enough dollars to procure what they need to produce. And if they cannot produce, they have to lay off workers. So the unemployment market is swelling every day. Even the banks and other service sectors are sacking. It got to a point that the Federal Government was threatening to withdraw their licenses. It is an empty ultimatum because these banks are private companies and not government companies. Government cannot tell them when to employ or lay off workers. The stock market is where an average person can invest in the economy, but the stock market has been crashing since Buhari got there.
But the stock market had been experiencing challenges before Buhari’s administration came on board?
Though the stock market has not been buoyant, since the Buhari administration came on board it was crashing consistently. Stocks have lost over 15 per cent of their value, on the average, this year alone. This is because foreign investors are pulling out their investments out of the country. Foreign investment in the country is going down. States cannot pay workers’ salaries. Almost all the states are owing six months salaries in arrears. This is in spite of all the bailout fund Buhari gave the governors. Many of them cannot pay pensioners who had used all their energy to work for the country and those currently working cannot get their salaries. What I am saying in essence is that payment of pensions and salaries has become worse under Buhari. Furthermore, let’s talk about the security of lives and property. We used to think that Boko Haram was North’s East problem, but in the last one year another form of insecurity has escalated. The Fulani herdsmen attacking villages, killing and maiming people. We never experienced this before in the South West and the South East, it was confined to the Middle Belt. It is a kind of terrorism. Now farmers are not safe in their farms. They had unleashed terror in Ogun, Ondo, Oyo, Ekiti and Enugu. Those herdsmen who did that of Enugu did it with reckless abandon, because they recorded everything on video. So, all these make the life of an average Nigerian a new life of horror. The kind of change they have got is not the kind of change they expected. Everyone is now crying out loudly and regretting.
The government has lamented that the drop in the price of crude oil has affected its projections, and it is not to blame for the crash in the price.
The crash in the global oil price did not take place overnight. The trend was perceptible that oil price was on downward trend. And when you want to seek to run or lead the nation, you must study and prepare yourself. You must analyse the course of events before you offer yourself for election. When people talk about late Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s greatness as a leader, it is because before he sought anybody’s vote, he had sat down to assess the problems and had proffered solutions to them. In fact, he sought people’s votes on the solutions already prepared. In 1982, during the Alhaji Shehu Shagari’s administration, the National Party of Nigeria was ruling then, Awolowo warned that our nation was heading for the rocks, but Shagari and the party did not take him seriously. But like a prophet, what Awolowo predicted happened, leading to a coup of December 31, 1983. Buhari has been dreaming of becoming president for long. He contested against Obasanjo in 2003, contested against Yar’ Adua in 2007, and in 2011, he contested against Jonathan. He won at the fourth attempt. Throughout this period, he ought to have put a team together and develop a strategy, both on the economy and politics. He had enough time to study the economy, politics and to prepare a working document proffering solutions to what he would encounter. If Buhari had prepared for the fall in the global price of oil, he would have been ready for it. In fact, he would hit the ground running. Buhari just wanted power. He is only interested in getting power back to the North.