By Ayodele Oni,
Chief Oluyemisi Falae, a former Secretary to Government of the Federation, Politician and a Presidential candidate at the inception of Nigeria’s present Democracy in 1999, in this Interview takes a look back at where Nigeria was coming, blames the military for marriage of inconvenience, the journey so far and proffers panacea to make the country greater
The military has come under attacks for being responsible for some of the woes confronting Nigeria. Do you believe the military is the cause of the nation’s problems?
Partly, for example we negotiated for regional constitution before we got our Independence. The essence of that constitution was true federalism in which the regions were semi autonomous and that was the political substratum on which Nigeria Independence was based; that each region is semi autonomous.
According to that constitution, each region had the right to appoint representatives abroad especially in the United Kingdom and some commonwealth countries. All the regions had Agent general in London and the Nigeria government had a commissioner in London. There are four representatives of Nigeria in London. So that was the kind of constitution we negotiated as a basis for Independence.
Every region had its own coat of arms and armored bearings because the British knows that Nigeria is not homogenous; that we are heterogeneous as to tribe, language, religion, culture, tradition and history.
And the only way you can keep 450 different ethnic groups together in one single country is to give them considerable autonomy in handling those things that are important; so that no group will feel so suffocated that it will want to get out. But when the military came what did they do? They threw out the federal constitution because they said they are used to unified command. And because Ironsi proclaimed what was more a federal government, he was overthrown but those that succeeded him gave us unitary government. The constitution is more unitary than federal which is a direct departure from what we agreed on in London and until we go back to that political covenant there can be no sustainable progress and stability in Nigeria.
So, I will say the military did that damage of throwing away our true federal system and gave us a unitary system which has engendered all the people. The challenges facing the people of this country cannot be the same. Irrigation is vital to the northerners. Go to Akwa Ibom, nobody is talking about Irrigation. That shows that the challenges facing our people are different. That is why you need a regional government that will deal with problems peculiar to each area but when a central government imposes the same uniform policy on every part of Nigeria, we have problems. So, the military brought unitary system into existence and brought all crises that had attended it.
They had also succeeded in militarizing our mentality even elected civilians are now acting like military rulers wanting their order to take immediate effect.
But, apart from grammar and language, the actions of elected officials are military in nature. We civilians also contributed; in fact when you talk about corruption, it is condemnable whether in civilian or military government but to me during military regime the number of people stealing is small, may be the head of state, governors, few people here and there but in civilian government, everybody, is a rogue from the councilor to the Chairman, to the commissioner, everybody, special advisers, special assistants, hundreds of thousands of regimes are let loose in the system and they rob the nation blind.
In your assessment of Nigeria after Independence from our Colonial Master in 1960, has Nigeria come of age?
I think Nigeria after Independence is still crawling like a baby and staggering trying to walk because in many respects we have been moving backward. It is highly unfortunate. If you look at the area of electricity supply, throughout my secondary school years between 1953 and 1959, outage was something we did not know. For light to suddenly go out, we never experienced it.
In that sense we have been retrogressing. In the area of security, as a little boy of 13, I will travel from here in Akure to Lagos when I was in school; there was no anxiety, there was no danger but now the secretary to state government, traditional and religious leaders as well as top government officials and their relations are being kidnapped.
Human beings are being stolen, not their property anymore, that is retrogression. When I was in secondary school, I only read of typhoid in the textbook, it has become extinct. It did not exist when I was a boy. It has stopped being a health hazard before I was born but now typhoid is a current disease.
So in many respect we are moving backward not forward. So, it is very sad to say that with all the resources that we have, all the opportunities that we have, all the learned people that we have, not only are we not going forward, we are not even standing still; we are going backward in very many areas. Of course there are some areas where some progress have been made, we have more educated people today than we have before, more universities, more secondary schools, more hospitals, but in the areas that really matter to the people we have been retrogressing.
Unemployment, years ago, those who are unemployed were the uneducated, unskilled. Today the unemployed are the highly educated graduates of universities and polytechnics.
Some of them have been unemployed for more than six years. So what do they do to survive the harsh reality of their situation, they take to all kinds of criminal and anti social activities like 419, drug trafficking, international prostitution, kidnapping of people and many more. These were things totally unknown 30 to 40 years ago in Nigeria. So all in all, I am sad to say we have not made success out of the Independence, we have made mess of it.
Unless we break away with that habit of throwing the highest position to anybody; years to come God forbid, we will still be going like this. We cannot grow and develop if we do not put the best people in the most important position. Mediocrity cannot win for Nigeria either in football or in politics.
What do you think can be done to strengthen our democracy and ensure that the people enjoy dividends of democracy?
We must ensure that our electoral system is reformed radically so that it becomes credible; there is an improvement but more still needed to be done. Since the president is going to be a candidate, he must not appoint the chairman of an Independent Electoral body, because the person he appoints cannot be independent of him. These are some of the changes that must occur before our elections can produce credible results and the votes of the people count. Those who know that they are in office without your votes, they don’t care about you.
You can’t do anything about them. They are sure that the next election they will do the same again, they will use gun and arms to rig themselves in. In such situation, dividends of democracy are impossible. So, in summary we must insist on a credible, transparent and fair electoral system that will produce credible result so that people that are elected into office will be responsible to the people otherwise we cannot have democracy.