• Parliamentary system is more accountable
Former Oyo State Governor, Senator Rasheed Ladoja is one of the leaders who believe that Nigeria after 61 years of independence lags behind on all major indices of development. He identified leadership as the major problem facing the country. The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) chieftain spoke to some newsmen on issues of zoning for the 2023 presidential election. ROTIMI AGBOLUAJE was there.
Nigeria is 61 years as an independent country, how will you describe the journey so far?
This is obviously not the Nigeria of my dream. I expected us to have gone beyond this pettiness depending on who governs before you can get what you want. It should not be where the person who is going to be president comes from, but a question of whether the person is competent. We should try and evolve and get out of where we are now. In the past six years, the gains that must have been made since the beginning of the Fourth Republic in 1999 are no more there. There is so much distrust between various ethnic groups, particularly between the people of the South and Northerners.
Besides, I don’t even think people in the North are also even enjoying, I don’t pray to be in the North at this time when children are not safe in schools. A few days ago, the Governor of Katsina State, which is the state of the President, said they were going to employ vigilantes for security. That is an indictment on the government and the President and even the police and the military. They are not able to contain terrorism in the North. I don’t think they are bandits; they are terrorists. This is not the Nigeria I am proud of. We should do better.
A lot of things have to be done. It is not just a question of ‘I am in power.’ The federal character principles are in the Constitution, but is the government of the day observing them? Is it in the Constitution that in a federation like Nigeria, all the power is concentrated in the hand of one ethnic group? People say it is south versus north. But I don’t think the Hausa man in the North is better than the Yoruba man in the North. The Yoruba man there is even better because he has a home to go to, but the other man has nowhere to go. The issue is not whether Nigeria should break up or not. It is a question of ‘is it fair?’
What is happening now is not fair. The whole of the security apparatus is in the hands of one ethnic group. Northerners are manning strategic institutions and parastatals. This leads to a lot of corruption, indiscipline and anything goes, as long as the person belongs to those in charge. So, some people are trying to belong because they think they have protection there.
We can amend the Constitution ten times, but the problem will persist unless there is a will to do the needful. This is not the first government we will have. People were not talking like this in the days of Umar Yar’Adua who was also from the same state as President Muhammadu Buhari. Or, maybe, it was because Yar’Adua was not a soldier. I think the character of the person ruling is more important than where he comes from. I think we should review our position on whether it is good or bad to break up Nigeria. As I said elsewhere, the Southern leaders are talking and are just talking about leaving the country. I believe the North is getting ready to go. Of recent, they said part of the $4b they want to borrow is to fund the construction of railway lines from Kano to the Niger Republic and people put forward an economic argument.
But I ask: what is the volume of trade between Nigeria and the Niger Republic? Have we done the railway from Lagos to Abuja? Have they gone beyond Abuja-Kaduna and Lagos to Ibadan? Are there no places where commerce is better? I remember in those days, Total Nigeria Ltd was supplying the whole of Niger petroleum products they were using. And the consumption for a month in Niger is about what Lagos consumed in a day. That is a way of looking at it.
It is for reasons best known to the authorities today, they say they want to build a pipeline from the Niger oil field to Daura where they want to put another refinery, forgetting that there is a refinery in Kaduna that is not working. Kaduna and Katsina were one state before. Will it not have been cheaper to take the crude oil from Kaduna to Daura when the pipeline is already there than to build a new one? What is even funny is that the money we are going to spend to invest in Niger was borrowed by Nigeria. Shouldn’t charity begin at home? This is what led to my belief that some elements in the North are trying to go and want to redraw the map of Nigeria.
Today, everybody is crying. I saw a video of the Akwa Ibom governor, Udom Emmanuel talking about how 18 people in military uniforms were arrested with 18 AK-47 and were handed over to the police, only for the people to release the suspects because of orders from above. The governor of a state talking loudly like that and accusing the Federal Government through the IGP. Before it got to that, he must have tried all other avenues.
Benue State governor, I think, said people should arm themselves because he has been shouting for years now and nobody is listening to him. You remember he was in APC and was not in support of how the Federal Government was handling the security of his people and joined another party. He won re-election for his support of the people. Of course, I don’t see any difference between the two parties anyway. Yet, things are not changing. There are hordes of people migrating southwards, particularly from the minority ethnic groups in the North because they feel insured here.
Nigeria of my dream is where everybody will be proud to stand up and say they are Nigerians. Every Nigerian should have the same rights and the same protection. The government should be ready to defend any of its citizens anywhere in the world with all its might. We can’t say this of today’s Nigeria and this is not giving us respect as citizens. It is sad and I don’t even see light at the end of the tunnel. In the country, we are producing doctors for the outside world to come and hire. Go and look at the number of doctors produced in the country last year and ask how many of them are in the country now. After labour, you expect some benefits. How many civil servants can send their children to decent schools?
The decline in the value of the naira has even worsened things. In the 70s, when you take one naira to the Benin Republic, you would get about 600 cefa. Today, one naira is even less than one cefa. One US dollar was about 70 kobo, meaning one naira was higher than the U.S. dollar. Today, one dollar is about N600. Who are the people buying the dollars? My belief is that some people might be printing the naira. By the time the cost of printing N1,000 is higher than the value, maybe they will stop the printing of naira. Now, the CBN is even saying it wants to introduce N5, 000 and N10, 000 notes. You now ask yourself, what is the value of independence of the naira that they talk about? All the social unrests in the forms of ASUU strike, doctors’ strike and more are all related to the declining value of the naira. If they get a better offer in the U.S. for instance and they are offered 2,000 dollars, they will jump at it. And even here, salaries are being owed; can that be Nigeria of our dream? We need to repair a lot of things.
Do some Nigerians say we should revert to regional government and a return of the 1963 Constitution?
That will be fraught with other difficulties as well because we have broken into states. Are you sure Lagos will be willing to share its IGR of more than an N30billion with other states in the Southwest? Are you sure Ondo State will be ready to share its 13per cent derivation fund with other states?
So, we have to exercise caution on this issue. It is not the Constitution that is wholly wrong; the problem is also partly with those who apply the provisions of the Constitution, the operators. There is no Constitution that is perfect. Some of us still feel nostalgic about the Westminster-type Parliamentary system that we ran in the country. I don’t think we should be spending so much on governance. The cost of governance is too high. It is rumoured that each Senator costs us about N30m in a month and each House of Representatives member, about N20m. How can we spend much money to fund people that are not up to 500? This is apart from their constituency allowances and other perks.
The presidential system we are running is too expensive, whether you are talking about governors, presidents or National Assembly members. Maybe we should go back to the Parliamentary system whereby the Prime Minister will be a member of the legislature and everybody will know what others are doing. In that case, governors will seat in the House of Assembly in their states as members of the House. So, it is not a question of the governor doing things that the House is not privy to. I think there will be more transparency if everybody is sitting together, rather than governors or presidents having their own kingdom and the lawmakers creating theirs as well.
There will be more accountability because they will be able to talk to the governors and directly to the president since they are all equal. Look at Westminster in London, they have question time and the Prime Minister is in attendance to give answers to all their questions. So, it is not calling one Garba Shehu or Femi Adesina to go and respond to issues. It is the president himself that will be answering. But what we have now, the checks and balances are not there. I will support a parliamentary system.
The Northern Elders Forum (NEF) spokesperson, Dr Hakeem Baba-Ahmed, said the North would not play the second fiddle in the 2023 presidential election, arguing that the north has the numbers to determine who becomes the next president of the country. What is your take on this?
Is he telling us that we are going to be voting North-South or parties? This is where the problem is. Are there no political parties in the North? Or are the Northerners only going to vote for one of their own and vice versa for the Southerners? As far as I am concerned, with due respect to him, they call him Doctor something, if he is an academic doctor, he won’t be talking that way. He will know that voting is not North versus South. Maybe this is why people are even suspecting that the population of the North has been inflated. I read what Papa Ayo Adebanjo also said that the population north is bandying about is not true. If the only essence of a population census is only to vote, then something must be wrong with us.
These so-called academics will be telling us rubbish. Has the lot of an average northerner been better under Buhari than it was under Chief Olusegun Obasanjo? It is not. There is fear in everybody’s mind. Instead of us facing the problems we have together, they are telling us about 2023, that they want to continue to stay in power. Let them continue to stay in power. This is one of the reasons people are asking for the break-up of the country. If I feel I have no chance of being a president, if I want to be because my people don’t have the population and there is going to be a North versus South contest, then let the North be taking care of itself and the South also taking care of itself. In what way has Buhari bettered the lot of the average northerner? They are said to be backward in education, now they are not even going to school again because of Boko Haram. Are they not dragging the South backwards? When the South was investing in education, where were they? Some of them just go and get one useless doctorate from one obscure place and come and be telling us rubbish.
I am not talking about Jubril Aminu who studied at the University of Ibadan, Rimi, Shehu Musa and others who are fine gentlemen and not these half-baked illiterates. It is on both sides. We have some people from the South who are also going to be saying they want the presidency. What if they get the presidency and they are not able to change anything? I don’t think he knows what he is saying and should not be dignified with any response.
What is your take about zoning that has divided politicians from the south and north?
Many people don’t know zoning was introduced by political parties as a means of winning elections. If a candidate comes from the North and I know that next time it can be my turn, I will support. I will canvas votes for the person and his party because of the promise to return my support. Ordinarily, we should have outgrown that with time. It should be a question of if a lot of the citizens will be better under the person. It is not a situation now that people say all the development must be concentrated in the North because the North is backward. If they are backward, are they going to catch up in one day, even if they have all the money in the world? The speculation is that 80 per cent of the elite in the North are living in Abuja or down South. They can’t even live in their own communities because of fear of being attacked.
I am not even sure whether it is the President that is doing these things because I am sure he can’t be doing them. Maybe we have some unseen hands ruling us and not the President. There is nobody who will campaign that he will do X, Y, Z and he gets there and won’t be able to do anything and he will be happy. I don’t believe Buhari will sit down and allow the country to drift as it is doing at the moment.
As a big-time farmer, how serious is the issue of farmers-herders to food production decline?
It is very critical and seriously affecting food production. If the farmers can’t go to their farms, will the crops grow themselves? God has been kind to us by giving us arable land and good weather. But we still need to cultivate the land and if you don’t, you won’t eat. So, when people are saying food is expensive, of course, it will be expensive because too much money is chasing too few goods. The economy is also not standing. Investors are not coming. Who is going to invest in the country when you can bring $1m today and get N500m and in a month’s time, you will need N600m to buy $1m? The devaluation of the naira is making things unstable. It is a known fact that Nigeria is heading towards famine, Benue used to be our food basket, but they are no longer going to farms because of the herders who are occupying their farmlands. Even here in the South, people are afraid to go to their farms because they can be murdered or kidnapped. Look at what happened in Igangan, Dr Aborode was going to his farm when he was murdered. The police have a lot to do in this regard. They are not up to the level we expect them to be.
Some concerned Nigerians have launched a ‘Third Force’ tagged, Rescue Nigeria Project (RNP), do you see the initiative displacing PDP and APC?
You know that when I left PDP, I did not go to join ACN. I went to look for Accord because I did not and still don’t see the difference between APC and PDP. In fact, politicians in Nigeria are very funny people. They like to go where power is. How many governors of APC are defecting to PDP? None. It is PDP governors who are moving to APC because that is where the power is. How did Buhari get to power? Is it not because some prominent PDP leaders, including seven governors, joined them in APC or formed the party with them? Are those people not back in PDP now? So, what is the difference between them?
So, I don’t know whether that Rescue Nigeria Project is enough to salvage Nigeria. Political parties are as good as their leadership. If the leaders of the party are good, the party will be good and vice versa. But those behind the project are respectable Nigerians. Donald Duke achieved so much for Cross River, Pat Utomi is a good social reformer, Jega, former INEC chairman. Will these people want power? Will they be ready to play the game?
Do you think power will just be thrown at them like that? They will have to fight for it. As their programme is unfolding, we will see it. Will the rescuers be able to rescue Nigeria? I pray they are able to do so.
By Rotimi Agboluaje
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