In this interview with Funke Olaode, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Chief Adegboyega Awomolo traces the nation’s governance challenges to the military’s intervention in politics in 1966, concluding that Nigerians need to sit down and dialogue on how to move the country forward. Excerpts
Nigeria recently celebrated 57 years of independence and people spoke glowingly about Nigeria of old. What changes would you like to see in your lifetime?
The world has been on for over a 1000 years and people come in different characters just as different governance. The world has remained the same it is the people that are changing. What I see is that generation after generation move away from the core value of human being, we have crossed our fore fathers lines to the extent that we have lost track. When I was growing up, you could leave your yam products by the road side and if anybody wants it he/she could drop money under the leaf and go. These days, as the owners are looking at the maturing bananas, oranges or even yam thieves are always watching. Things have changed and Western civilization has polluted our mind. In fact, social media is destroying our youths far more. You find that as we are advancing in knowledge and technology, our core value as people is destroyed. People talk about corruption and how it has eaten deep into our fabrics. But do you know the military created the greatest opening for corruption in Nigeria. When they were removing and dismissing public officials; judges, professors, civil service on radio or television, those in service had this fear that it could happen to them tomorrow so they began to help themselves. That is why a public official will register five companies with letter head and when his office wants to bid for contract he would also participate in the bidding thereby awarding contracts to himself. So military has done damage to this country more than anybody.
Is there hope for Nigeria?
I am not God but I know our God is a God who can turn around the fortune of Nigeria. You know the agitation we are having now is not for nothing and I would not blame the agitators because there is frustration in the land particularly among the youths. They believe their future is not secured. The nepotism, favourism, tribalism that ushered in the coup of 1966 is still rampant in government today. There is no fairness. Every day I am besieged by people who believe they cannot get public appointment without being introduced by senators, Senior Advocates of Nigeria, and ministers. In other words, we have no confidence in the institution that was created by law. Why are the agitations rampant? You may ask. It is because the institutions that manage human affairs in Nigeria have failed. Where is our local government? As a young man, a local government councilor is revered. He would tell us they are going to carry out road construction next week and he would do it. These days, local governments are nothing anymore. Look at state governments, they could not pay salaries, they could not maintain roads, they could not provide education etc. When these institutions have failed the consequence is what we are seeing now. And when we are in a democracy we must be able to manage agitation and protests by people with maturity and good sense of governance. The purpose of government is to manage the affairs of people in such a way that majority would be happy. Can you tell me majority of Nigerians are happy today? You guess is as good as mine.
You mean the state of the nation is fuelling all the protests going on?
Your guess is as good as mine. Have you ever pondered on why there is so much agitations in the land? Or why are youths obeying the young man, Nnamdi Kanu? It is because he represents their generation. They also believe he could save them or their generation. I may be very wrong but I believe that Biafra is in the psych of an average Igbo man. May be deliberately they shut out people from reading history so that people won’t look back. But whether we like it or not, history by oral tradition particularly people who suffered the Biafra war are still in the village and they tell their children and grandchildren what they suffered during the three-year civil war.
Do you think clamping down on the agitators will douse the tensions?
My worries is that we need to look at tragedy of controlling and managing affections. Do you know that Boko Haram did not start in a wide manner as we had in the last five years? It started like a small group of people with common interests and beliefs. But the management of Boko Haram by the killing of their leader created discord between the government and his people. So it was no longer possible for government to dialogue or discuss with them and they went wild. If we allow the young Igbo boys to go wild, it would be a dangerous second Biafran war and we would not be able to manage it. I still believe that all the institutions created by the government: the Senate, House of Rep. governors, federal government agencies should engage themselves in dialogue to manage these institutions to be able to arrive at amicable resolution of disputes. I have never believed in violence. I have never believed that violence can produce the desired results. I don’t believe the approach of using a military will bring about lasting peace.
Are you saying when history of injustice is not addressed the fall out is what is playing out now?
I don’t know about history of injustice what I know is that there is too much frustration in our land particularly among the youths. As we all know them (the youths) constitute 70 per cent of Nigerian population. When my children graduated they couldn’t get jobs and the girl who read law joined my chambers. Another one doing NYSC now is already agitated about what he is going to do after the youth service. There is no job and no hope of employment. So government has to take a critical look on empowering youths. One of the cardinal points of APC was to address job and unemployment particularly among youths. I am not sure that they have been able to do anything because the APC-led federal government is distracted by so many things. Unfortunately, the very few who have resulted to propaganda against the National Assembly and judiciary have not been able to do anything.
Do you believe devolution of power and restructuring can bring about the desired result?
My attitude to this is that the federal government has too much to chew. It is involved in so many things that ought not to be part of its responsibility. For education, federal government out to be concerned with policies. During the military when they were talking about unity, Federal Government Secondary Schools (Unity Schools), NYSC were introduced to foster unity. The federal government now controls large percentage of universities, tertiary education and they don’t need it. What they need is to create policies like JAMB and other institutions that would monitor standards, implementation of policies and allow the states and local governments carry them on. You can allocate more power and funds. Another point is that many people believe that because of these heavy responsibilities being handled by the federal government, certain people dominate and it is only natural to have such perception if you look at our population and the structure. There are 36 states comprising of 19 Northern States and others 18. If you look at sharing formula of revenue it is not balance. That is why fiscal federalism is one of the areas to look at. And that is why people are saying the country should go back to 1963 and 1999 constitutions. As a lawyer, there are only few differences but with only one enshrined policy: that is policy of centralizing everything. If Osun, Oyo or Anambra generates 10 megawatts it must go to national grid. So the investment of those states to produce 10 megawatts is shared by others who are using their own resources for other things. That is imbalance that is unfairness. Out of frustration, the federal government has involved itself in all sorts of mechanism to create balance and it can’t work because we have left the foundation.
Are you suggesting 1959 self-governance of the Western Region?
That is a forgotten issue. We cannot go back there. What I am saying is that we should look at core issues in the argument: imbalance in the structure of the federalism we are doing and over concentration of power in the centre. And anytime you talk about agitation a big hammer is brought to scratch your head. That is not a good precedence. We must avoid the second mistake and that is why the military must be pulled out of South-east and allow the police to handle it because it is a fundamental issue. In 2014, President Jonathan convened a National Conference and a report was presented and the present National Assembly didn’t look at the documents in amending the constitution or review constitution. I will suggest that they should look at the 2014 recommendations. But then we need to be sincere about it. For instance, when the issue of restructuring and devolution of power was being discussed on the floor of the National. Assembly some people rejected it. And that was the end of it and the agitation became more pronounced. If you go round Nigeria there is no federal road in Nigeria now that you say your car is safe. The road would spoil them. Apart from bad roads, there is fear of herds men and kidnappers. The security of life and property in Nigeria is a major issue that should be faced by the federal government by addressing youths employment because those who are involved in these social menace are youths. The Minister of Agriculture is doing his best by creating opportunity for youths but how much can he do? I understand the food products being produced in Nigeria such as yam, guinea corn are being smuggled to West African countries by road. Our neighbouring countries are ready to take our products because it is cheaper for them to buy than to produce. Local government and states are the best structure that can promote local industries and this will promote employment, security of lives and property. Look at the issues of community policing that we have not been able to resolve. Every day, states government provide cars to support federal controlled police and yet the issue of community policing is being handled with kid gloves. Federal government prepares heavy budget every year but the problem persists. What we need to do is to sit down and dialogue on how to move the country forward. That is the only way out.
Every day, states government provide cars to support federal controlled police and yet the issue of community policing is being handled with kid gloves.