Dr Phillip Idaewor is the chairman of the United Kingdom chapter of Nigeria’s ruling All Progressives Congress, APC. In this interview with Akani Alaka, he spoke on the recent call by his chapter of APC for the call off of the July 3 rally for the Yoruba Nation scheduled for Lagos, complaints of marginalization by some sections of Nigeria, restructuring, achievements of the Buhari administration, the future of his party among other issues.
Some days ago, the UK branch of APC issued a statement signed by you warning against the proposed rally for the Yoruba Nation by a group led by Sunday Igboho in Lagos. Why are you so concerned about the proposed rally?
We have to put things in context and remind ourselves of what happened with the legitimate rally that was organized by the EndSARS group. The young people who organized the EndSARS had good ideas of what they wanted to achieve, but we saw the outcome – how people who probably were not involved in the organization – hoodlums and miscreants took over that process and completely turned Lagos into mayhem. I grew up in Lagos, I’m concerned about Lagos, I went to primary, secondary school in Lagos and I think it is something that will break the heart of every Lagosian to see infrastructure that has been painstakingly put in place being destroyed again. I don’t have any problem with Chief Igboho and the Oduduwa Nation campaign. It is within the legitimate right of citizens who feel aggrieved and who feel that their interests are not being represented to show their disaffection. However, to even contemplate a repeat of what we went through during the EndSARS was scary for someone like me. I think Nigeria – we don’t talk much about it, but we are a resource-poor country. We have little money compared to our population size, so when it is used to build structures, we should actively discourage the destruction of those structures. And I think for any Nigerian patriot, we should be rising to say, ‘look, we have no problem with you saying you want Oduduwa Nation, it is a legitimate right. But please, if it is likely to lead to the destruction of properties, loss of lives, peoples’ ways of earning their daily income, please, think of other ways of achieving that goal.’ That’s my concern.
But the organisers of the rally say they have held similar rallies in other states in the Southwest without any problem?
That’s true, but every other state where these rallies have been organized are not Lagos. Lagos is a unique city; it is a melting point for people of different backgrounds in Nigeria. So, the fact that it held peacefully in those other places may not mean it will end up like that in Lagos. But if they decide to ignore patriotic calls like ours and decide to go ahead, our prayer is that it will go peacefully. But we have to understand the uniqueness of Lagos, the mix of the population- from across and outside the country. So, Lagos is a kettle of fish compared to other states in the country.
What is your reaction to those who argued that it is the policy of the APC government led by President Muhammadu Buhari, especially, the marginalization of some parts of the country that are driving the agitations for secession?
In a multi-ethnic society like Nigeria, the management of diversity is very important. Yes, I’m a member of APC, but I have always been a strong advocate for the political restructuring of Nigeria and I remained unapologetically so. Nigeria – the current political structure must be revisited and reworked in such a way that every ethnic nationality including the smallest and even the weakest should have a sense of belonging. We are as strong as our weakest. A situation in which every group feels that once they grab power at the presidency, they have a right to dominate others is unhealthy for a multi-ethnic society like Nigeria. Today, it is President Buhari. But we once had a president Obasanjo, a president Goodluck Jonathan, how did their presidency impact the management of our diversity as a country? Nigeria at this stage of its history should be well on the path of becoming a nation. In other words, we should have put in place the requisite structure – politically – to mould our people into ‘Nigerianness’ that is unique. What worries someone like me is that our key political actors are not even thinking deep enough into these realities. Every single time I heard them speak, I heard people speaking about symptoms management. We have to dive deep to know the cause of our problems. Why are we not able to unite? People say, ‘oh, it is because we were brought together by the British.’ Look, there is hardly a nation on the face of the earth, including the western countries that had not at one point or the other had interventions of external aggressors who took charge of their system and governed them. But somewhere along the line, successful nations have shown that the way you ensure that you succeed, not just survive as people is by managing your diversity. And Nigeria is too important to the Black race – personally, this is what I feel – I don’t look at Nigeria as a country for Nigerians alone, but an important country that if successful could symbolize success and the pride of the Black race because of our sheer population, because of our enterprising nature, because of the brilliance that our people have demonstrated around the world, our outward-looking attitude. If Nigeria succeeds, Black people will have somewhere to point to and say ‘look at an African country that is thriving.’ That’s how we should all be looking at our country. I grew up, lived to adulthood in Nigeria, today I live in the UK. I have had the opportunity of seeing two different cultures – totally and completely different and I can say that Nigeria needs to be restructured. And the calls by people like me that Nigeria should be restructured are founded on patriotism. And that is what we should be driving to. I don’t think that breaking up the country is the solution to our problems. As I said, I grew up in Lagos. I have had a lot of interactions with people from the Southwest and all that. So, what happens if the Yoruba nation emerges – what happens between the Ijebus and Egbas who are constantly on each other’s throat? Even if you went to the Southeast, it is the same story. Igbos are not a homogeneous whole.
This mismanagement of our diversity that you talked about, many critics say it has become worse under Buhari with the way a section of the country where the President hails from is being overwhelmingly favoured with appointments. There is also the charge that the President has refused to listen to and act on the complaints of the marginalization in the six years he has been in power. Would you say those allegations against the President are fair?
I would think so. You know every time that allegation has been thrown up, the President and his team have always come up to say ‘look at the spread of the appointments’- where people are from and all that. But what I usually say is that if that accusation persists, it is not sufficient to come out and say ‘look at how it is spread.’ No, you must engage more constructively with the problem. I’m not saying engage with the people – engage with the problem. We need to interrogate and ask ourselves, ‘why is it first of all that people feel that because I am from a part of the country, it is only my people that are getting appointments?’ And then, we go out of our way to put in place remedial steps – because it may be that truly, the President is not being biased as he has been saying. It may just be the attitude being displayed by the people from his part of the country that is making some believe, think and, therefore, react to this seeming marginalization allegation. When, for instance, President Jonathan was in government, just as an example, the appointments that were made into the security sector and all that- people will tell you that most of the persons were from the South of the country just like we now say most of the persons are from the North of the country and every single time appointment is going to be made, people will say I know where that appointment is going to come from. I believe as a Nigerian and as an African that we should be candid with ourselves. We must understand that until and unless the people and the government become truly frank with themselves, we will continue to have problems. If I were to speak in the ears of Mr President, I will say to him ‘You need to take a second look at the pattern of appointments that you are making.’ In any case, as a member of the APC, I believe that the party should have a significant say in the appointments of members of government that represent their party. It is an anomaly that happens in Nigeria that a government is voted into office on the platform of a party, that government purports to represent that party and yet, that party has little or no say in who serves in that government. And that’s why we are having problems. If APC as a political party was having significant input into appointments in government, I believe that a good dose of the accusations being levelled against Mr President’s government will not be there. But we have a system that once you elect a president, the president becomes more or less independent of the party. I don’t think that’s the way it should be. The party should play a significant role because it represents the people across the country. It is easier for the party to explain why certain decisions, appointments were made. It’s the party that is in the government, the president is the leader of the party. He represents the party.
Restructuring of Nigeria was one of the promises of APC when it was campaigning for election. Even after the election, the party also set up a committee headed by Governor Nasir El-Rufai, which came up with recommendations on how to restructure Nigeria. But nothing has been done. Do you still have hopes that we can accomplish restructuring under President Muhammadu Buhari?
You have come back to the issue I made earlier. As a party, the APC presented a manifesto to the Nigerian people. In a normal operative sense, it should be that what we should be executing as a party in government should be our manifesto. Therefore, the question you have asked should be in order. However, you recognise that APC promised in its manifesto to restructure Nigeria, set up a committee to look at how best to deal with the issue of fiscal federalism or a more balanced federation, but Mr President has consistently said that he wasn’t the one that made that promise. So, you can get back to the point I am making – it is not just about the APC alone, it is the nature of our party politics in Nigeria which I believe is wrongheaded. In a multi-party democracy, a political party is voted into power – it elects a candidate for an election, the candidate so elected on the platform of a party represented that party and that candidate should be modelling the manifesto of that party. But we don’t have that in Nigeria – not at the Presidency, not at the state level because even if you look at the governors, how many of our governors abide by the manifestos of their political parties? But you asked that question as if APC has failed in keeping the covenant that it had with the Nigerian people. APC has not failed. APC made a promise, set out to ensure that that promise covenant is fulfilled, set up a committee, the committee delivered on its assignment. But it is a fact that Mr President is not levelling up with the total ideals of the party that elected him into office. People might not like this kind of statement, but that is the reality. And it is not just about the APC, it is the same thing in all the political parties in Nigeria. It is a historical, political problem – look at Obasanjo, did he adhere to the manifesto of PDP? Did Jonathan adhere to the manifesto of his party? So, we have a fundamental problem in our idea of the management of multi-party democracy. People get elected into office as governors and they suddenly detach themselves from the party and want to become the overlords of the party. No, it should be the other way round- the party is the instrument that got you into office, you should play within the confines of the manifesto of that party because when election time comes, it is not you who is being seen by the people. It is the party that is being seen. Every accusation against Mr President today is also being levelled against the APC.
Are you said saying President Buhari is the main obstacle to the realization of the restructuring promise of APC?
I don’t think we should be in any doubt about this. One, the president said my promise to Nigerians is one – to deal with the economy, insecurity and infrastructure – these are what I promised and these are what I will focus on. Two, I’m sure you read it last week when the President- through somebody who represented him at an event – made it abundantly clear that he does not believe in the idea of restructuring, he does not even understand what restructuring means. So, I think that is enough answer to your question.
Now, you have listed what the president said he will focus on the economy, tackling insecurity and the war against corruption. But how well would you say the president has performed in the delivery of these promises six years after he assumed office?
I think that in terms of infrastructure, whether we are fans of Mr President or not, I think we have to applaud his government, he has done extremely well. When you look at the rail infrastructure, the roads attempts at the opening up of the economic space in a coherent way, I think we have to say that he has done very well. I said Nigeria is a resource-poor country, so we have to understand that all of these are being done in a very strong constrictive environment in terms of how much money is available. Now, in terms of the insecurity situation, again, I think that with regards to Boko Haram, banditry and all of that, I think the government has done its best within the limits of the resources available.
Just hear me out. When you look at the re-equipping of the armed forces and I have thought about this for a while – I do not think that since 1985, we have had a government that has gone out of her way to try and get equipment for the Nigerian armed forces the way this government has done. They are not being delivered as quickly because as Mr President himself has explained if you place an order for a fighter jet, it may take a while to come. However, we still have an intensification of attacks across the country and this is what brings me to the issue of when you are in power, do not let your people think that because you are there, they can behave in a way that is inimical to the peace of their community. And that’s because all of a sudden, every single thing that happens in Nigeria is about the president’s tribe to the extent that an association that should be like every other association begin to make political statements as if they had a domineering hold and control over the president because they are of the president’s tribe.
Which association is that?
The Miyetti Allah. Now what this has done is even if Mr President himself does not align with what is going on now – we know he has said ‘anybody that you see with AK-47, shoot him,’ but the people from his tribe are giving the Mr President a hard time and a very bad name and, therefore, endangering the peace of the peaceful and patriotic members of that tribe who want to live their lives and simply live as Nigerians and have no business whatsoever with all the nonsense going on. But I want us not to be emotive in dissecting this problem because as a Nigerian who lives in Nigeria and Abuja, I’m sure you live among intelligent, peaceful Fulanis who are of the president’s tribe. And yet, sadly today, every single crime is being ascribed to that tribe. And I think that is dangerous for the peace of the country and a wrong way to deal with national issues in a multi-ethnic country. But we now have criminals who disguise as Fulanis to commit a crime. I am not saying that we do not have Fulani people within or from outside Nigeria who are committing heinous crimes. But let’s give it to Mr President – he has said ‘any bandit, criminal you see with AK-47, shoot him.’ Now, what is the challenge? I think the Nigerian military is overstretched. The Nigerian military is engaged in external war with Boko Haram and virtually every single region of the country, you have military deployment. What is the size of our military? So, our armed forces are overstretched. Is there a need to rejig our security architecture? I believe, yes. How do we better protect ourselves? I have to give examples of states like Israel, Switzerland and the UK where I live and in the US where you have a territorial army, or a national guard. Every able-bodied adult- male or female in Israel is a trained soldier.
In Nigeria, people are talking about state police; do you think that will help?
I have my fears, to be honest. But I believe that if Nigeria was restructured and the requisite power devolved to the parts, the management of state police or regional police will become a lot easier. In the UK, we don’t have centralized police. I live in London. In London, you have the Metropolitan Police, wherever you live, you have your regional police force and structures are in place that enables forces to be managed in such a way that we do not have an abuse. But when you look at our constitution and our contemporary experience – the way the governors have been behaving, would you want police in the hands of certain governors? Let’s face it. And that is the fear of the people saying having state police in Nigeria at this point is risky. If you give the powers of the police totally to some governors in Nigeria today, a number of their political opponents would have a very rough time living safely.
You talked about the president and the way some of his tribesmen are misbehaving. But some have said the president is also encouraging that with his peddling and support for ideas like the reactivation of the grazing routes to allow herdsmen to take their cattle across the country…
I have read legal opinions in the media and as I understand it, the Land Use Act confers the ownership, control and management of land in the states. I don’t know how Mr President is going to reactivate grazing routes that have long been overtaken by the changes to our laws – whether he is going to seek a constitutional amendment to be able to do that. I think that a more pragmatic solution to our problem is the establishment of ranches. It could be as a way of encouraging animal husbandry by the people we know now as herdsmen and by other Nigerians who want to go into that line of business. It could be that the government set up ranches and people go in there for their piece of the land and pay rent and that is because individuals may not be able to afford the cost of setting up ranches. And If you say it is going to be a private sector-led initiative wholly, for instance, it could be that it will only become a business for the wealthy. Don’t forget, the Nigerian population is at least 200 million – that’s a lot of mouths to feed. We will always need meat and anyone who catches a piece of that business will make a lot of money. So, to open up that space to as many Nigerians as possible and even to communities and cooperatives, I will probably think that the government should look into the idea of ranching, which has been brought up before. That is the modern way of animal husbandry. We should ranch and, therefore, open the way for more Nigerians to participate without the insecurity that this has brought to our country.
The National Assembly is at present undertaking a process of review of the constitution. Do you believe anything worthwhile can come out of the process and what are the changes that you will like to see, especially in terms of the restructuring of the country that we have been talking about?
First, I can only hope that the people who are the principal actors in the malfunctioning state of Nigeria would have the humanity in them, patriotism to bring down a structure that benefits them because basically, that’s what we are telling members of the National Assembly to do. We are asking them to break down, redesign a structure that protects them, that feeds them, that favours them. Look, we are spending far too much of our national resources on feeding too few mouths. Why do we need a bicameral National Assembly for instance? Why do we have a National Assembly that the president is not part of? I’m sure you watch what happened in South Africa? I’m just giving an example because every time you talk, people will say you want us to return to the parliamentary system. But is that the only form of government that we know of? Of course, it is not. Even, the American model that we copied, we copy it in such a bogus way that it is even more expensive for us to run it. You will realize that the American Capitol Hill does not have a president of the senate – the vice president is the president of the senate. So, you do not have a duplication of resources in that office. You also know that American senators and House of Reps members do not award themselves humongous allowances contrary to what happens in our own country. So, as I said, I can only hope that the beneficiaries of the system would have the humanity and the patriotism to undo the structure that is feeding them.
There are fears that your party, the APC may not survive the Buhari’s government, do you share the same fear?
When you look at the recent and ongoing party membership registration and validation drive, I think those who think that APC will implode are probably in my opinion making a big mistake. When we merged to become one party in 2013/2014, the membership database was about 12 million. Now, following the ongoing exercise, as at the last announcement, the acting chairman said the party members in the database was over 40 million. So, I think the APC has the resilience to survive Buhari and whatever challenges it is going to be facing. There will be challenges. But I think the APC has the internal resilience to deal with those challenges.
The party has not been able to hold its national convention and they keep shifting the date…
I listen and hear people say convention must hold now. But let’s assume that we fix a convention in this COVID-19 time, do I want to join the crowd to participate in the convention? The answer is no, though I have had my two doses of vaccine. I think we have to be pragmatic and at the same time, also ensure that we provide leadership on what should be done. I think it will be wrong for any political party at this time in world history or affairs to say that they are organizing a national convention of any sort. We are living witnesses to what happened in India. India was doing well in terms of how many people were dying, but they threw caution to the wind and we saw with our eyes how people were dying. We shouldn’t expose Nigerians to such dangers. This is my personal view. Of course, I want the convention to hold like yesterday. The current caretaker committee within the limit of all that is possible has been doing an excellent job, but I want a definitive structure in place that would lead us to 2023.
What about the issue of zoning? Where do you stand on which of the regions should get the presidential ticket of APC for the 2023 election?
In an ideal world, we should not be talking about the issue of zoning. We should be looking to project our first eleven. Nigeria as a country, the day we can project our first eleven in political leadership, that is the day we would have made a giant leap into the building of our country. I am very deliberate in the choice of those words. Who is a politician first of all? That word in the Nigerian, African context has been so misused that you now have people who come out and say ‘I am a technocrat, I’m not a politician.’ But a politician is somebody who is educated, learned, trained, mentored enough to be a human being that is emphatic and able to manage people and resources. That’s what should be in an ideal world. In the context of the Nigerian situation, I think we should be sensitive to our present realities. Our present realities include two things – our tribes or our regions and our religion. We should be sensitive to those as we hope to put in place a country that is working for all of us and will work for our children.
So, you hope that the APC presidential ticket will go to the South in 2023, having been in the North for eight years?
If you want to put that in my mouth
I’m just seeking clarification…
I thought I made myself very clear. We have to be sensitive.
I also know that you are a keen supporter of Mr President, I saw you leading some people to counter the protest against him the last time he was in London for a medical checkup. Why did you do that?
Of course, he is our president. As of today, hate him or love him, President Muhammadu Buhari is the president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. We have a right to criticize, disagree with him, tell him that ‘you are doing what we don’t like,’ but we also have to ensure that our president is not made a laughing stock in the comity of nations because he symbolizes us as at today. That is living in our reality. So, when people say that because he came to see his doctors, they are going to harass him, made that impossible and difficult for him and every day, they will go and gather in front of the home of the High Commissioner of Nigeria, what message are they sending to the world? And mind you, I have lived through Obasanjo’s presidency, Yar’Adua’s presidency and Jonathan’s presidency in the UK and Mr President is the only one who comes to the UK and would not go and stay in the hotel. He will go and stay in Nigeria House; he doesn’t travel around with a humongous entourage. So, it is my view that we should protect him. So returning to the question that you asked about should the Presidency going to the North or the South, I would think that we should look carefully and pick somebody who best represents our values – one from the South and one from the North. We have a president and vice president, don’t we? So, we should have Nigerians who embody our dreams by their sheer demonstration of competence, empathy, and collective aspirations. We should be choosing somebody from the South to carry our ticket and somebody from the North to be on that joint ticket.
What your reaction to the controversies over the suspension of Twitter in Nigeria, especially as somebody who is living outside of the country?
This is my personal opinion and what I have canvassed – I think the Nigerian government is right to have reacted to Twitter the way they did. It is wrong for a company to seek to manipulate, control and be involved in the internal politics of a sovereign state. No matter your personal views, you cannot bring that into the affairs of the state and that is what Twitter has consistently tried to do, not just in Nigeria, but around the world. And it is not just Twitter-it is all the social media companies and that’s why they are having problems in most countries. So, why is the Nigerian situation different? Why would Twitter delete the tweet of the president of a country?
But Twitter says its action was based on complaints from some Nigerians, that the deleted tweet implies the intention of genocidal action against a part of the country by the President
Which genocide did he threaten? The bad eggs, those who are causing problems across the country, those IPOB members who are causing mayhem across the country are those he referred to. Let me ask you if somebody tells you that because of freedom of expression, you will allow the country that you are leading to go down under you? Once you put yourself out against the state, the state has the right to also respond to you appropriately. That is leadership. It is the burden of leadership. It may be that President Buhari as a Muhammadu Buhari on his own may not say what he said. But as the President of Nigeria, you cannot get up and start killing policemen, telling certain individuals to kill policemen, soldiers, destroy the property of security agencies and you keep quiet. If you are the president, would you keep quiet?