Bisi Akande, a former governor of Osun State and the founding chairman of the ruling All Progressive Congress in this encounter at his Ila Orangun country home in Osun State, speaks with Adewale Olayemi, on the monetization of politics, the Electoral Act 2010, the rising fad of get-rich-quick among the youths, the problem of internal security in the country and how to make Nigeria safe for democracy among other sundry issues.
As an elder statesman and one of those who fought for the present nascent democracy, how can the sustenance of democracy be guaranteed in Nigeria?
Thank you very much. When you say democracy, the one, I Bisi Akande, understand is not the literal democracy that people parrot around. There is no particular Nigerian democracy. The American democracy is not the same as that of Canada, that of Australia and that of the British from where the Americans copied. In fact, that of Israel is quite different from the lot. In Nigeria, there is no particular brand of democracy for certain reasons. The constitution that was written to govern was packaged and handed down by thoughtless military people who had no good intention for this country. Even if they had good intention, they cannot think to get us to goodness. So, they do not have what it takes to lead a country to any good thing. I can say that the democracy described in the constitution we practice in Nigeria is the particular democracy that Nigeria needs. When you talk about democracy, where do you leave cultural democracy? It is about the democracy of the group. Cultural or group democracy will expose you to the understanding that democracy according to the Fulani is different from what it means to the Yoruba people. Also, it cannot be the same democracy to the Igbos who are republicans from the word go. While some are monarchical, some are truncated monarchy and some are republican. So when you are talking of a particular democracy and you are referring to Nigeria, you will seem to be missing the real point.
In my own opinion, democracy is important but there is no good democracy where there is no party system. In Nigeria our democracy has no party authority or stamp. The Electoral Act of 2010, removes party totally from Nigeria’s democracy. The party is supposed to be an oligarchic arrangement; it is like a cult. It is an organization of people of the same mind, so no legislation can say this is how you should run your party or this is the way you should organize it. The Electoral Act 2010 stipulates the way any party should run itself. When you want to elect a Ward Secretary, INEC must be there to witness it; that is arrant nonsense. What if I formed my party with people of like minds and someone of different mindset now use INEC to come and witness who becomes the leader of the party and now becomes the leader, it is no longer my party and what we do there is no longer represent the ideals of what we believe in. So until that law is thrown into the bush inasmuch as it relates to political party, there cannot be democracy in Nigeria.
What we are practicing now is that politicians are buying positions from the public. The right of an average person is monetized and majority of Nigerians that vote today do so on the basis of how much you can pay. Consequently, it has become a situation of the higher you can afford to pay, the better your chances of winning the election. And that is why our monetized democracy will continue to run side by side with violence. Until you remove the obnoxious Electoral Act 2010, as far as it concerns political parties, we won’t be able to practice democracy in Nigeria.
Given the scenario you have painted, do you envisage the smooth running of representative democracy in Nigeria in the nearest future?
I do not foresee it because we are sending to the forefront, either in the National and State Assemblies, people who cannot think nor understand what democracy is all about. What they are struggling to understand is buying positions and that is why political practitioners now are indolent job seekers. The only market now where everybody wants to trade to be wealthy is politics. When does politics become a profession? Politics is supposed to be a calling. The right thing is for you to be a farmer, carpenter or member of a profession. When we were practicing politics, we were spending our money to run things. I was a chairman of a political party for eleven years, no remuneration, no compensation, no allowance nor emolument. I was using my money to maintain my services to the party. Even by the time I left, we were not in government at the Federal level except the states. Go and ask anybody, I never asked any governor to come and put money in running the party.
Nowadays, nobody puts money in the party for the purpose of building the party but all they are interested in is buying positions. In the olden days, we don’t buy position, we write application only. Unfortunately today, nobody is interested in engaging in honest work. I have a ranch here and I have been trying to get a Manager to run it but I cannot get anyone but I won’t call a politician to do that job. So there is no democracy in Nigeria now because those who are practicing politics now are indolent job seekers.
Aside from Electoral Act 2010, which area do politicians need to focus on to nurture and develop our democracy?
The moment the Electoral Act 2010 is amended, the starting point will be created. Only people of similar minds will form political parties and only those people will be put forward to contest elections. If they win, good luck to them. If they do not, so be it. But as it is today, where legislation conducts the running of a political party I don’t see the way out. Today, democracy is dying and that law is the one killing it.
It is worrisome that nowadays people who do not understand an ideology of a party, if there is any, but can throw money around are becoming party leaders and candidates. How can the leadership procurement process be refined so that the nation gets the best at all levels to work its democracy?
Under the Electoral Act 2010, you will never be able to get the best and things will continue in a more complicated ways. When I became the governor of Osun State, by the day I was being sworn-in if you ask me how much I spent I will tell you that I did not spend 50 thousand naira. If I did, I will say I used the money to buy fuel for my car and buy Coca-Cola for my friends because nobody collected a kobo from me. On the day of election, the people of Osun voted for credibility and no matter how wealthy you were, it does not count. In fact, the people who contested against me were wealthy people but they lost because money could not buy the conscience of the people. They voted for me based on the credibility of the leadership of our party. And that was why it was impossible for me to run a government that would sell service. I am happy that our people still celebrate me and appreciate my contributions to the development of Osun state. As long as that law remains, people will be spending money to buy positions and they will be getting to elected office to steal money so as to pay back the money they borrowed to contest.
There are concern about the future of the country given the ravaging poverty across Nigeria and the troubling idea of get-rich-quick that is spreading like wildfire among the youths now. What could be done to tackle poverty and arrest the social malaise?
Honestly, I won’t really advice the youths. An average youth is born to be molded into adulthood. So if your molder or the person that brought you up made a mistake from the beginning, you are going to grow up deformed. These youths are not guilty at all. In my days, I went to school and later the farm. But now, ask any school leaver where yam comes from he may tell you we get yam from the tree because there is nobody going to the farm in his family again. It is not the fault of the youths and they cannot be advised because all their lives they have been badly molded and now grown deformed. So the advice is for the elders and the rulers, they must have an opinion and cry out about the matter.
Aside from monetization of politics, in the strict sense of the word, do we have political parties in the country?
There is no way you can have real political parties because what we have now is legislation controlled parties and that is why one person can be in party A today and move to party B tomorrow. It is so bad that ordinary Nigerians have come to realize that there is no difference between the parties because they are all modulated by legislation and organized by Electoral Act 2010. Again the constitution we run was written and handed down to us by the military but it is an impossible constitution. They now refer to what we run as internal democracy but I call it “internal destruction”. The backbone of real political parties had been removed, and that is ideology. The ideological position of any party in Nigeria today is how to make money and spend it.
There is no doubt that the security situation in the country is worrisome with kidnapping, widespread violence, insurgency becoming the order of the day. How do we get this country secured?
I must confess that I do not know because I am not in government. But when I was in government, I served as governor under a very defective constitution. It was defective in the sense that I was to preside over a polity, somebody else will get security officers for me and that somebody else will pay my security officers for me. Unfortunately, that somebody else will not give them tools to do the job and expect me to provide the tools. Even when I give them the money for the tools, if they do not buy it I cannot ask them because I have no control over them. So that is a most defective constitution and as long as that constitution remains, Nigerians face a very bleak future.
Can we now say it is time to consider state police to help tackle some of these security challenges?
It is beyond that. It is good that a state should be able to manage its own security but you don’t start from there. Out of the hundred percent that accrues to the Federal Government purse, no state earns up to one percent except those from the oil producing states and about 60 percent of this money is with the Federal Government. As a result, we have lots of money than the thinking ability of the Federal Government personnel can handle. The Federal Government cannot come out to say that its personnel, whether in the civil service or political service, are in any way better educated or experienced than personnel of the states. The problem is that when you don’t know what to do with excess money, you will waste it. Even when you say state police, it depends on the mentality of those who runs it. In essence, if the state police in Osun appeared smarter than that of Kwara, you will be sending your criminals to Kwara and the state is part of Nigeria. If there are fewer states with competent police organization, the implication of that is that internal security of five out of 36 state police formation would amount to nothing. Really it requires some political and what I would call a re-architecture of the old system.
Are you talking about the restructuring of the country?
No. I don’t want to be using mere slogan. I don’t want to be in the same frame of mind as those who call themselves Afenifere in Ijebu area who area just talking about restructuring without knowing what they are talking about. So I want to be very careful when I use a word. The first book I wrote on restructuring, I defined it the way I understand the term restructuring. There is no way that you can restructure without going into the foundation of the Nigerian constitution. One thing is clear you cannot do it by force. It cannot be done by changing presidents because the man will get there and discover that he is powerless. The president will put a budget before the National Assembly and they will put it somewhere without working on it and he cannot do anything about it. It is the National Assembly that can change the law, re-write the law and restructure. This National Assembly is made up of numerous people from different cultures and understanding. If you come from a culture that is enjoying without working, you don’t want to change that situation in favour of those who are enjoying with work because you will prefer to enjoy without work. It is a fundamental thing that all of us should sit down to think about, but nowadays we are thinking less. It is understandable that thinking is one of the difficult assignments that man has given himself. It is more difficult than breaking stones. When you think constantly for too lengthy a period of time, you will have headache. But you cannot think in isolation you must have a lot of information to be able to think right. Information can only come through education. But today education has been reduced to mere certificate no information in our education again. What are you now using to think? When you are talking about restructuring it is far more than mere sloganeering.
In Osun State, a lot of people are saying that things are hard for the people because those in government on the platform of your party hardly listen to your wise counsel. How can the current administration in the state render good service to the people?
I don’t think you need choose a wife or husband for an adult. All those who are ruling from my party are adults who are well educated, experienced and very good people. They see the files day to day and they know the circumstances behind every decision they take. It will be wrong of Baba Akande who did not read the files and understand the circumstances to now come out and say “do it the way I think”. Baba Akande will be made to go wrong. And Baba Akande will not want to go wrong. It is the Governor or Commissioner that reads the files and understood the circumstances that can take decisions. He is elected to take decisions. Baba Akande must take a back seat. Even if he does not want to take a back seat, age will force him to take it because the limbs and brain are already weak. So how does he compare that weak brain with that of younger Governor or Commissioner of ages 40, 50 or 60 years. In other words, Baba Akande needs to be very careful. Until he knows enough about the circumstances of a situation, that he can have an input. It would be wrong of Baba Akande who can call a Governor or Commissioner and ask questions to now go to the press and be giving his opinion on an issue. It is not fair, it is not done. I would prefer to call the Governor and say “look the people are saying this and that, kindly do something about it”. It will be wrong of me to now call the Governor to say, “Mr Governor, the people are saying this and that so go to the right” when he should go to the left and things go wrong. Baba Akande will be held liable for misleading him.
Still on restructuring, a lot of people are clamouring for a loose federation just like when we had the regions in the first republic through the regional system. Will that solve the Nigerian question?
These are mere wishes, I wish it, I wrote about it and talk about it everywhere. To the people I discuss it with, they may not understand it. But it is left for you to ask what is Baba Akande talking about? What is in his book on restructuring? It may not be easy for people to understand what I am talking about now. It is the duty of the journalist to be better educated than those who know about this matter, so that they will be able to educate the politicians and the people out there. To change the constitution is the duty of the National Assembly. So to now talk about strong federalism, unitary system, cultural democracy and all that is a constitutional matter. The military has given you a voodoo document in form of the 1999 constitution and instructed that this is how Nigeria must be run and now it is very difficult to change things. In essence, when you can organize in your constituencies and call your National Assembly and House of Assembly representatives and tell them, “when you get to the Assembly, this is the motion we want you to move”. If he moved it and it is acceptable, good luck. On the other hand, if he moved it and he was shouted down, good luck. But invariably, it is very difficult for anybody to say this is what I wish because it has to be a general consensus that we want to go right or to the left. But the major problem confronting Nigeria today is that of shrinking land and bigger population. We now have a situation whereby larger population is developing over shrinking land because of desert encroachment.
Can we safely conclude that the real trouble with Nigeria is the military given constitution?
The military did not ask us for our opinion but just imposed the constitution on us. Since 1999, we have tried all the tricks in the books to run with this constitution, but it is not just workable. It is a constitution that encourages armed robbery, kidnapping, murder to proliferate. Nothing good can come out of the 1999 constitution because it was not designed to be of any use to our people.
Are you now advocating that Nigerians should organize themselves to take another look at the 1999 constitution?
It is important that Nigerians agree on what to look at in the first instance. The way the Yorubas see it may not be the way the Igbo sees it. Even the picture I saw during the last election showed that the Northerners can see it better as a unified and say this is the way we want to go. The Easterners seems to be seeing it in a better light that it can be better unified. Only the Westerners seemed not to be here or there. While some are shouting restructuring, others do not even know what to canvass. They do not belong to Nigeria yet. I pray they do.
Solid minerals extraction is becoming another thing capable of unsettling the nation. Osun state has a mining company that is not exploring the gold in Ilesa. Extraction of gold there by all sorts of people has become a source of serious tension. How can this situation be handled before it escalates to a major crisis?
If you look properly, it is only possible in Yorubaland. I don’t know how many Yorubas who can tell you of the number of houses he has in Igboland. Again, I don’t know how many Yorubas can tell you the number of houses he has outside Sabo anywhere in Hausaland. It is only in Yorubaland that if you sell your father’s compound nobody will say you have done something wrong. So if it is happening, let it happen. I do not support government setting up companies. If I were in government, I would prefer buying shares in profitable companies engaged in such a venture. Osun state has no business setting up a mining company. I would only regulate to see that things are done properly and there is good governance everywhere.