59th Independence: Nigeria, not yet a nation – Olajide, YCE scribe

Dr. Kunle Olajide, an elderstatesman, medical practitioner, Chieftain of the Yoruba Council of Elders, Secretary of the Yoruba delegates to the 2014 National Conference, shared his thoughts on Nigeria as a nation at 59 in a phone in programme “Perspectives” on a Kaduna based FM Station, Invicta Radio, monitored by Kenny Ashaka. 


We’ll like to hear from you what you think of Nigeria at 59

When we were having independence, world powers made the forecast that in less than 25 years after independence, Nigeria should comfortably be in the league of first world countries; but even some countries that gained independence with us like Singapore, Malaysia are far ahead of us now. And so the question arises, why are we where we are today? But on top of it all, we should still give thanks to God that we still remain a country and as we still remain a country, there are still opportunities for us to rewire this country and redesign it so that we can take a big leap forward.

From the clue you have given, the next question is: why are we where we are today?

Thank you very much. We started in 1960 on what you could call a quasi structure; quasi in the sense that we had three regions at that time, western region, eastern region and northern region when the population census, the last one; I think the one before independence in 1951…I can’t remember the year now, when it put the population at that time I think about 36 million. The Northern region were supposed to have about the same with the population figures, if not more, than the two other regions in the South and you and I will agree that it goes against the principles of democracy anywhere in the world. The further you get out of the ocean, the fewer the people. The South is near the ocean. We have evergreen forest. The North is about grasslands and deserts. There is nowhere in the world where the population in the desert regions are by far more than those ones in the evergreen forest. Until a few years ago, about 15 years ago when the British Colonial Officer at that time, Harold Smith released his memoirs because in British tradition, if you are in the Foreign Affairs Office, British diplomacy, when you retire you are not allowed to say anything until 25 years after retirement. So, he released his memoirs where he said he was directed by the colonial office in Britain to tilt the population figures in favour of the North because the British wanted the North to continue to control Nigeria because they felt the North was easier for them to manipulate. In any case in the North, you have the feudal system where people who are talakawas  believe that is their faith and they must die as talakawas and if you are born into the royal family, blue blooded, you continue to rule. So, the British felt it was better for them and they thought that the Southerners, particularly the Westerners… as at that time, we had our lawyers, about 100 years before the North had theirs. We had medical doctors; we had access to education because of the access to the Atlantic Ocean; so they thought we are too difficult and we were the ones championing the Nationalist struggle because Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, the pioneer, late Herbert Macaulay was in fact, the pioneer of the Nationalist struggle and joined by Nnamdi Azikiwe and Chief Obafemi Awolowo. These were Southerners. At the time they were agitating for independence, the Northerners said they were not yet ready for independence. The Western region had their government in 1956 and the North said they were not prepared. So, the twisted population figures which we still rely on up till today is one of the factors that have dragged Nigeria down. But that is not the major factor really because in the First Republic we had a quasi system. There was a healthy competition between the regions. Chief Awolowo introduced free education in 1955 and Azikiwe followed suit in 1957, 1958  or  so, but a few years after, it collapsed in the Eastern region. The difference was that Chief Awolowo did a lot of planning. They projected the school and pupil’s population about seven years ahead in Western region in anticipation of the free education programme. He was going to supply free books to them. He did all these calculations and when the free education commenced in Western region and before the schools re-opened, boxes of all the books for the anticipated free education were all in the schools; classrooms have been built, of course not these modern ones. So, the problem of Nigeria is essentially because the foundation was faulty. Those of us who are Christians will recall that there is a part of the book of psalms written by David that says that if the foundation is faulty, what can the righteous do? Unfortunately for us, we got independence, on a platter of gold and because of that, in the leadership, successively, we have had wrong people in the right places. You will recall what happened in 1964, 1965 in the Western region where there was crisis. We had the military intervention of 1966, January 15 coup. We still had these separatist mindset. There was the Western region with Yoruba mind set, Northern region mindset and the Eastern region mindset. The coup of 1966 was headed by Major Kaduna Nzeogwu and he had Emmanuel Ifeajuna and Adegboyega; those were his colleagues that planned the coup and because of that, the Northerners saw that coup as an Eastern coup. So, they planned their own and executed it July 29, the same year. To make matters worse, within a few months in office after the first coup, Major-General Aguiyi Ironsi promulgated Unification Decree of Nigeria which attempted to unify the system of government and the country was living a lie. As at today, we are still living a lie. We are not yet a nation. We are different nations brought together, amalgamated for British convenience because what they wanted was to advance their interests, explore and exploit our resources for their own benefit and as far as they were concerned, if you recall the memo written by Lord Luggard to the Colonial Office when he was advocating the amalgamation, he said let us marry the rich Southerners to the relatively docile North. That was what he said then. Those were his words. They were using the income of the South to supplement and augment the revenue of the North which was not enough to run the administration of the Northern region. But some of us including my humble self believe that Nigeria is, even though amalgamated by the British, nothing happens without the authority of God. To me, I am a Nigerian through and through. I believe in one Nigeria. I believe in this country. This country is richly blessed and endowed. Unfortunately, some of our leaders have allowed their ethnic interests to supersede the national interest and this is why we are where we are today. As one country, we would have been one of the leading countries in the entire world and I can say that confidently. I have gone round the world at my personal expense, not at the expense of government and I am yet to see a country as endowed as Nigeria other than the United States of America. Look at the vegetation from the Atlantic Ocean to the Sahara desert. We have evergreen forest, deciduous forest, gas plants and so on. Are you talking about mineral resources? The middle belt is richly endowed in mineral resources yet untapped till today and so perhaps if you want to find out exactly why we are where we are today, I have a way of putting it. I said Nigeria was bedeviled by twin evils, Military intervention and oil boom. The oil boom came during the military regime and my military friends accuse me of abusing them. I am not abusing them. The oil boom came to intoxicate the military rulers to the extent we were paying the salaries of workers in Ivory Coast or somewhere around West Africa and one of our former Heads of State said money is not the problem of Nigeria but how to spend it. You can see that kind of effusion as a sign of intoxication. So, our problem really is that we are running a unitary system in a country that is heterogeneous, different people, different history, different culture and different beliefs. There is no way you can run such a country successfully. And what we have been doing is that we take one step forward and then take ten steps backwards instead of just continuing to match forward. We would have made tremendous progress but for the military intervention. In the First Republic, there was healthy competition. Western Region had the first television station in Africa, South of the Sahara. We had television station before Southern France in Europe.  East then envied us and they had their own television; the same thing with the North. We had our university, the same thing the East had its own and the North had their own. That was healthy rivalry. In fact, at a stage in the Second Republic, Jakande government loaned money to the then Governor of Borno State, Goni. That was healthy rivalry. But what do we have today? We are by far more divided today than we were when we had independence. I recall that my roommate in University of Ibadan was an Easterner, Phillip Ogbuji. He was a medical student too. When the civil war broke out and they now had to move home, the two of us were shedding tears in the hall and we were a spectacle to behold because of the love we had for each other. So, we are now by far more divided than we were. That is why a lot of us are not happy with the Nigeria of today. In fact, most Nigerians are not happy. That is why you have insecurity everywhere in all the six zones. It is not limited to the North East. It is in the North West, Kaduna. It is in the Middle Belt, Benue. It is in the South West, the South East. So, all Nigerians are not happy. So I think it is high time we sat together again and begin to redesign the fate of our children and grandchildren.

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With the divide in Nigeria and of course the insecurity, stunted economy and unemployment taking its toll on young Nigerians who we all believe are the engine room of any nation, what would you say is wrong with our democratic system?

We cannot remain this way for too long. Time is running out on the political leadership elite. Yes, we got it wrong with the military intervention. I said it earlier. If we had continued with what we had in the First Republic, of course there will be mistakes here and there but I am sure Nigerians would have been by far more united than we are today. The military intervention came; unfortunately, it led us to civil war. When we were fighting the civil war, Gowon in his wisdom and in his government decided to balkanize Nigeria and created twelve states to weaken Biafra. It was deliberately to weaken Biafra, to give the Rivers and Bayelsa people some freedom; they call them South Eastern states. The first administrator of Eastern State was Ukpabi Asika. That was the beginning of the balkanization of this country. We started with 12 states and now we have 36 states. Even with the 36 states, I can tell you confidently that some Nigerians are not happy with where they are. You will recall that I was the Secretary of the Yoruba delegates to the 2014 National Conference. Most of the people in Kwara State are not happy that they have been lumped with the North. We have the Ekitis in Kwara State; they want to join their brethrens in Ekiti State. There are others in Kwara who want to join their brethrens in Osun State. You will recall Southern Kaduna, Zamani Lekwot; I have forgotten the name of their group. They want to be separated from Northern Kaduna because they believe they are being victimized and terrorized. There is crisis there till today. So we have these all over the country. There is a lot of discontent in Nigeria and that is what is fueling the crisis. To add insult to injury and I have said this several times, the problem in Northern states today is as a result of the clash between feudalism and globalization. The Northern mind set when the Hausa-Fulani came in 1804 or 1904, I can’t remember exactly, Usman Dan Fodio captured most of the Hausas. The Hausas are the majority in the North but we have Emirs now in the North. So, they have this feudalism. Now with technology, you have globalization. You can see what is going on in Morocco, Arab spring, London and USSR. So it is difficult to suppress a people now anywhere in the world because the world has become a village. So, what we are having now in the North is the clash between feudalism and globalization. That was what gave birth to Boko Haram Instead of us having real democracy which is government of the people by the people and for the people, it is now the government of the tiny political leadership elite by the tiny leadership political elite for the tiny political leadership elite. How can you explain public servants, National Assembly legislators earning N20 million a month and the same government paying them that much money is finding it difficult to pay N30,000 minimum wage? Is that government of the people? So, to me, I believe the political leadership elite on both sides of the political divides; call them APC or PDP whatever they are, have conspired to impoverish the Nigerian people and by so doing have dehumanized us. Most of us have bloods and souls but without consideration for the fellow man. I cannot imagine how I can sleep properly if I earn N20 million in a month and my houseboy earns nine thousand or N10,000 a month. I can’t sleep well. We were insulted a few days ago by a legislator in the National Assembly who said we were insulting them for accusing them of spending so many billions on luxury vehicles.

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Is the problem with the system of governance or what?

The problem is not with the presidential system, neither is it with the parliamentary system. It is not the system. It is the people, the mindset of the people running the system. This country can be comfortable for all of us, for as many of us as are possible. But as it is, only a tiny fraction are enjoying the benefits of the country and this cannot continue for too long.

It would seem as if Nigerians really want it running as it is because 20 years of this uninterrupted democracy, we have had our leaders and representatives and Nigeria is still where we were. One begins to wonder if it is the leadership that has stunted the growth of this nation and the attainment of national integration?

Thank you very much. About 24 years ago, I delivered a paper to professionals in Ibadan and I said in any society where you have the ugly trial of ignorance, poverty and disease, you can never have democracy because clearly there is inequality there. What is democracy? One man, one vote. I have one vote, my driver has one vote, my workers, each of them has the same votes that I have, they will now vote and our candidates are different. The priority of Nigerians now is to have their daily bread. So, when somebody comes from Abuja two weeks to the election and gives them N5,000 each, they will vote for him because they know that the moment they vote for him, he is not coming back again because they are hungry. So, where you have the ugly trial like we still have in Nigeria, ignorance, poverty, disease, you can’t have democracy, government of the people by the people for the people. No; except you are fortunate to have a nation that is people- oriented like perhaps the one we had during Umaru Yar’Adua (God bless his soul). That is the first time I will hear a leader in Nigeria saying that the election that brought me to office was sincerely flawed. Those were his words. And I had known him a long time before then because I was a very close associate of his late brother, Major General Shehu Musa Yar’Adua. In fact, I was being taunted as one of his vice-presidential aspirants when he was aspiring for the presidency in 1992/3. So, I knew Umaru Yar’Adua then as a young lecturer because he was always following us. So, for us we have had a major problem of leadership. Government offices, public offices are too opulent. They are too comfortable.

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When you look at us as a people we are wary and suspicious of each other. Again when you bring that to the national space what kind of integration or development can you get?

Initially, we were not suspicious of one another. We were not. I was young and we had some Fulani people living in our house in Lagos, the Igbos too. I talked about my Igbo friend a few minutes ago. It is the leadership that gives direction. When you are running a government that is pro-ethnic group in particular, then you make the other ethnic groups inferior, of course they will resist it and they will begin to suspect every move of yours. I think it was three or four years ago that we had this issue of cattle colonies. We protested vehemently because of the experience we had in Ilorin and you remember that recently we celebrated the end of the Kirji war in Yoruba land. I was the Chairman of the function. We mentioned the advancement of the Fulani to Lagos and at a time, they said they were going to dip the Quran in the Atlantic Ocean but the Yoruba rallied round and stopped that at the Ijalimi war. If we have a leader that takes Nigeria his constituency, in other words, there is no pro-ethnic sentiments…we started cattle colonies, Nigerians rejected it; you brought in RUGA again, most Nigerians rejected it; now again you presented the Inland Waterways Bill, the first time it was rejected. I am told now that they are preparing to re-introduce it. You see as long as the leadership gives the impression that they have a mindset of domineering others, the others will resist it. Of course, they will resist it. So, it is the successive leaders we have had since intervention that has made us become very suspicious of one another. We were not this suspicious before. We had the Sabo settlements and so on, nobody quarreled. When I was a child I was always joining my Muslim friends and follow them to the praying ground. So, it is the leadership. I think Nigerians have to wake up because they cannot stand the protest or the rebellion of the Nigerian people. Hunger speaks the same language in Yoruba land and elsewhere in Fulani land. Hunger is hunger, poverty is poverty, disease is disease and people are dying. Our hospitals are virtually empty clinics and we are paying this fantastic remuneration to this executive people and legislators. Corruption is still active in Nigeria till today. So I think our problem is more of leadership. There is no need for mutual suspicion. This country has to be restructured. We must stop living a lie. Fulanis are different from the Jukuns, the Jukuns are different from the Yoruba and so we have different histories, different cultures and different priorities. Allow each group to explore and exploit its resources and deploy the resources according to their priorities. There should be no quarrel about that. But you cannot be issuing decrees from Abuja. For instance, the road that goes in front of my house in Efon Alaiye in Ekiti State, they say it is federal road. When is the President coming to ply it? The road should belong to my state here so I can go and protest in Ado Ekiti if it is bad. So, there are a lot of paradoxes in our Constitution, contradictions in our Constitution. We must face reality. You cannot continue to build on what you have now and think you will have peace. There is no country in the whole world that has a centralized Police system. Each of the regions must have its Police system and Federal Government needs Police system. What is the business of the state legislators when they promulgate laws and don’t have the Police to follow up the laws? They depend on the Federal Government to monitor the laws made by the state assemblies and the local government. It is paradoxical and antithetical. So, we must really go back if we love this country.

What will be the position of the minority tribes in a restructured Nigeria?

That is a good question. We considered all these in the 2014 National Conference. A Referendum will be conducted for the minorities to decide where they want to be and if they want to be on their own. You recall a United Nation resolution that allows even 500,000 people to form a territory. There are countries in the world that are not more than one million. That is why it is important we put Referendum in our Constitution. You go to the minority and conduct a Referendum; they will tell you we want to be in X,Y, Z or we want to remain in Kaduna State or somewhere else. The minorities must have a say in democracy. So that is the purpose of the Referendum we said should be in the Constitution.

We want your last line on these issues.

My last line is this: we cannot continue the way we are, where we are the poverty capital of the entire world inspite of the resources we are endowed with; our graduates are unemployed, apparently what we are in is a state of hopelessness and helplessness and a combination of the two is a disaster for any country. So, our leadership must face the reality.


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