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NIGERIA’S DEAD-END –Ex-INEC chief raises the alarm

...Says country drifting, govt in precarious situation

Professor of Sociology at the University of Lagos and a former Federal Commissioner with the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, Lai Olurode, has taken a critical look at the state of affairs in Nigeria. In this interview with RAZAQ BAMIDELE, the egghead noted that the country is drifting dangerously and warned of dire consequences if this is not arrested quickly. He described Nigeria as an expansive slaughter slab where insecurity and wanton waste of innocent lives and property are at their peak thereby putting the government in a precarious dead-end situation. Prof Olurode also criticised the winner-takes-all syndrome in Nigeria’s political culture and reasoned that this contributes to the crisis in the country. According to him, lack of consensus by the elite makes those who have failed to benefit from government to instigate or fuel crisis and insecurity to frustrate the government in power. The university don also bared his mind on other salient national issues.


How comfortable are you with the current state of the nation?

Without mincing words, I am not sure you can count 10 Nigerians, who would be pleased with the current situation in the country for two reasons. Government has reached a cul-de-sac, i.e, it’s like government has come to a dead end in the sense that it is doing its best since the president and his new administration came into office in 2015. His inaugural speech radiated hope and raised a lot of expectations. And Nigerians were overwhelmingly in his support by electing him as their president. But paradoxically, it is as if the more the efforts of the government in addressing and responding to the security challenges, the more the furthering of the outcome and the more confusing is the settings. So, when you put in your best and you thought you had done what was necessary and what you could do, given the resources you have had, given the training of your military personnel and you are not getting commensurable outcome, of course, that cannot be a pleasant development.

So, we really don’t know because it is a drain on security personnel. They are being slaughtered in the theatre of war. And it is like checkmating the bandits, the Boko Haram appears to be Herculean. And nobody can see any light at the end of the tunnel! The only salutary aspect of it is that, to a large extent, they have been confined to a part of the North-east and to some extent, Adamawa State could not be said to be as vulnerable as it used to be.

And again, we are now witnessing in large numbers instances of kidnappings, abductions and threat to lives on a regular basis. And it seems to be catching up, not just in Zamfara State. It has spread to the South-west, to the South-south. Of course, South-south has its peculiar challenges before. And the South-east also seems to be caving in. So, if you look at geography, the spread is no longer something you can programme on scientific basis. That is to say that, if you concentrate your security architecture and security resources in a particular special location, you can bombard the insurgents by air, by road and by whatever means you can, but if it is spreading, it is going to be tasking for the security personnel no matter their numbers.

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And one cannot be happy because you know there are appeals, given the unemployment situations and poverty settings in this country; it is not going to be difficult for the insurgents to attract more and more people from the poorest of the poor to their fold. And the looting that is going on by them is making it so easy for them to recruit and get more support. But in the meantime, the consequences are devastating. It is like development has been arrested. Agriculture production, because Nigeria is predominantly agrarian community with a lot of people being peasant farmers, is suffering. I could recall two, three years back, former Kaduna State governor, an elder statesman and a very senior citizen of this country, Alhaji Balarabe Musa, cried out that young boys, who are labourers on the farm were being kidnapped and the kidnappers were asking for N1000 or even N500 for them to be released as ransom.

And given the history of kidnapping, kidnapping in Mexico in the United States, its target is very clear. They are not just ordinary people like you and me. They are not people that are struggling to survive. They are usually celebrities, who will be kidnapped for a ransom and what they are looking for is just money.

But in our own case, you cannot theorise which area can I avoid, where can I be, which area is safe! Nowhere is safe in the country. And in Niger State, Okada boys are being kidnapped! Their means of livelihood is being snatched. So, really, it is very difficult to theorise or to say this is what you need to do in order to escape. And once you are in their den, you are gone. You have to make sure that your family can mobilise the resources that would satisfy them. So, life is coming to a halt. Even the fear alone that you can be kidnapped is frightening. A woman was jogging in Lagos and she was kidnapped. So, the security situation in now generalised and it should give everybody concern as to how are we going to navigate out of this.

There is the suspicion that, perhaps, this is being politicised in order to make the country ungovernable for President Muhammadu Buhari. But the caveat to that is that the president has sworn to the constitution to uphold the basic tenet of the constitution, which in Chapter 2 says that, the welfare and security of the people of Nigeria shall be the primary purpose of government. How that is done should not be anybody’s concern. What we expect the president to do is to secure the country.

What can we say was the real genesis of all these security challenges?

Well, there are internal and external dimensions to this. Let me first of all speak on the possible internal causes. The killing of the leader of Boko Haram, Yusuf, about ten years ago now, could be said to be the immediate cause of this. The backlash from that was that the Boko Haram was no longer under anybody’s control. The leadership is lost and they got scattered and they are still scattering up till now. They have broken down into all kinds of factions. If there is no central organisation for a body like that, maintaining the centre is problematic for giving direction. There would be competitions. Factions would be competing with one another. And when there is no coordination, the hell would be let loose. This is what we are witnessing now.

On the external side, there is crisis in the Arab countries, especially the war against terrorists in Libya, which was spearheaded by former President Obama of the US, and previously the Bush administration in Iraq. These had assisted in the proliferation of light weapons in those areas.

And right from the civil war in Nigeria between 1967 and 1970, some armed robbers that were caught in Lagos, I could recall when I was doing a study of armed robbery in Lagos, they found weapons on them that were said to have originated from the Civil War. So, and I think the President of Nigeria has recently talked about the destruction of Libya by the US with the connivance of the western powers, was responsible for Islamic State (ISIS) terrorists activities in that region, and by implication in Africa. So, when you look at Ethiopia, you look at Libya, you look at Kenya; these are countries that are borders to Nigeria from Cameroun. So, this is the external dimension to the security crisis, which Nigeria is confronted with.

The other aspect of the external dimension, which we should not gloss over is, who are the producers of arms? They want to sell arms. Those who are into arms production, they are not into it for nothing. If there were no war anywhere, nobody would want to buy. So, they would also engineer, or deliberately create crisis situations so that they can put their arms in circulation. They are profiteers and they want to make money. For them, any money is clean even if blood money. The AK47 is from Russia. America is also into arms production. And all of them are merchants of war. So, this is why the global community would not want to put an end to the crisis in Nigeria. It is not difficult for them to stop the crisis here. It is doable. They have the resources. But they would not want to be bothered as long as the life of the white man is safe. They are now fighting the proxy war. They don’t go directly into it. They would look for surrogates, who can execute the war agenda.

Are we not drifting towards war?

Well, just like I said, there are two dimensions. Even if you address the internal dimension of the crisis and we did it successfully, it may not be enough. It is necessary to do so, but it may not be sufficient to contain the deterioration of the Nigerian security architecture. So, what I will suggest is that we need to attack and respond to both the internal causes and the external factors. This I think the Nigerian government is trying to address the external dimensions more than the internal dimensions.

What do I mean? The president has globetrotted, meeting with presidents of neighbouring countries, seeking their assistance especially because of the porous nature of our borders, and knowing fully that no amount of efforts that are put into curtailing the crisis locally would be sufficient to address the external dimension.

At home, I think there is what we can call elite dis-consensus. It has not been possible to build up consensus, a formidable one among the elite that will transcend the ethno-religious divides. I think those who are opposed to President Muhammadu Buhari, perhaps, would be smiling within themselves that, yes, shame to him, he has not been able to govern; he made a lot of promises and he is unable to fulfill some of them, because the cost of the war is escalating. And when you draw resources and you amass them to prosecute a war, those resources can no more be available for development. These are essential challenges, which are soft security. And soft security is more important than hard security. Hard security is when you buy ammunition and other things to prosecute a war and so on.

And that cannot solve the problem. Unless you solve the soft security of whether the people can eat, whether they can have shelter, whether they can produce, whether they can go to the farm, then you are now addressing the substantive issues.

So, yes, the country is drifting, but the drift is not that it cannot be contained. It can be addressed if we are able to build up elite consensus so that the elite that are talking against one another can then engage in conversation.

Let me give you one example. In the 2015 election, Buhari and Jonathan almost had one quarter in the same number of states, maybe one in 26 and the other in 27 states or so. Buhari defeated Jonathan with about 2.5 million votes, which means it was not a bad outing. It was the most competitive election Nigeria has ever had. It was far competitive than that of 2019. But what is the gain of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, in that election? Zero! They were not able to appoint any minister, they were not able to appoint any chair of any parrastatal, and they could not appoint any member of the University Governing Council. They had no say. That is just Zero Sum Game! You lose, you lose all and the winner takes all. So, why would I wish the All Progressives Congress, APC, government well? Just tell me why, with all the money I spent, touring the entire country and other things!

But if you have proportional representation, you are building up elite consensus. If PDP brings 45% and APC brings 55%, appoints ministers in that proportion, then elite consensus will gather. The PDP also will not want the government to go down because their people have been appointed. They would want to take over, but it would not be in the manner of a do or die affair. What is going on now is, bring down this government. That is what is going on. And that is because there is alienation of major stakeholders. It is not easy for these people because they live on government, they eat in government, and they cannot do anything without government patronage. But now, they cannot get contracts from APC government; they can’t get anything and you think they would just lie low and wish the government well and wish the country well? No!

It was just like when the PDP was eating and the APC was out of government. APC was bombarding the PDP with all kinds of press releases. It is the same thing. They may not be arming the youth to cause mayhem, but they can do anything. It is a natural response when there is exclusion. It fosters frustration. And with frustration, you can do anything.

But now that the president has sworn in his ministers, is there any way for adjustment to accommodate the opposition?

Well, I would have thought that if the president had kept to his words, he would have done that earlier. He said in his address that in his second term, he would look for the people who could do the job. He said he would not allow himself to be blinded by partisan considerations. I have not seen that. And secondly, even if the members of the opposition were called, which I doubt the present government would do, because that would be a sign of failure that you are reaching out. You see, Nigerian politicians, typically, they don’t want to build bridges, even if they are going to fall. They will prefer to fall to extending hands of fellowship to the opposition. I am not even sure if the president were to do that, whether the opposition would embrace that.

But that has never been part of our tradition to form a coalition government, and that was why in 2015, when new government came in, it did not want to touch anything that the previous government was doing. And government should be continuity. It should be continuity because at the end of the day, you will also leave. The worst that could happen, which former President Olusegun Obasanjo attempted was a third term, which Nigerians did not accept. There is no third term in the Nigerian constitution for anybody. You can do your worst only in your first term and second term and you are gone.

So, I think if we see governance as service delivery, it is just a matter of, like what a philosopher, a Jurist, John Rawls, said that there is what is called the veil of ignorance. It is like if you are hungry and I cover your face, you would not know who is giving you food whether he is a white man, whether he is a Muslim or Christian. You will just grab the food. What you need at that time is for you to be fed, to satisfy your physiological need. It does not matter who provides it for you. When you want to travel, it doesn’t matter the religion of the pilot. It would not bother you. Your concern is how to reach your destination. Or when you are in crisis, you would want to be rescued. Do you care who rescues you? Only a foolish man would say, if you are not a Muslim, don’t rescue me. What the Prophet of Allah, Muhammad, peace be unto him, wants for us is comfort and not hardship. He wants to ease our burden. And God has said that he would not put on us, any burden that we would not be able to bear. So, if anybody comes to your aid, why not seek his help.

But we are too unnecessarily irrational and sentimental. We pay lip service to religion but you cannot see Islam, you cannot see Christianity! Nigerians are dying and people are hungry. That is why the example of that Imam is very instructive. He rescued a lot of people without caring about their religions. He allowed them into his mosque.

What then is the way out?

Well, people are clamouring that the president should tinker and have a fresh look at the structure of governance. Is that something you can do to assuage the fears of other people? People have been clamouring for community/state policing. And you are creating community policing still under federal might. How would it work? So, instead of taking the bull by the horns and let us address some of the issues, you cannot do all, but we can commence. There had been report submitted to the government. Government cannot go on as if people are satisfied with even the structure of the country.

We are not saying we should go a whole hug or dismantle the country. No. No reasonable person would say that because we have seen examples all over the world that would not make that attractive to us. Sudan is there. Since the exit of Southern Sudan, Sudan has known no peace till now. But if there are ways in which the centre is holding on to so many things that are under-performing, we can see to that and that is the truth. And it has nothing to do with the president. It has to do with what he met on ground. But can we be helpless? No, we cannot be helpless.

When you want change, you can look for change at two levels. You can look at the level of the structures; you can look at the level of the agencies. Let me give two more examples. When Professor Attahiru Jega was appointed the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, there was no change in the laws. The structure Maurice Iwu used was the structure Jega and his team inherited. But Jega and his team were able to give us near clean election in 2011. By 2015, we had a better election with the same structure, the same law, the same set of people working there. What has happened? Leadership change! In the Joint Admission and Matriculation Board, JAMB, Professor Ishaq Oloyede was not there before. JAMB used to be a centre where billions of naira would be allocated and it would consume all without generating a kobo. Oloyede got there; he turned it around. Now JAMB makes money for government. It was the same structure that he met on ground that he used. But what has happened? Leadership!

Can you elaborate more on the said politics of exclusion that you said is part of the causes of the country’s problem?

Yes. The 2015 election was cleaner. Apart from June 12, I am not sure we have got any election that was as clean as 2015 election. 2019 election, you yourself know what is going on. Inconclusive elections, court cases in their hundreds! But what I am saying is that Jonathan had a good outing. But what is his party getting in return? It was a fair outing compared to APC. APC won the election. Buhari defeated Jonathan by about 4.5 million votes. At least, they recorded successes, considering the number of the states they had. But what are the returns? There is no return! Is there anything to motivate them to cooperate with the government, to offer suggestions? Even if they did, they are not likely to be taken. So, there is no synergy, there is no equilibrium and there is dissonance in government, government and the opposition, government and the people. People are far apart from the government. There are no platforms for conversations. There is nothing stopping Mr. President to invite all the presidential candidates to meet together to discuss. You have been there before. The other parties are saying we are trying to reach you but we cannot reach you. And that is why I get it out from my own side.

So, that seems to strengthen the position of those who said the challenge we have in our country is not about the structure but it is about people who are directing the affairs of the country. Leadership! Maybe I would say for the government to assuage those who are clamouring for change in the architecture and the structure of government, why can’t he tinker with it? He can do that with legislation. Just one item can do it.

Before, we used to have the Nigeria Airways. When I was travelling to Europe, England in 1991, I had to use the Nigerian Airways. And they had many aircraft in their fleet. But today, there is no Nigerian Airways anymore. There is none. The National Shipping Line in the 1980s, there were several ships belonging to that shipping line. Today, we have none. In 1979, there was nothing like state universities. It was the former Lagos State Governor, Lateef Kayode Jakande that started the establishment of state universities in 1982. Before, no state could talk of having a university because it was illegal. But today, we even have private universities.

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So, change is the only thing that is constant in life. And we have seen that if you agree to do something no matter how very little, with the Nigerian state structure, it would be a plus. In 1955 to 1959, we had something closer to what the people are now agitating for. The western region government, which had only one Commissioner of Education, one Minister of Land, one Minister of Finance, about eight departments of government; in the same one western region, we have created about six states now doing precisely what the region was doing and even doing far better than all the state governments put together. And yet, people have no access to social services.

I grew up in the village. Tap water, we took it for granted. Going to the hospitals and maternity centres, we took it for granted. Sanitary inspectors would come to our house to inspect our water and pour away dirty water. And there was no well water and there were no boreholes then.

 Do we have any choice before us?

Yes, we have a choice. The choice is either we go on like this that would not breed development because what we are doing is to multiply bureaucracy. We are enriching the politicians. We have many offices but they are not doing anything. We have more local governments, 774 now, and you cannot see their impact. So, I think we need to think Nigeria and think the people in whatever we want to do because the purpose of government is to secure lives and to improve their welfare. If we can do that, the country will be at ease.

In my inaugural lecture, I said Nigeria is a vast territory, a slaughter slab, an expansive slaughter slab. People are being killed and kidnapped. Life means nothing. And that is the truth. So, everybody sees government as business. And that is why people can do anything to get to power because they know it is very juicy. If you are looking for cheap money, you have to go into government. And that is crippling production. The productive sector is crippled. People can’t go to farm; they can’t do anything. It is becoming difficult for them.

So, we need more conversations between the government and the opposition and between the government and the people to avert a colossal crisis.