By Daniel Kanu
Prof Akin Osuntokun, political scientist and renowned strategist, was political adviser to former President Olusegun Obasanjo, and also a director, Presidential Campaign of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in 2011.
The erudite scholar told Sunday Sun during this encounter said that President Muhammadu Buhari is making worse Nigeria’s condition, just as he insisted that unless there is constitutional restructuring there will be no silver lining for the future of the country.
He spoke on other critical issues concerning the nation, including the 2023 elections, zoning and what the present situation portends for the country. Excerpt:
Most Nigerians are of the view that the country is speedily falling into the category of failed states in view of some terrifying developments lately concerning security and the government’s incapacity to take charge, how do you look at this?
We are already there as a failed state. It’s no longer an issue of gradually or speedily falling into the category. All the signs of a failed state are there and that is the truth. When the government no longer has the legitimacy of the sole control of the power of coercion that is what happens. When the government loses power to impose its will which is supposed to constitute the will of all the citizens, when it no longer has the ability to do so, that is the first sign of a failed state. The existence of a state in the first instance is its force, the security, the monopoly of the power of coercion with which it maintains the rule of law, order, and stability. When the state loses that, they are indications of a failed state when it can no longer perform its most basic roles. It is self-evident that that kind of failure is self-evident in Nigeria today. With the inability to secure a substantial part of the country, the government has lost that ability, which is an indication of a failed state.
How would you react to the issue of the latest increase in the waste of human lives in the country?
Well, that is part of the practical manifestations you witness in a failed state, it shows that the government has lost control of the security and that is compounded by the government’s loss of legitimacy. Apart from the ability to secure the country, it’s also the loss of political legitimacy which is seen in things like the clashes everywhere, incidents like that of Pantami (Communication and Digital minister) who is fingered as a terrorist, etc these are some of the things that make government lose legitimacy. A government that is associated with that kind of stuff will have crises of credibility. The situation on the ground has warranted even the United Kingdom to give asylum to IPOB members. The Nigerian government says it’s (IPOB) a terrorist organisation, but the UK and the International community do not share the opinion of the Nigerian government, so these are indications that the government is losing legitimacy both in the aspect of its ability to secure the country and also in terms of the legitimacy of acceptability. Nigerians keep on asking for a referendum, and if you are to conduct a referendum today as to whether Nigeria should exist today as it is, the overwhelming majority will reject the country as we have it today. Part of the problem today is incompetent leadership that is unable to rise to the challenge of the moment. They rather play the ostrich, politicizing governance and achieving nothing, but divisiveness, nepotism, sowing deep-rooted hatred, etc among the people. So sad.
With what the country is going through now, how do you feel about the 2023 elections?
Which election? With what is happening I doubt if we are going to get to that election. The implication is that Nigeria is going to conduct or have a kind of political stability and order that will be required to conduct a successful election, I don’t see that signal yet, I cannot extrapolate from today the kind of stability and order that will be required for the government to conduct a successful election in 2023. You cannot conduct an election in which over 50 per cent of the country is effectively in an unstable state, who will go out to vote when you are likely to lose your life in such exercise? So, 2023 in terms of conducting an election does not make any meaning to me. We Nigerians have a pressing problem or question to resolve now before you can embark on such exercise. There is this issue of functionality about the state itself, look at where our economy is and if the economy degenerates further, it is already extremely out of control, that is a dangerous source of instability. I don’t know any economist who can project from what we have today that the economy will be of a nature that can guarantee stability that will be cheering. So given all the indications towards 2023 and the way the situation is being handled, I don’t see crises and instability abating, they are likely to increase. So, how do you conduct a successful election with what obtains presently, you cannot project rightly that the conditions as we have them today will disappear thus creating a conducive avenue to conduct a successful election in 2023.
Do you think it’s necessary for Nigerians to come together again to talk…?
(Cuts in) Of course, it’s necessary, but that is if the government is genuine, if the government has genuine intension in that regard. Although we have enough manual, enough reports of conferences already conducted the only thing that is lacking is the will and the belief of the government to acknowledge or in accepting that there is a need for that kind of talk. So long as the government is willing to face that reality, of course, it is the way to go. The problem that we are having is that you have a government that seems to have taken the opposite way and has lost legitimacy as a result of that position. So, if the government changes its stance, its track, and re-orientates itself towards what the people want that is the way to go.
What is your take concerning some Northern groups insisting that the Presidency must remain in the zone in 2023?
That kind of position is at best irrelevant and at most insensitive. It is a very insensitive political position to take. Who becomes the president is of no consequence today compared to the real questions that we have raised before, and that is the restructuring of the country. The constitutional restructuring of the country is the main issue that almost everybody is talking about and that if the truth must be told should be our concern, and even the people who are not partisan are advocating for it also. You recall that General Overseer of the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG) Pastor Adeboye harped on the urgent need to restructure the country and that for me is the basic need now, anybody who has not learned that truism about Nigeria today is just fooling around. If anybody is talking about Presidency without addressing this critical issue, of course, anybody is entitled to his own folly, but it is a very insensitive position for anybody to take. Well, if the North wants to take the Presidency and the country is restructured and returned to genuine federalism if anybody then wants to retain the Presidency in Katsina or Dutse, that person is entitled to do so, it’s of no consequence if the necessary conditional restructuring of the country has taken place. It makes that kind of question relevant so to speak. Anybody who holds the Presidency of Nigeria as it is today is holding the country by the jocular and that kind of state of fiasco will never endure, so what we should concern ourselves now with is how to solve or resolve the problem which is the constitution. Who becomes the president under this arrangement which is iniquitous will make no difference for the doom that awaits the country. But we can avert the danger and disaster that is ahead of us, it is not in who becomes the president, but how we overhaul the constitutional arrangement that we have now.
How would you assess President Buhari APC-led government?
The verdict is simple, it’s a disastrous government. First and foremost forget about the APC government, the Nigerian president personalizes the Federal Government. I don’t see Nigeria from the point of view of political parties, if that were to be the case we will be in a better position than we are today. The Federal Government is personified by the president rather than the party or on which platform he got there. So this is not an APC government it’s a Buhari government, it’s an extension of the political personality of President Buhari. So, all what we have been speaking about and manifestations to that personality, the loss of legitimacy, the crisis, divisions, apart from the constitution that is not working is also the person of the president who cannot manage or make the best of a bad situation, but rather is making the worst of a bad situation. What has APC got to do with Pantami as a minister, that is simply the choice of the president and you can see the way, the length, he has gone to defend him. What we have today is the making of Buhari and the constitution and as I said, whoever is the president in a bad situation is expected to make the best of it, but when you have a bad president you make the worst of a bad situation. A bad president will even be a threat to a good situation. If Buhari is a better president he can make the best of a bad situation, but when you have a bad president that Buhari is you make the worst of the situation.
What is your greatest fear for Nigeria today?
My greatest fear is what people like what Prof Wole Soyinka said recently concerning having a violent disintegration, anarchy, where anarchy is loosened upon the land and the danger signals are all over the place. When we talk some people don’t appreciate what is going to be the likely consequences of what we are talking about. If the economy gets so worse, the worse it gets, the worst the insecurity crisis will become. You know that insecurity, crisis is a major contributory factor to the economic crisis that we have. Of course, as you know a hungry man is an angry man, people who cannot feed, they don’t have a stake in the stability of the system and so the insecurity could get worse. There is a situation that they call a perfect storm in which all the contributory factors will align in favour of a crisis, of Nigeria blowing over. People cannot go to their farms again which is the last sustenance for most poor Nigerians, and when this happens you begin to ask, where is the silver lining in a dark cloud of Nigeria’s future? I can’t see any from the way we are going. The person who can make the little difference and buy us time to do what is necessary to set Nigeria aright is the president; unfortunately, as I said we have a president who is making the worst of a bad situation.