The immediate past National Vice Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (South-West), Dr Eddie Olafeso, speaks with OLUFEMI OLANIYI on the lingering security crisis in the country, and why he accepted the result of the election between him and Ambassador Taofeeq Arapaja during the recent PDP Congress held in Osogbo
The level of insecurity in Nigeria now is frightening. What do you suggest should be done to bring it back from the brink?
We need good leadership. We need seriousness, justice, equity and we need to bring the nation together. At independence, a lot of things happened that did not bring Nigeria together. The first regional government worked and succeeded very well and created competition among the regions. We have to look at the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and make sure that each of the federating units is autonomous and that they can act together in a way that will make Nigeria a great nation. The security problem in the country has to do with leadership incompetence. I have said at various fora that a nation without borders is just an open field for crime. From Libya to Senegal to Chad and to Niger and northern Cameroon, the country is just open for all criminals. Hoodlums and people that are willing to short-change Nigeria because they have no stake in it just troop in on a daily basis. Everything boils down to leadership because if a good leader comes in, he or she will have to take a look at all these and the way we live together. Such will ensure equity and make sure that everybody has a stake in modern Nigeria that we all can call our own.
But there is an ECOWAS treaty that allows citizens of ECOWAS countries to move into countries in the region. What do you think will happen to this?
The treaty does not stipulate that you should abdicate your responsibility as a sovereign state that must protect its own territory. So, which treaty will prevent security agents from carrying out their duties and make sure that individuals coming into the country are properly screened to know that their coming will not endanger our lives? That has nothing to do with ECOWAS, it is about us and the laziness of the leadership.
Many of these criminals come through illegal routes because of the porous borders. How do you think this can be checked?
Man your borders. Ensure you monitor the Seme Border, monitor our borders with Chad, Niger Republic and Cameroon. Make sure everywhere is properly manned. Post immigration operatives everywhere and make sure that people cannot just penetrate easily. It is simple, but they don’t want to do it because they are benefiting from the madness. Can you imagine the number of arms and ammunition ferried across to Nigeria from the desert and nobody stops them on the way? The impunity of committing crime in Nigeria without any form of deterrence is the reason why crime is flourishing.
South-West Speakers last week urged governors in the region to come together and purchase drones and helicopters for surveillance. Do you think this is a good idea?
Whatever each of the federating units can do to secure their people is okay. Security of the people is their first responsibility. Each state must also do everything to protect the lives and property of their people, so it is not out of place if they can do that. But they have created an insecure environment where people are not even settled to get involved in any commercial enterprise that will bring money and to make the people taxable. Our country is in dire need of good leadership at the local government, state and federal levels. The whole system is decadent.
South-West governors some months ago held a meeting and announced that they had banned open grazing. The same position was taken by all the Southern governors a few days ago. Do you think the South-West governors are serious about enforcing this ban?
Time will tell. If there is a gap between what they promised and what they deliver, it means they have failed. There are consequences for failure. I have confidence that they will do the right thing.
Some people have said that restructuring will help in no small measure to address many of the problems confronting Nigeria. What is your position on restructuring?
We need to change the constitution. We have no stake in the 1999 Constitution because it was done by the military. They invited those they felt they could invite. It was like a circus show of the military that was handed over to us. ‘We the people’ in that constitution is a fraud! The lawmakers should question it. The soldiers wrote it and not the people of Nigeria. Let us create a new constitution that will take into consideration our differences and what will unite us.
The economy is in crisis now and prices of foodstuffs have skyrocketed. What is the solution?
The reason for food scarcity is obvious. Farmers have since abandoned their farms because of insecurity. Fishermen can no longer go fishing for fear of being kidnapped. Those of us who rear domestic birds can no longer do so because their feed has become very expensive. Farms are destroyed with impunity, farmers are kidnapped, raped, some maimed and some killed. So what is next? Hunger is the next level promised by the APC (All Progressives Congress) government. Hunger is very deadly. It will kill more people than Boko Haram, kidnappers and even COVID-19.
Many Nigerians are extremely hungry, having nothing to eat. It has never been this bad. Those who you think are okay are not okay at all. It is terrible and something drastic needs to be done about it. It is so unfortunate that in the abundance of water, the fool is thirsty.
How do you think the PDP can be repositioned, especially in the South-West?
I have set an example. I made myself the sacrifice for unity and for peace to reign. In an election which I clearly won, they said there was an arranged victory with 13 votes despite that most of the votes voided were mine. They even allocated some ballots that were not accredited and we agreed because we wanted peace to reign. I sacrificed all that because I did not want anybody’s blood to be spilled. I decided to build the party by my sacrifice. Whosever is desperate about building the party should be given a chance. We will continue to support the party. For me, what is most important is building the party and affecting the lives of Nigerians positively and not holding a position where I will be ineffective to serve my people. Being united and ensuring that we play the game according to the rules and ensuring that the constitution of the party is taken seriously are important. The greatest problem Nigeria has are the political parties. They are far from being sincere about the process of producing leadership. That has been the reason we always have mediocre people in charge. That has been our bane. For me, we can do it. I have nowhere to run to. I started with the PDP and I will remain there and will continue to work for the betterment of my party, no matter the persecution on my way.
Do you mean that the South-West Congress of the PDP was rigged in favour of the winner, Ambassador Taofeeq Arapaja?
The process was messed up completely but we have gone past that now and it is no longer important. When I was the chairman, I was able to produce the governor in Oyo State. We also did it in Osun State but you know what happened. The present chairman should also do his own and I will continue to support him wherever I can.
Has he reached out to you since after the congress?
I received a three-minute call from him since he came there over a month ago. But on our part, we are moving round and telling the people to unite. We are not going to wait for anybody to ask me to do the right thing; I will continue to do the best I can.
Governorship elections are coming in Ekiti and Osun states. What do you think your party can do to win these two states?
By being united and by the leadership of the party in the region understanding the fact that the party is beyond them. They must understand that the decisions that we take today should be in the interest of the generality of the people rather than for themselves. It is simple and we can do it if we desire to do it. What is important is for all of us to win together. Collectively, we must come together to win. They have abandoned unity and all what we are festering is individuals’ nest. Sooner than later, we will find out that it will not work. We will continue to talk to our people that this is the right time to bring them together. Now that the two elections are a little far away, we can bring ourselves together. I am very hopeful and confident that Nigerians have suffered enough in the hands of the APC and we in the PDP must be serious to salvage our nation and bring about lasting unity and development for our beleaguered nation.
Are you saying the PDP has what it takes to bring Nigerian back from the brink if voted into power again?
Nigeria was not on the brink of war when the PDP left power in 2015. But we have suddenly found ourselves at the brink now courtesy of the poor leadership of the APC. We can do what we did in our 16 years of service to our fatherland, bring it back from the brink and make our nation better. We have the willingness to move the country ahead and we are ready to offer good leadership at every level. We will ensure that the constitution is followed strictly and ensure justice, equity and fairness for everybody.
The Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, said recently that the insecurity in the country should not be blamed on the ruling party…
Who should be blamed then? It is public knowledge that Nigeria was much safer when the PDP was in charge. But look at what is happening now. The rich are targets, the poor are not spared, the students have become preys, it is extremely bad and we don’t need to wait for it to get worse than it is because it may be too late. Amaechi is not sincere to himself. Anyway, it is his personal opinion. If he is sincere to himself, he was a governor for eight years on the platform of the PDP, at what point did he do what he should be blamed on him? His statement is neither here nor there. It is better they admit their failure than to be fishing for silly excuses every day. I don’t think that is right.
Local government dissolution is fashionable whenever a governor from the opposition party assumes office and the Supreme Court ruled against Governor Seyi Makinde of the PDP last week. How can this be prevented in the future?
By ensuring we comply with the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Nobody is bigger than the constitution and at the same time, before any governor takes such a decision, he or she must check the constitution and make sure that they do not do anything outside the provision of the constitution. At no time should we condone lawlessness. This is not about any political party, it is about doing what is right or what the constitution says.
What is your stake on the agitation for self-determination for Yoruba people?
Some of our people lack a sense of history. I don’t think the name Nigeria or the geographical location called Nigeria is the problem that we have. The problem is with the people. The kind of leadership we had during the First Republic made us not forget about the Oduduwa Republic. Chief Obafemi Awolowo ruled the South-West and made it a nation to envy. That kind of leadership is lacking in Nigeria now and people are just after what they can take home and not what they can do for the people. I am not desperate about Yoruba nation. I am more concerned about a united Nigeria where our people will be treated with respect. For me, that is far more important than carving out a place and call it a Yoruba nation. Our leaders are of questionable characters and that is the problem with Nigeria. Anyway, I don’t believe there would have been clamour for Yoruba nation, Biafra and others if there were justice, equity and fairness. A successful Yoruba nation within the umbrella of a bigger nation called Nigeria will lead to more prosperity. We have experienced it in the past and we can experience it again.
Does that mean you believe that restructuring will address Nigeria’s problem?
Of course, yes. We need to change the constitution and embark on restructuring, it is not about breaking the country. It is to make each component work better for the betterment of the whole country. Restructuring is about making sure that children are educated, effective security is provided, agriculture is practised in a better way and other things like that. It means that each unit is allowed to use its resources for what it considers very important to its people. But we must work on ourselves first.
Pa Ayo Adebanjo of Afenifere said on Tuesday that the President is still in office despite the alleged failure of his regime because Nigerians ‘over-tolerate’ despots. Is this correct?
Pa Adebanjo is absolutely correct. We are too tolerant. You know an ordinary increase in the price of bread sparked a revolution in some countries. But here in Nigeria, we can endure anything. How far can we go enduring this madness going on around us? The man (the President) is even absent physically; he is absent mentally and he is absent in terms of direction. The man doesn’t exist in the consciousnesses of Nigerians. His name is what they use in Aso Rock to abuse Nigerians. I think we are too tolerant and Baba Adebanjo is absolutely right.
( Punch )