‘Restructuring Has Assumed Confusing Connotations and They’re Always Laced with Ethnic and Religious Innuendos’

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Chuks Okocha holds a conversation with Gbenga Olawepo Hashim, which centres on issues of power devolution, restructuring, insecurity in the country as well as the controversial rotational presidencyĺ

Background and incursion into politics

I have been in business for about 30 years. I started public affairs in business and then went into energy sector, power generation, oil and gas. I’ve been involved in leadership since I was in secondary school as a prefect, and elected President of Drama Society, I was a student activist in the mid-80s up to the late 80s, I was also one of the pioneer human rights leaders in those days. I received the award of the Amnesty International “Prisoner of Conscience” in 1989. Basically, I did four years after the first President in South Africa, Mandela, I have been involved in politics too right from when I was a kid, when we were trying to get CO Adebayo (Cornelius Olatunji Adebayo) elected. We used to have our partings in our head we used to shout ‘CO, CO!’
Cornelius Olatunji Adebayo was the second governor in Kwara state then. I was elected the National Publicity Secretary of the Labour Democratic Party then in 1996 and elected the first Deputy National Publicity Secretary of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in1999, and I ran as Presidential candidate in the last election.

Why did you leave the PDP?

I was chairman of the NEC group of 54 NEC members precisely 1999-2000, and His Excellency, Dr. Chris Ngige was my Secretary, Ahmed Gusau who was former Deputy Governor of Sokoto State was my Deputy. We had a number of us, like late Harry Mashall. He was part of it. We had issues with internal democracy in PDP then, and we were contending on some constitutional issues. We were concerned that we were just coming back to democracy and should respect our party constitution. I think the major crisis was we were elected for two years but some of us wanted an extension of tenure to four years automatically without going through the process. Even though, we would be beneficiaries of it, my colleagues and I felt that we shouldn’t lay a bad example, so we fought against that extension of tenure. Then some powerful members of the National Working Committee (NWC) purportedly expelled us from the party. We fought back through the court. That generated a lot of bad blood, people wanted to capitalize on that, so we lost some mileage in the PDP politics and then one thing led to the other I couldn’t stay in the party again. I had to leave.

The country has not witnessed the type of insecurity we are observing so far. The North against the South, the South against the North, the herdsman ravaging the country. How do we get out of this ugly situation.?

The herdsmen issue; North-South issue have been an ongoing issue. We’ve been having some of these problems in the past. And it is part of the leadership crisis in this country. It didn’t just start under the Buhari-led government, but when you’re talking about the security issues that has to do with non-state actors, right, that is contending the security of the country, either in the North-east as Boko Haram or in the North-west as banditry and kidnapping and then the issue of the herdsmen and what-have-you. I think what complicated everything is one particular point that has been missing in all the narratives. And that has to do with the fact that there is obviously a balance of power disequilibrium that occurred since 2011 in most of West African sub-region and Central Africa that has tilted balance of power in favor of non-state actors. And you are seeing that security agencies obviously are now not able to cope with the security challenges, which they were coping with in a limited sense though before 2011, and we miss out in this narrative because most of the issues now have been reduced to ethnic contestations. We are missing out on the big question. The big question is that when President Obama and President Sarkozy decided to assemble some Islamic militants from Syria and from all over the world, armed them and took them to Libya with weapons that they must over throw Gaddafi, little did they know that they were essentially, creating a balance-of-power disequilibrium in Africa. So, under the circumstances, where you now have non-state actors carrying weapons and having training and communication equipment that were of higher grade than the most armed states in Africa . They didn’t clean up Libya after the overthrow of Gaddafi. Some of these guys crossed to Mali, from Mali to Niger, Cameroon, Nigeria even up to Burkina Faso. Some of them are now advisers and trainers of Boko Haram, some of them are advising groups that are doing illegal mining in Northern Nigeria, these are essentially the ones that have really undermined our national security more than anything.

Now on the herders and farmers conflicts, this has been here for decades. They always end up in the emir’s palace settling themselves or in the chief palace in the South-west. Whenever Fulani people over ran the farmlands (and when you say Fulani people you are talking about Bororos, you’re talking about extremely poor people who are like leaving an aboriginal life like the Gypsy,). They’re are always in conflict with sedentary people, it is not a new thing. Whether it should continue? It should never continue. But I’m saying that, that has been ongoing and this is a different conversation from the dimension of non-state actors carrying more sophisticated weapons and always at the service of criminal groups in the forest areas, undermining the security of this country not only in the South-west or South- east is the worst even in the North in Zamfara, in Katsina. It’s not just in Nigeria, they are in Burkina Faso all over. So to deal with that you need to upgrade the armoury you need to upgrade training. Nigerian needs to also have some bilateral talks with the United States and France. You must have a frank talk. These are supposed to be our development partners and the consequence of what happened in Libya has been dangerous all over Africa. Unfortunately the Nigerian government at that time led by Goodluck Jonathan made a very serious strategic error.
When the AU was opposed to this intervention, Nigeria and Libya supported by South Africa, Nigeria broke ranks. I am not saying that as a sovereign country that Nigeria could not take a unilateral position but when you negotiate, safety measures should be included in such bilaterally talk.

I mean when US and France decided to hand non-state actors in the whole of Africa and the EU knew the consequence of it and analyzed it, and they made good use of it for security particularly in West Africa and Central Africa. The Nigerian government needed to have negotiated bilaterally with France for supply of higher grade of weapons than what was being supplied to non-state actors and on a concessionary rate. This is not a war that we were creating in Africa this is a war that was being externally brought to the region. France and America did not clean up properly, so these are issues that I think at the level of foreign policy the Nigerian government needs to discuss with America and France. They are our friends, and we should have a bilateral solution, the intervention in Libya tilted the balance of forces, and it has increased insecurity all over West Africa sub-region and Central Africa not only Nigeria alone.

Now the question of the issue associated with herdsmen that’s another conversation from this big picture. You know, we must have an effective police response, you know on that front but one of the things that I think that is very crucial at this stage that can be done immediately that is local is the fact that we need to devolve power over policing to the states and local governments. We must right now not next year, not 2023 we need to devolve on state policing, the president can do that right away.

How will devoluation of power from the central police to the state contain these crisis ?

Some of all these problems started locally. If you arrest them promptly before they assume national dimension and everybody is jumping in from different corners into what ought to be a different affair. They are not very complicated problems. They can be handled at local level before they start. One of the reasons why Nigeria went into civil war was the fact that policing had already been concentrated at the Federal level after the military coup of 1966, and you know interestingly that coup was not done by Hausa Fulani or Yoruba or by Ijaw or by anybody. By nature, when the army takes power, it concentrates it at the center and removes the power from the sub-national authority.

So you find out that something that could have been handled at the local level became a national issue. So, if you devolve power, the governor of Oyo state would have handled what is happening in Oyo within the state. If he had a local police ,it would not have become a national issue that they will need to go and bother the President, the Governor of Zamfara, the Governor of Katsina.

Then the issue of kidnapping would have been resolved by state policing and the level of intelligence will be available to them at the local level. When you have something that is too over centralised, intelligence will come, before you respond things would have gone bad, some of these issues could have been handled at the local level, and I think we can. I think the President can send the bill to the National Assembly to amend the relevant sections of the constitution to ensure that Governors can set up their police force and they coordinate with the National Security Adviser’s office on modalities for this and the bill can be sent to all the states. If you’re doing it with the state governors, I’m sure that the cheapest resolution that you need is support from the state assembly can be there. In three to six months, you can finish with that. There are other critical aspects of the devolution that I have spoken about before that can be done now that you don’t need that the main ceremony of constitutional amendment and conferences. There are things you need to do just the way you brought your Not-too Young-to-Run amendment you can also get a section where we already have clear national consensus. Even in the northern states a lot of people want effective policing now it is not matter for next year.

Security issues are gradually dovetailing to restructuring the country. The states are the federating units. Should the states lose their autonomy in the process?

Number one. I don’t believe in moving backward I believe in moving forward. The fact of the existence of the state is historical and the political reality is that some people have to organise guerrilla warfare to have their states. Isaac Adaka Boro led a rebellion against the Eastern Nigeria government in order to have the creation of Rivers State. So they want those states they cannot surrender the sovereignty of the state to some regions. Enough of those who are from the dominant ethnic groups trying to subject others to the back ground . It is convenient for ethnic groups like Igbo, Yoruba and others to always talk about going back to the regions.

But for minorities, they don’t like the idea of going back to the regions, they have their states. So what we did is in the context of history. How states were created. I think it makes sense to devolve powers from the centre to the states as presently constituted not to talk about going to some regions. I think it will be more practical and more sensible to do that now. I don’t always use the term restructuring. I like the term devolution of powers because restructuring has assumed some confusing connotation, and they’re always laced with ethnic and religious innuendos. They create more confusion than even solving any problem, and so the practical point for me here is that it is a fact that over centralisation as we have it has its own inefficiencies. what we need right now is decentralization. And we don’t need drama to have it. You can do so installmentally, on issues where we already have a clear consensus like state police. They declare national consensus on that, and there is also a consensus on the fact that states should be allowed to participate in electricity generation, distribution and transmission. At least, they have the land, they have the right of way they should have some jurisdiction on that, so it’s a question of amending exclusive legislative list on the concurrent , legislative list and the residual list, and we can practically have it done immediately on things that we a have clear national consensus and when the Federal Government does that, you will see that a lot of people can see some goodwill. There’s a need for compromise. We can have concessions on both sides. We can reach a compromise on this to move together as one. While we’re dealing with practical issues for now and we can see national consensus and clear immediate benefits.

Between rotational presidency and presidency by merit. What’s your take.

For me the idea of rotational presidency is divisive and problematic to national unity and development. The last time I checked the only country in the world that practiced rotatory presidency was Yugoslavia. it was divided into Bosnia and Croatia and other parts until almost every city wanted to be independent. That is what happens when you narrow issues to purely ethnic representation. It is also a false narrative that there would be adequate representation when you begin to rotate presidency between who and who?

Between North and South?

What is the North and South? When you talk about North and South you are essentially talking about the rotation between the ethnic groups because it does not really work practically. How does North and South take care of the affair of the Junkun man, that one day he will become president, or that an Okun man who is a northerner that he will one day become President or TIV man, Nupe man or an Angas or Paltono man or Kanuri man

The north is not ethnically homogeneous. Some of us say, look what this our big brothers are talking about is nonsense. The assumption is that once an Igbo man or Yoruba man rotates power with the Fulani man or the Hausa man, there will be justice. No sir. We have 250 ethnic groups in Nigeria who will not be president under rotation of South and North, so it is not representational. it is not justice. It is not equity. Therefore, you will only achieve more confusion and I also believe that this is a false narrative that is being peddled around in the country now, as if you need such position before any of Northerner or Southerner can be called President. Chief MKO Abiola defeated Bashir Tofa in Kano without rotatory Presidency, Chief Obasanjo won votes in the North, without rotatory presidency in 1999, if you build a National platform, you can win election. When Shehu Shagari, was contesting back in 1983, he didn’t have the support of the major parties. Don’t forget that the big states in the North like Kano followed Aminu Kano, most big states in the South-east were following Zik, most big states in the South-west were following Awolowo.

Those who gave Shagari the victory in 1983 where minority states like Benue, Niger, Rivers, Cross River, old Bendel, that is, Edo and Delta of today. They delivered victory to Shagari. So, it is a false doctorine, it is not supported by history that you needed to rotate power to be president. I believe every Nigerian can be president if you walk your arithmetic well, and build a national platform, consensus and I think that there is sense in the political communication and narrative that is developing in this country. In the first Republic Zik won election in Lagos, Chief Obafemi Awolowo campaigned against Akinsanya, an ijebu man like him and supported Ernest Ikoli who defeated Chief Emmanuel Ekpo who was elected into parliament from Abakaliki, and he was not an Igbo. Sir Emmanuel Ibrahim was representing Gboko in the House of Reps, a Muslim Kanuri man and just to shock you. Do you know that Tafawa Balewa was not Fulani, was not Hausa, he was from Igele tribe. That was the man that was sent to be the Prime Minister by the NPC that was led Sardauna.

There is a way in the narrative that favours ethnic division and the way people play it right now as some components of these things, so I think it just fuels confusion as far as I’m concerned. I believe that any Nigerian who can build a national platform can be President of this country, and we don’t need to create a mess by talking about it. Go ahead if you are qualified to be president, if you can build a national platform.

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The assumption is that once an Igbo man or Yoruba man rotates power with the Fulani man or the Hausa man, there will be justice. No sir. We have 250 ethnic groups in Nigeria who will not be president under rotation of South and North, so it is not representational. it is not justice. It is not equity. Therefore, you will only achieve more confusion and I also believe that this is a false narrative that is being peddled around in the country now, as if you need such position before any of Northerner or Southerner can be called President. Chief MKO Abiola defeated Bashir Tofa in Kano without rotatory Presidency, Chief Obasanjo won votes in the North, without rotatory presidency in 1999, if you build a National platform, you can win election. When Shehu Shagari, was contesting back in 1983, he didn’t have the support of the major parties. Don’t forget that the big states in the North like Kano followed Aminu Kano, most big states in the South-east were following Zik, most big states in the South-west were following Awolowo