Aug. 15 (THEWILL) — Chief Sola Ebiseni, a jurist and delegate to the 2014 National Conference hosted by former Nigerian President, Goodluck Jonathan, is the general secretary of the Pan Yoruba socio-political group, Afenifere. In this interview with AYO ESAN, he discusses the continuing issue of insecurity in the country, ethnic unrest and efforts to amend the 1999 constitution by the national assembly, among other issues of national importance. Excerpts:
A problem that threatens the existence of the country is the problem of insecurity. How will you react to the persistent insecurity in the country?
Security is the beginning and the end of any state, its raison d’être. In other words, the reason for its creation, existence and sustenance. It is the set of powers of individuals to defend themselves that were ultimately given to the state as a political entity to better protect the life and property of the people. When the situation of insecurity reaches the present stage in Nigeria where the Federal Government, through the Minister of Defence, Governors and Traditional Rulers, has called on the citizens to stand up and defend themselves, the State is became a failure. People can no longer move confidently within and between cities and states. Previously, graduates had a lot of fun admiring life in other parts of the country during the National Youth Service, NYSC year, now people are pushing to be posted not far from their home state. The army is tired, having been overwhelmed by internal conflicts, the police have become virtually useless except for the prosecution of conventional crimes, and no one has confidence in the government and its security agencies. The undeniable consequences of this reality are that the current administration has lost its legitimacy.
One of the direct consequences of insecurity and the apparent powerlessness of governments is ethnic unrest. How do you want FG to deal with the issue of ethnic unrest and promoters – Nnamdi Kanu, Sunday Igboho etc.
Nature abhors a vacuum. I have just told you that people no longer have confidence in the State and therefore in the government to ensure security. Nigerians are generally happy people even in the face of adversity. The insecurity we face is a war imposed by people of the same ethnic nationality as the president. Through words and body language, the government is seen as being permissive towards these murderous armed gangs. It was this situation that threw Nnamdi Kanu and Sunday Igboho and their agitations for self-determination. For Igboho in particular, Yoruba has never been known for any separatist agitation, all we have always called for is the restructuring of the political system for true federalism. The Buhari administration is not even ready to discuss. My brother, no group owns Nigeria and for the Yoruba, kakaki kiniun se akapo ekun, ki olukuluku se ode re lotto. (You can be a slave in your own country). Our resistance symbol is best interpreted in the Amotekun, a creature that cannot be intimidated.
The hunt and the trials of Kanu and Igboho are futile exercises. The federal government should call for national dialogue and simultaneously put a leash on the murderous Fulani ethnic militias.
Afenifere has been at the forefront of the country’s call for restructuring for years. The voice for restructuring is now strong across the country, but the Buharil-led government does not seem interested. What is your opinion on this?
Of course, you are correct in your observation. Obafemi Awolowo, the founding leader of Afenifere was the early advocate of federalism as the best form of government for the polyglot territory then envisioned as Nigeria. The Afenifere lawyer is for a return to the founding federal principles of federalism which were bastardized by the military regime. The refusal of internal autonomy is responsible for the agitations of the constituent ethnic nationalities for self-determination. My point of view is that of the Yoruba people. Our people say there’s more than one way to deal with a gourd that refuses to be opened.
How will you react to the demand from southern governors that the next president must come from the South West?
To the best of my memory, the resolution of the Southern Governors Forum is that the next President of Nigeria should come from the south. Afenifere’s position is that Nigeria will be restructured before the 2023 elections and other things will follow.
The National Assembly is pushing to amend the 1999 Constitution. But many Nigerians are calling for a brand new constitution. If you support a completely new constitution, how do you proceed?
Well, the 1999 Constitution is so fundamentally flawed that an amendment may not be the solution. This is why every amendment since 2005 has turned out to be aborted. Besides the fact that the constitution is a military decree and not given by the people, it is also contradictorily unitary, in its structure and character. The popular opinion of Nigerians is to come up with a new truly federal constitution in line with the country’s founding agreement. Among the documents that achieved consensus are the 1963 constitution, the 2014 constitutional conference report, and the 2017 report by the APC on Federalism led by Governor El-Rufai. These documents can be brought together and modified and promulgated by the National Assembly. The product will then be ratified by a referendum organized in the six geopolitical zones.
But there is no provision for referendum in the constitution.
This is usually the excuse of those who do not want Nigeria to move forward. They seem not to understand the desperate situation in which the country finds itself. If I may, is there a provision against referendum in the same constitution? India found itself in this desperate position in 1951 when there was agitation for statehood along language groups. Of course, the elected, flamboyant and most charismatic leader, Jawaharlal Nehru and the Indian Parliament, at first did not support him but constrained him by the reality of national survival which led to the establishment of a Committee whose recommendations were forwarded by parliament to the new constitution. India is a federation like Nigeria and also a former British colony.
The Republic of Benin, our immediate western neighbour, was in a political quagmire and in 1990 elected President Mathew Kerekou who was forced to convene a national conference which declared itself sovereign, dissolved parliament and enacted a new constitution which has since stabilized the regime.
What is the future of the Yoruba in Nigerian politics?
The Yoruba are a nation within Nigeria, with territory identified from the Atlantic to the Niger River in both Lokoja and Jebba to the north and the Republic of Benin to the west, we are the same people, culture and the same language. Our aspiration is to have the autonomy required with maximum security to optimize our potential and evolve at our own pace.
We had already been involved in Afro-European exchanges since the 15th century and demonstrated our ability to defend our territory within the West African subcontinent before British colonialism. We had the first primary school in Nigeria at Badagry in 1843, CMS Grammar School Lagos as the first secondary school in 1859, University of Ibadan in 1948. Since the 1800s, we started producing clerics, like the Bishop Ajayi Crowder, who brought Christianity to other parts of Nigeria and West Africa since the 1800s. Williams Davies, a Yoruba became the first medical director in 1858, Sapara Williams, the first lawyer in 1879, Samuel Manuwa, the first Nigerian surgeon. We were the first in Nigeria’s independence struggles. Obafemi Awolowo and his colleagues have given us world-class governance enabled by a federal constitution. The Yorubas are freedom-loving people for ourselves and for humanity. We have no ambition to dominate a group and will not subscribe to being dominated.
Besides insecurity, the country is also experiencing hyperinflation. What is your message to Nigerians and your advice to the Federal Government?
Seek security of life and property first, every other good thing will be added to it. This is my advice to the federal government.
Any advice to South West Governors regarding the development of the South West region
The best can only come when we have a constitution that guarantees our autonomy over our resources and our affairs. They are appreciated for the people-focused resolutions they have published in collaboration with their colleagues in southern Nigeria.