Controversy has continued to trail President Goodluck Jonathan’s planned National Conference even as he insists that its outcome will not end up in government’s archives. In this interview, former member of the House of Representatives (1979 –1983), Chief Lateef Adekunle Alli says that the National Conference is a ruse and a waste of public funds.
He also dismisses the clamour for creation of more states out Lagos State as the handiwork of disgruntled politicians. Alli spoke on corruption and Nigeria’s centenary celebration.
You’re opposed to a national conference being held. Why?
The problems, which is seek urgent and decisive solution now is national security and the economy, not national dialogue or conference. This is because the issue of national security is manifest in all the geo-political zones of the country with increasing cases of kidnapping for ransom in the South and mindless killings of Nigerians by Boko Haram insurgents in the North. Nigeria cannot exist as a country or nation except the security of the citizens is guaranteed. Therefore, national dialogue or conference can only hold if Nigeria exists.
A poor economy militates against the emergence of a strong and united Nigeria. When you look across the country, what we see are battalions of jobless young boys and girls who have graduated from higher institutions of learning. They constitute social problems of unimaginable proportion. So, it beats my imagination how the issue of national dialogue could have taken precedence over the vital questions of revamping the economy and providing adequate security to the people.
President Jonathan will do this country a great favour if he can restore power supply on a scale sufficient to revive many of our ailing industries and thereby bring about economic regeneration. I don’t think politicians should sit over this well flogged issue of constitutional conference or national dialogue; it has been an issue in the last 30 years. In 1986, we had the report of the Political Bureau set up by former military President Ibrahim Babangida, part of which formed the basis of the present or ‘extant’ constitution.
Again, in 1994, late maximum ruler, General Sani Abacha, set up another constitutional conference. Till date, that report is still kept in the closet of the government.
And when Obasanjo came on board, after 1999, he set up another national conference, using public funds, which were not approved by the National Assembly to sustain it. Again, nothing came out of it till date. Still, here is another one by Jonathan. So, we are now talking about four national or constitutional conferences in 30 years.
It is time we hit the nail on the head and confront the problem headlong rather than dancing round it for political gains or whatever the motive may be. Nigerians are tired of these never-ending conferences. I have doubts that Jonathan, not being a military despot can succeed in bringing about a constitutional change when the conference is not conceived as a sovereign exercise. Nigerians are looking forward to seeing relief from the all pervading poverty, which is ravaging them.
Is your position informed by fear of mistrust?
It is the reality of translating the decisions reached at the conference into constitutional action that is so much at stake here. We run a constitution that is supposed to be federal but in reality, it is unitary.
All these,. we owe to the fact that the colonial constitution we inherited at the time of independence in 1960, still carries the aspect of a unitary form of government and it is this constitution we have been tinkering with ever since. For example, creation of states by military administrations, the zonal arrangement of the country into six geopolitical zones by Abaca by fiat.
Generally, Nigeria stands at a cross road of a failed state. Some people say the problems facing us are as a result of mistrust among the people (citizenry). But I don’t agree with this school of thought. The issue of mistrust only exists when ethnic sentiment is whiped up by politicians for their selfish purposes. For generations before my birth, nearly 80 years ago, the Hausas, the Yorubas, the Ibos and the other ethnic groups have been living together harmoniously in different parts of Nigeria. So, this mistrust only exists in the minds of politicians…not in the minds of the ordinary Nigerian who merely wants to improve himself, secure himself and family.
Even among the Yorubas, there exists the problem of mistrust among the politicians. So, we cannot project the question of mistrust into the political arena as reason for the national conference.
But the president has assured that the outcome of the conference will have the backing of the law, suggesting that it will be given constitutional approval. You still doubt him?
I don’t think the current National Assembly has the mandate to review the constitution on its own before it has to go through the litmus test of passing through two-thirds of the state legislatures across the country.
Given the fact that a bill is to be sponsored to incorporate the undoctored recommendations of the National Conference, who is to sponsor the bill? And how long will the process take before its execution. Certainly, not with the life of the present government. So, the whole exercise appears to be a charade because of the tortuous process it has to undergo before it becomes a reality.
So, it is all going to be in motion without movement. By the time the exercise is over, Jonathan would have secured his second term, leaving whoever succeeds him to carry the task of reversing the constitution of the country.
Perhaps, you should be reminded of ex-United States Ambassador, John Campbell’s prediction that Nigeria will break in 2015
Former United States Ambassador John Campbell’s comment that Nigeria will break in 2015 is nothing but a doomsday prophecy and a manifestation that Nigerians cannot manage their own affairs. Of course, there is no sanctity about the political boundaries drawn by the colonial powers in 1887 at the Berlin Conference on Africa’s geo-political areas of influence which transmuted today into national political entities, recognized by the international community.
But I believe, it is not the wish of the present day Nigerians to see their country break into small entities. Yes, Russia and Europe have broken up with their artificial boundaries. But in our case, such a conclusion has to do with the imagination of Europeans who read only superficial meanings into the political statements and actions of our political elites.
Have you ever given thoughts to problems like Boko Haram and ethnicity?
It is a pity that we have allowed foreigners to infiltrate the Boko Haram sect. The North East zone of the country has always been a bedrock of revolt. We had the Madhist revolt, which was against the colonial authorities. It was put down violently by the British rulers at the time. It is the same area from which the Madhists emerged that we now have the Boko Haram sect, which expresses sentiments against foreign influence (education) from the West.
Now, if you relate the activities of Boko Haram with the revolt of the Madhist movement, we can see the parallel between the two movements. In both cases, Arabs and semi- Arabs hijacked the revolts. Today, this is what our troops are fighting against to restore the integrity of the nation.
On ethnic nationality, do we understand what is meant by ethnic nationality? Going by certain reckoning, Nigeria has more than 250 ethnic nationalities. Where do we go from here? Nigerians must consider living together as one nation. We have been living together 100 years before power was handed over to politicians.
Even as you’re opposed to convoking of a national conference, groups have emerged, calling for the creation of more states from Lagos State. How do you reconcile their demand with your opposition to national conference?
The question of state creation in Lagos is one with long ancestry. The founders of Lagos are the Aworis and Ijebu elements with some elements of the Ogu (Egun) from Badagry. In my time (at the National Assembly) and even before then, there was the agitation by the Awori people (with headquarters at Otta (Adodo) to join Lagos State. Only the Egba people from Abeokuta resisted the attempt.
Justice Nassir Commission of Inquiry on state creation in 1976 recommended the fusion of Lagos and Ogun states as one political entity but the late General Murtala Mohammed turned down the recommendation because Lagos had been enjoying statehood for nine years before the recommendation was made.
That was why that government directed that Lagos state should move its capital from Lagos Island to Ikeja, at Alausa as we have it today. Again, in 1993/4, there was a movement for the creation of Ijebu state out of the then Ogun and Lagos states, championed in the military circle by General Oladipupo Diya. We fought against this movement and we received the support of General Sanni Abacha, who then created more local governments in the Ijebu area of Ogun state, thereby leaving us in Lagos to mind our affairs.
This latest demand for the creation of three states out of Lagos is, apparently, a reaction to the demands of the politicians from the rank of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to truncate the state into, apparently, unviable units. (I mean some states may not be prosperous.) This is the difference between ‘great’ and ‘small’ Lagosians.
Do you support the amalgamation celebrations?
As a student of history, I will support the celebration of Nigeria’s amalgamation.
Why does corruption seem to be deep-rooted in Nigeria?
Corruption is one of the bane of Nigeria’s underdevelopment. It is the quickest way Nigeria can go into limbo. I fought against it when I was at the National Assembly. It has to do with our moral probity which has gone down. Unstable economy, lack of security and corruption constitute a common factor shaking the nation to itsfoundation because we have come to accept money as the basis of success in our society. If we address the problem of the economy, create surplus, the question of corruption will fizzle out.
Nigerians need education on public affairs. We believe that government has money but that money is collectively owned by all and assigned to trusteeship of the elected leaders. Unfortunately, they (elected leaders) have not behaved like trustees in many instances.