Former Secretary General of the Commonwealth, Chief Emeka Anyaoku, clocked 84 on Wednesday. In this chat with GBENGA SALAU, he bares his mind on the concerns he has about the country.
As you clock 84, what is your message for Nigeria?
I have a number of strong concerns about the country. First, I fear that Nigeria is living in denial of the seriousness of the challenges it is facing. The challenges range from insurgency, especially in the Niger-Delta region; insecurity, particularly the so- called Fulani helmsmen activities, what is happening in Southern Kaduna and wide spread kidnapping in different parts of the country.
My other strong concern is the declining cohesion among the components of people in the country; then the collapsing quality of education in our schools, colleges and tertiary institutions and perhaps, most of all, the unsuitability of Nigeriaís governance structure. Nigeria has a great future, but only, if its governance architecture is restructured.
There had been several efforts directed at that, through national conferences and constitution reviews by the National Assembly, but it seems we are not moving beyond the suggestion stage?
One of my serious concerns is that Nigeria is living in denial of the seriousness of the challenges confronting it as a nation. I believe that the best suitable structure for the country is true federalism with federating units, which will give the country greater capacity for its development. I, therefore, believe that the main challenge faced by those in the National Assembly, who are embarking on constitutional amendment, should be to address this fundamental issue of the most suitable governance structure for the country.
As presently structured, I do not believe that the country will get anywhere in terms of developing its human and material resources to the level that the country needed to be.
You talked about the country living in denial of the seriousness of the challenges it faces; where do you think we missed the mark, considering that we started well?
The slow pace of national development began with the incursion of the military into governance in January 1966. Before then, the country was developing at a faster pace, then, it operated true federalism of four regions, reasonably autonomous, developing at their own pace, encouraged to tap into their resources and plan their development on the basis of their resources. And there was healthy competition between the regions, but once the military intervened and they brought in a constitutional or a structure of governance that reflected the command structure of the army, federalism was destroyed and replaced with unitary system. That was the beginning of our decline and since then, we have continued.
Now, for example, the sense of national unity is less than what it was when we had federalism. The cohesion among the people of the country was much stronger when we had true federalism.
How will you rate this government in terms of keeping its electoral promises; insurgency and corruption?
I believe that the present administration of President Buhari has made some progress in fighting corruption; at least, it has succeeded in raising the level of general awareness of the immense damage being done to the country by corruption. However, these efforts would become much more productive, if the governance structure of the country was changed and made more suitable for its development. Otherwise, we can go on hobbling along, but continuing to fall short of developing our potentials. We can only do so, if we have a more suitable governance structure.
Are you saying if the country restructures its governance process, all our problems would be over?
I am saying that the fight against corruption will become more effectively executed, in a more suitable governance structure. If we have six federating units, each unit will be much more alive to the fight against corruption and checkmating corruption in the region. At the moment, the structure, we have, encourages consumption rather than production. This is because the present structure encourages the states, the 36 states, to look up to Abuja for what they can get every month through allocation, rather than what they are able to produce within the state.
The states are not big enough for viable production and if we change the structure, we would have more viable units, on the basis of which we can plan and develop. And in that sense, corruption, insurgency, the declining quality of education, we can make greater progress, in tackling these challenges.
Why do Nigerians perform better when they go outside?
The structure we have at home does not provide the most conducive environment for the performance of our citizens. So, when they go abroad and operate in a more suitable and conducive environment, they perform a lot better, but when they come home, because of the structure of governance that we have, they do not have the best people in the best position. We have square pegs in round holes and we have limited opportunities for people to excel and realise their full potentials because of the structure of governance.
The crisis in the northeast, how do you think it could be tackled permanently?
The government is effectively tackling the crisis in the northeast, one must give the government a credit for doing so. But I am back again to the issue of restructuring. If we operate federalism that encompasses multi regions, we will have a greater focus on the insurgency in an earlier stage. It could not have been allowed to snowball into the bigger menace that it has become.
If the country has reasonably autonomous federating units, and they are there to address the origin of this insurgency, am sure it would have been contained much earlier on and would not have been given room to spread as widely as it has spread.
In galvanising the people to be patriotic and see the country as theirís, what should be done?
I believe that the present structure of government that we have does not encourage maximisation of efforts to promote patriotism and a sense of nationhood. Before 1966 January, the sense of patriotism in this country was far more palpable than it is now. At that time; people took pride in advocating and fighting for Nigeria. Now, the present structure has encouraged sectionalisation, because the competition for the control of power at the centre has given room for empathizing the cleavages within the Nigerian society, whether it is religious or ethnic.
And that is because the structure encourages do or die competition for the control of the all powerful centre, but if you have a more suitable structure, that is a lot more autonomous federating units, with much weakened centre, competition for the control of the centre will be far less and so the temptation to spread ethnicity, religion and divisive sentiments will be far less and the sense of patriotism will be much higher, in a more suitable governance structure.
There is a dichotomy on the call for the restructuring of the country, the core north seems to be comfortable with the present structure, while the south wants a restructuring, and if there is no agreement from both ends, there would be no headway. How do you think a meeting point on restructuring could be reached?
I say the country is living in denial of the seriousness of the challenges it is facing. The people are not asking, why are we performing so poorly on a number of issues? That is the question I like people to ask. Why is the quality of education falling? Why is sectionalism being empathise? I believe that the more people ask such questions, the more they agree, they get to know that the present structure is unsuitable and that the way to improve things is by fundamentally changing the federal structure. When I say six federating units, am not saying that you should completely ignore the fact that we have 36 states, no. These 36 states could become development zones or provinces within the six federating units, but with no state assemblies and other units.
There is no country that has developed with almost 60 percent of its revenue spent on administration, and that is what is happening in this country. In all the other countries that have developed, they have spent less than 40, 30 percent on administration.
But as long as we have the present structure, we would continue to spend that much on just administration, leaving very little for capital projects.
People should be asking questions, why are the roads in such poor condition, why do we not have funds to build more roads, hospitals, that is when we would realise that we do not have these funds because of the amount of money we spend on administration.
You served in the commonwealth, how should the Economic Community Of West African States (ECOWAS) deal with the crisis in The Gambia?
I will like to call on ECOWAS to use force, if necessary, to back the installation of Adama Barrow on the 19th of January. I believe that the future of democracy and democratic government in the West African region will be seriously damaged if Jammeh is allowed to remain in office beyond 19th January, after the reasonably free and fair election, the result of which he himself had earlier on accepted.