Yinka Odumakin

The implementation of the reports of the 2014 National Conference, which held in Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory, have been recommended as a way to solve the myriad of problems confronting Nigeria. A participant at the conference and former spokesperson for the Afenifere Renewal Group, Mr. Yinka Odumakin, in this interview with Oladipupo Awojobi, speaks on key recommendations of the conference and other issues. Excerpts:

Alot of things have been happening in the country and the Federal Government has put the blames of our problems on the past government. Do you think we should blame the government of former President Goodluck Jonathan or that of President Muhammadu Buhari for our economic woes?

I don’t like that very lazy argument and that can only make impression on a few people. After the war in Liberia, a country that was badly destroyed, people took over and put it in a good shape. I can mention many countries that were war ravaged and reduced to rubbles and people took over to rebuild them rather than putting blames on anybody.

You can see what happened in Abuja four days ago, when they had a town hall meeting and they were giving all sorts of excuses, campaigning 14 months after the general election. We are tired of that, we are hungry, stop telling us stories. This is the first time I see a government campaigning 14 months after election, promising to do this or that, what are you doing? From May 29, 2015 to May 29, 2016, the Federal Government did not tar one kilometre of road throughout Nigeria. Yet, within that same period, several state Governors such as Governor Akinwunmi Ambode of Lagos State, Nyesom Wike of Rivers State and others were busy commissioning different roads and projects here and there. You just keep giving excuses, is it in a different country that those that are commissioning roads are operating from?

The Federal Government has spoken about fighting corruption, dealing with the Boko Haram sect and the fact that the revenue of the country is dwindling due to fall in the price of oil, don’t you think these are their achievements?
That is why I am telling you that all these are excuses and stories, give us tangibles and work. When you were campaigning for elections, you promised to do it better. So, we have had enough of excuses, begin to work. They are sharing money every month in Abuja, they should get to work, you cannot continue to regale us with propaganda, the whole country is falling apart, people are hungry, people are jobless, they are working and they are not being paid. Go to filling stations now, you cannot see queue anywhere again, people have abandoned their cars at home and they are now jumping from one bus to another or trekking. You see frustration on the faces of the people.

Those of us in the public sphere know the number of people, who come to us for help everyday, and if you try to attend to all of them, you too would be broke and start begging for money. It is that bad, industries are closing down. An Indian friend of mine told me that over 300 children have been withdrawn from an Indian school here in Ilupeju, Lagos because their families went back to their country as there is no foreign exchange to do businesses again. Those whose children are schooling abroad are withdrawing them because they could not get dollars to sponsor them again and yet you have dollars to support those who go on religious tourism.

Would you say President Buhari is on the right path by fighting corruption and probing the excesses of the past government?
It is right to fight corruption, we must restore sanity to our public life to show that there is a moral boundary, but let us just hope that many of the things we are fighting are still not happening now. If you have a situation where the Chief of Army Staff was cleared over an allegation that he has properties in Dubai, where the Minister of Interior was exempted after he was implicated over arms deal. When you begin to see this, you would raise suspicion. For instance, former National Security Adviser (NSA), Sambo Dasuki, is being tried over security funds, did you see this year’s budget and how much was voted for security again? I support the anti-corruption war because every society must have dos and don’ts as well as moral standards, but we are fighting symptoms and leaving the disease very intact.

We have not dealt with what causes corruption and we are only dealing with individuals. If you are accusing Dasuki of spending security funds for the election of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the All Progressives Congress (APC) also have governors, who sponsored the party, there are allegations against them over what they did with the state funds to prosecute the election. So, the war against corruption would have been on a higher pedestal if the APC had published what they spent on the 2015 general election and the sources of the funds.

But there are allegations that the PDP had access to federal funds because they were in power…
So, if they are probing the people that spent federal funds, and some people spent the money that accrued to the state governments, is it not government at all levels? Corruption is not an animist that you can tie to the stake and shoot or that you can put in prison and would not come out again.

I learned this lesson in 1984, when I witnessed the shooting of some armed robbers at the Polo Ground in Ibadan, Oyo State during the military era of Muhammadu Buhari and the late Tunde Idiagbon. That time, armed robbers were being shot openly to discourage others, about three or four of them were shot. As we turned our back, we heard the shout of ‘thief, thief, thief,’ someone was picking the pocket of another person right there, where armed robbers were being shot. That is what happens, when you are fighting symptoms and leaving the disease.

The kind of electoral system that makes people to empty state treasury to go and look for money at all cost to finance elections is still what we would adopt in the governorship elections in Edo and Ondo States, and the general elections in 2019 because we have not addressed electoral reforms now. There is a law that limits what people should spend during elections, have we complied with it because no party, either the PDP, APC or any other party, can win elections on the basis of that law. If we don’t make our electoral system to conform with that law, we are wasting our time.

All the people accused of budget padding are trying to make money to prosecute the 2019 elections. On election day alone, you need between N8 and N10 billion to take care of the agents of your party in the 774 local governments in the country. Where can somebody get that kind of money if not through the purse of the government. This was why only the PDP and the APC were prominent in the last election. The PDP had access to federal fund and the APC had access to state funds. Now, the APC is now in charge of federal fund, so we are joking if we say we are fighting corruption and we don’t address the institutions that produce corruption.

If we do not address what allows people to steal state money, then there would be problem. It is not that people don’t have the tendency to steal in the United States of America, but they cannot have access to that kind of money, the system does not allow it. I think it was in the days of the former president of the United States, Bill Clinton, he was on an official duty and he was already in the plane, but he forgot something and went back to do it, they gave him the bill, when he got to the White House for the time the plane was around.

Many people don’t know that in the White House, apart from state events, the food the President and his family eat, the president pays for it. Look at our own budget and see how much we voted for feeding in the villa alone. Today, we are talking about budget padding, it was the executive that started the padding now. Have you forgotten, when they had to withdraw the budget after submitting it to the National Assembly. So, we are dealing with the symptoms and not the disease. In 1984, we fought corruption and jailed people 100, 200 or even 400 years, has that killed corruption in Nigeria?

But people are saying that President Buhari should be given enough time to rebuild what was destroyed by the PDP for 16 years. Don’t you think Buhari should be given more time?
We allow this deception about this issue of the PDP being in power for 16 years whereas 50 to 60% of the people in the APC today were in the PDP. Why didn’t you say these were the people that destroyed Nigeria for 16 years and stop them from joining you when you were seeking power? So, it is part of the propaganda that they are promoting. Budget padding now is being treated like a party affair. Part of the problems we had during the 2015 general election was that people were saying ‘Jonathan is bad, Buhari is good’ without addressing the problems confronting Nigeria.

Now, the good man has come and things are getting bad. Jonathan is not the problem and Buhari is not the solution. What we should address are the fundamental problems, the basics, the structure of Nigeria that has been giving us the same problem for over 50 years. You cannot be doing the same thing in the same way and get different results. It was Pastor Tunde Bakare that said that we should restructure the country before holding any election. He said we should restructure for one year and tell Jonathan that he would not contest election after that. With that, we would have put the country on a different path and on a sound footing and then we could have begun to implement the whole thing.

I said it on the floor of the Sovereign National Conference (SNC) around May, 2014, that if the price of crude oil should crash that only Lagos State and one or two others would be able to pay salaries. Newspapers reported it, it was even on the front page of Vanguard Newspapers. I calculated what each state of the federation was earning as at that year and now many of the states can no longer pay salaries. For many of the states, the money they would get for the next three years cannot pay six months salaries.

Talking about the constitutional conference, it was alleged that the people that went there were selected and not chosen by the people and that the reports should be discarded. What is your advice to President Buhari on the reports of the conference?
The 1999 Constitution that we are using today was not produced by the people. I said it on the floor of the conference that after the 1994 constitutional conference, the late Gen. Sanni Abacha gave the document to Yadudu to write as the constitution of Nigeria. It was what they produced that Justice Nikki Tobi reviewed and as at the time former president Olusegun Obasanjo was sworn-in, there was no clean copy of the Nigerian Constitution and we are referring to the constitution today. Majority of the delegates at the 2014 constitutional conference were nominated by their constituencies. The ethnic group, labour unions and professional groups had their delegates.

Those that the president selected out of the 492 delegates at the conference were not up to 100. The people were picked through indirect elections by their people. It was not that former president Goodluck Jonathan just sat down in his office and picked the delegates. Even in the South West, the governors nominated their representatives. Without being immodest, I would say that it would be difficult to assemble that calibre of people in Nigeria again. If you look at the resolutions that were unanimously adopted, and the crises that are confronting us today, the reports addressed them. Fulani herdsmen have killed more than 1000 people in the last one year, that conference dealt with it. We said we should build ranches, not grazing, we are not barbarians, we are in 2016.

Now, they are roaming cows on the overhead bridge in Lagos, in front of the Central Bank of Nigeria, and everywhere. Someone called Abuja, Federal Cattle Territory, in 2016. When you get to the scene of a crime in Nigeria, you would see the Commissioner of Police lamenting because the federal police is overwhelmed, they cannot deal with the issue. That conference addressed state police. Our friends from North West opposed state police, but the next day, a national newspaper published the picture of a Sharia Police on the front page. So, I made copies of the page and circulated all among the delegates. You have Sharia police and the state governments, who have constitutional duties, cannot operate a police force.

When you look at the state that cannot pay salaries today, we addressed their issue by looking at minerals and mines that are on the exclusive list. That conference suggested that the state should control their resources.
Governor Abiola Ajimobi of Oyo State said on the television that if they come across miners in the state and try to stop them, the miners would show them approval documents from the Federal Government. We discovered at the conference that there are N50 trillion untapped resources under the soil in the states of the federation and all we are fighting over oil now is N6 trillion.

We said we don’t have dollars for industries to survive and we cannot support children that are schooling abroad, but we are subsidizing dollars for those who are traveling to Saudi Arabia for pilgrimage with N203 per dollar, and about 80,000 people are going to Mecca this year, which brings the total to $80 Million. That conference resolved that religion is a private affair and that therefore the government should have nothing to do with religion; either Muslim, Christian or any other one. The conference was an assemblage of reasonable Nigerians, who sat for 120 days looking at the problems of the country and you cannot fault them. The 1999 constitution that we are talking about has not been able to solve our problems.

How would you want the country restructured, do we go back to regional governments or create more states?
If we go back to regions, it would allow cultural democracy in terms of contiguous zones. Go to the Asian Tigers, the basis of their development is their cultural relationship. So, what the conference said was that we should create more states, if we allow each state to control its resources, Nigeria can cope with more than the 54 states that we recommended. This command control from Abuja would stop as they take money from the resources in the states and take 52 per cent. Also, we said that a group of states can come together to have zones or form states, depending on what they want.