Ajibola Famurewa, a two-time member of the House of Representatives, in this interview with KEHINDE AKINTOLA, on the eve of Nigeria’s 57th Independence anniversary assesses the country’s journey so far, speaks on ongoing agitation for secession or restructuring, the forthcoming Osun State gubernatorial election, economic diversification, among other pertinent issues. Excerpts:
Today is Nigeria’s 57th Independence anniversary. In your view, is there really anything to celebrate?
To me, so long as we have the grace of witnessing a new day, we still need to thank God for everything. For us as a nation, we are celebrating 57 years of independence, and I think we have a lot of reasons to thank God. In the last 57 years, we have passed through a lot of situations and to the glory of God, we were able to overcome some of the challenges that came our way along the line. And the challenges came from different angles – talk about military incursion into politics, our economy, security situations and all that – but we thank God that today we are still one, despite the fact that some people are agitating for secession. Personally I believe that everybody is entitled, they have their own rights under the constitution, but whatever the rights you have, you must subject it to the larger interest of the nation because we are in the territorial place called Nigeria. We have a constitution that established and guides the nation and whatever you are doing out of your own personal freedom of speech, freedom of action, freedom of this or that, you need to subject it to the larger interest of the nation. So, I think we have a lot of things to thank God for. I know we have some challenges, we have some problems but then, if we compare ourselves with other advanced nations like the United States of America, they also passed through all these stages before attaining the heights they are today. This is the first time we are having 18 years of civilian rule without any interruptions, that one alone is enough to thank God for. And we believe we will still celebrate more years to come.
Going by these agitations, don’t you think the project Nigeria could fail anytime from now?
We need to trace the history of Nigeria and look at where we are coming from. Let us assess how we actually got to where we are today. If you examine it, I don’t see this nation failing. Nigeria will still remain Nigeria because those people that are agitating for secession, to me, are calling for war. Maybe they were too young or they were not even born when Nigeria fought the first civil war, the war that claimed over two million Nigerian souls on both sides of the divide. If someone comes today and sounds the same drum, I don’t think that person knows what he or she is doing. I believe that whoever is leading the cause will not be sincere with it, an average Igbo man doesn’t believe in it.
Does your state (Osun) believe in restructuring? If yes, in what form?
If we say we want to restructure Nigeria, let us come down on the same table and put that word restructure. Let us examine the word restructure. What are we trying to restructure? Let us define the word restructure. If you take it that way, I believe in restructuring quite alright, but what do we want to restructure? Are we talking about the constitutional restructuring? Are we going to amend some parts of the constitution in a way that will balance up some powers or sharing of resources? Are we talking about the administrative restructuring? Like in my state, we believe in restructuring, we are advocating for regional governments, not states because we realised that most of our states in Nigeria are not viable and we achieved more when we were operating at regional level than now that we have 36 states. So, in my state we believe that we should restructure towards regional administration. That will not cancel the office of the governor or whatever we have presently, but let us have a regional administration that will oversee the whole region in the form of premiers that we had in the First Republic. But if you are talking about restructuring like what happened in the House of Reps during the constitutional amendments, the issue of the devolution of powers, that is one area we can look into, sit down, look at it, let us restructure along that line, let us shed weight from the centre to the states or regions or whatever we agree on; I believe in that. There are some responsibilities on the Federal Government that are supposed to be at the states level or let the states do their own and let the Federal Government do its own, concurrently. So if you are talking about restructuring in that area, I agree. If you are talking about restructuring in terms of resource management, I also agree. I have gold in my constituency now, I don’t have control over it, neither does my state government have control over the resources in my state; they belong to the Federal Government, but we are supposed to have a say – that is a section of restructuring. So if you are talking of restructuring, let us define it clearly, what are we restructuring? And that will then guide us to know what to say.
Do you believe that if a part of this country goes, heaven will fall?
No, I am not saying that, but God in His infinite mercy and wisdom that wedded us together knows why. Again, unfortunately our constitution, the one we are operating today, doesn’t favour secession. I read in the book of history that in 1954 or thereabouts when we were preparing for independence, the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo proposed that in our constitution, let there be a clause that can allow any part of this family to go away. The Sardauna of Sokoto also supported the move, but the late Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe kicked against it and as fate would have it, Azikiwe’s position prevailed and that is what we have in our constitution today, that nobody can go. So if anybody is making that move, you are working against the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and whoever is in government at that particular time will have the responsibility of protecting this constitution and they can move against that person.
But is that sacrosanct? Does that constitutional provision foreclose amendment?
As at today, this is what we have and that has not been amended and that is what is guiding us until we decide to amend it, but if we have not done that, this thing is still guiding us. And I don’t believe if anybody goes heaven will fall, we are so blessed in this country. Come to my region or my state, we have a lot of resources that are more than enough for us to survive. Go to the North, they have their own resources that are more than enough for them to survive. Same in the East and South-South. So if peradventure Nigeria breaks, well, what I don’t have I will need to get from my neighbours because as at today, we import goods from America, China and other countries of the world. It is the same process, what I don’t have but need I will import from wherever, be it the northern part of Nigeria or from the eastern part, and what they don’t have that I have, they will also import from me and life will continue. Heaven will not fall. But what I am saying is that as we are today, this constitution doesn’t allow that until we amend it.
Does that support what the military has done against Nnamdi Kanu and the IPOB movement, even with the Senate President saying the action of the military was unconstitutional?
The military has the constitutional right of protecting the nation’s territorial integrity and in their wisdom, and as professionals, what they may see as signs of danger may mean nothing to me because that is their own area of specialty. If they realise that there is an action somewhere that may put their responsibility at stake, then they will move against it; I don’t have any problem with that. I don’t want us to consider the action of the military in isolation, what led to it? Did the Senate President consider the activities of Kanu, his utterances and the way the so-called IPOB boys were terrorising people in their domain? We have a lot of these on the social media. They constituted themselves into a gang blocking roads, highways, extorting money from innocent Nigerians and they were claiming that they were fighting for these people they were extorting money from. We need to look at the activities of this person called Kanu. If a civilian should have the courage to go and attack police divisional headquarters, then if they should allow them to do that successfully, you and I and the ordinary people on the streets in that part of the country will be in danger.
Recently we saw the PDP make incursion in your state, where someone from the opposition party won a landslide victory in a bye-election. Doesn’t that show that there is problem in APC in the state?
I don’t want to see it as PDP victory, no. That victory was a victory designed by APC members. APC members voted, and don’t forget that the so-called PDP candidate was a member of APC until some days to that election, picked nomination form from APC, attended screening of APC. This particular person, as far as I am concerned, was a member of APC before he eventually changed camp to PDP towards the election simply because he was unable to pick the ticket of APC. And there are a lot of factors that are actually responsible for what happened. We are all human beings, if we lose someone very close to us, very dear to us, we may decide to throw the sense of reasoning away in order to sympathize with that person. People sympathized with that family that they lost an illustrious son, a former governor and a serving senator. Senator Adeleke was a generous man, we cannot take that from him; he was a man of the people. And the votes given to his brother were just a means, a way of sympathizing with that family, and I can say it categorically that it was our party members that voted for him. I don’t see that as PDP incursion. Well, PDP may want to take glory and the person that actually went to PDP had a different plan entirely; his plan was to win that election and then return back to APC. Unfortunately for him, immediately after that election, the PDP crisis was resolved by the Supreme Court and there was no basis for anybody to decamp again. As at today, he’s hooked in PDP camp. But in Osun State as at today, our members are one.
You are a grassroots person and very much on ground with Osun politics. Is it true that the gubernatorial ambition of Deputy Speaker Yusuf Lasun is a done deal, that he is the next governor? And has the ban on campaign been lifted by the APC in Osun State?
As of today, as far as I am concerned, the party has not lifted any ban on any aspiration and the deputy speaker being a loyal party member, as I am talking to you, did not tell me he is campaigning. He said, ‘I am consulting’. There is a difference between campaign and consultation. I may come to your house, one-on-one as a brother, and consult, ask for advice. It is quite different from coming out and saying I am contesting for this, I am presenting myself for that. As at today, the deputy speaker will tell you that he is consulting.
But media reports seem to show he has already declared his intention, including his visit to the Ooni of Ife and to most of the paramount rulers in the state?
I can decide tomorrow to pay a visit to the Ooni of Ife and he won’t shut his door against me.
Including market women? Is he also consulting with market women?
We are not talking of counsellorship or local government election. Let me explain this, when we started the governorship aspiration of the incumbent governor, we consulted widely. Okada people, we would call them for a meeting and have a chat. We would tell them our plans and ask for their views, for their support, even before we came out openly. Mechanics, we consulted them; market women, we consulted them; the traditional rulers, we went to them. It is part of politics. If you are looking for governorship, it is not something you can just believe that you will win with party support. Apart from party nomination, you are still going to appeal to people outside, ordinary people who are not party members, to vote for you; so that is the more reason you need to carry them along from day one, consult them. When you give them recognition, when the time comes, they will listen to you.
There is then a thin line between consultation and campaigning. Do you agree with that?
But that thin line you cannot remove, the thin line will still be there.
The candidate or aspirant in question, is he not short-changing other candidates because to a great extent, some are agitating that there is a deal, a compromise, by the APC leadership in the state?
Nobody is being short-changed as far as I am concerned and to the best of my knowledge. All of them are consulting.
So, who are you supporting among all the aspirants?
Well, as at today, we have about 15 aspirants and out of those 15 I can mention about six that are very close to me, but as at today I am not supporting anybody. When we get to that bridge we are going to cross it.
Have they all picked the nomination form?
The ban on aspiration has not been lifted as at today.
But we learnt that there are pressures on some of you not to even come out at all to vie for the office. How true is that?
You know that in politics, there are a lot of calculations that go with it. If you are a real politician you will first of all read the mood in the polity, then you calculate the equation within the constituency. If you are talking of a state constituency, for example, I am from Ijesha Federal Constituency and I am the representative of the incumbent governor and the incumbent governor is serving his second term. So politically, except if anything can happen, I don’t think anybody from my constituency – one, from Ijeshaland, and two, from Osun East Senatorial District – will have any right to vie for governorship post when the incumbent is from Osun East. He is from Ijeshaland and from my federal constituency and we are spending two terms now. Ordinarily in politics, you allow power to rotate and if you look at Osun, for example, why some people are agitating for Osun West is because we have three senatorial zones. We are from Osun East where the incumbent governor is from. Then we have Osun Central where we have Chief Bisi Akande. He spent four years, Prince Olagunsoye Oyinlola spent seven-and-a-half years, all together eleven-and-a-half years. In Osun West as at today, the last governor they had was the late Isiaka Adeleke and he spent just 18 months. I think that is the basis for agitation for West senatorial district to have a go. So anybody from the East that is aspiring now, well, I don’t know maybe that person is relying on some supernatural forces that may work for him.
The economy is biting very hard even though government says we have come out of recession. What solution would you proffer to the government to solve this quagmire?
Have we actually got out of recession? Well, I can say in theory, on paper, maybe. Statisticians have calculated a lot of things and in their own wisdom came to the conclusion that we are out of recession, but the ordinary man on the street can only agree with the theory when we realise that the prices of things have come back to normal in the market; when we have enough money in our pockets to buy what we need at a particular point in time; when we have enough money to attend to little things that we are suffering from. My advice to the Federal Government – I can say that I am part of that government – is to appeal to the executive, the president and his team, to work more in, first, making sure that we improve our agricultural sector so that we can even feed ourselves, forget about importation of foods. Let us devote more time to agriculture, let us support the farmers so that we will be able to feed ourselves. They have been trying putting efforts in rebuilding the economy, I think they need to put in more efforts in that direction. This agriculture thing is a part of rebuilding of the economy and its diversification. Let us make sure our economy doesn’t depend on one resource, a single means of raising funds. Let us have multiple sources. It is not easy but God will help us.