A presidential aspirant under KOWA Party, Sina Fagbenro, has challenged President Muhammadu Buhari and others itching to take a shot at the Presidency. He spoke with Tobi Soniyi and Aliogo Ugochukwu
Can you identify the governance challenges we face as a country?
The governance challenges we have in Nigeria can be identified broadly as three and when I talk about governance, I mean it in the street sense. There is the capability issue of those who are in government; the capability of those who get thrown up as leaders and secondly, the accountability aspect of it. Government is predicted on social contract between the people and their leaders and the currency of social contract between the people and their leaders is accountability. The third leg is responsiveness because nobody goes into government having all the answers. But the ability to respond to things get thrown to you is also lacking in the governance sense. Also, fundamental is the fact that there are two major areas, Nigeria has failed and this is peculiar to the Nigeria context. We have failed in managing our diversity.
Nigeria is predicted on diversity and it is also predicted on multi-ethnic, multi-religious, multi-cultural settings. So we have failed in managing diversity that is why there are cases of marginalization. Why do people fail in managing marginalization of course government and rulership has not run in a manner that is inclusive.
The reasons why nations fail is that the political, social, and economic structures are not inclusive. Any state or society is made of diversity; the basic one is man, woman, young and old. Assume we are all the same in this country, same tribe, ethnic group, we will still have man, woman, young, and old. That is the basic diversity that a system that wants to govern itself must first manage. Unfortunately for us in Nigeria, we failed in managing that diversity.
Secondly, we failed in managing mass. Now, this second aspect of managing mass has occurred as a result of certain things including constitutional flaws. For instance, our constitution states that revenue allocation, and sharing shall be on the basis of population, which implies that there is an incentive to have children. But there is no incentive to be responsinle for them. So why is anybody wondering why our population growth rate is rising above our economic growth rate? For instance, during independence, we were slightly the same or above in population size with Great Britain.
Now we are five or six times more and you expect the standard of living in Nigeria and Britain to be the same, it is impossible. Another issue which we should look at when we compare ourselves with Malaysia and other countries is that they have been able to manage the population.
Apart from the broad issues of capability, accountability and responsiveness, we have had failures in managing diversity, and mass and what are wrong between the two are the human elements. The greatest resource a nation has is its human beings, it is not the gold or oil, it is the human capacity. So everything we have done speaks to our failures in managing human beings.
Do you think that Nigeria is governable under the current structure or will you be calling for restructuring?
Absolutely, I am an advocate of restructuring. The first example I gave was a constitutional issue. Where you have imputed an incentive to grow population? Nigeria is supposed to be run as a true federation. One of the mechanisms that you use to manage diversity is by having a federal framework. The founders of Nigeria who signed up on our independence knew that we were diverse and that is why they opted for federalism, (federation) because federation is the direct constitutional response to a diverse system. But several years of military has unified the institutions and eroded the federalism from within us. There is no federation where the sub-components don’t have their own constitutions. So the first thing we should do if we want to have a true federation is that states should have their own constitutions.
Under the constitution of a state that is when you decide things such as how many local government areas you want to have, how many members of your state assembly you want to have, how you want to pay them and what can you afford to pay. Of course, there are protocols between state and federal constitutions.
In the first republic, when we had regions and not states, each region had its own constitutions and there was no conflict between the regional and federal constitution. But apparently, the second leg to a true federalism if you look at the exclusive list of the constitution and the concurrent list, it is weighed in favour of the exclusive list and unfortunately for us what the federal government is doing to the state, the state is doing the same to the local government.
Now if a state had its own constitution, you will hold the governor more accountable because there is nothing else apart from the federal constitution that holds the governor to account, meanwhile the same federal constitution dictates that state shall have the power to manage their own resources themselves. But yes you can say that states have bundle of bye-laws and state laws but they are not coherent. This is not how a federation is run, so we have to restructure. Look at other countries such as Switzerland and the United States of America.
Do you think restructuring is feasible?
It is not only feasible, but what I have discovered is that as people, we always like to remain in our comfort zone. Ten years ago nobody was talking about restructuring, before the likes of Obasanjos and Babanigida would not talk about restructuring, but because they were feeling the effect. Once you are have central power, it is difficult not to want to control, manage and approving everything. As soon as we have President who does not come from this centrist mindset, and there are many people, I am not saying I am only one. If you look at what has run through the grain of all those who have been in power, is that they come from a military mindset. That is the way they were trained and they don’t know better and they cannot think outside the box.
As a matter of fact, restructuring is what you call in development parlance, political settlement that is, bringing the country to a point where the political elites understand and agree on a method of engagement with one another which gives everyone a sense of belonging and inclusion. That is what restructuring is all about really and there are two parts to restructuring; the administrative and the constitutional part.
The constitutional part is the most tedious and difficult. But you have to start a journey from somewhere, I mean we had 16 years of government. If people didn’t know that there was a need for restructuring Obasanjo woulsnnot have had his political conference. Jonathan would not have had his constitutional conference.
Essentially, what both conferences were doing were rather similar, as a matter of fact, if you look at the 2014 national conference organised by Jonathan, the outcomes there addressed some of the problems we faced between 2015 and present, such as herdsmen/farmers’ issue, marginalization of minorities, inclusion, power of states, and power of local government. These are things that will continue to plague us until we restructure.
As a matter of fact, it is either we restructure or we fracture. It is something that is almost inevitable for us.
Those running the government do not seem to be interested, so what you do is to vote them out. Nigerians need to know what they want. Nigerians need to know what they want. When a person claims to offer something in manifesto, and when he getsninto power and denies that claim, then there is problem. It is in the APC manifesto that they would restructure. But they got there, they didn’t and one of the reasons is that their leadership and there are some people in the APC who don’t believe in restructuring. For example the Secretary of the Committee, that APC setup Senator Olu Adetunbi, is a firm believer in restructuring.
But unfortunately the chairman of the committee, El-Rufai doesn’t believe in restructuring. Some of them don’t believe in restructuring because they believe in dependence, patronage system where everything is centralized. But you see the centrality of Nigeria governance structure is actually responsible for our corruption and many people have not alluded to this because they say power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. When you over-centralise authority in a space that means you are giving more power than necessary to a central authority. So our centrality and over centralization of governance is part of our problems.
Coming to election, there is a challenge getting voters to do the right thing. How do we educate them?
People who are expected to be leaders need to stand on their principles. A leader is a leader. The electorate looks at the body language, the actions, and speeches of what their body tells them. Obviously, there are leaders who have led Nigeria to where we are. But what they have used to entrap our people is poverty that is why I say that in Nigeria, poverty is deliberate. An example of poverty being deliberate tells you what happens during elections. The person who gives N5000 to win an election will never pray that recipient will have that money during the next round of election so that when he comes and campaign, that his N5000 will remain efficacious. So he will continue to pray poverty on the masses and that is why whatever they do while in government will not speak to the poverty of the people. So they keep them poor. When you keep people illiterate and poor, the last thing they would listen to is true solutions to their problems. This is the way our masses have been held down by the elites. We have an elite that is predicated on patronage, and want to keep that system going on.
Will You be Challenging Co-Presidential Aspirants to a Debate?
I am looking forward to it absolutely. But I know President Muhammadu Buhari does not have the willingness to debate anybody. But I will be willing to debate anybody on these issues. You have to be radical. Nigeria has gotten to where you have to be radical. There are two things I want to drive; zero tolerance to illiteracy, and zero tolerance to hunger. The zero tolerance to illiteracy is very necessary. It is a matter of national security. You cannot afford in the 21stcentury to have illiterates.
Nigeria problems manifest in insecurity, largest number of out of school children in the world. If you go into the streets, there are still massive numbers. 8 million children out of school are still a major problem. If you declare a zero tolerance to illiteracy that means a direct confrontation to the problem.
The third issue we face is massive corruption and that was one of the reasons that this particular government gave Nigerians. Everybody knows that corruption has become endemic. As a matter of fact it has moved from the area of corruption to organised crime. If you look at what is happening in pension board, oil sector, it is organised crime than just mere corruption.
President Buhari built his campaign on tackling corruption. What is your accessment on that?
I think really it is a failure. Buhari is going after corrupt individuals. It is typical of individuals who have very small knowledge on institutional causes. To fight corruption, you need to make the system works better. The father of corruption is impunity.
Impunity will breed corruption no matter how benevolent a leader is or well-meaning a leader is. Look at the examples of impunity we have seen in this government. When you go after individuals, you don’t go after the root causes, which means once the individuals change their positions or complexions, they are likely to get off. So for me, the president is not attacking the corruption issue in an institutional way. What I mean by an institutional way is understanding the entire framework which we attack corruption; there is preventive and curative side. In fairness to government and previous government, everybody has understood this.
In fairness to certain professionals and technocrats, those have been engaged in Nigeria government because I have worked with Nigeria government and these technocrats before, either as a technical adviser or someone providing capacity building.
We built things such as the automated information system for federal civil servants; we have done things such as automation of the pensions, the BVN and single treasury accounts, which cannot be attributed strictly speaking to one government because I know the history of some of these things. Recommendations and assessment from the World Bank led to us adopting the financial information management, the global standards. Pressure from global world has led us to create something like Nigeria financial intelligence unit when we were knocked off the financial actions task force.
Even if you are not giving them credit for generating it, give them credit for pushing it.
President Goodluck Jonathan, setup BVN and it was done under his government. This present government is one of the beneficiaries of what that process was and the treasury single account will have been in existence, but was not implemented and that will have been the reason why it was not implemented was that certain things had to be harmonised including the BVN. This is why I like to separate the leadership of the government and public servants alike. So when you put all those institutional mechanism in place, there will help to strength anti-corruption framework. But the primary thing is that government cannot run with impunity and expect to fight corruption. Government cannot run chase individuals and expects to fight corruption.