Akin Oyebode is a professor of international law and jurisprudence. He warns President Muhammadu Buhari not to wait for Nigerians to move to the streets like in Chile under the Generals, for him to know he has a crisis on his hands. He urges the President to obey ECOWAS court ruling on former NSA, Col Sambo Dasuki. He spoke with OBIDIKE JERRY in his office recently.
Nigeria was 56 in October. Are we doing well as a country?
I was 12 years old when Nigeria became independent. And we’re still dreaming and hoping that we were going into El dorado. I remember that we had a big feast in my school-a cow was slaughtered and we were given medallions, small flags. Imagine what a twelve-year old thought about his country, the euphoria that we’re going to get there. But looking back at 56 years, I would tell you that, yes we’ve made quantitative progress but we’ve not made what I can call qualitative improvement in our lives. In very many areas, you can even say things are worse than under colonial government.
Now, the like of Sam Mbakwe, former governor of old Imo State, would be weeping and asking the colonialists to come back. But I think we could have done better with what God had given us, the resources -human and material. There are instances you can point to in terms of quantity -we have over 130 universities which is a far cry from the lone university that we had in 1960. In term of numbers, many more Nigerians have generation, which is better informed than the generation of their parents. So we’ve taken advantage of life in the 21st century and that speaks well for Nigeria as a country.
But if you want the honest truth, my gut feeling, is that we could have done a lot better in terms of so many areas-politics, economics, inter-personal relationship-we had the civil war. We lost more than a million people during the civil war. So we have what you can call debit and loss ledger. I won’t say that we should be beating our chest and saying yes, 56 years, yes. I am sorry, I am not one of those false patriots who are saying Nigeria my country and all that. We have not done as well as one would have anticipated.
So what do you think is wrong with us? Is it that we are not getting our politics right or what?
Well, I will go by what Lenin said that politics is a concentrated expression of economics. So people now talk of political economy. It is very difficult to separate politics from the economy. You know the essence of colonialism like Lord Luggard pointed out was for markets and raw materials. Every other thing is in-between. So the colonial conquerors came here because they actually wanted to steal our resources. They had stolen our human resources through Trans Atlantic slave trade but the industrial revolution made them want raw materials from here in Africa rather than depend on what is produced in the so called new world.
So upon the granting of independence, because we never really fought for our independence, if you look at the history of Nigeria, the only two incidents that would smack of agitation, you talk of the Aba Women Tax Riots in 1929, then the Eva Valley Massacre in 1949. Those are the real two incidents you can talk about. Our independence like the late Obarovi Ohabammon pointed was given to us on the dirty platter of gold. We went to conferences-Malborrow Conference, Lancaster Conference, this conference and that conference. We never had freedom fighters like you had in the Portuguese colonies. So we had what Chinweizu called the middle class solution to decolonization and those who took over from the Europeans instead of smashing down backward anti people system, they merely inherited same and intensified the exploitation of the people. So the change we had was more of nomenclature-we had the new flag, we had the national anthem authored by an English woman. We weren’t even as smart as Nkrumah was to change the name of Nigeria.
I remember at the confab (2014) when I suggested that we should 50 years after Independence change the name of Nigeria to Songhai. I was laughed to scorn. And I had to tell them that I was not being original. I said those of us even though we were young we knew of Kalu Ezera who had studied in best universities of the world and was a member of House of Representatives in 1960 and when Kalu Ezera suggested, again they said what was he talking about. That was in 1960. So in 2014 nothing really had changed. They didn’t believe that we needed to change the name of Nigeria to Songhai.
So if you look at even that cosmetic aspect that we still call ourselves ‘Nigger area’ which was the suggestion of the girl friend of Lord Luggard. It’s a pity because if we had a leader of the vision of Kwame Nkrumah, the pan Africanist vision, because we didn’t choose to be born here but the geographical area that you call Nigeria is inhabited by the largest number of black people in the world. And that’s why Zik was talking about a manifest destiny, that we have a role that history had ordained us with-to lead the rest of Africa if not indeed, the black race. So are we accursed as a people? Or did God really ignore us when he made us? Every other race has excelled. I have been in Asia-I have been in China, I have been in India.
And I have seen what the Ashiatics have done. I studied in Europe and North America. So the only place I have not been is may be South America. But you can see Brazil recently hosted the Olympics. No African country has hosted or been recommended to host the Olympics as a sign of completing the rite of passage. The world cup was held by South Africa but South Africa, pardon the expression, is a European country masquerading as an African. So if you really talk of Africa, it’s Nigeria you should be talking about. Yes, in terms of human and material resources. This is a great country anywhere you look at it. You remind me of what K.O. Mbadiwe used to say ‘Big engine, big exhaust’, you know. We are a great country. And so we should think big. We can’t think small. We have to be really ambitious.
That’s what God ordained us with but we have lacked the requisite leadership. I am not again too original here. Chinua Achebe had said it that the real problem of Nigeria is that of leadership. So to answer your question I think the poor leadership that we have been unlucky to be yoked with has compounded the question of material backwardness. You know because I cited Chinweizu not long ago.
Chinweizu said in his book, The West and the Rest of Us, the colonial government deliberately foisted a neocolonial leadership on us, a leadership that would continue the unholy relationship between the metropole and the colony. So those who took over power from the Europeans were not too inventive, they were not too original in understanding the nature of our predicament and in proffering solution to such and we have not made so much progress since independence. So leadership would make the difference. I gave you the example of Kwame Nkrumah. On the night of independence of March, 1957, he changed the colonial name of Gold Coast to Ghana and focused the attention of his compatriots on a new regime, a new era. You know, what people like Zik would call Risogimento, renaissance Africa. You have read all these people like Mbonu Ojike who wanted a Nigeria transformed. We don’t have them like that anymore. In fact, the last of that generation, an elderly friend of mine, he was a professor of sociology in UniPort, Ikenna Nzimiro, who had all these great ideas. He was in the Zikist Movement. Zik himself was not a zikist, zik was too backward in terms of consciousness compared with the radical members of the zikist movement. So we ended up with a wrong set of leaders and that is where rain started to beat us. So quite sincerely once we get the leadership issue right every other thing would fall in place.
Nigeria is in recession.The exchange rate is heading to N500 to $1 in the parallel market even the interbank rate is about N360 to $1. What does this mean to your take home pay and do you think the present leadership is doing anything to take us out of the quagmire very soon?
Well, when I was a student in the 70s, the Nigerian pound before it was changed to naira, exchanged for one dollar 20 cents. So, it was stronger than the US dollar. If you remember when they started SAP, Structural Adjustment Programme in 1986 and two weeks later or something, the exchange rate came down to N3 to $1, the then vice chairman of the military, Aikhomu, said ‘Oh, my God what is happening?’ Now, if Aikhomu would hear what we are now paying for the dollar, he would turn in his grave. And you remember IBB who was in charge of the military junta then said when he was asked about the Nigerian economy said it’s a mystery that Nigeria has survived, that he doesn’t know, and he said Nigerians are ingenious.
They have their ways out of all manner of difficulties. The exchange rate was not that horrible when we were bemoaning her circumstances. Today, because we are oil dependent, we are an enclave economy, mono-culture. So, when the oil prices in the world market fell from $110-120 to less than $50 a barrel, definitely the impart would be felt in the Nigerian economy. What I am saying really is that the situation today is more structural than managerial. So, you just can’t blame the government of the day for poor management. You must look at how the Nigerian economy plays out within the global political economy. That we must grasp with the interrelatedness of phenomena.
You know, Nigeria has been supplying oil and gas to western economies and the accruals from that trade are what we’ve been using to run the economy and it was like windfall from God. You remember the time Gowon said our problem was not money but how to spend it. He even went to pay salaries in the Caribbean. So, it comes back to the structural dimension that I mentioned. We must get to a way to encourage self-reliance, produce what we need to consume and consume only what we produce. Again, I ‘m not too original here. My late friend Claude Ake had made the statement that the underdevelopment of Nigeria would cease if and when we produce what we consume and consume what we produce. He said it is what is called a disarticulate economy. And professor Ake suggested that the gap between production and consumption would catapult us into becoming an advanced economy. By then, we would no longer be describing ourselves as a developing economy. So, the situation of the disarticulate economy has now been compounded by the collapse of the global oil price for Nigeria at least. Then, the activities of the Niger Delta militants, Avengers or whatever they call themselves have further complicated our circumstance because we cannot even produce to meet the quota that OPEC set for us at that depressed price of less than $50 per barrel.
So, you have reduced prices at the world market and you have diminishing production of oil and gas in Nigeria. What do you expect? It is a basket case economy. Even if you are a genius, there’s no way you can continue with the modalities that we had before the collapse of the prices and expect things to be hunky-dory. In terms of what that means for take home pay, I think we all feeling the pinch except perhaps, members of the National Assembly who have cushioned themselves of the vagaries of the Nigerian economy.
So, quite sincerely, everybody is feeling the impact and people are cutting their coats not according to their sizes but according to the cloth. So, everybody is putting on a tight belt. But then there’s a limit.
The projection we heard is that by next year, even IMF said so recently, Nigeria might be coming out of recession. President Buhari also suggests that we should give him more time for us to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Nigeria has waited now for one and half years and things seem to be getting worse. So, how much longer would Nigerians wait before the bubble would actually burst? When people start going on the street like in Chile under the generals and they start beating sauce pans and pots to say they are hungry? The government should know that it has a crisis on its hands. I mean a loaf of bread the last time I bought at the super market was N350. How many people can buy a loaf of bread for N350?
Do you think the Federal Government is sincere about this dialogue with the Niger Delta militants to shore up oil production?
Well, if you listened carefully to the statement by Buhari, he said he was going to adopt a carrot and stick approach. He said he was going to talk with the people in the Niger Delta so that they can ventilate their grievances so that their grievances can be assuaged somewhat. But if they are not ready for discussion, he was going to make them smell the coffin-use his approach to Boko Haram to this people. And you know that Buhari is a tested general. He is not just a pretender.I mean that he fought in the civil war. He had commanded almost all the divisions of the Nigerian Army and Obasanjo said if you don’t want to give anything to Buhari, at least, you should give it to him that security is his forte.
He has the ability to shoot straight. He might not do so well in economics. Obasanjo told us that security is his middle name. So, I think he is dead serious that if talking would not solve the problem he would put the heat. And you heard what the Nigerian military people have been saying that they would not seat idly by and allow anybody to hold Nigeria ransom. You see IBB used to say that soldiers are experienced or connoisseurs in management of violence. So, he knows how to apply force to achieve his goals. So my view is that Avengers, IPOB, MASSOB, must go back to the drawing board. Do we need to expend lives in order for what people generally now call restructuring to take place? Restructuring, we need definitely. But should it be through the barrel of the gun? Or we can compel the powers-that-be to create a forum if the confab of 2014 was considered opportunistic? I think the time is ripe for Nigerians to review the modalities of their co-habitation.
But these bodies you mentioned (Avengers, IPOB, MASSOB) have accused the Federal Government of not being sincere in terms of dialoguing with them?
I don’t know what they mean by sincerity? The man feels that they want to blackmail him into submission. Only a weak government would surrender or take a flight from governance. And I told you Buhari says he has a pan Nigeria mandate to be president. He was elected. He didn’t use the barrel of the gun. So you just have to take his word for it. If you don’t deal with Buhari who do you want to deal with in terms of sorting out this problem? You have grievances, no doubt. But then, it’s not by bombing or blowing up oil pipelines, gas pipelines, sabotaging the soft underbelly of the Nigerian economy that that your problems would be assuaged. I think you’ve made your point. That’s what I would tell them. We know now that you are aggrieved. Let us meet and discuss your grievances and see how we can accommodate ourselves because we are all Nigerians.
And you don’t cut your nose to spite your face. At the end of the day, the degradation of the environment occasioned by bombing of pipelines and sabotaging of float stations, we will all pay the price. Look at Ogoni land now. It would take another 30 years for the place to be cleaned up. And Buhari would say I have taken the first step. I am a sincere person. I want a better situation for people in the Niger Delta. I want a better situation for people in the South East.
Look at those roads that you see on the television in the south east. The people are aggrieved and that’s why they allow people like Kanu (IPOB Leader) to thrive. I am not sure Kanu and his friends want us to fight a second civil war but they want to demonstrate alienation and the deprivation of the people from that area. Buhari says no, the East has not been marginalized, that you have Igbo people in the cabinet and all that, that he is doing his best in the circumstance.
Well, go and sit down with his representatives. It is after you’ve sat down with them and you see that it is all a talking shop, they are not sincere. That’s when you can accuse it of acting malafide. I don’t know how far the discussions have gone. I am not on the team but I want them to give Buhari the benefit of the doubt, but if they discover that he is taking them for a ride then they can expose the hypocrisy of Buhari. So many people are aggrieved.
The Yoruba elements too are aggrieved. They believe they have been short changed. They are saying that they helped to install Buhari but at the end of the day, they have been sidelined. So everybody is marginalized in Nigeria including my humble self. We are all complainants. So those who are going to speak for us must go and meet the government and discuss, put their ideas, what they want on the table and review. It is not like negotiating with Boko Haram, no. But you have said, look you are not fighting religious battle to turn us into Catholics or whatever.
You are the megaphone for the marginalised, for the underprivileged, for those who have been short-changed. Then, you make your voices heard but not by bringing the economy to a halt.
How do you react to government’s defiance of ECOWAS court ruling on Dasuki?
The choice facing Nigeria is either to abide by the decision of the Community Court of Justice or get out of that organization because there is nothing like a slightly pregnant woman. You are either a member of ECOWAS bound by lawful decisions of its institutions or you are not and you become an international outlaw. And Nigeria is seeking a permanent seat on the Security Council of the UN.
If it flouts the decisions of its own regional organisation, then it would have lost credit internationally. Nobody would take Nigeria seriously. The Gambian president, Yahya Jammeh, can ignore decisions of the community court because a journalist was detained, he won his case at the community court but we don’t know whether Jammeh agreed with that decision. It is Gambia we are talking about, not Nigeria. So, Buhari can’t behave like Jammeh.
Whether Buhari likes it or not, he must give vent to the decision of the court. And that means that if he says he is going to fight against corruption on the basis of the rule of law and the rule of law implies obedience to judicial orders. I must point out that the Community court of Justice of ECOWAS is higher than the Supreme Court of Nigeria. It is not the first time the court would rule in a way that Nigeria would have to comply. You remember Jerry Ugokwe, former member of the House of Representatives. He went to that court and got an injunction against Nigeria not to swear in the man who defeated him at the tribunal, Dr. Christian Okeke.
And Nigerian Chief Justice of the court then, Donley, issued an order forbidding the swearing in of Dr. Okeke. Until that order was discharged, was vacated, that decision was upheld. Not too long ago too, you remember Femi Falana dragged the Federal Government to the ECOWAS Court arguing for SERRAP, N2.5 Billion misappropriated in Abuja. SERRAP won the case against the Federal Government and damages were awarded. I hear that the Federal Government has paid the damages. So, this is not a time where you can exhibit executive rascality and behave as if that court does not exist. So Nigeria is duty bound to abide by the decision of the community court of ECOWAS just like we abided by the decision of International Court of Justice in respect of the boundary between Nigeria and Cameroun. You know we had to lower our flag, hoist their own flag and relinquished control over a part of our territory.
So if you want to be taken seriously by the rest of international community, Buhari should have to address the country as to why the battle against corruption has suffered setbacks. But it is not one that would mean that he has lost the war or that it is just a battle.That he would win the war against corruption. You have setbacks. Life goes on, not on a straight line but zigzag. This is a minor setback for the war against corruption but he should seek other ways and means of ensuring that the anti-corruption crusade does not lose steam.