Olisa Agbakoba, a senior advocate of Nigeria (SAN) and former president of the Nigerian Bar Association, took a deserved rest after his participation at the recently concluded National Conference. In a chat with journalists recently, Agbakoba addressed key national issues and fielded questions from the press on a wide range of issues that covered the conference, Boko Haram insurgency, 2015 election and more. OLUSEGUN ABISOYE was there. Excerpts:
National conference fallout
I’ve been out of the country for a while; a well-earned sabbatical after the National Conference. But I think in the context of what I’ve even seen across the world, the conference produced good results. What I think the challenge would be is, where do we take it from? That is the challenge.
You know, in a country that has multi-ethnic, linguistic fault lines; there’s no way you can get perfect results. For me, I was personally, initially, deeply taken aback by the deep level of division, first between the North and the South, very deep levels of division.
Therefore, the consensus the South thought it could build on the issue of regionalism was even opposed by Lagos. So, you can see how difficult the problem was. Lagos opposed it, Ebonyi State opposed it; Ebonyi said they are the least developed state in the South and therefore, if we have regionalism, they will be affected. I say these to underscore a very important point – that the problem in Nigeria is not about ethnic nationality, it’s about development.
And the National Conference, if the President through his Implementation Committee, thinks up good recommendation, I’ll be satisfied with it (even though I don’t think I agree with that). I thought that our recommendations should have gone straight to a referendum. You know, when you bring politicians to review our report, there is a likelihood that in their own interest, they will not do what the people of Nigeria want. So, that is a concern.
But full marks to the President, he’s the one who has gone the farthest ever since Babangida began deceiving us back in the 90s and Obasanjo himself tried to get his Third Term. But let’s give praise where praise is due because this President has surprised even me. He has been the one who has been the most candid in the debate.
But I think he needs to think very carefully whether this Implementation Committee is the right vehicle. I would have thought that the right vehicle would be to put it to a referendum. So, I do think that the referendum is the proper way to go.
Let me also add that as you may be aware, there might be an ‘earthquake’ in the UK. And the UK is supposed to be our fathers, yet Scotland wants to leave. And as it is going, it looks like Scotland may leave the United Kingdom.
So, I think the time has come for us all to agree that if we cannot stay together as a country, we should go our separate ways. There is nothing intrinsically correct by saying that Nigeria must continue to exist.
In fact, by saying that Nigeria must continue to exist, you are forcing the North down our throats; we rebel against it. What is the response of the British Prime Minister to Scotland wanting to leave? He hoists the Scottish flag on his house. He goes to Scotland and he is right now in Scotland; he is persuading.
But here, it is all about force. The Secretary to the Federal Government says there shall be a conference but the no-go area is to talk about Nigeria’s dissolution. There is nothing sacrosanct about the existence of Nigeria. Nothing! Nothing sacrosanct as far as I’m concerned! If we cannot exist together, too bad. I personally think Nigeria has the human capital to be Africa’s giant. But it’s not by force. That’s my point; it’s not by force.
We can point to the example of our colonial masters, just now entertaining a big debate about Scotland leaving. Scotland is saying to itself, ‘we are not getting a good deal in United Kingdom, so why should we be in the United Kingdom?
There are two guys involved – Alister and David Cameron; David for Scotland stay in England, Alister is for it to go. Scotland is saying, ‘if we’re by ourselves, all the oil in the South would be ours. David feels that is an attractive argument and he says, ‘you know what, I’ll devolve more powers to you.’ But here, all we hear is force – ‘We must stay together!’ Why must we stay together? We are all collectively in our individual corners, able to be individual countries; and maybe, that’s the way to go, even though I see the strength in being a big country.
The other interesting thing is in ‘staying’. All you hear is stay. I don’t know how many of you have heard about the Catalans. There are at least six separate entities in Spain; none see eye to eye. Spain was originally colonised by the Moles, who came from Morocco. So, there’s a lot of Islamic influence in Spain. Those are called the Andalusians. Then you have the Basque who don’t even want to be in Spain and they’ve formed their own Boko Haram called ETA.
Then the people around Madrid are related to the French and they are called the Castiles. It is the Castiles who dominate Spanish life; but the Catalans, Barcelona. And these are the ones who supply 30% of the revenue. But the Castiles in 1675 subjugated the Catalans. Till today, there is that big argument between the Castiles and the Catalans – all too familiar when I was touring Spain.
So the answer was to create autonomous regions. That is the only way Nigeria can work – autonomous regions. So, there is a President of the Catalans; he is in charge of all the Catalans. It is like saying there is a president of the South-East; he is in charge of all the issues concerning the South-East and so on and forth.
So the Nigerian problem has to be confronted frontally. We are absolutely divided by many things. And unless we understand that division, we cannot solve those problems. As I said, there is no big reason why we must be together. If we are not going to be together, let’s agree to part in peace. That is part of the Eritrean Constitution and the Ethiopian Constitution as written by Professor Nwabueze. What Professor Nwabueze found out was that when you tell people ‘you can go’ nobody goes. So enough on that.
It is a great disappointment that the clap seems to be happening with one hand (as regards the election). I don’t see two hands. At my age, I need to speak directly and truthfully. I can only see one hand in the clap. And if there’s only one hand, the clap cannot be good.
What I mean is that President Jonathan is not facing opposition. He needs to face opposition; he needs to be challenged by issues. APC is simply not a party. It is a party waiting to take power, that is all and that is the truth. That is why Nuhu Ribadu can cross from APC to PDP; when I was abroad and read it, I couldn’t believe it.
How can you be in APC and cross to PDP? How can you cross parties? So the President is clapping with one hand and needs strong opposition. The call would be for multi-pluralism to take place in Nigeria. This is because when you have two strong teams, you are likely to have a strong result.
But right now, President Jonathan is clapping with one hand. And as I see it, unless we are all telling lies, I don’t see the opposition. The APC is a party in tatters; they are fighting each other; there is a clear South-West APC, there is a North APC.
I don’t know if the South-West wing of the APC and the North APC will work together. I don’t see that happening soon. But the PDP with all its challenges seems to be the only act in town; and that is terrible in a country of 160 million people. And that is terrible because the result of the 2015 election is almost for me, nearly predictable.
Playing people-centred politics
This is leading me to the third issue of how we can get around our ‘poverty-in-the-midst-of-plenty’ country where we have a lot of resources, a lot of assets but they are not properly deployed. And it is also because our politicians are not interested in issues. A politician is only interested in how many people will support him because he wishes to win the governorship race, not because of the issues he can take to the people. Nigerians are still not part of the equation. We don’t count. What I saw on my trip is how strong people are.
Do you know there is a party called Ukip led by the gregarious Nick Farage? He has a racist agenda and he’s presenting it as if Labour is very soft on immigration and the Conservatives are also very soft, so he holds the largest bloc of votes in the European Union. That is serious.
But in truth, the penetration of the UK economy by East Europeans is becoming really strong. This is because initially, at the end of the Cold War, it was very interesting to lure the East Europeans with European Union passports. Now, what is happening to the UK economy is that they are being overrun by East Europeans – the Polish, Romanians etc, and they work harder.
But what struck me in the Nick Farage example I cited is that he had taken his case to the people – and rightly or wrongly, he is winning them to his side – (Of course, I don’t like it as a black person). But my point here is, the issue is the politics of the UK and it is likely that the general election will be lost by David Cameron and the new prime minister will be Ed Miliband.
They can forecast all these things because they can see the trend. What excited me about their politics is that I may be unhappy with Nick Farage as black man, but if I was a white British man, I’ll be cheering him on. Right now, he is the single most popular British politician behind Boris Johnson, mayor of London. These two are tapping into the emotional needs of the people.
But our politicians don’t do that; they don’t tap into the issues; they don’t create the issues that will excite the people and I’m sure you know why – it is because our votes don’t count. So we ought to find a way. And I regret that we the civil societies have lost some of our bite. But don’t blame us because our strength was confronting the military.
I wish we had a way to challenge the politicians. If you are not a popular person, why should you stand for election? There are several men who have been in and out of jail who are governors and who are in the House. But because your votes don’t count, they are there. So that is going to be very insightful for 2015 given that PDP is clapping with one hand, given that there are no issues in politics; the result is going to be business as usual.
Time to decapitate Boko Haram
I think our first task is to look around the world, and ask whether what we see happening in ISIS, whether what we see happening in Yemen and elsewhere; whether our Nigerian intelligence and military and infrastructure is doing what it ought to do.
I’m speaking for myself: If I was the Commander-in-Chief, I’ll be inviting the chief of defence staff; Alex Badeh should be dismissed…if you lose command, you lose a mission, there is only one result in the army – you are off! If the President fails to send a strong message that the mission is not accomplished, then the chain of command will be weak. In the army, there can’t be disobedience to superior command. How can you have Nigerian soldiers, carrying our equipment and running into Cameroon? It tells you that the army is degraded.
The only way you can end the Boko Haram insurgency is by the resolute decapitation of its leadership. There is no other way. Because they (Boko Haram) will put a knife in your back first; second, they won’t spare you. You saw what ISIS did with those two Americans; we have to realise that Boko Haram is copying the tactics of ISIS.
ISIS declares a caliphate in Iraq and Syria and they (Boko Haram) declared it here and we are all eating ice cream. This is the most serious challenge facing Nigeria. And the only way is for the President to send the strongest possible message that enough is enough. First is to say that the military high command has failed in its duties and should be relieved of his functions – immediately!
If you don’t do well in football as you all know – we all follow football very well – if you don’t do well you are put on the bench. I take nothing from Alex Badeh being a nice man, but the point is, if a mission has not been accomplished, there has to be consequences. If there’s no consequence, then nothing will change. If you don’t bring all your reports for your editors to put in tomorrow’s paper, you are not going to have your job…so there has to be a consequence of failure.
We have to agree that Boko Haram is serious, we have failed and we have to try new tactics. And the new tactics is to completely degrade them. Don’t forget that the Americans have come with their human intelligence, aerial intelligence, photographic intelligence, electronic intelligence and have shown us that where they (Boko Haram) are…what are we waiting for? Go and degrade them. When they are degraded the entire thing will be over. That is what to do, otherwise the infestation will grow. It will grow.
Ebola wake-up call
On the Ebola thing, my comments would be that full marks go to the Lagos State government and the Federal Government for the framework to contain it. But this ought to be a wake-up call that we need to introduce a very strong health insurance system in the mould of what Obama did.
If you like call it Jonathancare; I don’t care if he takes that glory. But we need something on ground which makes Nigeria’s health delivery system world class. The Indians have done it. But we are not committing enough people to deal with some of these issues.