Nigeria’s former Minister of External Affairs and professor of political science, Bolaji Akinyemi in a recent interview with one of Nigeria’s reputable newspaper, The Punch, spoke on a myriad of issues facing the country. Here is an abridged version:
Nigeria as a failing state
I think we’re driving down the road to becoming a failed state. But I don’t think we are a failed state. There will always be contestations and some of them could be violent but they’re not sufficient to term a country a failed state, otherwise, nations like the United States of America and Spain may fall in that category. We’re in such an unstable position than we were in the 1960s.
Buhari’s role in Restructuring
In a way, the presidency of any country is a critical agent for change. The Americans call it the bully pulpit syndrome. The buck stops with the president. The body language of the president can determine the outcome of an engagement. I hold the belief that President Buhari has a critical role to play in moving the nation forward in averting the oncoming tragedy and in heading the country away from collision to a cooperative destination in arriving at the kind of federalism that will be acceptable to all of us. He has a responsibility to do that.
Apart from being the president, he (Buhari) probably right now, is the only Nigerian that can ensure that we don’t end up in a ditch; in spite of what he says at times, he is the only Nigerian. Not that he stands the chance; he is the only person. Whether he will do it or not, is a different kettle of fish. Now, why do I say that? The present system that we have is skewed in favour of the North and the way forward will have to be the surrender of issues from the 1999 Constitution controlled by the Federal Government to the states. Some issues on the exclusive list should be moved to the concurrent list and possibly, there should be a creation of the reserved list. So, it is the North that needs to make the concession. But if you’re going to be rational in your approach, the North has to be persuaded that it is not being asked to commit political or economic suicide and the only person right now that the North truly trusts and believes will not play politics with their interests is Muhammadu Buhari. He stands now in the kind of position that the (late) Sardauna stood in the sixties. An average person on the northern streets believes in Buhari in the way that they don’t believe in (former Vice President) Atiku (Abubakar) or my former boss, IBB, because those are the people who have spoken out forcefully calling for restructuring. The northern streets will conclude that these persons are playing with their interests.
But Buhari stands in that position of trust in the estimation of the northern streets that ‘if he should say that we need to give up these issues, he’s not selling us.’ What we need to do is to find people in the North that Buhari trusts – people who can discuss with him, that he believes are not setting a trap for him. The Yoruba leaders’ meeting in Ibadan and this interview will not get through to Buhari. But there are people in the North who can speak with him. There must be mutual trust between Buhari and those speaking with him.
Marginalization & Dialogue
I believe that we can still peacefully resolve the issue of the Nigerian question at this stage, provided we address the twin issue of fears of domination and marginalisation. We must address that. We must admit that there is something wrong with the Nigerian federal system as it is. We must look at the system that we operated, using the 1960 and 1963 constitutions with the necessary amendments. There has to be less arrogance and intolerance shown towards constituent elements of the Nigerian nation. You cannot use the temporary acquisition of power to impose a system on others, thinking everybody will be happy about it. Most of the problems in the world have come about through miscalculations – not deliberate (actions). Many wars fought in the world were as a result of miscalculations with various parties, underestimating how far-reaching their actions would be.
All I’m saying is that, I hope those who are in control of the Federal Government will not become complacent by ignoring the fact that other people are feeling hurt and are dissatisfied with the system that we have now. We shouldn’t because doing so will be a calamitous mistake. Who will win the confrontation, I don’t know. But what I know is that all parties will pay a heavy price – it will not be like the 1966/1967 (coup) all over again. It will not be like the 1967 to 1970 civil war all over again. Right now, there is a proliferation of weapons all over the country and the diffusion of grievances will create war fronts. The Nigerian military is stretched thin with all the challenges it’s currently coping with internally. I don’t think you want to put more pressure on it. We must seek a non-violent way. We must engage in dialogue. There must be, on the part of the Federal Government, the readiness to adopt a more sophisticated approach in promoting the dialogue and a preparedness to change the country.
The complete version of this interview was originally published by PUNCH.