By Omoniyi Salaudeen
As Nigeria marks her 57th independence anniversary, opinion leaders have expressed divergence views about the significance of the celebration. For a former minister of works and housing, Senator Adeseye Ogunlewe, there is no better time than now for Nigeria to do a re-examination of its existence as a nation in order to forge ahead. In this interview, he warns of the dire consequences of the inherent injustices in the present structure.
How would you say Nigeria has fared in the last 57 years?
First of all, we must give thanks to God for sustaining us as one country. But we need to do a revisit of the progress we have made so far. We must do a thorough analysis of Nigeria’s problems. Are we where we ought to be? Can we continue with the present structure or we change it to be more efficient and effective? This is a period for us to reassess all these issues. As we are going now, there is no hope that we can leave anything tangible for our children. The level of poverty is still high, the level of illiteracy is high, infant mortality is high, malaria death is high. Nigeria records highest in all negative things in this world. Why are we where we are? What can we do? We must reassess our future. We need to ask ourselves what we have done wrong and how we can rectify it. We cannot continue like this, definitely not. This is a period of sober reflection.
Why in specific terms do you think Nigeria has failed to live up to the aspirations of the founding fathers who struggled for the attainment of independence?
It is all about our structure. Our structure cannot sustain our economy. The number of states, the number of judiciary and the over bloated public service we have can never sustain our growth. At independence, we had only three regions. Later we had middle-west. What was the size of our civil service? So many things have been duplicated to the extent that we spend 75 percent of our national earning to pay salaries of only about one million people.
That is not what we craved for when we had our independence. With the structure we have now, there can never be prosperity in Nigeria. It is just not possible. The present structure is not sustainable because only a few people are benefitting from it. We must sit down and readdress this structure.
Before now, we were at par with India, Indonesia, Malaysia and the rest of Asian countries. We were even better than China. But suddenly, they all overtook us. Even Ghana is ahead of us. The structure of Ghana is able to sustain its economy because there is no duplication of structure of governance. Why can’t we sit down and readdress this issue? Today, 14.5 million children are out of school. This is an army that is ready to unleash itself on all of us and wipe us out. We are not moving forward at all. We must address all these issues.
Nigeria is more divided now than ever before. What do you think is the cause of all these separatist agitations that are threatening the unity of the country?
It is due to lack of equal right and justice. Nigeria is full of injustice. The Constitution we have should be christened the Constitution of injustice. People agitate because of the structure given to us by the constitution. It is not sustainable. There are too many unjust provisions in the Constitution that could make anybody feel agitated. The present constitution is inimical to our growth. It is very destructive. That is the reason for the agitations; that is why people are not comfortable with what is happening. All the fundamental principles of state policy are not just right. You cannot take anybody to court for not providing housing for you. But it is in the constitution that they must provide it. The person that designed the Constitution did not envisage what is happening now. People in government can do whatever they like with the citizens because they cannot take them to court. That is not a country. Citizens must have fundamental human rights.
Are you of the opinion that if the constitution is amended to make room for justice, Nigeria would remain united as a nation?
Of course, yes. Nigerians are basically peaceful people. It is injustice that is making them agitated. How can you say electricity generation is a federal government’s matter? Is that reasonable? The constitution makes landmass part of the criteria for revenue allocation. All these must be addressed. There are too many injustices in that constitution which must be addressed before Nigeria can move forward.
What modality would you then suggest for the amendment of the constitution?
The National Assembly should pass a law that will enable us to have referendum on the type of constitution we want for ourselves. They should prepare a draft, list out the items and we will put it into vote. Whatever the majority vote for will be the constitution.
What if those pursuing separatist agitation choose to go on their own?
They must secure 2/3 of votes of entire Nigerians for that to happen. So, if the majority says they should not go, they cannot go. The National Assembly will put that clause in the referendum law to be passed.
Is this in tandem with restructuring people are clamouring for?
Whatever restructuring people are clamouring for, there must be a referendum. It is based on the referendum that we will decide on what we want. Let’s first of all have a law that will allow for a referendum on what Nigerians want. Once there is a law that provides for referendum and it is signed by the president, then we move on from there. That is what is done in every other country.
And do you think President Muhammadu Buhari will be favourably disposed to signing such a law?
Then, what do we do? There is agitation all over. What must we do to put an end to it? It is up to all of us.
The position of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) on restructuring is not too clear. As you must have observed, the party is now going about debating what should be the appropriate form of Nigeria’s federalism. Is that the way to go?
Before this time, they said it was not their priority. But when they saw Nigerians getting agitated, they now set up a committee. They are not serious; they are just using that as delay tactics. If they want restructuring, they know what to do. Some of them were proponents of restructuring before. But because they are now in the federal government, they suddenly kept quiet, as if they never said so 10 years ago. It is not fair. Let’s hope they will see reason.
With all these, where is the country headed now?
It all depends on the option we go for. There is option of constitution review, there is option of referendum and there is option of going back to the 1963 constitution. Let’s put all the options on the table and then take each of them one by one and see how far we can go.
Where do you see Nigeria in the next one decade?
I see a depressed and stagnated Nigeria without any development. All the indices of destruction like poverty, illiteracy and kidnapping will increase.
We would have compounded all our problems, if positive measures are not taken before then.
So, Nigeria has a bleak future?
Very bleak, indeed.
Link: Nigeria’s future bleak – Senator Ogunlewe