Wunmi Bewaji is a former Minority Leader of the House of Representatives and senior lawyer. In this exclusive interview with Iniobong Iwok, he spoke on Nigeria’s 63rd independence anniversary, what needs to be done to deepen democracy in Nigeria, among other issues. Excerpts:
Nigeria marks 63 years of independence today, how do you assess the journey so far?
We thank God almighty so far, definitely Nigeria is not where it should be, but definitely we have also done very well for ourselves as a nation. This is 25 years of interrupted democracy; I never thought in my lifetime we could see this; anybody who was old enough to live under the tyranny of military rule in this country would appreciate this thing I’m saying.
Nigeria today by the grace of God is the largest economy in Africa; Nigeria today is the largest market in Africa and Nigeria today is the biggest democracy in Africa. When you put this side by side, we have every course to celebrate ourselves.
The journey so far has not been that smooth, but there is renewed hope that Nigeria is on the right track.
Today Nigeria has the highest number of universities in Africa, the highest number of private universities in Africa and the highest number of public universities in Africa. We should be thankful to God.
Notable Nigerians, including regional groups have canvassed for restructuring in recent years. Is it not time we give that a look?
Yes; I still believe that Nigeria must restructure, I am a strong believer that if Nigeria does not restructure we cannot have a solution. I have my reasons; I want you to go and look for the tape the day Awolowo commissioned western Nigeria television, which is now NTA, when you listen to his speech you know what I am talking about.
It got to a point in this country that the budget of western region was more than the budget of Nigeria. Of course, this present structure is unsustainable. When people say it is because of parliamentary, presidential elections that we are having all these problems, I say no.
If a prime minister in a parliamentary system wants to appoint 1,000 aides he can still do it. That is a culture of waste that we have developed overtime.
What I’m saying is; if you bring a parliamentary system today and we have a premier, that would not stop a commissioner from appointing 500 aides or a premier appointing 1,000 aides that is born out of a culture of waste that has nothing to do with the constitution.
When it comes to the structure, presently you have a President; you have about 500 government agencies with their boards and you have 36 Houses of Assembly.
You also have 36 states governors, instead of the three premiers you would have had in the parliamentary system that is where the waist is coming in.
You also have 774 local government chairmen, instead of a system that rationalises local government administration and you would determine the local government administration suitable for you.
We had different local government administration in the first republic. But now you want to have a different system with huge costs, which is why we have ended up like this.
That is why this 774 has a legislative branch with principal officers. This is where the waste comes from.
What we need now is to restructure the country so that local government areas that we are calling state would be abolished. Because they have become personal money making instruments in the hands of the governors, because they know that people would not hold them accountable.
They can always blame allocation that is coming from the federal government as the reason why they are not able to do this and that. The way to go is to abolish this gloried local government and let it have viable structures that can stand on their own, then you can then go back and look at the legislative list and see how you can dissolve power and we go back to the power sharing formula that was agreed in the constitutional conference of 1979.
What was the power structure that was agreed to as far as the legislative list is concerned? This viable structure would be able to generate finances.
So each structure would be able to control its own resources and then the structure would be able to determine the structure that is better for it.
For example in the western region we may decide to have 20 or 15 super local governments. We used to have five divisions in Lagos, before and they were very strong and viable divisions. So we can go back.
But the APC has failed to restructure the country as promised?
The idea of restructuring goes beyond any party, restructuring is an idea that should be pursued by regional organisations, because nobody who already has an advantage wants to trade that off.
For example, if we want to restructure now would any of the governors want to leave office? If you want to put about five states together, it would deprive some pope of political power and those people are definitely going to work against it, restructuring as enemies within.
There are those who say, what we need rather is a constitutional review that the present constitution is part of the problem we have. Do you agree?
I dissociate myself from some people who say that the constitution has lied against itself, because the constitution says; we the people.
There is nowhere the entire people in a country can sit down in a room and draft a constitution, even the American constitution was drafted by about five people.
Madison and co, they are the ones who wrote the American constitution. Some said the military wrote the constitution, but did they actually write it?
Was it not Justice Niki Tobi that wrote it? And the basis of this constitution was the 1979 constitution which was preceded by a constituent assembly whose members were elected by Nigerians.
What was done in 1998-1999 was to revise the 1979 constitution, it is wrong to say this constitution is not useful. This is a constitution that has sustained our democracy for an uninterrupted period of 25 years.
When people fail they always look for a scapegoat, in this part of the world. Even the American constitution is not perfect. Thank God the National Assembly is doing amendments, if we want to do a whole scale amendment it is welcome, but that does not mean it should be thrown into the gutter.
63 years after independence many Nigerians are disillusioned, we have democracy but governance is bad over the years. Is democracy working here?
Democracy is different from good governance; democracy allows you to pick your own leaders. Whether that leader is going to perform is up to that leader. Democracy allows you to pick a school certificate holder over a PHD holder.
Democracy does not guarantee good governance. Democracy presents you with a choice of leaders and policies; people can decide that this is the leader, due to some factors, in our own case religion or ethnicity and so many other primordial sentiments that would deprive us of a good leader.
We have seen coups in some countries within Africa in recent months; can we say that democracy is failing in the continent?
There is no alternative to democracy, before the white men came we had monarchy here, we have tried it here in Africa and it did not work. Is it not kings that were beheading their subjects without fair trial?
What is happening in the French colonies should not be used as an example; what is happening there is a problem of relation between France and their colonies, because France gave them independence on paper, but nerve gave them real independence and France continues to detect what happens in these countries.
In those countries, you cannot become a leader, except you have the backing of France. Look at what happened in Ivory Coast years ago, when they had to arrest Gbagbo, because they wanted Alassane Ouattara to be the President.
They wanted him out because he was not dancing to their tune. It was a coup on the continent of Africa executed by France. As we speak in all these French countries, they have nothing all these products they are importing from France. France only takes their raw material away and brings in finished products.
Are you saying democracy has succeeded in Nigeria?
Yes; we have seen that democracy has succeeded . We voted out the then incumbent government of Goodluck Jonathan years ago and nothing happened.
Goodluck Jonathan was voted out in 2015, because there was agreement among Nigerians that he was not doing well and that the rate of corruption was unacceptable. Such is the beauty of democracy.
For the fact that your candidate has not won an election does not mean that democracy is not working. We have reached a stage where this democracy is unstoppable; it is matching on and moving forward.
We have done well, let just flashback to 26 years ago and look at Lagos State; is this Lagos State we knew?
Definitely not, it is the same with other states, the problem is that we put all the problems in the country on the President, people have forgotten they voted for governors, that we have 36 governors and 774 local government chairmen in the country.
People don’t hold their governors accountable and that is the bad side of our democracy, everything is about the President. What is happening has given the governors opportunity to loot; because people complain about everything to the federal government.
If a road is not working, people talk about the federal government, if there is no school people complain about the federal government. We have to learn to hold them accountable. The lawmakers that you elected are talking to them?
When people say, APC have not done this; people forget that the worst was happening in the government of the PDP that was voted out.
People failed to realise that they can hold their representatives accountable. PDP spent 16 years in this country, what did they achieve?
That is said to be the most corrupt government in this country; that is the administration of Goodluck Jonathan. People voted him out because they felt the level of corruption was unacceptable and the APC government came, how did the APC government perform?
Under Buhari we had a problem, being a former military leader; Buhari was not doing so well in terms of carrying people along. Much of his appointments were lopsided at the end. Buhari did not do much, But that is not to say, Buhari achieved some success, he tried in the areas of infrastructure.
Look at the Lagos Ibadan express way that Buhari did, for eight years, Obasanjo could not do anything on that way, except a signboard that he erected with the inscription; duplication of Lagos Ibadan express way, it is still there, I am thinking one day I would have the energy to go and remove it.
Buhari did the second Niger Bridge; Buhari did the Lagos to Ibadan train service. Buhari built our military, our military came from being number 9 to number 3 in Africa. We have the best Navy in Africa now.
The best asset is in the Air Force now; the asset in our military is enormous.
Do you agree that Nigeria needs electoral reforms for credible leaders to emerge?
I disagree with anyone who is talking like that; such a person is economical with trust. These same people that are making this unfounded allegation against INEC have run elections and won.
Obi contested elections and twice INEC returned him. People think when they contest an election and they lose that election is not free and fair. Democracy cannot work that way, when they lost an election, they would now be saying; the law has to be reviewed, blaming the law.
When they go to court and they win, they praise the judiciary; when they lose they blame the Court and say the court has been bought, the court is compromised. You cannot eat your cake and have it.
This great country belongs to all of us, both the winner and loser. I ran elections before and won and lost. INEC did a fantastic job in the last election.
They conducted elections in a massive country like Nigeria, with many polling stations and at the end of the day; you have problems in less than one percent of the areas, such an organisation deserves kudos.