Comrade Mashood Erubami is a prominent human rights activist who has, over the years, engaged with others in the struggle for the betterment of the Nigerian society. In this interview with CORRESPONDENT, OLADELE OGUNSOLA, he delivered a damning verdict on Nigeria at 53, and argued that the nation has exhibited all the signs of a failed state. Excerpts:
Nigeria is 53 as an independent country, how do you assess the journey so Far?
At 53, Nigeria is not yet demonstrating the capacity to come out of its self-inflicted problems due to her seemingly insurmountable socio-political and economic challenges; obviously, any child still crawling at 53 is disabled and physically challenged. In fact, despite all pretensions that the pitiable situation of Nigerians is otherwise, it is very certain that the country is confronted with the negative effects of youth militancy, slowing economy, rapid inflation, troubled religious disturbances, nationwide perfunctory electricity generation and supply with disappointed citizens and leadership losing legitimacy. These are all signs of a failed state. For years running, the Federal Government continues to run the most unproductive government that has refused to yield discernible dividends of democracy while those in political offices are masquerading as politicians using the party’s umbrella to cage the welfare of the people and detain democracy. The present administration is not an exception as it is running an unrehearsed administration ever bestowed on the country and this has made the President a great concern to Nigerians and worry to the world. Nigerian leaders continue to commit unjustifiable wrongs while the social situation is pregnant with lots of uncertainty, apprehension, acute poverty and unemployment, combined with glaring denials, neglect and deprivation. It will seem that the country is not as lucky as the President of the country in not being blessed with leaders with the requisite blue print for the country’s development. Political leaders since 1967 have been unluckily accidental, unprepared and reluctant. The impact of 14 years of uninterrupted civil rule out of 53 years of our so called independence on the people have been minimal as Nigerians are yet to enjoy tremendous improvement in their lives while they still lack basic infrastructures like roads, electricity and despite mere mouthing by government, railway is not yet in good shape. The situation is such that today over 85% of the commonwealth is being appropriated by just 15% elected political representatives. You can imagine Nigeria being labeled a great nation when her citizens are obviously very weak, swimming in the massive ocean of poverty in the midst of plenty while compounding on daily basis their misery! The 53 years of governance in the country has unfortunately not made the country or her citizen great. We can only intensify prayers to God to guide our leaders aright, so that the struggle of our heroes past shall never be in vain.
How much of the vision of the nationalists has Nigeria achieved?
We might be seen as unfair to political office holders if we insist that no progress has been recorded over the past 53 years. Members of the ruling party will take time to explain that their President has performed wonderfully well and, if anything, that he is the best of the past presidents that the country ever had. No doubt, when you look round, you will see some minimal growth in the land in terms of non-functioning infrastructures and fleet of cars, including vehicles of war called Homer Jeep being cruised by corrupt civil servants and political office holders on roads and highways that are obviously in states of disrepair. There are manifestations of a semblance of growth when you look at the deluge of beautiful private mansions built from the stashed stolen funds, but in actual terms, there is no development, because more that 75% of the population are half-naked, swimming in absolute poverty of material wealth, courage and idea. If I will be frank with you, our fathers dream for Nigeria was to establish a country that is united, strong and prosperous, a state based on the principles of democracy and social justice where sovereignty will belong to the people from whom government through the country’s constitution shall derive all its powers and authorities. A country where the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government and the participation by the people in their government shall be ensured through one man one vote. The expectation of our own generation was to build on the foundation of our fathers, a strong nation, where justice will be the basis of governance for the purpose of promoting national integration, while discrimination on the grounds of place of origin, sex, religion, status, ethic or linguistic affiliation will not be tolerated; establishment of a state where trust in leadership shall be freely expressed without molestation, violence and electoral process manipulation. Today, 53 years of unproductive government has not harnessed the resources of the nation and promoted national prosperity to build an efficient, a dynamic and self-reliant economy for the common good of the Nigerian citizenry. I can therefore say without any fear that the vision of the nationalists has not been achieved as the country is yet to be at the point where the welfare and security of all shall be the primary purpose of government.
Why, in your opinion, has it been impossible to meet the dreams and aspirations of the founding fathers?
Leadership failure and bankruptcy of leadership are key reasons for the successive failure of the state to meet the dreams and aspiration of the founding fathers. Political leaders are not God-fearing; they do not respect the dominant value of respect for the names of their family, they do not respect the law of the land and do not believe in human rights of other people. The law does not rule here in Nigeria, hence the people are not equal before the law. Human rights are not respected, legislators do not carry out their legislative duties diligently; the executive is not faithfully and selflessly over sighted, the people are not patriotically represented and the laws being made by the legislators are truly not impactful on the lives of the masses. In all these, the programs of government have failed to meet the genuine desire of the people.
The agreement, in some quarters, is that the manner by which the country got her Independence has been the source of her problems, do you agree?
I disagree. There is nothing wrong about the manner by which the country got her Independence; it is not only when we secure political power through revolution that we can run a befitting government. It is more of leadership decay that has not made government to move to governance for the transformation of the lives of the people. Regardless of how any country got her Independence, if the leadership fears God, respect the law of the land and believes in the dominant value of respect for family names and norms, government will serve in the course of the people. There will be progress in the land when the leadership subsumes the rule of law under the rule of justice, ensures that the citizens are equal before the law and guarantees human rights of all.
Where and how did the country get it wrong?
Nigeria, by all standards, is the six largest producers of oil and an exporter, it accounts for half of the total resources of Sub –Sahara Africa, with the largest concentration of Universities, Colleges of Education, Polytechnics and other tertiary institutions. In population, it is constituted with over 160 million citizens, accounting for one out of every five Africans. Yet, it could not utilize these great potentials to advance its movement to the land of destiny, due to bankrupt leadership. Everything started going wrong with Nigeria, from the time it failed to solve the political logjam created by the civil strife resulting from the ethnic politics of the late 60s, which led the country into civil war from 1967-1970. Ever since, Nigeria has been bedevil by accidental and mostly unprepared and reluctant leaders coming into government without any blue print for sustainable human development and good governance. It is unacceptable that corruption has taken on a new dimension; it has changed from the people, as a bait to secure government patronages to government bait to the people to perpetuate their illegitimate ruinous rules. We have been getting it wrong since we allow indiscipline to be crying to the high heaven and become the order of the day among leaders and followers. Today, nobody seems to be in control of anything and this explains why a country with huge resources has turned out to lack everything, leaving its citizens to wallop in the paradox of poverty and hunger in the midst of stupendous wealth. That is the tragedy of a very rich country with a poor and very weak citizenry. Furthermore, the country started getting it wrong, because of citizens’ apathy, indifference and ambivalence to issues in the programs and policies of government, when losers in election are imposed on us as winners, when people whom the electorate voted for are seeking recourse to justice from the tribunals, while the losers are governing without legitimacy. The solution is in not expecting the courts to be the last bus stop of recourse to justice as most judges on the tribunals have demonstrated that they are also human beings, who are not infallible and could be monetarily pacified to alter the cause of justice and upturn victory of the winners for the losers. There is no way we can enjoy good governance which first rung on its ladder will be credible election, if we continue to accept unfairly recruited leaders without the capacity to rule and expect them to give us good governance. They can never create discernible difference in the lives of Nigerians or be the true expression of the mandate of the people and by implication, Nigeria will remain on a spot as a strong nation with very weak citizenry, taking one step forward and twenty backwards. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo left government in 1979 for Sheu Shagari, he came back celebrated as a messiah in 1999, because Shagari did not lift Nigeria up the ladder of under development. Twenty years after Obasanjo handed over to Shehu Shagari, nothing in the polity changed, hence the yesterday of Nigeria became better than its today. Nigerians must rise from their dreamless slumber and use their majority population against the over recycled, unproductive and discredited leaders, to chart a new course for giving mandate to new seekers of elective offices, reject the current politics of Manifestoes and insist on using election as a tool for expressing their thrust in their preferred candidates, including putting Parliament in place and controlling the incumbent government and defeating it. In the same vein, Nigerians must no more agree to reform any process that will always retain the current leadership in government, but to review the problems of the Nation and resolve to remove them, using all the legitimate powers at their disposal.
What are the urgent steps to be taken to reverse the negative trend?
What can be drastically done to start getting things right is to stop reforming the present leadership but remove them politically. The present crop of leaders represents the crazy in the demon of Democracy in Nigeria. We need to be courageous to put the blame of our under-development squarely at the door steps of the current illegitimate rulers and recognize that unless they are mechanically rebranded, the current national leadership meltdown will lead us to total bankruptcy and no amount of pretentious rebranding will lift Nigeria out of its cul-de-sac. If Nigerians are searching for electoral rationality from 2014, on the basis of one person, one vote, they must decide to remain firm in their voting allegiances and move decisively to strengthen the current INEC leadership, provide it with adequate funds for its programs towards building on the successes of the 2011 election and thereafter. Election must be made to fulfill its historical missions, one to serve as a means of expressing trust in the person elected, as a tool for putting parliament in place to serve as a key institution of government and as a mechanism through which a ruling government is controlled, defeated and re-elected. Nigerian youths and independent voters must wake up from their profound dreamless slumber to put their destinies in their hands to interrogate all the status quo permutations by the old politicians working in concert with their political sons who are bent on mortgaging this country and confiscating its value and virtues of democracy to perpetuating misrules and leadership illegitimacy. Right virtues and values should be enthroned with ethical leadership, so as to replace the current indirection where ethics will become the model to follow in politics and in governance. This is when the country can fly beyond the sky.
How about the civil society?
Civil society leaders should stop agonizing, but rise up to start initiating political actions, participate in politics and start to sweep the filthy house of politics from inside and stop mere criticizing the government of the day without being part of the solution to the problems identified by them. The National Assembly should stop imposing their choice of electoral reform on the people, and desist from rejecting the electorate genuine request for electoral laws that will set the pace for future credible elections. They should not carry out their personal wishes against the desires of the people because of the expectation and reliance of the people on the house that they will act as the key institution of government by which the genuine desires of the people can be voiced. Nigerians should be guaranteed the rights to hold legislators responsible, in the belief that they will not stray too far from the positions held by their constituents back home and at all times justify the huge resources that the country have placed at their disposal for doing little. It is unspeakable that few months to another general election some members of the National Assembly could be seen to be exhibiting hooligan tendencies in their veins, instead of engaging in serious debate on how to effect the necessary changes in the nation’s electoral process so as to lay the foundation for a credible poll in 2015. Their pattern of behavior in this regards, have shown that the National Assembly members are clearly not in accord with the bulk of their constituents on the important issues of Constitutional review and electoral reform. Obviously, with what we have seen with the constitutional review, the National Assembly members have voted against the clear preference of a majority in the general public on issues as significant as the Constitutional amendment and electoral reform. The tragedy of the situation is that opinion is divided on how we can carry the discontent of Nigerians to the National Assembly. Opinion expressed by Nigerians have repeatedly shown public discontent with the collective job performance of the members of the two Houses of the National Assembly as well as a sense that representatives are not representing the people but themselves. If I may ask, to what extent, and under what circumstances, is the electoral mandate of the people consequential? Ultimately, how effective are campaigns and elections as instruments for securing faithful representation? Despite the obvious centrality of representation to modern democratic governance, Nigerians have not devoted serious attention to the crucial issue of citizen-legislator relationship. I am upset that Nigerians are not angry enough and not showing our anger as at when we should. Citizens from various Nigerian constituencies would therefore, like elected representative to effectively argue for them when issues after their hearts are being discussed at their levels.