TAIWO OTITOLAYE, National Vice President of Committee for the Defence of Human Rights, is an activist who has for a long time been involved in the struggle for maintenance of democratic rule and protection of human rights in the country. In this Interview with our Reporter, DELE MOSES, the former National Convener of United Action For Democracy (UAD), re-echoes call for the convocation of a Sovereign National Conference among other issues.
How would you say the country has fared under this democratic dispensation?
First, we have to relate the country to the issue of building a house. When you want to build a house the foundation is very essential. A faulty foundation would entail a weak and uncoordinated house. As regards the issue of Nigeria we have to go back to the basis; the 1914 coerced amalgamation. It was an unholy marriage of diverse nations, cultures and value systems. We have to really hold a sovereign national conference to diagnose and examine the processes of building a nation because as Nigeria is presently constituted it is not a nation. It is not even a nation-state. So, we cannot understand ourselves. Until we resolve on terms of living together as a country, the centre will never hold. The ethnic nationalities, especially the domineering ones, will always want to take their share from Nigeria. There is an unending competition, and desire to excel above one another.
During the era of self-rule in the regions, there was healthy competition among the regions. There was nothing like crude oil.
The democratic experiment of the past 14 years has been one of the retrogression because the politicians and Nigerians have not learnt anything new to move the country forward. Nigeria, as I said, is not a nation or even a nation-state but an amalgam of diverse nations. So, under the present structure and system, the Project Nigeria cannot work.
It seems that you and The Patriots (a group of eminent Nigerians) that recently said that the country is degenerating into a failed state and that only a national conference is the way out are of the same view.
The patriots are just reiterating what we have discovered and stated for the umpteenth time. The United Action for Democracy which is the umbrella platform for over 50 pro-democracy and human rights groups in 2009 declared Nigeria a failed state. It is fast moving towards a collapsed state if urgent measures to convoke a national conference are delayed. Back in 1990, committed Nigerians under the platform of National Consultative Forum were to discuss Nigeria but the Ibrahim Babangida regime that institutionalised corruption in Nigeria scuttled that conference. So, The Patriots were only reiterating what we had been saying for over two decades. The road to a virile nation is a sovereign national conference to redress inequalities by identifying constituent nationalities and genuine people’s popular organisations to establish a memorandum of agreement on how to live together as one people, one nation with shared destiny.
Great Britain which incidentally was our colonial master recognizes its different nationalities. That is why the Irish, Wales and others have their separate parliament. Other nations that are now progressing have one time or the other addressed these problems. If we fail to resolve our difference and agree on a common front the multi various situations we are confronted with will continue unabated.
But the National Assembly seems to say that a national conference is uncalled for and that what we need is an amendment of the constitution. What is your view on this?
The National Assembly is a product of corruption. Corruption is not only when you steal money, they emerged from the present constitution put in place by the military usurpers. The military thrust a constitution we are not party to into our life. The constitution was fashioned in a style to continue to uphold the status quo.
Laws are made by the people but the people did not partake in the making of the present constitution. Then, the constitution cannot work for the people but for the cabals that stole the hearts of the mass of people. The road map is through sovereign national conference; making of a people’s constitution. The people have to make their input, through their elected representatives to the constituent assembly. Resolutions at such conference can never be doctored or manipulated by any individual or group of governments at all level. The resolutions will only come back to the people at the grassroots through plebiscite or referendum.
It is then we can have; “We the Nigerian people having made this constitution agree to it as a guiding document”, as a preface to the Nigerian constitution. This will be a departure from the present fraudulent assertion that the 1999 constitution was made by the Nigerian people.
What do you think is the way out of the security challenge in the country?
It boils down to the same question of distrust, corruption, maladministration, mediocrity of our leadership and lack of nationalism because we don’t see ourselves as a common people with a common nation. The system is corrupt from the leadership to the individual. The present government is a product of corruption. The INEC under Prof. Attahiru Jega has also not fared well because it is not about an individual but system. INEC inherited by Jega has not changed the individual within the system. The system remains the same. The success recorded in few states like Edo is by conscious efforts of the masses through mandate protection.
So, the security challenge in the country is a fall out of disagreement between the ruling cliques. This can be placed in the context of the balance of power. Some have lost out in the power corridor and the resort is making the country ungovernable hence the violence under the pretext of Boko Haram and other evil mechanisms. The masses are at the receiving end. We cannot actually resolve the question of violence in isolation of the political paradigm.
What do you think of economic situation of the country?
Under the Gen Sani Abacha regime, what operated was a rogue economy but from former President Olusegun Obasanjo to the President Goodluck Jonathan administration with exception of late President Umar Yar’Adua what we are running is economic disintegration. The economy is into private pockets and neo-colonial tendencies. Primitive accumulation of wealth is flourishing under the present regime. Jonathan as a member of the cabal is in bondage. IMF World Bank and other imperialist agencies have taken over our economy. The economy policy is in favour of the capitalist tendencies. We are not even running an economic system. No nation ever survives economic crisis without devising its own economic system suitable to its environment.
Privatisation and commercialisation of our economy is in favour of anti people agencies and individuals. Our currency is valueless. Recently when Ola Vincent died there was a reference to him that when he left as CBN governor in 1982, the exchange rate was 68k to a dollar, today it is hovering between N160 and N162 to a dollar. The present CBN under Sanusi has no suitable fiscal policies. Nigeria has the second largest green arable land in the world and from this alone the country can be one of the top five richest countries in the world.
The crusade now is to leave oil in the soil because it has become a curse. Nigeria is the sixth largest oil producer in the world and petrol sells between N120 and N130 per litre in the open market as against N7 per litre in places like Venezuela. Oil rich communities are in pains. Many have been displaced from their communities with no hope of returning or finding a place to live. The question Prof. Tam David-West and Nigerians have been asking is why are the refineries not working and why are we not building more refineries. If we refine locally, the least we can have is 12 bye-products giving our low capacity to refine. So, if you spread the overhead cost into these 12 products you can sell petrol at N5 per litre and still make profit.
We want Jonathan and his clique to stop insulting and assaulting our psyche that there is something call oil subsidy. Oil subsidy is a thieving language employed by the ruling cabal. The power sector, road, rail, water, technology, human resources are the road map to industrialisation, growth and development.
90 percent of our roads are in horrible states. They have become nightmare and death trap. Every second we are losing our human resources and property to road accident. We have expended several trillions into bringing back the rail system without success. Such funds have gone into private pockets because some cartels do not want the rail to function.
Nigerians have no access to drinkable water which is causing diseases. No nation ever graduates to productive economy without adequate and sustainable power supply.
Our economy is in a terrible state and we cannot leave it in the hands of imperialist agents because they do not hold the key to resolving them. Therefore system change is inevitable. It is the masses through popular movement that can resolve these crises.
Are you saying that our politicians cannot save the situation?
To start with, there are no functional political parties in Nigeria. There are no people-oriented parties in Nigeria. There are no ideological political parties in Nigeria. Over 99 per cent of political players are craving for selfish desires. The PDP is the worst that has ever happened in our political history. It is peopled by old, soiled, recycled hands that have no mission for this country. They are not even remorseful of the negative political tendencies they have plunged this country into.
They are running the country as if they are running private estates without value. The so-called joint local government allocation is depriving good governance from reaching the people at the grassroots. Some local governments cannot even pay salary let alone embarking on developmental projects. Their money is deducted from source. That is why you see state governors manipulating local government election.
In the political parlance in Nigeria I will say we have not really progressed. The opposition is in disarray, unable to knit together the aspirations of the common people. They are struggling over resources, positions, structures for self or group benefit. The Action Group and Peoples Redemption Party were forces to be reckoned with as opposition parties in the first and second republics. They were organised and coordinated in offering the common people alternatives. One of the ingredients of a political party is internal democracy but the current opposition parties in Nigeria are removed from this. What we have is imposition, god father politics.
Political parties in Nigeria, especially the opposition have to go back to the drawing board if they want to give Nigerians a better alternative. This alternative cannot be achieved over night because it is not an event, it is a process.
What is your advice to the present administration on this matter?
My advice will rather go to the people of Nigeria because those that have stolen people’s mandate for decades would not relinquish power easily because according to Lord Acton, absolute power corrupt absolutely.
It is about power struggle between the ruling clique and masses of the country. The masses through their popular union, descendant unions, town guilds, professional organisations will have to demand for social and political accountability through advocacy, engaging government at all levels, community mobilisation, political participation to take political party ownership from moneybags and where and when necessary, civil disobedience.
Obama as a black man is reaping from the fruits of collective struggle of the blacks in USA referencing people like Martin Luther king jnr. I watched tears rolling down the cheeks of Jesse Jackson when Obama won his first election. Perhaps Jackson was reminiscing on the long hazardous walk to the White House which his forefathers started.
So, in Nigeria power is in the hand of the people; it is because we do not realise it. No criminal having stolen your property will willingly hand it over to you without struggle.
My other side of the advice to Jonathan and his cohorts is that they should listen to the voices of reason and wisdom that Nigeria needs genuine talk, that is, SNC before they push the country into disintegration.
Our economic policies must not be dictated by slave masters but us. We need socio-economic and political re-engineering of Nigeria. To all Nigerians vigilance is the price for eternal liberty.