As Nigeria marks her 60th independence anniversary, another learned silk, Dr Alex Izinyon (SAN), in this interview with CHIBUZOR UKAIBE, KUNLE OLASANMI, YEMISI OKUNLOLA and IBRAHIM MOHAMMED, speaks on the country’s journey so far and how it can begin to make meaningful progress in her journey to nationhood.
Tomorrow, Nigeria will be celebrating 60 years of independence. The story has been good and bad and somewhere in-between. What is your assessment of country’s journey from 1960 till date?
First of all, we need to congratulate ourselves that we are 60 years now. 60 years is by no means a joke. If you want to use the human parameter to judge, a man or woman at 60years has gone far in life. So, in Nigeria’s landscape, we can say it’s been rough and rugged. We have the bad, the good and the ugly, all through the terrain. We have those times when it was good, when it was rosy, when the oil was there and was booming. We were the eye of the whole world, the dollar and the pounds were chasing the naira and you had employment as you were finishing university.
Those were good eras. On the political terrain, we have had our better share with the military. We fought tooth and nail to have them back in the barracks after many years of ruling this country. From 1999 till date, we have done 16years plus 4 now and we are still battling with our many challenges as a nation but we are gradually getting our stability, although, still wobbling, we have not started jumping but we still want to be firm first before we can move forward. So far, Nigeria state has not failed. We have our teething problems, even, the civilized countries you are talking about, they also have their problems. We have the United States which we normally point to, they have their teething problems too. Is it India? They have their own. So, it’s not yet uhuru for all of them. Those civilized and advanced democracy are over 200 years old. So, Nigeria state has not failed, we can do more to get it to a better desired place we want. All that is required is for the actors to put their hand together and ask where we have gone wrong and make amends?
There is no need to keep crying over spilled milk every time. One of the issues is the issue of corruption which has eaten us deeply and we cannot run away from it because it is there and has become a norm for every Nigerian except few who stand against it. Otherwise, we have resources in this country to make us not to be beggars any day, anytime. Whether it is in term of electricity or infrastructure, we have everything going on for us. But what about our leaders? That is where we have the problem. We must re-define ourselves and our value system. For us to get the right people in the right places as leaders in this country, money politics should be de-emphasized because it is too capitalistic for us and it is taking us to nowhere. If we de-empahsize money politics, our value system would return and I think with that we would begin to crawl, walk and then we can run.
We agree with you when you said we shouldn’t cry over spilled milk in the cause of your narrative, but again some people would say there was a point in this country where we had it right system wise. At what point did we derail?
Well, we must take some things into consideration. We started with the first civilian rule, and then things were still okay. I am sure you are referring to the Gowon regime because during the military, things were in order. In the University then, we were given three square meals a day, your beddings are done every Friday after lectures and you can have free coffee or tea. We had bursary but take note, the population explosion then was not as we have it now. Our planning system collapsed because we were supposed to plan ahead but we failed to do that. I can say that due to our planlessness, we found ourselves in a quagmire.
As population was growing, the economic dimensions could not meet up with it, so, you now have more stress and facilities available were overburdened. For example, in the university, you have 30 in a class, later you now have 60, 100, 200 with the same facilities, so there was no corresponding planning and that is where we got it wrong. It is unfortunate, we have no visionary leaders. Remember, there was a time we had vision 2010, vision 2020 and so on. All those things were supposed to be idealistic and realistic manifestation of what a leader should do but we only projected without backing it up with action. Advanced countries also make projections but they follow theirs with actions. Ours is only on paper and until we take action, we may not likely make any meaningful progress. One thing that has affected us as a nation is different government with different policies.
So, when we don’t have continuity in government policy because one government would come and then put aside all the developmental plan of the previous government, then we have problem. But I am glad that at least, we are trying to move away from that. Let’s look at the railway project for example, it wasn’t started by this government and it was good that the government came in and said we must continue with it, and that is why we are having result but if you have a policy and a new government comes in and say for example, look railway is not the issue, let us see how we can get to the moon and then in the next four years, we have not started working on the agenda.
Do you think that the presidential system we currently operate has failed?
Well, it is expensive but given our experimental issues in unitary system of government and don’t also forget, we have passed through some constitutional development in this country. We have had the Richardson, Macpherson Constitution and other constitutional development including unitary government at a time, but it didn’t work. I think the federal system is not too bad and the presidential system is not too bad as well. It’s expensive, no doubt, but if we can cut down the cost then we will be able to move forward because there are many things that go with it. It is an expensive process but looking at our whole geo-political ethnic colourations, we need to have that structure where you can give a little autonomy to the member state. So, if we have a good feral system, I don’t think the presidential system would be bad, just like the US which we copied. Their autonomous feature is that they allow some self-autonomy so that the state can grow. We are moving towards a stage where we can do that but we need to be mature before we come to that area. Otherwise you have conflicting decisions of state policies, and that can cause confusion in the whole state.
Some persons have been agitating for restructuring of the country. Do you think it is what we need at this moment?
Well, I know many people felt the constitution has failed, so we need restructuring. But when do you really need restructuring, what exactly do you want to restructure? It’s not one mathematical answer when you talk about restructuring. Restructuring as to power, resources or what? There are many things that go into restructuring. Is it self-autonomy for each regional state that you want? To me, I believe that what we should do is for the states to put heads together and say ‘what are our challenges that are making us to call for restructuring?’ My view is that let us identify those things that are dividing us and are making us to clamour for restructuring and deal with them at a round table and know how we can solve them.
Why has this process become so difficult?
The issue is that the will power is not there. We have had confabs upon confabs and yet the reports are not implemented. It is only now that this government did not organise one. It is the political will of the powers that be of each successive government that is making it impossible. They don’t want to change the status quo and it will take a very strong political will of a leader to come out and say bring those reports, I want to look into them, let us find a new way of moving forward. Any political leader who does that has taken us to paradise. But it’s not easy for a leader to have that will power to say alright, this is what I have been enjoying, this is what these states have been enjoying, this is the recommendations, and this is how we would implement it.
If that is to be done, we will need to go back to the constitution because we have a written Constitution you must touch. The Constitution is the ground norm of the country. If we do everything and we do not effect the changes in the Constitution, it will amount to nothing. But once what we do is in the Constitution, it means the people have spoken and the constitution has come to play and then it becomes easier to implement all recommendations.
So, it’s the political will that is the difficulty and so long as you don’t have that political will, there is no government that would say I am going to do restructuring.
At the moment we seem to have a situation where ethnic tensions are mounting. What is the way forward in addressing this?
These things were not there before and even, if they were there, the magnitude was not as much as what we have now. The ethnic tension and the regional bodies growing now all came up because of mistrust, inequality and imbalance, and if these things are addressed, we will not have any problem. Now, I think we need to sit down and ask those agitating for Oduduwa Republic, Biafra Republic and Arewa, what exactly they want because we have done so much together as one entity than to be divided. Let me say this, even, within Biafra, there will be division, if they are allowed to go. I am from
Edo state and if you want to merge me with south-south, I may not agree. If the leaders are doing the right thing, there would be less agitation from the people but we are having all these agitations because things are not done right by the leaders. In the Niger Delta, so much have been spent by the federal government in that area, yet, there is agitation. I think we will have less agitation in all the regions, if people begin to hold their leaders accountable.
You talked about underdevelopment in the Niger Delta region. Who is to be blamed; the federal government or the leaders in that region?
First of all, I will blame the leaders of the area. The Niger Delta has not gone without a commission or body. But all the time they have always been riddled with corruption. The kind of money that is voted there every now and then, are stupendous. So, the blame also goes to the people who are not holding their leaders accountable.
So, you can’t put all the blames on the government. You can only blame the government, if it fails to take drastic action when necessary.
In the last 60years, how much has the judiciary contributed to the stability of Nigeria; do you think it has done enough?
If i have to rate the judiciary alongside the two other arms of government, i will say the judiciary has done well. I can say that with every sense of responsibility, the judiciary has done excellently well.
I can proudly say the judiciary in the country has produced men and women who have contributed to the development of the legal profession all over the world. Nigeria’s judiciary has produced World Court President, Prof. Teslim Elias and we have also produced people like, Prof. Bola Ajibola, Udo Udoma and many others. We have also produced Chief Justices to serve in other countries like Gambia, Botswana and others. Don’t forget, even, during the military, the judiciary stood its ground and since 1999 when we returned to democracy, the judiciary has done very well.
I agree that there may be one or two setbacks but they are not enough to rubbish the entire structure. Don’t also forget that the judiciary is working against the tide. If you want to look at judicial autonomy which we have been battling with, you will appreciate the judiciary. From the three arms of government, they are still the ones that are pleading up till now for funds, which is not right. When you also talk about the amenities we work with, you will give kudos to the judiciary.
With all you have said, is the Judiciary truly independent?
That is where the problem lies and it is this issue that has been a challenge which has not made it what it ought to be. What I mean is that, if they are really independent, there should be financial independence too. Some past and present justices once said, ”you can’t be truly independent when you are not financially independent.” So, when you have to depend on another arm of government to source for fund, they are the ones who will dictate your budget. So, financial autonomy is still a problem. The federal government is trying its best, but the states are woeful regime because cannot say truly we are independent.