Olisa Agbakoba is an activist and a former president of the Nigeria Bar Association. He is also one of the conveners of the Nigeria Intervention Movement (NIM). In this interview with Kehinde Olatunji, he spoke on the forthcoming 2019 general elections and zoning among other things.
Why has NIM been quiet lately?
Before NIM came on board, politics was dead in the country. It was so predictable.
This went back to 1979, when we had National Party Nigeria (NPN), Social Democratic Party (SDP) of 1991-92, then 1999’s Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Alliance for Democracy (AD).
It had always been two parties with no ideology. It had been how to take power to do one thing-divert the resources of Nigeria into their private pockets.
The World Bank, Theresa May and the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics (NBS) confirmed this.
We have overtaken Indian as a country with the poorest number of people; therefore, something needs to be done urgently to deliver the country.
We never said we would come with a magic wand, but we came with the intention to change the character of politics and we have done so.
For instance, this is the first time Nigeria is seeing an array of fresh and new breed of politicians.
These guys might not win, but it gives room for choice, which is very important; it means that you can say, I want this person or the other.
This has been our contribution; it was when NIM came that we provided the platform for the younger generation like the Sowores, Fela DurotoyeS and the likes.
The platform is not a political party, we are not presenting a presidential candidate, but we also understand that it is important to have a political candidate.
We have done the consciencisation, and have generated the interest in political process.
It was as a result of NIM this new actors came. It was the role we played that encouraged them to come out, so, you would discover by 2019, educated Nigerians would make a different choice, the people they go for might not win, but they have the satisfaction that they have voted somebody rather than the known parties.
So, NIM has promoted a third force, we didn’t say, the third force would go to Aso Rock, we didn’t give that assurance, we only created the space for debate, that is when democracy starts to grow, because from 1960 till date, democracy has not grown.
So, hopefully, what we have started may begin to yield result in the next 10to20 years, and people will say that there was a day that democracy debate changed in Nigeria and NIM will be recorded as one of the leading catalyst in that process.
Is the party supporting any candidate?
I didn’t say that, you are putting words in my mouth. I just said this is what NIM has done at the conscientitation level. We do not want to mix the agenda of conscientising Nigerians with partisan politics.
Now, on the political objective level, we joined the Coalition of Opposition Political Parties (COPP), it is here we can express interest, this is playing ground for those who will like to be senators, governors, president and the likes, those who have political ambition on any platform they like.
The agenda that we are trying to promote and I hope will be successful is to have COPP pick one person, because when you go against a sitting president, you will need resources, as he has the power of incumbency and access to financial resources.
In order to defeat a sitting president, there is need for thorough and critical strategies, as we have seen, this is a president who haS shown the determination not to leave office, his statement at the NBA conference was that national security supersedes rule of law, so, to stand a chance of changing the government in 2019 is to have a strong opposition. If we don’t come together and pick one candidate, APC will win.
Are you saying the 2019 election is going to be just between APC and PDP?
No, it is going to be either APC or a party among the coalition of political parties, which PDP is a member, other political parties are also members, but I like to be realistic, PDP is the dominant partner in the process of picking among other parties, this is because, it has structure and deep pocket.
This presidential election is what I call the heavy lifters, you have to be able to lift weight financially, if you cannot, you are going nowhere.
I’m clearly for a change of regime and if we are to have a regime change, we must have a united strategy and some of the strategies is to reflow the economy that has become comatose, create more energy in Nigeria, open the space for Nigeria to allow the region to flourish, from six zones, you can make it eight zones, giving these zones power to be autonomous.
In other words you are supporting restructuring?
Absolutely, there is no way to go, unfortunately, restructuring has been confused. What restructuring means is to have a political conversation whereby we reach an agreement.
For instance, one Inspector General of Police (IGP) cannot provide national security for all Nigerians, if you look at all other democracies, policing is at three levels.
Restructuring is a political tool to free up Nigeria from the lockdown that we now find ourselves.
As you know, we have 774 councils, 36 state governments and Federal Government.
I would like to see a better balance of power, what Professor Nwabueze calls a better division of power. Under the exclusive and concurrent list, there are 98 items of power.
The Federal Government exercises exclusively 68. That means the state and councils cannot do anything.
When you look at what they are exercising exclusively, I’m not sure that they should be doing anything with the police or drivers’ license or registrar of marriages. I don’t think that they should worry themselves about such thing as prisons.
If you go to the prisons’ headquarters in Abuja, you will find over 1,000 senior ranking prison officers with epaulets, doing nothing.
They collect the budgets and spend it in Abuja. When you go to the prison in Oraifite, people are dying of hunger.
Prisons should go to the states. If I were the president of Nigeria, I will take away 68 items of power.
I will retain 30: foreign policy, defence policy, justice sector issues, and monitory policy issues such as, banking.
Throw the rest to the states and make them busy. There are governors who are doing nothing.
Some even travel and you won’t see them for months. One of the governors became a pilot and broke his head, whereas he should be governing his state. It is because he has nothing to do. That is what I mean by restructuring.
Then you look and see whether the councils should be given the other 30 on the list. What is Lagos State government doing by employing Visionscape to carry all the refuse in the statewhereas it is a council’s job?
In my house in London, it is the Borough of Harrow, the local government, not the Prime Minister of UK that collects refuse. That’s the problem. They repair roads, fix water, electricity and all those small things that surround the community.
So, the Federal Government focuses on very narrow thing and does it well. That is restructuring. That is all it means. It is not a big thing.
But for this to work, we in the South must stop the nonsense of antagonising the North. We shout about it not knowing that restructuring is about marriage between the North and the South.
So the North would say okay, you want to restructure so that we go hungry? So, we have to show them that the thing will benefit everybody.
There is a particular state in the North, they had 2.5 million candidates for JAMB, and only156 of them came out. That is because all of them prefer to beg as Almajiris.
The Northern governors have made it profitable for them to be on the streets begging. And this thing goes back a long way.
So, the Northern governors themselves need to understand that they need power to bring up their people.
Why do you see this cascade of northern refugees from the north into the south? It is because nothing is there.
Northern governors should be ashamed that they are opposing the legal structure of restructuring.
The Southern leadership should be ashamed that they do not talk to their Northern brothers, that these things will benefit everybody.
If we weaken the Federal Government and strengthen the state governments, Nigeria would be at peace and all the states would have their different skills. In the North, food is so cheap. It is an agrarian revolution waiting to explode.
We spend $6 billion importing low-grade tomato paste from China every year, but Dangote has started producing it in six states in the North with massive tomato factories.
So, there are things they can do like sugarcane, corn, yam, potatoes, and every other thing.
But we need to assure them that changing the way Nigeria works is for the good of everybody. That is what I mean by restructuring.
How would you react to the statement that you are you aspiring for presidency?
An aspiration is different from ambition. I feel that to run Nigeria is the easiest thing to do. It is so easy that I don’t understand why those who are there don’t understand what to do.
I’m a realistic person, when I went to law school, I didn’t need a political godfather to pass my exams, when I became a SAN, I didn’t need anybody, this means I am one driven by merit, so, when I am aspiring to run a country, the factors that would make me succeed are factors that I cannot control but as you know, the presidency is zoned to the North and I am from the South, that means I cannot aspire in 2019.
In 2023, the East is saying well, we have never become president and so it is an obvious war between the Southeast and Southwest and it will also require very deep pocket, the type Tinubu has and I don’t have it. So, I don’t like to think on aspirations that I cannot achieve.
You talked about zoning of presidency, what is its place in choosing the country’s number one citizen?
Zoning is a tricky thing that has a number of contradictions, and it muffles merit.
But in a country of diversity, where you have a strong need to manage your differences, zoning becomes something that helps to manage it.
Generally speaking, I don’t support zoning but I think without it, Nigeria would have been chaotic.
Zoning has become what continues to manage ethnic conflicts, which is why we have to deal with it.
No South will come out in 2019 and win and it is not surprising that all the presidential aspirants are from the North except Donald Duke, who declared on the platform of the SDP.
He is however, going nowhere and it is clear to everybody that is why we are looking to the North to produce a credible candidate.
One of the strong points for Buhari, at least, the assumption is that if he does his second term tenure, it will shift.
That is why Tinubu is supporting Buhari, what he (Tinubu) fails to understand is that with Buhari statement that national security supersede the rule of law there is no guarantee that Buhari will cooperate with him if he wins the 2019 elections.
He may even wish to continue after his second term, because he has said national security supersede rule of law, so this means on the basis of national security Buhari can postpone the election.
Don’t you think Nigerians would refuse this?
Have you ever seen Nigerians come to the road to protest anything, even during the 5 million match of Abacha, how many people came out; Nigeria is too dispossessed and poor to have a meaningful contribution.
After all, when former president Obasanjo pushed for a third term, what did Nigerians do? Nothing, we were just lucky that we had a very strong National Assembly that said no, otherwise, he could have done it.
Many African head of states have done it, the average age of an African president is 75, anything goes and that is why it is necessary that democracy must be salvaged and there must be a change of government in 2019 and if it does not happen, it will be terrible.