Erudite scholar, Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) and Professor of International Law and Jurisprudence, Akin Oyebode, speaks to DARE ADEKANMBI on the second anniversary of current National Assembly, the power rotation clamour, constitution amendment, among other matters.
The National Assembly literally rolled out the drums in celebration of its second anniversary and the leadership of the institution did score themselves high, particularly with passage of the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) which has been in the legislative arm for 20 years as well as the controversial Electoral Act Amendment Bill. Give us your rating of the lawmakers?
It is actually a comedy of error for them to be self-congratulatory for their two years in office. Their track record is not all that ennobling. Even the PIB that they are trying to celebrate is fraught with controversy in terms of who are the persons to be rewarded for the devastation of crude oil exploitation. And talking of the land bearing areas vis a vis the frontier communities through which the pipelines pass through, the differential in the percentage of the production cost to be paid is causing a lot of hue and cry. If you said three or five per cent vis a vis those over whose territory the pipelines pass, the communities in the Niger Delta are aggrieved. They feel that they have been enslaved and they have not been rescued from their place of underdevelopment. So, the PIB is an issue that is continuing. It is not a finished business yet, not to talk of being a success story.
Talking about the Electoral Act Amendment Bill, the controversy is still on as to whether the majority actually voted the first time before the Speaker asked for an adjournment and requested the intervention of the chairmen of INEC and the National Communications Commission in terms of access to Internet. And you know that despite the controversy, INEC was prevented from coming and they listened only to the NCC which gave statistics that are still a subject of debate.
I think the National Assembly should not precipitately roll out the drums in celebration of its records. On the contrary, their credibility has suffered a distasteful attack. The members of the National Assembly generally in the House of Representatives and the Senate have to be reticent and circumspect about what the people think of them. So, it is precipitate for them to declare a victory song. I think their credibility is on the line. The jury is still out about what to say of their tenure. That is my take in terms of the National Assembly.
The Southern Governors Forum, which was merely heard of after the Olusegun Obasanjo presidency, appears to have been resurrected under government of Muhammadu Buhari. The forum has met twice and made far reaching resolutions. One of such resolutions is the demand that presidential power should oscillate back to the Southern part in 2023 after Buhari’s eight years. What do you make of this?
It is a question of reasonableness or should I say common sense because Buhari has become the most divisive president who, despite his affirmation of belonging to none and belonging to all, has been clearly partisan and ethnocentric. In fact, the Buhari presidency will pass into history as perhaps the most negative in terms of his policies vis a vis national cohesion and national development. He has not even sought to hide his predilection for his ethnocentric agenda. People are sick and tired. When I say people, I am talking of people from the South. Buhari has enabled the fault lines of Nigeria to come out to the fore. He has divided the country more than ever before.
So, the question of separating Nigerians on the basis of ethnicity has been most pronounced in the last six years. So, it did not strike me as surprising that the people from the South would want the ball to be played to their own court because the people want a change. Buhari came with the argument of change. But now, the people feel they have been swindled; that they have been sold the dummy; that Buhari’s promises were self-serving, self-seeking and self-opinionated. So, I don’t know anybody that will quarrel with the argument of 17 governors asking for the table to turn. It will be difficult because this is not 2015. We are talking of 2023 and people know that it was a big error, a grievous mistake to have voted for Buhari, even in the South-West. That is why they are pinning the blame on Bola Tinubu, that he sold the South-West down a river. And now, the mask has been removed and people now know that the man they said was the answer to the problems of Nigeria has proven almost irredeemably to be unqualified and incapable of steering Nigeria along a good course.
The feeling of the Southern governors is quite understandable. They are sick and tired of what Nigeria has become and they want a change. And those who are against the change, peaceful change, if they are not careful, will make violent change inevitable.
Some Northern groups have been reacting to the position of the Southern governors. Some of these groups have been saying the North needs to hold on to the presidency for four more years to bring about political equilibrium following the death of Umaru Yar’Adua which robbed the North of half of his first tenure.
Well, I have news for them. If you are going to resist the transition that the Southern governors are honestly calling for, then the consequence might be cataclysmic and it might be the end of Nigeria as we know it because we are having a coalescence of interests between South-West, South-South and the South-East. And nobody thought of geopolitical zones when they were talking of alternating power between the North and the South, even though the North is no longer monolithic because we have the Benue people. I have heard also the North-Central people make a case for this turn-by-turn democracy. The fault lines are becoming so obvious that if the Northern cowboys are not careful, they might bring out the demise of Nigeria. It is no idle threat because people have the feeling that Buhari is anti-South and the when a pole is bent, the only way to straighten it is to bend it the other way. So, if they want to insist that they should call the shot, it is a gambit of which they have to be very careful. They claim to be more populous than the rest of the country which might be a wrong calculation because we don’t even know how many people there are. I have heard it said that the Yoruba people alone are about 60 million. All that is speculation because it is when we have a proper census that we will know how Nigeria has defeated the normal trend when people closer to the coasts and who inhabit the evergreen forest cannot be fewer than those who are living in Sahelian or desert territory. There are so many things we are not sure of in Nigeria and the number one thing is the census: how many Nigerians there are? If people now know that they are really not in the majority, then the big lie, just like Donald Trump’s big lie, will be exposed and things will no longer be the same. That is my admonition to those who think like that.
Buhari has been severely criticized for being nepotistic and clannish. There is a school of thought that even says this attitude of the president is what is fuelling the agitation for self-determination in the South-West and the South-East. Do you buy such view?
I think there is a lot of merit in that opinion because the people of the South feel their back is against the wall and they have to fight back. Buhari, to all intent and purposes, is a Fulani irredentist and he believes his survival depends on the amount of support and protection he can accord the Fulani herders. He claims that anybody who carries Ak-47 should be shot at sight. But how many of those inhuman herders have been arrested for the savagery they perpetrated in Benue or the sort of things they did elsewhere? Look at Sunday Adeyemo, known as Sunday Igboho, who went to protect and defend his people. That is the only crime he committed. He was saying they can’t continue treating Nigerians, especially in Oke-Ogun and Ibarapa areas, as second-class or even third-class citizens with the amount of travesty that has been perpetrated against people. So, definitely it is not too far off the mark that Buhari brought all those things into being. The question of Biafra is a grievance by the people of the South-East who have been marginalised and effectively excluded from government. Buhari himself was unapologetic. He said 97 per cent of his votes did not come from that area and he should not reward the three per cent that voted for him there with public office. This smacks of arrogance and political misjudgment and miscalculation. A politician should not think of only those who voted for him. Once a politician has been voted into office, he should assume the profile of a statesman who does not think about the election, but thinks about the survival and the vitality of the nation. What this tells me is that Nigeria is not a nation. We are still in the process of becoming one. The president, under this circumstance, should be more understanding of the contradictions that are embedded in the Nigerian polity. It does not impress me and I am not so sure that Buhari has the requisite sagacity to understand the contradictions that are inherent in the Nigerian polity. And that is why people are counting days for him to quit the scene. It is not like before when a Bola Tinubu would go round soliciting the South-West to vote for him. And without the South-West, he would never have been president at the fourth attempt. The difference in 2015 was brought about by the votes from South-West. It is obvious. I don’t know who the political thinkers in the North are, people who think they are magicians and can do whatever they want and ignore the rest of the country. The eyes are open now, as people say. They understand the miscalculations of the Northern power brokers. Things will no longer be the same. Things have really changed and there has to be better political calculation based on the survival of Nigeria for the various regions to vote right.
The current effort by the National Assembly to thinker with the 1999 Constitution has been greeted with controversy. While there are those who think a wholesale amendment can redeem the document, a lot more see the current constitution as a bad tree that can never produce any good fruit and such people are canvassing that we return to the 1963 Constitution. What do you think about this?
As you most probably know, I was a member of the 2014 Confab and that more than 600 recommendations were adopted and which Buhari said he was not going to look at. I happened to have been the chairman of the discussion in Ekiti on the amendment to the constitution. My views are well known that we don’t need another series of amendments because the 1999 Constitution has endured so many efforts or what you call panel-beating and yet another panel beating will just make the vehicle look so ugly and unsightly. So, my suggestion has been that what we need is a brand new constitution which will take into account the problematic of the Nigerian state. No amount of amendment can take us to El Dorado. We need a brand new constitution. It is not the position of the National Assembly to give us a constitution. The job of the National Assembly is to make laws for the peace, order and good government of Nigeria. A constitution is usually a product of a constituent assembly and which will be followed by a referendum. Once 51 per cent of Nigerians accept the new constitution, it will be thought to have come into force. So, it is almost open and shut. You can’t be preaching to the converted in terms of what to do with the Abdulsalami Constitution. The constitution we are operating is actually Decree 24 of 1979 and Abdulsalami’s Decree is not our constitution. Like The Patriots observed, the constitution told a lie against itself. We never met anywhere to adopt that constitution and the earlier it is jettisoned and replaced by what is an autochthonous constitution, the better for Nigeria. It is a pity that the blind is leading the blind and Nigerians don’t want to listen to reason. Look, I have studied in three different federal states: the old Soviet Union, which was a unique type of federation, the United States and also Canada, which is another federation. But the Nigerian federation is a very curious animal. No other constitution that I know of embodies all the contradictions and counter-productive provisions like we have. We have to throw it into the dustbin of history and open up a new vista for Nigeria so that we can have a worthwhile cohabitation. Like the late Bola Ige used to say, the two questions that a constituent assembly should address are: one, do we want to live together? If we say yes, then how? Those are the two questions and once we agree to live together, then we will fashion the modalities of cohabitation. The South Africans wrote a new constitution for themselves. It is nothing strange. But the way we are proceeding is ahistorical. It does not capture the need of the moment and our history, our experience and what needs to be done.