Prince Kassim Afegbua is a former Commissioner for Information in Edo state. In this interview with TEMIDAYO AKINSUYI, he spoke on the current agitations in the country, restructuring and the federal government’s anti- corruption war. Excerpts:
There has been recurring debates over whether Nigeria should be restructured or not. What is your perspective on this thorny issue?
I think if you ask 170 million Nigerians what is restructuring, they will give you 170 million answers. People use this term “restructuring” in a matter that it appeals to them without considering some fundamental issues. If you ask an average south easterner, he will tell you that restructuring means allowing Biafra Republic to be. If you ask an average south westerner, he will tell you restructuring means that Nigeria should go back to the regions. If you ask a northern person, he will also have his own understanding of restructuring. My own take is that whether there is restructuring or not, there has to be first, a conscious orientation to change the attitude of Nigerians. We need attitudinal renewal, rebirth and re-orientation. If we continue with this mindset of corruption, ethnicism, chauvinism, and bigotry, we will not get the so-called gains of a restructured country. At any rate, we are heterogeneous. It means that in our diversity, we have some inherent strength. Under a democracy, with the present arrangement, we have the legislature, executive and the judiciary and we have an operating constitution. If you want to do restructuring, you have to use the instrument of the National Assembly, provoked and tailor the process to deliver the expected result. Whether we like it or not, the National Assembly is the body of Nigerians that are representative of the people.
Some people are calling for the implementation of the 2014 Confab report as a way of restructuring the country. What is your take on this?
I don’t agree to that because those who were made to represent us at the confab were not our choices. They didn’t consult Nigerians before those people were selected. The man who represented my area was not our choice. He was handpicked by the President and paid money. Any national confab where you have to pay money to the delegates is sponsored by the person who is putting it together. Why will you pay a patriot who ordinarily carried out his civic responsibility of obedience to the nation N12m to go and debate our future? That is corruption as far as I am concerned because personalities of those who attended that particular confab were not in the category of hungry Nigerians. So, is it that they cannot even make sacrifice for the country that the government had to pay them? Even a husband and wife have to be paid N24m to go and debate my future? So for that reason, I will not subscribe to the outcome of that conference because if on the one hand, we condemn the 1999 Constitution because we said it is a product of the military, forgetting that the late Justice Niki Tobi headed the Constitutional Review Panel that produced that constitution; yet people still say the “We the people” in the constitution is distortive. Then, why do we now expect another jamboree of a democratic system, handpicked by the Chief Executive, former president, Goodluck Jonathan” to now enjoy the sanctity of the rule of law? That to me is double standard.
So, what do you think should be done?
What we need is re-orientation. Whether we restructure or not, it is not the absence of restructuring that made our roads to be in a parlous state. It is not the absence of restructuring that made people to be stealing so much money. So, you must change the mindset of the people. Poverty does not know restructuring. I believe what the agitators are saying is just that they want Nigeria to be strengthened but not in the mindset of what we have pre-1966. I listened to Barrister Femi Falana (SAN) say we should go back to the 1966 when we had regional government. In the 2014 confab, 18 requests were presented for state creation. So, if you are advocating a return to 1966 when the states were just six and people are agitating for more states in addition to 36 states that we currently have. How do you reconcile that? What drives different communities and ethnic configurations are different. It depends on how it appeals to you but the fact is that Nigeria needs credible leadership. We need strong leadership that can work; we also need strong followership that can support the government in delivering on its electoral promises. It is the absence of that strong credible leadership that has given rise to a clamour for a restructured Nigeria. We should convoke a process of using dialogue to address a number of the issues. Democracy is work in progress. You cannot have all the ingredients and beautiful anecdotes of democracy in just one or two administrations. It has to be subjected to continuous tuning and fine-tuning. It is the same way a constitution is. A constitution is also work in progress because there are some provisions that you put into the constitution, by the time you put them into practice and discover that they are not giving you the best result, you subject them to amendments. That is why they are not end in themselves but they are means to an end. It is a process. So, since a constitution is a body of principles and rules that govern a people, it is also open to amendments.
What is your take on the quit notice to Igbo by Arewa youths?
Nigerians should devote their time and energy on issues that promote our unity and not those that tend to divide us. Like the analysis someone gave recently; he said Biafrans say they want to secede; they came up with a map that is so distorted. Many people rejected it, even Anambra State said they cannot speak for them. The fact that any Nigerian can relocate anywhere in this country and be part and parcel of the power and economic processes in those places means that they have accepted the country as one, though heterogeneous but homogeneous in terms of our relationship. The threat from the Arewa youths does not represent the core of the Northern agitation. There are plethora of youth organisations here and there asking for various things. But again, it was just to send a response to the overzealousness of the Nnamdi Kanu-led IPOB. IPOB said they want to secede and the Arewa youths are saying ‘Go, if you want to go’. If you observe, after the quit notice threat was issued, it has moderated some tempers. Those who fought wars have told us that ‘the drumbeats of war are easy to beat, but the rhythms are difficult to dance’. We should learn from those who were eyewitnesses and participants of the Nigerian civil war.
Do you think there will be an end to agitations in this country?
I ask a question: People are speaking for South-east, people are speaking for Arewa, people are speaking for Afenifere , who is speaking for Nigeria? Nigeria has been left like an orphaned child, awkwardly overgrown and struggling to walk straight. You wake up every day and hear Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Afenifere, Arewa Consultative Forum, and Northern Elders Forum, who is speaking for Nigeria? So, Nigeria has no ownership. The ownership content and structure is absent. That’s why I’ll rather subscribe to the point that we should use the instrumentality of the legislature to assemble a process that will involve every segment of the Nigerian society so that they come together under a roundtable and they are able to dialogue about the status of Nigeria, the future of the country so that in the final analysis, given our marriage of 100 years, we should be able to take the pros and the cons and see where we can adjust to suit our national goals and objectives.
Do you think Nigeria’s federalism is skewed in favour of any particular ethnic group to the disadvantage of others?
It is not an accident of history that a certain geo-political zones enjoy certain populations more than you. So, in a scenario, what you need to do is collective bargaining. It is like that in some other places; Nigeria is not the only one. Where such a thing happens, you strike a deal in negotiations. What we need now having tested all these systems is a truly Nigerian president that is elected to office on the basis of merit and not where he comes. From 1999 till date, we have been providing zonal presidents. In 1999, Obasanjo was presented to appease June 12; Yar’Adua was produced because they believed it is the turn of the North. Goodluck Jonathan was told to do one-term and leave because it was not his turn; now Buhari was chosen because he commands 12 million voters from the North. We have not really gotten a truly Nigerian president that is here to represent the country, fight for the country and so, get votes from other regions of the country.
Based on the string of losses suffered by the Federal Government in courts in high profile anti-corruption cases, do you think the war against corruption has been lost?
I always tell people that EFCC, ICPC, Special Fraud Unit of the police are not three different countries in Nigeria. They are agencies of the Nigerian state that are designed, put in place with enabling acts of the National Assembly to combat issues of corruption. But again, we have our difficulties in choosing ‘angels’ to preside over these agencies because recruitment into these agencies still borders on favouritism, nepotism, referrals and so on. The adult who goes into EFCC is already used and brought up under a particular socio-political milieu of the Nigerian state that we have been so backward and whose antecedent does not speak to etiquettes, work ethics and due process. So, chances are that given little prodding, he or she will falter in the course of dispensing justice in the anti-corruption crusade. So, the situation we find ourselves is a scenario of having a country of saints without sinners. Everybody knows that there is corruption but everybody is a saint. Nobody wants to claim that he is corrupt. Sometimes, I marvel at the way the media sensationalises stories whenever EFCC loses a case in court. EFCC is not fighting for itself. It is fighting for you and me. It is fighting for the Nigerian state that people who have stolen money are being held accountable and put to trial. We expect that whatever we are able to extract from these corrupt ones will help add value to our economic well-being. But unfortunately, Nigerians are not seeing that. They are seeing Magu as if he is the president of another country. The man just said that they have gotten 113 convictions in six months, yet nobody is talking about that. But if Ozekhome gets one injunction against EFCC, everybody will be talking about it.