From Adetutu Folasade-Koyi, Abuja
Presidential candidate of People’s Trust in the 2019 election and founding Deputy Publicity Secretary of the People’s Democratic Party, Gbenga Olawepo-Hashim, has given reasons the call for rotational presidency should be jettisoned.
In this interview, he also looked at the state of the nation, the deception surrounding restructuring, among other issues. Excerpt:
The South is clamouring for restructuring, yet, a section of the North agrees, while another section says ‘no, all we just need to do is move forward.’ Do you agree?
There is no section of Nigeria that does not agree that we should decentralise.
Not restructure the country?
When you talk about restructuring, and some people say devolution, and some say decentralisation, are you quarrelling with the nomenclature or you want to focus on the substance of what is being recommended? What is the substance of what people are saying? People are saying that the over-centralisation is unsustainable especially given the myriad of problems that Nigeria faces right now. Take, for instance, policing. There are issues that can be dealt with promptly before they become national crisis at local level that does not need the attention of the president. As you have in the United States of America, the Mayor could deploy the police and deal with issues in the city. Now, if it is beyond the mayoral jurisdiction, the governor comes in and then, they have to collaborate with federal agencies like the FBI and others and, at some point in time, the governor could ask for the National Guard to be deployed. So, Nigeria needs this right now. It is not a southern or northern affair. Let us go back to history. The Sardauna of Sokoto, Sir Ahmadu Bello, was the first person to insist on having regional police. It was Nnamdi Azikiwe, a southerner who said we needed federal police, including Chief Obafemi Awolowo. They were all for federal police at the Lancaster Conference. It was the northern delegates who said ‘let us have regional police.’ They don’t even want regional police. So, the arrangement which we had under the 1966 Constitution was overthrown by a coup that was led by Kaduna Nzeogwu who is not a northerner. You understand. The man who became the beneficiary of that coup and who brought Decree 1, which centralised all power in this country was Aguiyi Ironsi who was a southerner. This is not a South-North thing. I think that there is a lot of ignorance in the air which is caused by people’s lack of appreciation of history and then, two, because the president now is a northerner, there is an assumption that because he is a northerner that is why some sections of the country, called ‘northerners’ don’t want decentralisation. Chief (Olusegun) Obasanjo was president under this Republic, he didn’t decentralise. He is a southerner. Jonathan is a southerner; he didn’t decentralise. So, this is not a North-South thing. It is an ideological thing. And, the people clamouring for decentralisation and state police are from different parts of the country. El-Rufai is calling for it. Lukman and his team that are saying that we have to do something are not southerners. That is why I said that there is a consensus that we must decentralise. So, do not let us ethnicise the conversation. The more you ethnicise it, the more you destroy the conversation. The South is not the creator of centralisation of police. The southern leaders wanted federal police. Sardauna did not want it. So, don’t ethnicise it.
But, as it is now and having contested to be president in 2019, if you had won, what would you have done?
Number one, I would have immediately taken the Constitution Amendment Bill to the National Assembly, asking for the decentralisation of power in the following items: Number one, the creation of state police and local government police. Those levels of government would have jurisdictions over policing. I would have done that within one month. So, it would become a concurrent affair. Number two, I would decentralise the control of mineral resources in the inland basins of every states. Look at what is happening now; the bandits are controlling the gold mines, having money to buy more sophisticated weapons and equipment and the governors who should control the states do not have jurisdiction over the mines. This is insanity. We have more than already de-centralised. It is just that the people exercising the power over them are not state actors. So, what are you keeping the power for in Abuja an depriving the people who should have the legitimate responsibility to use those resources to secure their space, to create prosperity for their people do not have such powers? It is just insanity. So, there is nothing to discuss about this because there is already a consensus about it. And I do not understand the panic about decentralisation because it is absolutely lack of wisdom not to decentralise. People fidget when you talk about it. That means Delta State would control the oil there. How do you get the money from oil. It is because they are ignorant. Right now virtually 80 per cent of oil revenue are coming from the offshore production and not the inland basin. They are Agbani, Egina. They are coming from Akpo feed. This deepsea productions are not in the inland basin. They are exclusive holding of the Federal Government. So, there is nothing to quarrel about. If you allow the states to control with militancy and all these things the non-state actors in the Niger Delta, they are producing these assets anyway in crude form and in a environmentally devastating form. They are exporting the crude anyway. You have no control over them. So, why not allow the states to take organised control of it and they can produce more rapidly in an organised form and you get more revenue as taxes; after all they only constitute almost just about 20 per cent. I am not sure anybody in the Federal Government has worked the maths in this respect to even ask themselves what they are losing by not decentralising or what they are going to lose if they decentralise. You can only have sound policies when you interrogate issues in an objective way. So, I think there is a collosal failure in policy processes and this is causing unnecessary chaos in the land. The time has come to put a stop and pull the country back from the precipice. And, it is not a matter for tomorrow, it is not a matter for 2023, it is a matter for now.
There is this argument that the problem with Nigeria has to do with leadership. Do you think so?
That has always been the problem. But, it has not always been so from the beginning. We had fantastic leaders.
Yes. And they did visible things. The economy growth recorded even in the period of independence in Nigeria was phenomenal and never being achieved since 1966 after the military took over. For almost a hundred years of colonial rule, the British colonial government only left a 27-bed hospital for the whole of Western Region. Within five years of limited served government under Chief Obafemi Awolowo, thousands of hospital beds and clinics were created within five years. Phenomenal growth in infrastructure. But, after the 1966 coup, this country has been marking time. Nigeria was first in many respects. We started broadcasting in Western Region even before France. France started broadcasting in 1962, while we started broadcasting in 1959. In the ‘70s, of all the health infrastructure that were created, vaccines were being produced in West Africa. Today, talking about vaccine production is like a mystery. We were producing vaccines here in the ‘70s. So, what I am telling is that this leadership thing started becoming a challenge after the 1966 coup because the First Republic leaders were great thinkers. They were knowledgeable people and they were patriots and selfless. So, we have a problem with leadership, not just at the central government, but local government and states level because our politics are no longer driven by ideas, they are driven by other things but ideas. And, we all have the responsibility to change the context in which things are being played.
Do you see Nigeria surviving this period?
Nigeria is going to survive. Worse things have happened in many countries and they are still there. Some countries have been in crises for decades. It is just that we have different warlords holding different parts of the country. Rwanda had a very terrible experience, massive ethnic cleansing, but now, virtually everybody agrees that they are making a lot of progress. Everything depends on what leaders do at the end of the day. They can change the trajectory, I believe that we can still change the course of events and move to stability. Nigeria stabilised Sierra Leone, arrested Fodey Sankoh and brought him in handcuffs to Abuja. Nigeria stabilised Liberia; this same Nigerian Army. So, it depends on decisions that we take as leaders, then we can begin to steer things back to stability. I am confident that Nigeria will survive. You just have to give leadership at various levels and to ensure that we come with a national consensus on how to come out of this crisis. Obviously, we are facing a monumental crisis, but we can survive it depending on the kind of consensus leaders are able to come up with.
Are there signs that the leaders are ready to come up with such consensus that will pull the country out of the precipice?
There is already a national consensus. I read the Director General of Progressive Governors’ Forum, Lukman Saliu yesterday. Interestingly, he took over from me as national administrative secretary of the National Consultative Forum in 1990, under Alao Aka-Bashorun and Beko Ransome-Kuti. (Now Senator) Babafemi Ojudu was the first secretary, then I came in and handed over to Lukman. So, I understand that all people regardless of their political party will be speaking the same language at this time. The Governor’s Forum is saying practically what everybody is saying. Nasir el-Rufai (of Kaduna State) came up and made some statements. Even the language of northern governors now; you heard what Governor Simon Lalong of Plateau State said and all that. Look, there’s a national consensus on where to go and that gives me a lot of hope, that gives me a lot of confidence that Nigeria will come out of this crisis.
How can we get our leadership right given the way things are or do you think that forces will allow anybody that is in Aso Rock to do the right thing for Nigeria?
It is not just about individuals. It is about structures, institutions and ideas. We are talking about decentralisation. It was because we had a decentralised framework in the First Republic, that you had development at local levels beyond the centre. So, if you have a leadership failure at some point it is not going to spiral throughout the system and then people who can have benchmarks to compare with and say look at what is going on in Lagos, why should our state be like this? But when you have everything centralised, when there is a failure at any part it spirals through all the system. So, Nigerians are fantastic and brilliant people and we do well when we leave the shores of this country. We thank God everybody is celebrating (Ngozi) Okonjo-Iweala. She is not the only one. There are thousands of Nigerian professionals in the US in the Aeronautics and Space research. They are contributing greatly to the economy of this country. If not for all the transfers from Nigerians in the Diaspora, the economy of this country would have long collapsed. Last year, all the money from oil revenue in 2019 was just about $25 billion. Remittances from Nigerians abroad was over $26 billion. If you minus that, perhaps, Naira would have been exchanging for N1,000 to a dollar. So, Nigerians are creative people. What we just need is to dismantle this over-centralised system that is suffocating everybody and disallowing local initiative. It is not about if anybody is going to allow us or is not going to allow us, it is about making the necessary systemic adjustments because this system, even if you have a saint as president, you would fail because there is too much power concentrated at the centre. Take, for instance, even when we have managed the oil industry; all powers over oil production is concentrated on one man. When we had only Oloibiri (oil well in present Bayelsa State) as the only source, it was possible for one to be reviewing all the files. Now, you have thousands of oil and investors who want to invest in thousands of locations and the law is still that until just one man approves you cannot do anything even when it is a private sector investment like some of the cases we are having in court now. You do a deal and the law says you must have the approval of one man so whatever you and if he doesn’t sign, it can imperil millions of dollars of investment. And you have lots of files waiting. To be honest with you, it is impossible for one man to review all those files. And, that is the reason Nigeria’s oil production has not gone up comparable to other countries. What I am saying is that over-centralisation as a system creates an incentive for corruption and nepotism. In 1999, when we had democracy, we said ‘no,’ that we needed to end this monopoly and liberalise the system. Now, do you know who is MTN’s Territorial Manager? In fact, they want to know you. You cannot deal with corruption by slogans. If you say you are fighting corruption you must be ready to decentralise if you are serious about it. It reduces automatically once you decentralise.
After the 2019 general election, Nigerian youths have been clamouring for generational change in government. Do you agree that in 2023, Nigerians should look towards the youths?
Not necessarily so. It depends. I am not an advocate of generational change. What we need is change in the ideas of government. We have many young people who have nothing in their heads and they are saying they want to be president. Being young is not enough to become president or governor. It depends on what ideas you have in your head. We have many young people that are talking about some old people. Some of them are still alive. For instance, Alhaji Abba Gana, former minister of FCT. He is still alive. He does not have a house in Abuja. I still saw him last week in a rented apartment. He does not have a house and he was FCT minister under Obasanjo. How many young people do you have around now like that? Chief Solomon Lar, the first PDP national chairman, did not have a house in Abuja until he died. He lived in a rented apartment. These were the people who inspired us as mentors. Now, you have many young people who have become governors, ministers who literally pocketed their states. These were people who participated in the NYSC. They were corps members. It is not about being a young man, it is about the ideas you carry in your head. I believe that the youth can confer some advantage. They have more strength and all that. But, if they have no ideas in their head, those strengths will be deployed into destruction. So, it is the content of the ideas in your head that will make youthfulness advantageous.
But you ran for the presidency in 2019. Per chance you had won, would you still stand by this that you do not support generational change in leadership?
No. Don’t get wrong. I am not saying young people are not better when they have ideas. I do not want to be running for anything at the age of 70; by the grace of God. I want to have peaceful retirement. By the time I am 65, I want to have a peaceful retirement. But, the truth of the matter is that your youthfulness is not just enough. You must have something in your head. You must have character. You must have integrity.
What is your take on rotational presidency?
I do not believe in rotative presidency. It is absolutely nonsense. I do not know the sincerity of such rendition because when Obasanjo contested in 1999, Alhaji Abubakar Rimi contested against him. When Buhari contested, Rochas Okorocha contested against him. So, what do they mean by rotational presidency? It is an agreement and all that. I do not believe in that. Two, it only causes division. And, it is a dubious narrative because (the late Chief Moshood Kashimawo) Abiola won without any rotative presidency and he contested against a northerner. He even won in Kano. So, if you are a good person, Nigerians will elect you.
Are you saying it should be by merit?
I believe that it should be by merit. And this rotative presidency assumes that we have only Igbo, Yoruba and Hausa people in Nigeria. In the North-central, where we do our politics, we have a lot of ethnic groups that are not Igbo, Yoruba or Hausa. So, when will an Igala man or a Tiv man or Jukun man become a president under rotational presidency? So, this is nonsense. But during the First Republic, there was no rotative presidency. NPC picked a Gere man, a minority. (Sir Abubakar) Tafawa-Balewa was not Hausa and he was not Fulani. So, all these conversations, some are based on ignorance, some based on dubious intentions; they are not transparent about intentions. They think they can divide the country, heat up the polity and blackmail people. Most of the people who talk this kind of nonsense are people who have held federal positions before. When they were in office, they didn’t talk this nonsense! The moment they leave office, they organise some ethnic groups and start making this kind of nonsense noise. But that does not mean that we should not respect the diversity of the country. What I believe is that the federal character provisions in our constitution are enough to protect our diversities and identities. And when there are strong cases of nepotism and marginalisation, that is why we have strong institutions like the Federal Character Commission. There is no state that does not have a commissioner there, but we are not hearing their voices. And, if they cannot do their job, they should resign. So, there are sufficient provisions in the Constitution, I think that any leader that wants stability should make appointments to be reflective of the fact that the country is a diverse entity. If you want peace, stability, you must do that. What I know is that diversity, which is adequately protected in the Constitution, is that if the president comes from this particular area, the Senate President must come from another area. But, rotatory presidency is nonsense. Last time I checked, the only country that tried to do it seriously was Yugoslavia and it does not exist again. So, any talk of rotatory presidency is road to Bosnia Herzegovina.