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Restructuring and the making of a United Nigeria: Perspectives For New Leadership
Speech by Chief Harry Ayoade Akande, Agbaoye of Ibadanland and Chairman Board of Trustees, APP at the 10th National Convention of the Egbe Omo Yoruba, North America held at the Howard University Washington DC on June 1, 2002.

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Washington DC
June 1, 2002

Image: Chief Harry Akande

We have to concede as Yorubas that in today's Nigeria we are the cynosure of all eyes. With the eventual transfer of power by the military to civilians in 1999, we had the unprecedented occasion of presenting in a presidential election, both candidates in a two-way contest. So that whichever way the election went, a Yoruba man would be in that high office.

But shouldn't we be concerned that we ought to make the best use of such an opportunity to advance the core issues that are crucial to us and in deed form the very basis of a united Nigeria? Let us note that the reputation of a thousand years, says a Japanese proverb, may be determined by the conduct of one hour.

I feel highly honored to be here tonight and participate in this all too important convention. This convention brings together Yoruba sons and daughters, friends, and families, to reaffirm our strength through our unity, to redefine our purpose and to re-articulate our collective vision.

And in line with the major issues of the day in Nigeria, restructuring features prominently in the theme of this convention and I have chosen to provoke our thoughts in that direction

There is no doubt that our eminent personalities and scholars that are present here today and those who have contributed during this convention are very competent to do a great job of confronting the theme of the convention and cause all of us to do what should amount to a collective introspection.

We the Yorubas are a cultured people. We are industrious and we are progressive. And we should gladly, without trepidation enter into such an enterprise as often as the occasion calls for it.

As I have said before elsewhere, there is no Nigerian who cannot claim some affinity with a nationality group like the many peoples of the United States, our host country today, where the hyphenated nationality is revered. We know of Irish-Americans, Polish-Americans, French Americans, Asian-Americans and so on and so forth. Where I live, for instance, Polish-Americans celebrate the contribution of the polish people to the US. They use their group clout to bring about positive influence in world politics for the good of Poland, namely, as an example, the recent entry of some eastern Europeans countries into NATO.

I know of no reason why all Nigerians should not proudly proclaim their nationality group in the wider context of a strong and united Nigeria. As is often said, that is all about a coat of many colors.

We have Igbo-Nigerians, Edo-Nigerians, Hausa-Fulani Nigerians, Nupe-Nigerians, Kanuri-Nigerians, Urhobo-Nigerians, Isoko-Nigerians, Ijaw-Nigerians, Igala-Nigerians, Ogoni-Nigerians and several many more.

It is how we use and apply this nationality consciousness and the "Nigerianess" in all of us that is vital to the democratic development of Nigeria. And an understanding of this stated perspective should form the basis of the restructuring that we need to urgently undertake in our country.

Interestingly, when you compare the interests of the average ordinary Yoruba-Nigerian with that of all the other groups, you find a lot of common grounds. But this is usually diluted and mixed up as the game of power usually ascends confounding heights. True that our aspirations may be perceived as different along the way, but the well being of the average Nigerian should sincerely not be an issue that is subject to debate or the whims and caprices of political expediency and some games of perfidy, plundering and pillaging.

For instance many of us here tonight desire to leave behind for our children a lasting respectable legacy-such that would accord them a good place in future. And as such secure an enviable place for Nigeria in the comity of nations.

Now why would all the people in Nigeria not subscribe to such a lofty aspiration?

I submit that such simple matters have become Herculean tasks in the past and lamentably even up till now, because we have put the cart before the horse. We have denied ourselves the germination of our true nationalities as a prerequisite for a great country. We have, even if unwittingly, empowered a central government that has now grown into a fearful behemoth because we have lived through distrusts, deceits and despoliation.

Let us take the case of the Nigerian Armed Forces first. We have all watched at times with contempt, at times with fear, some other times with disdain and some have acted with courage as the military, with the active connivance of a lot of civilians, changed the rhythm of our national life from that of consensus building to that of a breakdown of mutual regard and imposition of power and raw absolutism.

As we seek to restructure our country, we need to return our military back to the 1966 pre-coup days when the army was truly a "Representative Army."

Next is the politics of Oil. And we have now seen that in fact the politics of Oil is intertwined with the politics of the armed forces. And we have also found out, not in a very pleasant manner, that those who control the military also control the oil. So that if the military is not representative, the control and/or the management of the oil in the long run cannot but be repressive.

I think we need new ideas, and have already enunciated in my speech last year at the launching of the Fajuyi Foundation in Ibadan, a business solution; after all I am a businessman. I have proposed a new concept of shareholders to include the states in the area of oil production. That is the Joint Partnership between the Federal Government should include the states in the area of oil and gas production.

And if we think about it very well, this is not an idea just from the blues as Vehicle Assembly plants in parts of the country had shares distributed among adjoining states. We should apply the same principle to all currently federally-owned establishments such as the ports for instance. There is no reason at all why the Lagos State government should not be a shareholder in the ownership of Lagos ports. Neither should there be any reason why Niger State should not be shareholders in the HydroElectric Projects and Dams in the state.

Let us also consider the issue of a State Police. We have heard the pros and cons of this clearly sensitive issue and one thing is very clear: the way policing is set up in Nigeria today leaves only the President as the single elected public officer that has control.

However security of life and property being the very basis of state power demands that in a country as big as Nigeria, no one person should hold such power, especially as the issue of policing ought to be community based.

How can a community in Ijaiye influence a president in Abuja, demanding better police? Here in the US, as we all know, police control is local and that means voters at the grassroots can demand from their leaders at that level accountability on the question of security of life and property. Mayors have lost their offices in election because of policing matters. And that is how it ought to be.

However one shudders to recommend a full-fledged state/council area police for Nigeria now because of the possible corruption and selfish aggrandizement that could possibly follow. However, as a minimal step forward why can't we have a police system where the president appoints state police commissioners as currently practiced but once appointed such police commissioners should report to the State Governors who the constitution denotes as their states' chief security officers?

Then governors alongside their state assemblies should be empowered to dismiss the police commissioners when necessary in a clearly stated procedure. Besides, to strengthen the independence of the police force, why can't we draw police funding from the consolidated fund, just as we currently do for the judiciary?

Like I said earlier this is just a minimal shift, which we can make and see how well that would advance the cause of protection of lives and property, which has now become so unattainable and wantonly unpredictable in our country.

What about Political Restructuring? We also need to reassess the polity, as we have actually never done before.

Restructuring as it relates to our electoral process is of great importance and relevance to our future. Consequently, the polity should center on issues rather than any other extraneous matters.

For instance should General Obasanjo be re-elected just because he is a Yoruba man? Or just because he's been a military man who rightly or wrongly is perceived to be able to handle the armed forces? Or is General Obasanjo to be re-elected because the South-South and the South-East have not shown cohesion? Is General Obasanjo to be re-elected because being the incumbent he wields immense power and has enormous resources at his command? Or is General Obasanjo to be re-elected, because as some say, there is no "viable alternative?"

For me, these are quite outrageous allusions and really troubling reasons to justify General Obasanjo's re-election bid. The only genuine mandate that General Obasanjo could get is that which is accorded on the conviction, by the voters, that the General had made a difference in their lives in the last three years. Anything short of this is not acceptable.

PERFORMANCE should be the key word rather than ethnicity, religion or even what region or section he comes from. Whenever we divorce issues from politics, the farther we get from true democracy and the emergence of a leader who could turn around the orchestrated misfortunes of our nation.

We should also ask for instance why should the President be so powerful as to be able to single-handedly nominate the members of INEC? From where did we get that model? And why for instance should the Directors-General of Nigerian Television Authority and the Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria be publicly mentioned in the press as being on the Campaign team of the incumbent President without any sort of denial coming out since then?

Why should the government-owned broadcast station refuse to air the campaign jingle of a presidential aspirant after having collected money, only to return the money and still go ahead to air live the declaration of the incumbent's interest in a second term?

This is simply unfair and unacceptable. All people of goodwill need to clamor for changes. Those of us here at least know that, the Federal Electoral Commission is composed of members of the two dominant parties and the parties directly nominate the members of the commission. An incumbent administration cannot and should not be allowed to deploy state funds and resources for their own partisan advantage. I have been asking for more international monitoring of our elections right from the pre-election day build-up, through to the election D-day, up to the time after the election. And I will not be weary in doing that.

In restructuring our country we need to re-examine the arrangement of Nigeria into smaller units where many states have been created with most of them not economically or politically viable. We must restructure such that economic and political viability and homogeneity and congruity of the ethnic groups are key factors in the restructuring process.

We must consequently explore the need to redesign the Nigerian federation. To be successful at this, we should consider the following factors, which are by no means exhaustive:

  1. Political and economic viability
  2. Revenue allocation to the federating units
  3. Redistribution of power and responsibilities between the federal government and the federating units.

We need to devolve more powers to the states, at least to such levels as we had pre-1966 coup, when the regions were fairly self sufficient and free to pursue basic things like health, education and commerce etc in a way that allowed for divergence, diversity and therefore development of our entire people.

If these issues are well articulated and studied, we will arrive at a restructured Nigeria with a federal system of government both in name and fact. We will arrive at a restructured Nigeria that will ensure true federalism.

Of course these are only few of the basic ideas that we need to be thinking about as we grapple with the imperatives of restructuring. We need to see restructuring as a vision for a better, stronger and united Nigeria.

These ideas should help us all, as Yorubas and all other groups in Nigeria to bequeath a solid and worthy legacy to our children. With proper restructuring we can bring out the best in all states and sections of the federation.

I have a plan, for instance, to turn parts of the country in the North and the South as well into food baskets not only for Nigeria but the entire African continent. Just to mention one example, the agricultural potential of some Northern states has not been developed even though some of the basic infrastructure needed like dams are already in place.

The foremost thing for us to do therefore is to put in place a reliable, enduring and truly democratic federalism in Nigeria. The Nigeria that we should all leave for our children is a Nigeria where more power would truly go the way of the States, the local governments, and to every Nigerian, who would be empowered to develop his or her potentials to the highest possible limits. Invariably, the empowered Nigerians will empower Nigeria and thrust her forward among nations and peoples of the world.

And this is why I have always supported a National Conference where all these issues would be fairly and squarely negotiated, with a view to keeping Nigeria one. And we do mean a conference whose conclusions are not subject to the review of any arm of government but perhaps only to a Referendum.

Those who think such a conference will break Nigeria are only crying wolf. It is when we stop talking that we begin to build up hatred among ourselves and eventually burst into conflict. Conflict, we should know, is the breakdown of communication.

I have decided to get involved in the political mix of Nigeria because career politicians have failed us. And for me it is not a do-or-die affair. Infact I hope to be able to make substantial impact between now and another half a decade, after which I will be available to back and support younger elements for positive change and a new leadership.

By their commissions and omissions, career politicians have multiplied the suffering of the people; they have misplaced their priorities and have misappropriated the peoples' trust. They behave sometimes as if they are incapable of love for their own people. Their ominous legacy for our children is too apparent for us to ignore. Why should it be 'business as usual" in Nigeria where it seems we cannot achieve what we all hope for.

The time for self-loathing is long past. We have to take charge and fast. The Nigeria of our dreams will not become a reality if we do not take charge now. I am convinced that the future of Nigeria depends largely on all of you in this audience and about ten million other Nigerians abroad. You have experienced the success of democracy, especially in the United States, the dividends of which are an enduring political system, good infrastructures, good social planning, and many more. You are equally convinced, as I am that all of these good things can be replicated in Nigeria.

Which is why I have also been canvassing over the last two years for absentee balloting in Nigeria so those of us resident abroad should be enabled to vote during elections. If we mean a lot to the Nigerian economy, especially in terms of the money we send home-about a billion dollars last year-why should we not have the basic right of enfranchisement? Apart from this, being our constitutional right, it is the right thing to do.

Ladies and gentlemen, let me conclude this short speech by enumerating for you some of my experience in Nigerian politics. I am not just a talker, but a man of action. I have brought the same high energy with which I run my personal business to Nigerian politics.

I was in the thick of Nigerian politics and in the spirit of solidarity, I supported Obasanjo's presidency three years ago. My record would speak for itself. And if I must say, I was instrumental in aligning Afenifere and the core of Yoruba leadership with the transition program that led to the birth of the fourth republic. Gladly and without much ado, I deferred my own plan of becoming president, for the collective dream championed by our people. I was invited to become the presidential aspirant for APP, but yielded to enable an APP-AD alliance that produced Chief Olu Falae.

I stayed action so that APP can bring strength to the AD to win the presidency. Well, as this is not a political rally, I would save the remainder of the story for the political podium.

My recent involvement in Yoruba politics and the wider Nigerian politics is certainly for the good of our people. I want to see a lasting political structure put in place in Nigeria- a structure upon which true political, economic and social liberation can be based. Without this structure in place, all our hue and cry may amount to naught.

But it is my wish and conviction that we will do that which is right and we will put the right people in the position of responsibility, who will be forthright in putting the right structure that we all desire in place. Solidarity for solidarity's sake is not enough nor advisable at a time like this.

It was Sir James Goldsmith who said, "if you see a bandwagon, it's too late." I hope we do not see a bandwagon come 2003.  

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Forwarded by Dr. Toks Owoeye

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