Aborisade: Secession’ll not solve Nigeria’s problems




Femi Aborisade, a lawyer and human rights activist, in this this interview, speaks on Nigeria at 60 and issues of governance, among others. WALE ELEGBEDE reports


What is your take on Nigeria’s 60th independence anniversary?


The imposition of avoidable pains and pangs by the Federal Government on the economically overburdened downtrodden people in terms of hike in fuel price and electricity tariff reflects the true state of life Nigeria – a country over endowed with resource and wealth but whose people wallow in abject poverty in the midst of plenty; a country whose rulers kneel on the necks of its peoples, preventing them from breathing; a country where politicians seize power with sweet promises only to assume power and begin to wage war against the people with punitive economic policies and setting the coercive apparatus of state to repress, oppress, intimidate and hold the masses down in subjugation.

Do you think the 60th anniversary is what celebrating considering the state of the nation?


There is nothing worth celebrating in Nigeria at 60. The huge promises of a better life for the masses have remained illusory. Governmental goal in the post-independence era was the dream of securing the maximum attainable common good, welfare, freedom and happiness of every citizen.


Today, the goal of public policies appears to be the opposite – to dispossess the masses and hold them in subjugation.


Are you saying that Nigeria has not made progress compared to other nations that gained independence at the same time with her?


There is no doubt about the steady degeneration in all aspects of life in Nigeria. Nothing speaks to the fact that Nigeria is sinking than the world acknowledged fact that in spite of the oil wealth, Nigeria is the poverty capital of the world, hosting the highest proportion of people living in chronic poverty.


Income inequality is unparalleled anywhere else in the world. The paradox of a rich country but poor people finds full expression in fulfillment in Nigeria. Nowhere else in the world is like Nigeria, where extremes of poverty and wealth co-exist without equally strong mass resistance movements.


Many believe that today’s Nigeria is not the dream of the founding fathers, what is your take and where did the nation got it wrong?

= There is no debating this conclusion. The development plans in the period 1945 to 1980 were informed by the intention to attain certain development objectives.


A taxonomy of the objectives reveals the following: attainment and maintenance of the highest possible rate of increase in the standard of living, more even distribution of income, social welfare, a just and egalitarian society, a land of bright and full opportunity for all citizens, reduction in the level of unemployment, increase in the supply of high level manpower, selfdependence and less of dependence on external resources, balanced development, indigenization of economic activity, diversified economy, a free and democratic society, among others.


In 1959, the National Economic Council had the goal of a National Development Plan with the objective of the achievement and maintenance of the highest possible rate of increase in the standard of living and the creation of the necessary conditions to this end, including public support and awareness of both



the potentials that exist and the sacrifices that will be required. The First National Development Plan (1962-68) had the aim of achieving ‘a modernized economy consistent with the democratic, political and social aspirations of the people.’ Today, the aspirations of ordinary people are not the preoccupation of those ruling the country.


Their goal is to dispossess the people of the common patrimony under privatization and private-public partnerships.


Would you say that the country has never had the kind of leaders it had during the First Republic?


The past leaders had a dream of building a prosperous country with national and or public institutions to create wealth. The leaders of today measure their success in how much of the public institutions they loot in the name of sale of public assets.


Majority of public leaders today seek to destroy public institutions and enslave the society in perpetuity. Leadership is about having a mission of great people living in comfort. We have no leaders in public office. We have vampires and parasites in power. Self-interest dominates their lives. They seek public office to wage war against public interest.


They are what Fela called ‘vagabonds in power’ or ‘vampires in power.’ That is why we hardly have any of them who has national appeal to the masses. They appeal to primordial sentiments in order to dominate their own people; they have no appeal to common humanity, which is not only national but indeed universal.


Generally speaking, without meaning to say all politicians of today are bad, we no longer have politicians who advance issues or policies that are in public interest such as Aminu Kano, Obafemi Awolowo and others. What we have today are people who are determined to wage wars against the masses by using public office to advance private interests at the expense of public interests.


The moment they are appointed into office or accommodated into the Federal Government structure or awarded contracts for projects which ought to be carried out by public ministries, they forget about restructuring. Leaders of the All Progressives Con-gress (APC) were once the leading proponents of restructuring before they got to power.


At the centre, APC constitutes majority in the National Assembly; why has it become difficult to sponsor bills to achieve restructuring. They remember restructuring only when they are displaced or excluded from power. Ordinary people should beware of the political goals of persons who use ethnic marginalisation just to seek attention and accommodation in the power structure.


The youths should not be deceived into fighting the wars of politicians presented in the name of the masses they never call to obtain their mandate at any conference. What are the missing links and how can they be addressed? The philosophy of governance must be pro-people.


The provisions of Chapter 2 of the Constitution must be implemented so far the basic socio-economic rights are implemented as a minimum condition for retaining any government in power. Where that is so, ordinary people would have the courage, the means, the will and the knowledge to organise and resist through building formidable social movements rather than continuing to look up to their class enemies, the politicians, whose agenda is to dominate and destroy them.


How would you assess the political system in the last 60 years?

Nigeria has really never been free in the last 60 years. The political history of Nigeria is the history of dictatorships. From colonial dictatorship, we moved to a brief period of civil rule after which outright military dictatorship took over. Power really has been exchanged between the military and the civilian wings of the ruling class and the masses have been clearly excluded, politically.


Economic poverty or economic exclusion leads to and perpetuates political exclusion. Our people have been economically and politically excluded in the last 60 years. It has been observed that Nigeria is a paradox – a rich country but poor people.


Ordinary people, by empirical research studies, are deemed worse today than they were at independence. The hard-won civil rule of 1999, which marked the end of monstrous military dictatorship, has not translated to significant democracy. Indeed, what is unfolding is a process of de-democratisation, a process which diminishes the democratic contents of democracy.


The fundamental question to pose is: Why the paradox? Why does poverty continue to capture more and more people and dragging them down the abyss, to the extent of turning the country into the poverty capital of the world? It is perceived that there could be a relationship between privatisation and the poverty level. Privatisation of public assets has been the key element of the two sides of the same coin called ruling political parties in Nigeria – the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and All Progressives Congress (APC).


What is your take on the clamour for restructuring and the agitation by some groups in the South-East for the disintegration of Nigeria?


First, the call is not limited to the South-East. Indeed, it is also being made in the South-West among proponents of the Oodua Republic. Even though I do not subscribe to the calls, I recognise that the   call for restructuring and even secession in terms of right to self-determination is universally recognised as a right.


It only poses a challenge to those wielding power to govern in such a way to make such calls unpopular within the grassroots or rank and file of those regions. The big question to answer however is whether or not restructuring or dismemberment of Nigeria is the solution to the myriad of socioeconomic problems plaguing Nigeria.


My position is that neither restructuring nor breaking up of Nigeria into smaller units of sovereign states along ethnic lines would solve the root cause of socio-economic challenges facing the masses.


The solution to unprecedented and pervasive poverty lies in developing a poverty reducing and income inequality reducing programme, so that the wealth of the society would serve the basic needs and welfare of ordinary people rather than serving the greed for primitive accumulation and dispossession of the wealth that belongs to all.


If and when such a programme is presented, those agitating for Oodua Republic or Biafra, would see the faces of corrupt elements from each region or ethnic divide among those behind the problems of Nigeria and who they would confront, even if they succeed in the agitation for dismemberment in their individual republics. There is no justification in a struggle that would result in another enslavement by politicians of your own ethnic group.


Those who enrich themselves and impoverish Yoruba masses in the South-West today are not Hausa/Fulani or Igbo. Those responsible for the unprecedented poverty in the South-West are Yoruba members of the ruling class, who are individually richer than the states they govern and have designed policies and laws for their continued enrichment for life even after they leave public office, with the consequential eternal impoverishment of Yoruba masses. I have no doubt in my mind that world acclaimed intellectuals, leaders and elders are among those making the call for ethnic based republics.

Therefore, the issue is not the quality or age or level of exposure of those making the call, the issue is the lens they employ in perceiving the root cause as well as the solution to the socio-economic problems of Nigeria.


The difference between Yorubas, who demand secession and those of us socialists, who do not champion the agenda even though we recognise it is a right of those championing it, is that we look at the problems of Nigeria from the lens of ‘class,’ others use the lens of ethnicity, forgetting that those who destroy Nigeria today by the imposition of punitive economic policies all belong to the same society – ruining machines called political parties.


Do you think Nigeria should return to parliamentary system of government?


Parliamentary or presidential systems of government have nothing to do with the root cause of crises in the land.


The root cause of the crises is the philosophy of governance – whether the wealth of society would serve the basic welfare needs or whether the wealth of society would serve the greed of the rulers.


Whether we reach a consensus that the basic needs of the majority would first be satisfied or whether the greed and rottenness of the ruling class would continue to be tolerated. This is the crux of the matter.


Whichever system of government chosen or voted for, if the question as to the ends public wealth would serve is not resolved, there would continue to be problems.




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