Secretary-General, Yoruba Council of Elders, Dr Kunle Olajide, in this interview with FEMI MAKINDE says most problems facing Nigeria will be addressed when the country is restructured
President Muhammadu Buhari said most people advocating restructuring do not know what it is all about. So, what form of restructuring does your organisation want for Nigeria?
Let me first of all say something about the President’s comment. I do not believe anybody is confused, let alone the President. He could not have been confused. In the manifesto of the APC, they talk about restructuring. What is restructuring? It is having true federalism; true federalism in the sense that each federating unit controls, explores and exploits its resources majorly for the good of the people in that federating unit and pays an agreed percentage as royalty to the centre for, especially, services that the centre will render.
That is all about restructuring. In other words, each federating unit will look after itself with its resources and in any case when the calls for restructuring became very loud, the APC constituted the Nasir El-Rufai committee which consisted of a few governors. I remember Governor Ibikunle Amosun was a member; Governor Rauf Aregbesola was a member as well as governors in other parts of the country. They went round the six geo-political zones of the country, collected memoranda and interrogated those who submitted the memoranda. The Yoruba Summit Group, which is the umbrella organisation for all socio-cultural organisations in Yoruba land, presented a memo. They asked us questions and we answered them.
It was at the International Conference Centre in Ibadan. The committee went beyond that; they studied all the memos; they reviewed and even wrote a report which the chairman of the committee, Governor El-Rufai, read out to the public. He read a substantial part of it to the public and they said they had already prepared a bill to be forwarded to the National Assembly for implementation of their recommendations. But the government has not issued any White Paper on the recommendations and neither has it taken any action. So, to me, I see this as doublespeak. If you set up a committee on restructuring and the committee gave you a report and now, you claim not to know what restructuring means, I think there is a lot of deception there. Restructuring is simple and very clear.
What we want is that we want each federating unit in Nigeria to control its resources, explore its resources and pay royalty to the Federal Government for essential services which should include defence, foreign affairs, currency, standardisation of education and a few other things. For the police, each of the federating units should control its own police because you don’t make the governors the chief security officers and they cannot direct the commissioners of police in their states to do anything. These are the anomalies in the system we are running. And unless better wisdom prevails, our leadership, the tiny ruling political elite, who insist on holding us captive forever, may not change their mind. I sincerely hope, but God forbid, the country does not go into splinter groups before their very eyes.
Do you share the view that restructuring may lead to the disintegration of the nation?
Restructuring cannot lead to disintegration. We had proper federalism in the First Republic and there was no disintegration; what we had was healthy competition. It cannot lead to disintegration because the centre will still be there but it will not be overburdened like it is now. Now that the centre controls about 52 per cent of the national revenue, which is unfair, what is the centre doing with that? The people of Nigeria reside in the local governments and states and those are where the larger chunk of the resources should be.
In the next 20 years, the liquefied gas and petroleum products will not be in much demand the way they are now. This will be so because many countries are going into production of vehicles that no longer use fuel but electricity. So, what will Nigeria depend on then? This present system promotes indolence and fuels corruption and it puts the nation into consumption mode. The governors do not need to think about how to generate resources in their states. Mineral resources for the Federal Government, yet they are under the land in their states. What a paradox! This system cannot endure; we will continue to take two steps forward and 10 steps backward if we continue with this arrangement. They should stop deceiving Nigerians.
Are you saying lack of restructuring is responsible for many of the problems in the country?
Yes, it is. It is at the root of all the problems. It is at the root of massive unemployment; it is at the root of mass poverty; it is at the root of insecurity. It is the basics. It is the foundation of all the problems. No matter how beautiful a building may look like, if the foundation is faulty, it will collapse one day. It is at the root of our problems and that is what we are saying. We are different people and we must recognise this; there is no doubt about that. The Yoruba man’s history, culture and sensibilities are different from the Hausa man or Igbo man. And each of us must set priorities and explore our resources and govern our people as well as live in accordance with our culture and beliefs. You cannot lump all of us together; it cannot work.
Former Vice President Atiku Abubakar and some presidential candidates have made restructuring a campaign issue. How does your group want to make sure that they don’t abandon this issue when they get to power?
We are not going to believe anybody again except they give us a written commitment and the timeframe to do it. It has to be stated the time bills concerning restructuring will go to the National Assembly. But some aspects of this restructuring can be done by executive orders without any constitution amendment. So, we are rarely going to make sure that whoever comes here does not give us a verbal promise but a written commitment that can be used to hold them accountable to their promise later.
But do you think Nigeria is ripe for state police?
State police is part of restructuring. We are not going be addressing the issues piecemeal; let us look at them holistically. Of course, you cannot single out state police. How do you want to fund it? If you allow state governments to explore their resources and state police will be a byproduct of total restructuring. Restructuring will address all these issues and Nigeria will be better for it.
How would you assess the security situation in the country now?
Security issues are multifaceted. Where you have massive unemployment, insecurity will persist. When people have no jobs, they will want to steal, to keep themselves alive. That is why we are saying this issue of restructuring must be addressed. It is by addressing it comprehensively that most of these problems will be solved. Addressing it comprehensively will create an enabling environment for the creation of employment, demonetise politics and reduce recurrent expenditure. Our politicians earn too much money; their allowances and salaries are not realistic with the current economic situation. These are the issues we will have to address.
For example, you cannot expect Ekiti State to pay the same minimum wage with Akwa Ibom State, Bayelsa or Lagos State. If we don’t address this issue of restructuring, we will continue to take two steps forward and take 10 steps backward.
Are you confident that the 2019 general elections will be transparent?
I cannot be categorical because it will depend on INEC, politicians and the people. I cannot make a categorical statement that the election will be transparent now because doing so now will be deceitful.
Does the Yoruba Council of Elders have any particular presidential candidate to support in 2019?
No, we do not have anyone. We have not met them; they have not given us their programmes and we don’t know how much they know about Nigeria and what they even want to do.
Are you planning to meet with them to know who to support?
Yes, we want to meet with them. Anybody who thinks he needs our support will come to us and we will give such the opportunity to tell us what he wants to do. We will protect the interest of our people, the Yoruba people, and not the interest of the YCE.
Gridlock has become a permanent feature in Apapa and this is a serious concern to many because of its implications on the economy. How do you think this can be tackled?
It is most embarrassing and a solution must be found to it. We have been on this problem for many years. Many government officials would visit the place without achieving anything. I agree with the suggestions of the South-West governors that a rail line will solve the problem to a large extent. The roads are not constructed to carry heavy vehicles carrying heavy goods. The gridlock is affecting our economy.