Agitations for self-determination, a cry for help –Ex-Rep, Wale Oshun
• Says only restructuring can address it
Hon. Olawale Oshun is an unassuming political stakeholder, who has paid his dues both on the political turf of Nigeria and in the sphere of democratic activism. The Senior Citizen in his 70s, was the Chief Whip in the House of Representatives during the Third Republic on the platform of the defunct Social Democratic Party (SDP). The easy going but vibrant author of the famous book, ‘Clapping with One Hand’, is a member of the progressive house to the core, as he moved from the SDP to the Alliance for Democracy (AD), to the Action Congress (AC) to the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN). He is now in the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC). “All the parties are in the same trajectory of a party that wishes well for its people and for Nigeria,” Oshun proudly declared. The fair-complexioned former Secretary of the famous National Democratic Coalition (NADECO), at home and later in the Diaspora, played host to our man, Razaq Bamidele, at his Lagos residence, where he granted a no-holds-barred interview in which he dissected the national problem and proffered solution. He insisted that agitations for self-determination are just calls for help, which restructuring can address.
From your time in the National Assembly and now, what has changed in the affairs of Nigeria?
Of course, a lot has changed. Actually, starting from the third military coup, which was the one that removed General Yakubu Gowon from power, Nigeria has been on a decline. I mean, starting from that third coup in 1975, the one that removed Gowon from power, because it was the second one that put him (Gowon) in power. The third one removed him. So, starting from that coup, Nigeria has been on the decline.
And it has been on the decline because those who took over at that time decided to manipulate and ultimately succeeded in destroying the civil service, which all over the world enables political institutions to focus on governance. So, they destroyed the civil service and accused the civil service of corruption and then went ahead to institute a barefaced corruption to replace that one that was even soft and unnoticed. It became barefaced in a manner of ‘who would dare to remove us or touch us?’ That was the beginning of great impunity in governance and also the institutionalization of impunity in ordinary citizenship in terms of interrelationship and interactions.
So, if we can start from there, there has been a decline in terms of economic development, in terms of economic planning, in terms of patriotism; it has, sadly, been a persistent decline. If anybody wants to contest that, he can do so. But Gowon was possibly the only Head of State and the last government that planned properly for economic growth and development in Nigeria. All the others are ad hoc governments. For instance, look at the budget for 2022, which is being proposed, what is the plan behind that budget? Is it to grow industry or to grow productivity? What is the plan because every government must have a plan. What is the plan behind the 2022 Budget? If it is to grow the economy, then, how? Is it by growing the productivity side, primary production, secondary production or how? Even tertiary production we are not there because of our level of technology, we are unable to touch it. What is the focus of the budget if one may ask? Or is it that we are just a member of the global market with nothing to contribute to that market other than our oil that we sell? Or that we practically import and purchase practically everything? So, these are the issues and that is why I spoke of a decline, starting from as early as the third military coup so that, it is not targeted at any party, any government or at any individual. If you understand it that way, that is my understanding of it.
Ok sir, what do we do to get out of the sad situation?
You mean, if we must get out of it, what then shall we do? The most fundamental in my view is that the structure of the country has been so manipulated by the military and that the structure of the country, which at independence was federal and deliberately federal to accommodate the diversity in our country, language and religion, culture, ethnicity and recognise all the diversities. That was why it should be truly federal at independence, including fiscal federalism, including for every federating unit developing at its own pace. And that in itself enables competition which put Awolowo, Azikiwe, Ahmadu Bello, all the three of them on their toes. They were competing with one another. Yet, they were taking decisions that affected their own people and decisions that were conducive to the growth of their own people. For instance, Awolowo aligned with the Israelis in relation to the development of agriculture and road construction. The Sadauna of Sokoto, Sir Ahmadu Bello, did not even have an iota of relationship with the same Israel. He showed his own option for development and it paid off for him. Awolowo showed his option for development and it paid off for him. So, why must we now force everybody that it has to be only one option for development? That cannot be possible. And this is the fundamental cause of our degradation. It is not even a question of not growing; it is about declining. It is a major factor that we are stepping backward.
So, we have to first of all go back to that where every federating unit must have the power to determine its developmental need. The federating units must have that power. They must have power to have their own respective constitutions to decide their own fates. Awolowo in the western region had a vibrant Consulate Office in the United Kingdom (UK). The office is what the Nigerian Government acquired and turned into Nigerian Embassy now. But that was where the western region oversaw its consular activities and businesses. Nothing stops every federating unit from doing that even now.
The fear in some quarters is that, that would lead to disintegration of the country….
(Cuts in) But at that time, we did not disintegrate! When Sadauna was competing building Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria, building Stadium in Kaduna, and Awolowo was building his own stadium in Ibadan, building University of Ife and Zik was also doing well in the East. In fact, they were competing. It was a healthy one. For instance, I will give an illustration now. By the nature of Yoruba people, by the value of our traditional royalty system, we have always been a collaborative, a consultative kind of governance. That is why any king before the advent of the European intervention had a Council of traditional chiefs, who, of course, must prevail in fundamental issues. And that is why you have this provision that when the king becomes tyrannical and dictatorial, he can be asked to vacate his throne.
What that suggests is that, even now, the Yoruba people would be better served by a parliamentary system of government than this executive presidential, governorship ‘wahala’ where you become a governor and you become untouchable. You become a law unto yourself, a law over everybody. Whereas, by our own consultative mode of governance, a parliamentary system would have just made the premier a primus inter pare amongst his colleagues. And the mode of governance would have been one cheaper to run and the mode of achievement, everybody would have an input unlike now that the governor will practically rule the terrain. Even an ordinary local government chairman, neither his legislative arm, nor his councillors and supervisors are anything to him. It is just a one man Manor at the seat!
So, what I will then say is that, if the others like the American form of the executive type, of course, there is no problem about that; then the West can go on with the parliamentary system because it is conducive to our culture. Others can go with their one-man boss, we will meet at the centre. Nobody should be forced. You must not insist that because you want to eat fura in the North that I must also eat fura in the West, no! I should be able to eat my amala here in the West. And that simplifies the concept of restructuring that there are a various ways of governing, that governance has its own dimensions but it has to do with human beings, with people. So, every range of people should be able to determine how best to govern themselves.
What is your take on regional agitations for autonomy and self-determination?
The important thing is this; if, for instance, we all agree that this Nigeria is a federation and that each person or each group of persons, who so desires can run their affair the way they want it and we have a weak centre under the same project -Nigeria – and everybody would contribute to the weak centre that would oversee foreign affairs and territorial integrity, that is the border, and then the currency, no more no less. It should not be that one would determine the type of house I should live in, in Lagos or in Maiduguri. Or the one that would determine the kind of primary school I would attend and so on. Not that one.
I mean the one that would enable the federating units to run their affairs and their socio-economic needs in the way that is best for their people. If we are able to work towards that, then, big Nigeria’s aura might be there. But if, for instance, any group of people insists that, that is impossible, then, ultimately, at the end of the day, I think all the different people would go their different ways. It would only be a question of time.
In your own assessment, is the apprehension on restructuring borne out of fear or ignorance?
No, it is not ignorance; it is about advantage. If you look at this history, when General Aguyi-Ironsi inherited the first coup, I mean, he inherited the proceed of the first military coup, he immediately proceeded to enact the Unitary Decree because he thought at that time, that they were in charge of the country. He thought they could take advantage of everybody, rule everybody the way they liked. He went and enacted Decree 34, the Unification or Unitary Decree. Of course, the North openly kicked against that. Of course, it was the remote cause of the rebellion in Kaduna and all over the North. And that led to the second coup.
But the moment the second coup came and the government came under the control of the North, Gowon was still a bridge builder. But immediately after Gowon, the North saw itself as the domino and decided to do the same thing Aguyi-Ironsi did. It turned Nigeria into a unitary country. There was a time derivation was 50% for the producing areas and 50% for the federal. But between the short space of the Muritala Muhammed/Obasanjo coup in 1975 and then the intervention of Buhari much later, there was a time derivation came down to almost 1% for the producing areas; everything went to the centre.
Now, the producing areas are begging for just 13%. Why? There is absolutely no reason that in a truly federal system, you cannot have fiscal federalism. He who produces should enjoy his proceeds. And every part of this country is blessed. It is not only oil. In recent time, we have been hearing of the Zamfara gold. Who was mining and who was taking the proceeds? And you have been talking about agriculture, about herds of cattle. If you go to the North, of course, herds of cattle is managed by the people, by the farmers, by the northerners. It is a major productive capital. It is. But are there any returns other than the cattle tax paid to the local governments? Are there any returns to the Federal Government to be distributed to other parts of the country?
So, why is it that people would now produce oil in their area and you take everything to Abuja and even 13%, you are struggling to pay?
I understand that some members are proposing that the 13% be abolished; why when we should be moving toward 50% for the producing areas and 50% to goes to the Federal Government?
These are the key issues and unless we allow restructuring, and when we say restructuring, we are talking of changes that enable power to be granted to those who produce and there is no part of this country that does not produce, whether it is natural resource, whether it is gold, bauxite, bitumen or whatever it is. There is no part of this country that does not have its own natural base. Apart from that, what asset base does Japan have? Japan is one of the most powerful nations in the world today. What natural base does it have? But through technology and hard work, you can see what they are now.
So, it is not an argument that this place does not have anything. You speak of Ekiti State, in terms of intellect, in terms of what you call intellectual property, which part of the country for a square space can compete with Ekiti? That is in itself is something that is marketable, that is productive venture all by itself. Can anybody now insist that you have to eat what we agree that you must eat?!
But can the way you painted restructuring stop banditry, kidnapping and other security challenges in the country?
Yes if you have governance in every federating unit in line with the wishes and aspirations of their own people,. I mean governance that protecst interests of their own people, that is accountable to their own people, whether it is boko haram, whether it is banditry, militancy, they are cry for help. This is the way I see it, a cry for help. You go to many parts of our country now, not even the north alone, even though the worst indices are coming from those areas, it is so everywhere. I am afraid even for the west, because now, during our own period, people struggled to be educated. And then we also said that, if you are called for education, you are not there, you better pick a trade. And picking a trade is learning a skill. Becoming a tailor, becoming a farmer becoming a carpenter, shoe maker and the rest, is picking a trade. But if you refuse to pick education and skills, when they are calling for a porter, don’t hesitate to come forward. That has always been there.
And you find in many places now because we are copying, we now see some people now throwing up their arms hailing people for money at every motor park, at every corner, Yoruba people, who should be in pursuit of education or skills. That is why you now find out that many skills are not available. If you are looking for good mechanics, good tailors, good barbers, they are not readily available because they are not there anymore now! And that is where I grieve for Yoruba. Unless you go back to our old attribute of picking up education or picking up trade and technical skills which we used to do, if not, we will be digging the grave for the future generation because the moment you have the kind of insurrection that we are having everywhere now, the greater the insurrection the deeper the graves that dug everywhere to bury them.
Where do we then start to address this?
Well, first and foremost, I have spoken about our commitment. I have spoken about the determination of those in government. But I have spoken essentially about the need for restructuring which, of course, would determine the kind of government that we would now have. Government must provide leadership. So, it is this leadership that would now guide the path to full recovery. And this is why, at any time, if we select our leaders in a way that is acceptable to us, and they know that they owe us an obligation, that they must grow the economy, that they must grow productivity, that education must have its rightful place and that the citizen is the centre of attention and that the widespread and crippling attempt at the accumulation of unlawful wealth, is abridged, all these things that show the way to the youth and the coming generation of the need to work together and to work hard, and to work for the interest of the people and the interest of the country, which gave back to them.
Are the Yoruba governors speaking with one voice on some of the fundamental issues that you have dutifully analysed?
Well, they need, in their own interest to speak with one voice. And I think it may be right to observe that an attempt is being made for them to talk to one another. We already have the south-west team of governors across party lines; they have a chairman who speaks for them. And at no time has any one of them challenged the chairman. So, I believe that something must be working for them. They must have started talking to one another.
And the fact that the chairman has been speaking in a way that pleases the ordinary Yoruba person, and none of them has challenged him, and none of them has not taken an action, even if you are slow in implementing their common decision, none of them has disregarded or disowned any of the decisions he has come out to announce even if one or two of them are slow in implementing. So, you must still give them that, to say that, yes, there is some kind of understanding among them.
And all we need to do is to encourage them because they come from various backgrounds, from various parties and not from the same parties. So, in a way that they are now talking to themselves, implementing the Amatekun and open grazing bill that is being implemented across the south-west. So, we must give it to them that, they have started talking to one another. But we want to see them do more.
Actually, we want to see them standing behind one another in a way that there would come a time when the West can stand on its feet and say, this is what we want to do and they would be able to do it. If they stand with one another, they would be able to do it.
In 2023, what should be expected from Honourable Olawale Oshun on the field of politics?
I am an individual. I am in my 70s. I can only be part of a process that would keep asking that there is justice for every Nigerian and that justice is that every Nigerian should be governed the way he wants. Still taking you back to the issue of restructuring is that there must be justice for every Nigerian. And that every federating unit must be able to determine its own education and socio-economic needs and have the freedom and ability to pursue its own goal as agitated by its own people. That has been enabling my own activism to support and work with those who believe in that line.
Ah, I don’t want my lifetime to be a waste. I want them achieved in my life time. I want to ask God to give me life. We must be able to achieve all these things within the next five to ten years. By the grace of God, I will be here.