United States-based Professor Toyin Falola has called for an overhaul of the 1999 Constitution for the country to make progress. The University of Texas, Austin teacher spoke in Lagos on President Muhammadu Buhari’s re-election, insecurity and other national issues.
Nigeria has achieved 20 years of uninterrupted democratic governance. What do you think should be done to deepen democracy in the country?
In terms of the formalism of democracy, in which elections have been held in circles, we can say there is democratic governance. However, if you consider democracy in terms of the expectations that it will lead to development, we don’t have democracy yet in Nigeria. And you can’t talk about deepening democracy when people have lost faith in the system because democracy is about building human capability and enhancing welfare. It is also important for us to start having a rethink of what should be the form of democracy that can change the living conditions of our people. Apart from the theoretical explanations that scholars like Claude Ake and Thandika Mkandawire have provided that the form of democracy that we practice in Africa is not for the common people, there is a more fundamental problem where accountability, which is one of the core ingredients of democracy, is more or less absent in Nigeria. In many instances, the legislature, which is supposed to provide oversight function on the executive, is more or less swallowed up. The judiciary is hardly better as many of the judges are corrupt. Thus, if we are to deepen democracy, it has to be another form of democracy that is participatory from the community level to the federal level. Such democracy will be one that is imbued with the necessary institutions that can foster accountability and transparency. Perhaps we should start thinking about an Africa-centered democracy that operates outside the current political party dominated structures. Political parties in Nigeria lack ideology. To that extent, they hardly contribute to building the liberal democracy that we have today, in a meaningful way. Rethinking democracy will see us engaging with pre-colonial forms of governance, in which decision-making was consultative and leaders were held into account by in-built checks and balances
Corruption should be reduced drastically as it is a big anti-democratic element in our country. The present situation where the average politician runs after his own gain rather than the common good does not bode well for Nigerians to have confidence in the political system. The second problem is the constitution the military gifted us. This constitution cannot help us grow as a democratic nation. The constitution is federal, but its management is an over-centralised “unitary system” of governance, which the military had used to rule over us between 1966 and 1999. It does not encourage true federalism, which is what we enjoyed until the incursion of the military in 1966 and which gave us the monumental strides made by the regional governments of that time. Most, if not all, of our political and economic problems in Nigeria today can be traced to the absence of true federalism.
Some Yoruba youth organisations have issued quit notice to herdsmen in the Southwest. What is your reaction?
Narratives are very important. Whether it is true or not, what I want to say is what many people believe. This is an extreme decision which is occasioned by what they see as the conspiratorial silence of the state and the ruling elite on the havoc that the Fulani herdsmen have been wrecking across the length and breadth of the country. The youth organizations say that it is surprising that despite the broad daylight killing and maiming that this group has carried out none of them has been convicted in any court of law. Impunity fosters lawlessness and emboldens criminals. They maintain that from various accounts and the body language of their President, it is assumed that this group of people has official protection for what it does. Or else how do you explain that farms are destroyed, communities are violently sacked, the Myetti Allah came out boldly to say that the lives of their cattle are of more value than those of human beings, yet the Government and its functionaries try to explain that away and rationalised such wanton destruction of lives and properties on the excuse that the Lake Chad is drying up.
The first duty of the state is protection of lives and property of everyone. When the state fails in this as we are witnessing now from the North to the South, people will be forced to resort to self-help. As the youth organisations say in speeches and writings, whatever the name you call them, the Fulani Herdsmen have become more aggressive since 2015 because they believe the President is one of their own and nobody can touch them.
To these youth organisations, the invasion of the Southwest by the herdsmen is an affront to the Yoruba nation as well as a very big threat to the safety of the people in that part of the country. To this end the action taken by the youth organisations must be read by the federal government as an urgent need to respond before things break down. It is necessary for the federal authorities to act swiftly to curb the affront of the militia causing mayhem across the country in the form of kidnappings, killings, attack on farmers and so on failing which the victims will have no option than to take recourse to self defence. Self defence is an invitation to anarchy.
Issuing quit notice to the people will not solve the problem, because it can have counter-productive effects. Community leaders will need to call the parties for a peace parley and set out modes of engagement for the genuine cattle rearers, many of whom have been living together with their host communities for generations. Criminal elements among the herders will need to be exposed and handed over to the Government. There must be an arrangement in place to collect the guns that the Fulani herdsmen are parading everywhere.
Don’t you think the quit notice will affect the safety of the Yoruba people living in the north? This has happened since 1953. Definitely, if the Fulani people are attacked here in the South, it will have repercussions for not only Yoruba but all Southerners living in the North. By now, the Government ought to be more responsive to nip the crisis in the bud. Nigeria cannot afford to witness another conflagration after what the country has gone through since the Civil War of 1967-1970, through the June 12 crisis and the holocaust years that Abacha regime represented. The fault lines in our nation should be addressed so that no part of the country should feel more important than the others. This is why I said that the government should act in the interest of national security by stopping the herdsmen attacks. We should not allow the 1966 episode to creep on us once again.
What should the federal and state governments do in tackling insecurity in the country?
The Federal Government has the biggest responsibility for security. It should therefore, use all its security machines to secure the lives of all Nigerians. It should engage the state governments and give them all the necessary support to secure their borders. The Federal Government appears to be oblivious of the dangers that insecurity poses to the well-being of the country. Joking with security as the government appears to be doing portends grave dangers for the country. Why is it so difficult to manage the country’s security since 2015? The performance of the Service Chiefs does not justify their retention. There should be more capable hands in the security sector that can bring about a new lease of life in assuring the populace that there is Government in this country. From Boko Haram and banditry in the North to the menace of Fulani herdsmen in the South, the Government appears to be overwhelmed and unsure of what to do. A more coordinated effort within the security circle, community policing and intelligence gathering will help to address this people. The leadership must show more concern and understand the magnitude of the problem at hand
The 2019 general elections have produced the highest number of cases before election petitions tribunals. What is your advice to INEC towards reducing litigations arising from poll results?
To minimise litigations, INEC should look into the causes of the litigations – the fault lines- and take them into consideration in handling subsequent polls. INEC needs a leadership that is non-partisan, capable and nationalistic in approach.
What do you think should be the priorities of the Buhari administration in its second term?
The Buhari administration in its second term should consider the various complaints by Nigerians during its first term and work hard and fast to remedy the situation. The areas that must be attended to quickly are the economy and security. The suffering in the land is enormous and must be reduced quickly before the people lose all hope. Ditto for security. Security, nation-building, economy and revamping hope in the country. The monarchical attitude of not speaking and engaging with the citizens should be jettisoned for a more consultative governance. He must extricate himself from the local cabals that hold him hostage.
Some state governors have backed out from N30,000 minimum wage. Is it proper for Federal government to decide minimum wage for the states?
This is an anomaly made possible by the lack of true federalism in our political arrangement. In a true federal system, the federal government has no business determining wages and other matters for states. We need a lot of restructuring of our constitution. A man with a crooked leg has the load he is carrying on his head wobbled. Passers-by tell him his load is wobbling. He tells them that they should look at the lower parts instead of the top; it is the crooked legs that caused his wobbling load. That is a Yoruba wise saying and it explains our problem here: if we have a constitution that allows for true federalism the federal government will not determine what workers earn in their states. A good example is what happened in the first republic. Each region controlled its resources and paid a percentage to the central government. It is on record that the Western Regional Government of Chief Obafemi Awolowo paid its workers more than the federal government paid its in a functional federal system. The state should cut back on frivolous spending and pay the minimum wage. But of course, many of the states have no business in being called a state.
LEKE SALAUDEEN reports.