Rights activist, Chief Olisa Agbakoba (SAN), has said that Nigeria is becoming a failed state, as the indices to support that are manifesting in the country. In this interview with VINCENT KALU, the constitutional lawyer, pointed out that the rotation of political power will not resolve the issue of diversity, but power devolution.
Do you project that Buhari’s second term will be different from the first?
In the event that Buhari crosses the tribunals, then I will expect that at 76, doing his final four years in Nigeria’s political life, having been engaged from the civil war as a young lieutenant, becoming GOC, federal minister at various levels, governor of different states, four-time presidential candidate, and finally second term president, I will then say to him, if I were to advise that you have nothing to lose. You have a rare opportunity to shake Nigeria to its foundation and put it in the comity of nations that will recognise Nigeria as a strong country.
He can rejig Nigeria; a point I keep making to former President Jonathan when I see him is that you lost the chance as president to reconfigure Nigeria. So, the biggest opportunity to President Buhari subject to the election tribunals is to reconfigure Nigeria to his own liking.
Boko Haram is still very active in the North East; in the Northwest, bandits are taking over Zamfara, encroaching into Katsina and Kaduna, while in the Middle Belt, and in the South, we have all forms of criminality. What does this portend for Nigeria?
It just tells that we are in an extremely failed state status. If you look at the data of failed states produced by International Crisis Group, it has categorised this nation in diverse ways, and Nigeria is second from bottom on the categorisation.
A failed state is a state where certain institutions of government are no longer functioning, and one of the most critical is when the government is unable to secure lives and property. The security architecture of Nigeria is very strongly challenged, and so we need to ask, why is this happening? It is happening because we have timid and redundant security apparatus, not trained, no equipment, and the results we get are exactly the same. I’m not shocked that we are getting poor results – Boko Haram, banditry, kidnapping, killings everywhere because we don’t have the wherewithal, the modern capacity to deal with these serious security challenges. That goes back to show how the president wants to see himself remembered. It is a clear invitation to him to understand that the national security situation is not just about buying arms, guns and ships. If you have a situation in which Nigeria with a population of say 200 million is poorer than India with a population of 1.2 billion, and is poorer than China with a population of 1.4 billion, something is seriously wrong. Why is china with its population not described as an extremely poor country? What are we doing wrong? Those are the sorts of things that I will think that a confirmed President Buhari will have to tackle; he has to grapple with the economy. If you have 20 million Nigerians unemployed, this is a canon fodder to looting and stealing; these are the people that easily equip the bandits, kidnappers and Boko Haram, so, it is not enough to say. I’m spending billions of dollars on military equipment; there is a linkage between poverty, unemployment and crime. I expect in the new agenda, all of these interlocking issues will be properly designed.
So, we don’t just see a situation we talk about; corruption, corruption, corruption as if corruption will solve the economic challenges. Corruption as bad as it is, is not Nigeria’s biggest problem. Our biggest problem is incompetence, the failure of the system to properly feed its people and provide the relevant impetus for economic growth.
We always get it wrong; it is prebendal, chop, chop politics. What is the agenda of the 9th National Assembly; that is the question?
People are already talking about 2023 election and which zone should produce the president.
Some argue that the South should produce presidential candidates of the two major parties in the spirit of equity and fair play, while others reason that the North should retain power. What is your view?
This is the utter nonsense that has kept us where we are. I don’t respect the issue of a sharing formula because of what it is all about. If the zoning formula is designed to achieve equity, inclusion without sacrificing merit, without sacrificing economic development, that is fine. Look, I have not seen anybody benefit me because I’m an Igbo person or because the person who is at the top position is an Igbo person. I don’t like this nonsense of where do you come from. The question should be, what do we expect of our leaders, which is the primary question. Then another question is, is it inclusive, equitable the way our leaders represent Nigeria. Then, the critical question should be, do Nigerians not wish to become one of the industrialised and powerful nations over the next four years, not withstanding who the president is and where he comes from. I don’t care whether he is Igbo or he is a Muslim and his deputy a Muslim too, the Abiola/Kingibe example. What I care about is how do you turn around this fine country. That is the primary issue. If we settle ourselves on that, then the bane of this issue about inclusion has been this debate on restructuring. The way to deal with a large country with a multi ethnic, multi-language and multi religious challenge is diversity and devolution of power.
If I were the president, I would honestly be the first person to start a serious conversation on devolution in two ways. Firstly, I will take a look at the 94 items of power on the Exclusive and Concurrent List, and pick the ones, which if done immediately will cause no problem. I don’t think anybody will worry if today we transfer the drivers licence scheme from the Federal Government to the state. People will not worry about that. I don’t think anybody is going to worry about transferring how businesses (small businesses) are registered from the federal to state; I don’t think anybody will worry about registration of births and deaths being transferred to states. There are so many things that you can go on to classify and transfer, and if that is properly done, you can find out that maybe, we can transfer 30 items of power without anybody’s feather getting ruffled.
Then we will go on to have a conversation on some of the bigger challenges like the issue of policing – state police, the issue of resource control. Unless we start to tell ourselves the truth that because of our diversity, we need more rooms in the house to live in so that we are not all in one room fighting, we are not going to be going anywhere. This issue of rotation will not resolve the issue of diversity. What resolves the issue of diversity is actually devolution.