2023: None of You Can Rescue Nigeria —Afenifere’s Arogbofa tells All Presidential Aspirants
Basorun Seinde Arogbofa is the immediate past Secretary-General of the Pan-Yoruba group, Afenifere. He speaks with NIGERIAN TRIBUNE on the rat race of many political bigwigs in Nigeria to succeed President Muhammadu Buhari in 2023 among other national issues.
In its latest report, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) decried the rising insecurity in Nigeria, saying it has so far experienced no fewer than 42 attacks with about 1,149 Nigerians killed. Don’t you think the rising killings and attacks may hinder the 2023 general election as some have even claimed that there may not be an election after all?
Well, I have said this many times in the past interviews I have granted. I have said it that as long as people are not safe and can’t go out to vote, as long as the fear is there that there is an armed person somewhere, as long as our women can be raped if they go out and as long as the poor farmers who live in the farms can’t move freely, you can’t have any election, because nobody will want to risk his or her life to go and vote. So, insecurity remains the biggest bane to the 2023 elections in the country.
It’s really a key factor, because if people are not safe, how can they go out to express their voting right, especially when they know very well that they can lose their lives and be killed anyhow? Apart from the usual attacks and violence being staged by political thugs and ballot snatching, which I don’t think electronic voting can effectively curbed, there will be that general fear in the mind of the people that somebody may be lurking somewhere with AK-47 guns to attack the voting centres. So most people will prefer to stay indoor where they are confident that their lives will be safe and secure.
But, if it continues this way with insecurity forcing people to avoid election centres, what implication do you think it will pose to Nigerian democracy, considering the fact that the country has been recording low voter turnouts in past elections?
Well, I don’t really think we have been truly practising democracy in this country. This is another issue, as there is a difference between running democratic processes in theory and actually practising it.
We truly profess democracy in Nigeria, but what we have been seeing hasn’t been democratic, especially in this area of insecurity where some people are being covered up, despite being culprits, yet the generality of the masses can’t go out in peace. Can you even say you are practising democracy when during the election period, some people won’t be able to go out to vote to avoid being killed, while even those that manage to come out are disenfranchised? Where then is democracy?
Owing to the situations in the country, Chief Afe Babalola asked the federal government to suspend the 2023 elections and set up a six-month interim government, while a new constitution is put in place to address the structural defects of the country and also give room for part-time legislators. Do you think this is the way to go?
Well, if we say we are going to set a new government, who is going to spearhead and coordinate the process? Is it the present crop of politicians in the country? Do you even think they have genuine love for this country? Take for example, in 2014, a constitutional conference was held and gave the present government a blueprint to run with, but did they even consider it? So we are in a quagmire; it’s really a terrible situation and I believe having an interim government will not solve any of the current problems. It won’t. It would have been good had this present government been serious about delivering change to the country, but it is not. It seems as if some persons in the government are running a different agenda alien to what some of us know and believe in.
The fact is things haven’t been really as bad as they are now for the country, where some people are enjoying certain privileges, while others are underprivileged yet we all own the country. Look at the form that banditry has taken. It reportedly began around 2015, but since then it has gone worse, especially with the opening of our porous borders, which has given room to foreigners to infiltrate the country. The foreign Fulani have been moving freely into the country with their AK-47 without any serious check on their activities. It is really a bad situation. But I feel that under normal circumstances, a good leader would have arrested the situation. But is anybody talking about it?
Meanwhile, recently the federal government granted presidential pardon to two former governors in the country despite their conviction for stealing state funds close to N3billion. As this continues to generate missed reactions across the country, with many people calling for the release of all convicted petty thieves in the Nigerian prisons. Don’t you think pardoning these men has rubbished President Buhari’s anti-corruption fight?
Do we truly have an anti-corruption agenda in the first place? This is because this present government as of today has become the most corrupt, even worse than its predecessors. Yes, the Head of State has said that fighting corruption is part of his agenda, but what we have observed so far has been nepotism. Is that not part of corruption?
When some few people are cornered into juicy offices, while others toil, is that not corruption? More so, it has been observed that the most corrupt people are the ones surrounding the present government. Isn’t that corruption? And when those that are corrupt and meant to be facing trial are released, where then is the anti-corruption war? You can’t be saying one thing and doing another.
As far as I am concerned, no corruption is being fought in Nigeria. It has all been mere expression of words. We have never had it so bad in this country. People are really not happy at all and that is the main issue. The government should not allow the people to revolt before it does the right thing. And it should stop allowing the praise-singers around the presidency. Except if he wants to deceive himself, even the president knows that all is not well in the country and so, he should apologise to Nigerians.
For the records, over 53 commissioners have resigned their appointments across the 36 states of the federation in obedience to the 2022 Electoral Act, but quite a number of ministers have refused to resign, despite their public declaration for the 2023 presidential race. What do you make of this, sir?
Is that not part of the corruption we are talking about? What is sauce for the goose should also be sauce for the gander. If the state commissioners can resign to contest, the ministers too should also do the same. It gives a level playing field for everybody. It is really a shameful thing for the president’s ministers to still be keeping their appointment despite going about making a presidential declaration. Look at the Minister of Transportation, for instance, an attack that claimed many lives just happened in the country, yet the man instead of resigning, went about running for presidential race.
Is that calamity not enough (reason) for him to resign? It is really shameful and disgraceful. Those kidnapped in the Abuja train attack are languishing in pain, while the families of those killed are still mourning their loved ones, yet the minister has been gallivanting about. Isn’t that embarrassing? It just shows the level at which our morality quotient and conscience has sunk.
Ahead of the 2023 general election, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has reportedly opted for zoning and possibly consensus candidature, while the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) has thrown the ticket open and considering the indirect primary system to determine its standard-bearer. Do you think the systems both parties have adopted will give room for the best candidates to emerge?
Well, even those that are there now are products of the society and like I have said, some of them have just been privileged to be in government and that is why they have been using the opportunity to feather their nests, while the masses are being enslaved and subjected to hunger, which is mental torture. So, how can the best candidates emerge from the process? Take for instance, the youths in 2020 staged a protest to make their voices known. But did they succeed? Besides, looking at the caliber of the people that have been coming out, have they not been the same people that have been in power before?
Nigerians truly know the right person, but can they wake up one morning to elect the person? I have just given you an illustration of some people in government, who ought to be ashamed of themselves, but they are not. I know that some aggrieved youths can come together and force a revolution by voting out the bad people in power. It has been seen in other countries of the world, but can we have such a consensus and revolution in our country? And it is just because the country is highly polluted.
Are you saying that it will be hard for a Third Force to wrest power from the ruling party?
Well in Nigeria, it will be difficult, unless more concerted effort is made. I have been asked several times whether a new group of people can come together and force a change in Nigeria, but I have said it won’t be easy in the country.
Still on the ongoing argument, especially as regards zoning of the presidential ticket, the South-East has insisted that it is their turn to produce the next Nigerian president as they have been shortchanged over the years in the country. What do you make of this?
Everybody will have an argument. Just as what has been argued, once a region in the country has had the presidency for eight years, it is expected to move to the other region. But no region should just sit and say it is our turn to do this or that, they have to fight for it. You don’t just sit at home and be presented with the presidency. You have to come out and show yourself to people to determine if you are competent or not.
But in view of the way the state of the country has been over the past few years, do you think Nigerians will still be willing to vote in the APC government again or will consider having a change of ruling party?
For now, it is really difficult to say, because everybody, including the president, knows that all hasn’t been well with Nigeria. But what I believe is that once people have suffered a lot and been fed with chunks of bread, they may think otherwise. Look at the country now, is there anything good you can hold on to? There is none. We have corruption; there is nepotism and the like. And those in government know this very well.
But it appears they have a secretive agenda to deprive people of their rights, entitlements and enslave them. But I think the only way out is for the government to follow the 2014 Confab report and restructure the country. Once Nigeria is restructured, there will be peace and harmony. The whole talk of interim government and the party changing ranks and systems won’t have any impact, except we restructure the country. That is just the only solution, because it will grant us a true federal system, because of our heterogeneous nature.
As important as having the 2023 general election is, it is not as important as having this country restructured. Once there is restructuring, the presidency will no longer be the problem, because we will be able to practise true federalism and every state will be able to manage its own affairs and resources. The state will also be able to grow and develop at its own pace. Every state will also be able to manage its own security, which will bring about state police. The federal government will then be primus inter pares, which means first among equals. That is what the president will be.
The governors will all be equal, while you have the president, which will just be in coordinating capacity, not an overlord. It is now the state government individually that will now determine the percentage of their incomes and resources that will be going to the central government, just to keep the federal structure going. Once this arrangement is in place, there won’t be all these desperate and self-aggrandized bid fights for the presidency at all costs. This is my suggestion, because if what is on ground is not improved upon, however good the next president may be, he will be polluted once he gets to the Villa, because he won’t have to run the government alone.
Are you saying that none of the current presidential aspirants can perform well, without the country being first restructured?
Yes, that is it. None of them can perform well without the restructuring project. The fact remains that every one of them has his own personal weaknesses and flaws, whether being an Igbo, Hausa or Yoruba. The fact is that we need to get the structure right, so that whoever comes will not be able to bend it to his own way. It is after we have fixed the structural problems that we can now throw open the presidential race for the best candidate to emerge. So, my advice is President Buhari should restructure the country politically, before he leaves office. And it is not something that will be hard for him to do.
Why did you say so?
The papers and documents are already on the ground. So, let him implement the recommendations of the past conferences, so that the states can be independent enough to meet the needs of their residents and not be struggling to pay salaries and all. You know in America, California is the richest, yet this doesn’t make it overlords to the other states and that’s why there is peace within the country. It is different here in Nigeria. Let the states have their autonomy to maintain their routes and manage their affairs. It is on record that Nigeria has the most powerful president in Africa. It should not be so, because we are not running a military system.
But there have been many calls for restructuring since the present administration came into power, yet it has failed to heed any of the calls. Why do you think the government is acting that way?
I will say it is the fear of the unknown. And the fact that some people don’t want to face the reality. But restructuring will benefit everybody as it will make them all work hard. It will also make us all look inwards to access its potentiality. But I feel some of our governors in the North, because of their own feudal system, don’t see things from this angle. And that’s why they are afraid. If only they would think differently. The fact is everybody should be able to experiment. If you look at it, some countries in this world started on a very hard note, like Israel and others. But today, they are leading. If your country or state is poor, bend down and see what you can make of it. But the North are afraid. Think about it, what if today, the oil dries up, what will become of the states, especially those in the North? Let them challenge themselves.