‘There are two files in the British secret archives affecting Nigeria
*Government does not do what is right unless it is pushed
* 20 thousand people can paralyze the work of the national Assembly
* Those afraid are those benefiting from the overwhelming power attached to the centre
* There is need to criminalize acts that demonized any religion in the country
* Nigeria has become another theater to be fought over
By Olumide Samuel
Professor Akinwande Bolaji Akinyemi’s involvement in Nigeria’s statecraft spans over 43 years. The former Minister of External Affairs in a chat with newsmen, maintained issues he believes are affecting the Nation which he said is in the British secret archive in two files re-embargoed by the British government for another 50 years and other issues that resulted to religious and ethnic intolerance, Youths unemployment, banditry, kidnapping, killings among others. Excerpts:
What in your estimation is state of insecurity in Nigeria?
There is very little I can add to what everyone has been saying. The likes of Sheikh Gunmi, the Sultan, Prof. Wole Soyinka, Baba Ayo Adebanjo and General Obasanjo (Rtd), even the President himself and the governors. I can’t add to their list of dissatisfaction on the state of the nation. So insecurity, Youths unemployment, hate and unguarded speech by people who should know better.
What now looks like religious conflicts, when I was growing up, there was religious tolerance. At least I come from a culture where you could hardly have a family that does not have Christians, Muslims and Traditional worshipers among them and they coexist happily. All of a sudden to be confronted by intolerance, murder, mayhem targeting people of other religion. I find it very very disturbing indeed. My grandfather once told me a story to illustrate the tolerance towards various religious groups in ancient times. He said an Oba of a neighbouring town sent a delegation to the Oba of our town, asked the Oba of our town to send a delegation to join them in a celebration. So the Oba of our town then asked the delegation what they wanted celebrate, and they said they want to welcome one of theirs whom had gone on a pilgrimage. So the Oba of our town sent a delegation to rejoice with them and take part in their celebration. When the delegation came back and they briefed our Oba the story of the celebration. He called a meeting of the heads of the quarters in the town and to them, that the other town now has an Alhaji, while our town don’t. What he did was to levy every quarters, every religious institutions in the town including Anglican, Methodist and Aladura. So that we can send somebody from our town to Mecca the following year and we also can claim we have an Alhaji. And that was what happened. How did we come to a situation where even among Yoruba we are starting to talk about religious intolerance? You have governors in the South-west who for political reasons are exhibiting religious intolerance not to talk about the whole country. It’s very disturbing and very unnerving.
But some are of the view that religious intolerance had been before independence….
We had four sources through which religion penetrated into Nigeria before the Europeans came. The first was through traders from Mali. Then, we had Islamic religion that came through Turkey to the Southern part of Nigeria. That’s why you have titles like Shita Bay in Lagos and then you also have Christian missionary who came into the Southern part of Nigeria. The last was the Jihad which came from the Futa Jalon that led to the establishment of the Sokoto caliphate. However, the penetration of Islam from Mali, Turkey and the Christian missionaries were peaceful but the Jihad was not. So that was where problems of intolerance started. The moment you decide to establish a religion by force then you talk about intolerance. Intolerance was evident when the British came but they were able to sustained it but it has never left. It’s just that organization and movements respond to external factors. For instance; what is going on in other part of the world in term of conflicts: ISIS, the Taliban ,the problem between the Shiites and the Sunnis Muslim. All these are world phenomenon and Nigeria is not immune to these phenomenal. Nigeria has just become another Futa Jalon. be fought over by all these phenomenon.
The Northern Christian Elders Forum recently argued that the nation’s democracy battles with Islamism as a form of government, what your thought on this?
They made a good point and I think we shouldn’t loose sight of that point. And that is the point I also try to make. They said the problem is not with Islam as a religion, this is what I meant when I said we had Islam from Mali, from Turkey there was no problem. They said the problem started when those advocating that Islam should not be more than a religion but a political religion. It meant that you put your religion in competition with other religions. There is a problem with Islamic Jihad and Christianity. The Jihad embodies competition, conflicts, imposition and violence. The way forward is to separate Islam as religion from Islam as a political weapon.
So how do we separate Islam as a religion while some forces within the system are using it as political weapon?
Laws should be enforced to protect each religion from intolerant acts by another religion. We all have to be accept that Nigeria is a multi religious nation. Both Muslims and Christians have a right to exist in Nigeria. And to also there is need to criminalised speeches and acts that demonized any religion in the country.
What is your thought on ‘REVOLUTION’ that have been misconstrued by some quarters?
The Constitution provide as a right for peaceful protest. The moment you go beyond the margin of a peaceful protest, then you are asking for a push-back by the institutions of governance. You could see it in Hong Kong, when the protest by the activists are peaceful, the push-back by the police is peaceful. When the the protest by the activists crossed the red line into violence, then the push-back by the police is violent. People who are dissatisfied with the way things are in Nigeria are entitle to a peaceful advocacy. What they are not entitled to is violent advocacy because the push-back from the system is then likely to be violent.
But we observed the push by DSS even before the protest commenced ….
Peaceful protest is a right and entitlement by people who are dissatisfied with what is happening. What is not an entitlement is violent protest. Whether that violent is by language or activities. Language could be violent. If I am planning a Revolution, I will not go on the pages of News paper or radio to argue and advocate for a Revolution. I will plan under ground. That is the way you do it if you are planning a Revolution. You do it underground, hold secret meetings because the moment you broadcast that you are planning a revolution, the push-back by the system is also likely to be revolutionary in terms of being violent and that what you got in this case you’re referring to. However, to have progress in any country, it is either the government itself takes care of the interest of the people or there would always be elements within the country that would always fight for the people. Anthropologist will tell you that that is how progress comes about. Progress doesn’t come from people laying back hoping that government would do something that is right. Yes, there may be times when government do what is right but most often than not, government does not do what is right unless it is pushed. Look at the United States, in the 60s. How many times did Martin Luther King go to jail? he kept protesting and kept pricking the conscience of the American people until it became a movement for change that could not be ignored by the government. But they paid dearly. He was eventually assassinated. I was in the United States at that time, the brutality of the police towards civil rights activists was severe, they killed a lots of them. Secondly, look at what is happening globally on the environment, demonstration are being held, things are being paralyze because people feel they are fighting for the future of the planet. There are government who are in self denial about environmental degradation in the world. So there are demonstration going on and people haven’t gone to sleep. If there is dissatisfaction with what is going on in Nigeria, expect the youth to rise up and say this is our future we are fighting for. Because unless things change, Nigeria is in trouble. The economy is not growing, Youths unemployment have been described as a time bomb. Elections were rigged mercilessly. Elections have always been rigged in Nigeria, but I don’t even see a mass movements for electoral change . I served on Justice Muhammed Uwias committee for electoral reform, we wrote a report that we felt addressed the issue but that report was buried by the government of the day. No reaction but the law of karma had actually set in that the government of the day is now the opposition, they’re now screaming their head of about how elections were rigged. When we submitted the report to them, they did nothing about it. Now they are screaming.
Former Governor of old Kaduna state, Alhaji Balarabe Musa once referred to the calling for restructuring as a Separatists agenda, what is your thought on this?
I am always scared to react to statement by people because sometimes you always confer too much weights on what is been said especially when it doesn’t make sense. How can the call for restructuring be equated to separatism? People who are calling for restructuring say look at the the Constitution at Independence or if you like look at the Constitution of 1963 compare it the Constitution we have now and you will see that there is too much power vested in the centre and very little power at the State and local government level. It was not like this at independence, at the eve of the coup. It was the military that changed it. Now that the civilian are in charge let us go back to 1963 so that local government can manage affairs at the local government level, State government can manage affairs within the State environment and that the Federal government would then manage very limited issues like foreign affairs, defense among others. Bring out the 1963 Constitution, bring out the 1999 Constitution and look at the subject listed under State government and look at what is listed out for the Federal government, you will see, the blind will see the deaf will hear the difference. Let us go back to what functioned for Nigeria. That is all restructuring is all about. So what has it got to do with separatism? I was the deputy chairman of the national conference, all these issues came up with 600 recommendations. And each recommendation was adopted unanimously. The report is there, if you don’t like the report, set up a committee to take a look at all the reports on structural changes in the country that have been advocated and take the one addressing the problem of the day. I don’t see how that amount to separatism unless you want to give a dog a bad name in order to hang it. In any case has the El-Rufai committee not also called for restructuring?
Who then is afraid of Restructuring?
I don’t know. Maybe Balarabe Musa. People who don’t like restructuring, are the people benefiting from the overwhelming power attached to the centre.
What is your take on the call by Professor Wole Soyinka for State of emergency on security in South-west?
What would be achieved by the call because all the element on security are under the control of the Federal government . Without changing the Constitution, you cannot transfer some of those powers to the States. You cannot transfer by just declaring a state of security emergency. Declaring a state of emergency will not give governors power over the Nigerian army within the South-west region . Prof. Soyinka means well as himself is fed up with the state of insecurity. He’s angry about it and he came up with what he think is solution to it but if we think is not going to yield the desired result, let us think about other alternatives.
How can Nigeria live in peace and unity?
The totality of what we desire is to allow local government to handle what should be handled at the local government level, State government to handle what needs to be handled at the State level. That’s the sum total of what will work. At the local government level they know the criminals among them. If there is synergy between the authorities at the local government and the local government police, if there is trust, people themselves will inform the local police where bad group hang out and the local police will investigate because they know the nooks and cranny of the village. But when the security in the village is depended on decisions taken in Abuja, it won’t work. Secondly, the decision that affect unemployment cannot be taken in Abuja for the whole country. Panadol doesn’t cure every headache. But, the State government has the power and the resources to fix the roads under there jurisdiction, that would provide employment if the state have control over whatever it is that is localized in there area, they can address a lot of these issues. Finally, policies that are then made by the local government or the State government cannot violet the custom and culture of that particular area . It cannot because they are aware of the peculiarity culture over land. I cannot go to my village and want to build on a plot of land. But if I come from an area where the policies are different. In other words, let the local government do what can efficiently be done by them rather than some colossus called federal government. Restructuring was advocated even when Obasanjo was President, it was advocated when Jonathan was President. After-all Jonathan was in power when the 2014 national Conference was flagged off and we created the blue print for decentralization of the country. All I am saying is not targeting Buhari but targeting a bad constitution which need to be rewritten.
But its the responsibility of the National Assembly to determine better constitution?
The National Assembly will not do it if the NGOs and civil society groups seat on their behind and not put pressure on the nation’s Assembly.
Is the 9th Assembly a rubber-stamp?
I don’t know if they are rubber-stamped or Guguru stamped or Epa stamped. All I am saying is it has to be a synergy between the people. It’s easy to blame the the government but what are the NGOs and the civil society organisations doing? There are so many case that should go to court. You know the Court can amend the constitution through interpretation. But if you don’t take a case to court, how can the court help to amend the constitution. If cases are not taken to court? Unfortunately civil society organisations, NGOs are busy fighting other big battles maybe because where they get their money from they have their own agenda different from the agenda at home. How will the national assembly feel the heat from the people if there are no demonstration. When I say demonstration, I don’t mean a one million match. 20 thousand people can paralyse the work of the national Assembly. Demonstrations everyday with focus on what they want. When the National Assembly feels the heat, they will start to respond but if they don’t feel the heat from the people, they feel the people are not ready for change. But in fairness there have been silent changes in the nation’s Asssembly from 1979 up till now. Not enough changes but they have amended the constitution not enough but they have made changes.
What is your thought on the issue of presidential zoning ?
That is not the major problem facing Nigeria. There are many more critical issues affecting the existence of Nigeria than talking about zoning ahead of 2023.
What is more existential in Nigeria than the controversial Presidential zoning ahead of 2023?
We have the issue of Ruga. We have youth unemployment. We have the issue of an over burdened federal government as against decentralization we have been talking about. We have the issue of State police, local government police, are these not issues that have an immediate impact on the existence of Nigeria? After all from 1979 up till now, we have rotated offices, what good has it done this generation in providing employment for the youths? What good has it done the standard of education in our universities? It hasn’t raise the status of our universities to being among the first 100 in the world. Instead we clap for being among 20 in Africa. In the 60s, I grew up at a time when Nigerian university is rated among the best in the world. We keep going down. There was a time a coup took place and they announced that one of the reasons was because our University teaching hospitals are mere consulting clinics, has it gotten any better since then? And we are talking about zoning presidency. Please!
How did we get here ?
We got here because we have never been allowed to have free, fair and transparent election in Nigeria. Even the British rigged elections in Nigeria. I was reading how the British rigged election in Nigeria. There are two Nigerian files in the British secret archives affecting Nigeria history. These files are suppose to have been declassified so scholars could have access to it. The British two years ago re-embargoed it for another 50 years. What is in those two files that the British don’t want us to know? What exactly are there? They want this present generation to die off before the declassify those files. We have never been allowed to choose our leaders, maybe that’s how we got to where we are. Because they are going to rig elections, do programmes matter, do party manifestos matter, even if they allow you to vote, they won’t count your vote. This means you cannot pick your leader and you cannot punish leader who don’t deliver, you can not show preference of leaders with better appreciation of the problems and you cannot change leaders when they are failures. That how we got to where we are.
Is there light at the end of the tunnel?
It maybe the light of the train that is going to crush all of us. But I don’t see any light at the end of any tunnel. I don’t even see the end of the tunnel not to talk about seeing a light.
Do you agree with Prof. Soyinka that Nigeria is heading toward extinction?
It heading that way but It doesn’t mean it will get there because of that indomitable spirit in people to fight back. Maybe when we actually see the edge, all of us would say no, we are not going to allow this. Never give up hope. Keep hope alive. Human history is not made by people giving up hope. It has never been and it will never be. We just haven’t got to our own stage of fighting back. We will get there. We will eventually fight back.