President Muhammadu Buhari has been advised to take urgent steps that will lead to restructuring of Nigeria in order to rescue the country from its current challenges. Giving the advice in this interview by TUNDE THOMAS, renown cleric and elder statesman, Bishop Bolanle Gbonigi said restructuring is the only solution to Nigeria’s problems. The 89-year-old cleric further warned against Nigeria’s break up adding that such will be calamitous.
What is your assessment of Nigeria at 59?
Honestly speaking, this is not the Nigeria the founding fathers dreamt of. In 1960 when Nigeria gained independence from our colonial master, the British, there was a great expectation not only among Nigerians but also from other nations in Africa and the rest of the world that the new nation called Nigeria will be the hope of Africa and the black race. The expectation was that within a short period of time, Nigeria will transform into a nation everybody will be proud of, but sadly that has not been the story.
Although the founding fathers started very well, they laid a good foundation but everything changed with the military coup of 1966 and since then Nigeria has been declining but my prayer is that God will restore this nation on the path of glory and greatness. But if this must happen, we have to do the will of God and not our own will.
At 59, we are not where we ought to be. Nigeria has become a big embarrassment but we still thank God that we still remain one. Although we still remain one but the desired unity is not there. Nigeria has become deeply divided. Ethnicity, religion and politics are dividing us daily and that’s why we need to sit down and dialogue. We need to tell ourselves the bitter truth whether we still continue to remain as one nation or not.Without doing that we can’t move forward. Without dialogue, Nigeria can’t move forward. Time is no longer on our side because we can’t continue like this. If we continue like this, we will get nowhere. If our leaders are pretending that all is well, they are deceiving themselves. Deception will not help. Nigeria is made up of so many nations, and we are not united and this is why we are having all these problems.
The British, our colonial master forced us together through the amalgamation in 1914, but it is obvious that arrangement is not working, and that is why we should dialogue, otherwise it will be difficult for us to move forward as a nation.
With what you are saying, are you suggesting the convocation of another national conference?
Organising another national conference will be a waste of time and resources. We’ve had series of national conferences in the past, what has happened to the previous conferences? What has happened to their reports and recommendations? They have been dumped and gathering dust. This is one major problem with Nigeria. We have problem with implementation of policies and programmes. Government at all levels is guilty of this. It is not only limited to the federal government. Implementation of policies is a major problem in Nigeria at all levels.
When former President Olusegun Obasanjo organized a national conference even though Obasanjo reluctantly organized that conference but at least there was a report, and there were recommendations, but were those recommendations implemented? No. The same thing repeated itself when former President Goodluck Jonathan was also there. The 2014 national conference was not only well organized but it also cost the nation billions of naira, and far-reaching decisions that can help move Nigeria forward were taken at that conference but when President Muhammadu Buhari got elected into office in 2015, he dumped 2014 national conference reports and recommendations.
Obviously, Buhari is not keen on implementing 2014 conference reports, and this is a major problem with Nigeria. Our leaders should realize that government is continuum, when you get into office, you don’t have to start your own programme all over again. You should continue from where your predecessor left, especially if it has to do with programme and policies that will impact positively on the citizens.
But this has not been the case with Nigeria, our leaders introduce politics into whatever they are doing. They politicize everything, and sadly they do this for their own personal and self interests. They don’t put the nation’s interest first.
If we now say we are going to organize another national conference, what’s the guarantee that its reports will be implemented? It will still be the same story. Organising another national conference will not only be a waste of time, but it will also be a waste of national resources as it will cost us billions of naira to do so. Instead of wasting time on another national conference, we can look at the reports and recommendations of past conferences and bring out those ones that can help move Nigeria forward.
Calls for scrapping of zoning in 2023 by Governor Nasir el-Rufai, Alhaji Bashir Tofa and some groups in the North have been generating controversy-
(Cuts in) All these are distractions, and it is the true characters of our political leaders. It shows that they are greedy and selfish. All these talks about 2023 are about self-interest and not about the interests of the common man. Our political leaders are greedy, very greedy. Those politicians talking about 2023 are not thinking of Nigeria, they are not thinking about the people. They are only thinking and concerned about how they will have their way. They are not bothered that today, Nigeria is bleeding. They are not bothered that there is hunger and poverty in the land. They are not bothered about the rising insecurity. They are not bothered that kidnappers, bandits and armed robbers are making life difficult for Nigerians. Are these politicians serious? Do they have the fear of God?
In 2019, politicians are already talking about 2023 as if they are God. Who knows what will happen tomorrow? These politicians should stop distracting Nigerians. What people expect from them now is good governance.
But what’s your take on the issue of 2023?
To be candid, I believe that the Southeast deserves it. Since Nigeria got independence, the Southeast geo-political zone has not produced the President. Igbo deserve it in 2023. Although late Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, an Igbo, was Nigeria’s first president in 1960, but he was just a ceremonial president, the real power and authority was in the hands of the late Prime Minister, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa.
But we should also not forget that the Middle Belt is also complaining of marginalization. They are complaining that they have been oppressed for long, and that they also deserve to have it in 2023. Not only that, some groups in the North, especially the Northeast and the Northcentral geo-political zones are also complaining of marginalization. They are also insisting that they deserve it in 2023.
So what’s the way out?
Restructuring is the key. It is the answer to all these agitations over 2023. If we restructure, then Nigeria will revert to true practice of federalism as it was done in the First Republic.
In the First Republic, when true federalism was being practiced, there was healthy competition for development among the regions. That time, there was no struggle for control of power at the centre like what is going on now. The military coup of 1966 disrupted that arrangement that was working perfectly well for us and since then struggle for power at the centre has become intense.
But restructuring will help Nigeria to move forward. Restructuring will do us a lot of good, but honestly I don’t know why President Buhari is not giving restructuring of Nigeria the attention it deserves.
Restructuring is the key, it is the solution to the myriads of challenges facing us as a nation today. I don’t know why Buhari and some groups in the North are opposed to restructuring or not keen on restructuring; without restructuring, Nigeria is not going anywhere. We can’t move forward without restructuring.
What’s your reaction to the recent declaration by elder statesman, Chief Ayo Adebanjo that there’s nothing wrong with Nigeria breaking up since the North is not making the country to work?
Adebanjo is obviously angry with the situation of things in the country. He is disappointed that things are not working and that Nigeria is not moving forward as a nation.
It is not only Adebanjo that is upset with Nigeria. But my advice is that we should still not give up on Nigeria. Moreover, break-up won’t be easy. It will be calamitous. It will lead to war, and when there is war, you can imagine the consequences. You can imagine the hardship and the loss of lives that will follow.
Already, Nigeria is bleeding from insecurity, from armed robbers, kidnappers and bandits’ attacks. Don’t also forget that in several parts of the country, some ethnic groups are fighting one another like what is going on among the Tiv and Jukun. There is already a lot of bloodshed in the land, and we don’t want more of that. But if Nigeria breaks up, the consequences will be grave. We will continue to pray for our nation, we will continue to pray for our leaders that God will touch their hearts to do the right things. Nigeria is a nation blessed by God with human and natural resources to prosper and become great but sadly that has not been the story, but definitely break-up is not the answer.
God wants us to remain as one, and this is why I’m appealing to President Buhari to take the issue of restructuring serious. Restructuring will do us a lot of good. I also want to appeal to Buhari and our state governors to pay attention to agriculture. They should realize that oil, which they all rely on for revenue will dry up one day. There are several nations that are not blessed with crude oil, and yet are very prosperous and great. What has been the gain of our over-dependence on oil? There is infrastructural decay all over the country. The roads are bad, hospitals are lacking drugs, unemployment is on the rise, but if our leaders pay attention to agriculture, we will not only be self-sufficient in production, then we will also become exporting nation in some agricultural products. There was a time Nigeria was a leading cocoa producer in the world. Our land is fertile. Paying attention to agriculture will help us a lot.
What’s your position on the controversy that is trailing the election of Professor Banji Akintoye as the new Yoruba leader by some groups recently in Ibadan?
I’m worried by the development. But the controversy wouldn’t have arisen if reconciliatory moves I and late Major-General Adeyinka Adebayo, late President of Yoruba Council of Elders, YCE, made had been allowed to work out.
Some years back before his death, General Adebayo invited me to his house in Iyin-Ekiti. On getting there, he told me about the need for the two of us to intervene and settle the disagreement between Pa Reuben Fasoranti and Pa Ayo Fasanmi on who leads the Afenifere socio-cultural group.
At the meeting, we decided to invite both Fasoranti and Fasanmi to Iyin-Ekiti to resolve the issue. Both of them honoured the invitation. On their arrival for the meeting, we decided to leave both of them together in a room to talk to one another about the need to agree on a common leader for the Afenifere.
After sometime they came out, and told us that they’ve discussed, but to our surprise, instead of telling us that they have agreed on who will step down for the other, they just told us that they can’t take that decision on the spot, and that they will have to get back to their bases and brief their followers and supporters, and then get back to us. But surprisingly they didn’t get back to us again. That was the situation until General Adebayo died and even up till today neither Fasoranti nor Fasanmi came back to me, and since then they have been leading their separate groups. I made several efforts to reconcile the two, but it didn’t work out. Some prominent Yoruba leaders even came to meet me here in Akure over the issue but the situation still remain same. But I believe Yoruba need someone that can act as a rallying point. Other ethnic groups in the country also have such leaders.
On Akintoye’s election, it was a group consisting mostly of youths that elected him. He was not even there when he was elected. When he came to visit me in Akure recently, he even told me that he wouldn’t have accepted if members of the group that elected him informed him in advance. He further added that he made wide consultations before he eventually accepted. Since Fasoranti and Fasanmi can’t agree, my advice is that they should let Akintoye be.
I know that there are some Yoruba leaders who are even lobbying and desperate to become Yoruba leader, but Akintoye didn’t lobby, he didn’t impose himself, he wasn’t even aware that some groups have such plans for him, and this is why I said that we should let him be.