Nobel laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, has lent his voice to the growing calls for the restructuring of the Nigerian federation, saying the sovereignty of the nation is negotiable.
He also urged President Muhammadu Buhari to consider implementing the recommendations of the 2014 Political Reform Conference convened by former President Goodluck Jonathan.
Speaking during a visit to PUNCH Place, the corporate headquarters of PUNCH Nigeria Limited, Kilometre 14, Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, Ogun State, on Tuesday, Soyinka said decentralisation of the nation would ensure healthy rivalry among the component units.
The Nobel Laureate said it was wrong for previous administrations in the country to say that Nigeria’s sovereignty was non-negotiable, submitting that the position was antithetical to development.
He said: “I am on the side of those who say we must do everything to avoid disintegration. That language I understand. I don’t understand (ex-President Olusegun) Obasanjo’s language. I don’t understand (President Muhammadu) Buhari’s language and all their predecessors, saying the sovereignty of this nation is non-negotiable. It’s bloody well negotiable and we had better negotiate it. We better negotiate it, not even at meetings, not at conferences, but everyday in our conduct towards one another.
“We had better understand it too that when people are saying ‘let’s restructure’, they have better things to do. It’s not an idle cry; it is a perennial demand. The Pro-National Conference Organisation was about restructuring when this same Obasanjo said it was an act of treason for people to come together to fashion a new constitution. Those were fighting words; that you’re saying, ‘I commit treason because I want to sit with my fellow citizens and negotiate the structures of staying together’ and ask the police to go and break it up and arrest us.
“I remember that policeman, who said if we met, that would be treason. I wasn’t a member of PRONACO at the time. That’s when I joined PRONACO. If you’re saying to me, ‘I am a second-class citizen; I cannot sit down and discuss the articles, the protocols of staying together’ and you’re trying to bully me, I won’t accept.”
He said Nigeria could not continue with a centralisation policy, which encouraged what he described as “monkey dey work, baboon dey chop” mentality.
Soyinka said the over centralisation of government had resulted in resentment among constituent states, adding that the phenomenon was insulting and promoted anti-healthy rivalry among states.
He said: “We cannot continue to allow a centralisation policy which makes the constituent units of this nation resentful; they say monkey dey work, baboon dey chop. And the idea of centralising revenues, allocation system, whereby you dole out; the thing is insulting and it is what I call anti-healthy rivalry. It is against the incentives to make states viable.”
He said the centralisation of government led to the proliferation of states during the military era when, according to him, a state was created because the girlfriend of a certain military leader hailed from the state.
He said it was high time government established state police to check the rising security challenges in the country, stressing that policing was more effective when localised.
Soyinka added, “I know people get nervous about that expression. If you go to a place like England, you sometimes see two, three, four police (officers) just walking casually unarmed, but they are observing everything.
“Now, if policing is all of that, then I think the police are more efficient if they are based within a smaller constituency than a larger one. Within such constituencies, the policeman virtually knows everybody. A federal, centralised system of police lacks that advantage.
“So, I find it very difficult to accept that people can be nervous about the state police. State police has been abused. Nobody is denying that; it’s historical. Don’t tell us because we know already. But isn’t centralised police also abused? Look at what’s been coming out from the last elections, not just the police, but the military.”
Condemning the killings perpetrated by Fulani herdsmen across the country, the Professor of Comparative Literature said the phenomenon had become an albatross that must be tackled frontally by the Federal Government.
Soyinka said the intrusive nature of Fulani herdsmen was no longer a remote problem for him personally, alleging that some Fulani herdsmen had invaded the privacy of his residence in Abeokuta, Ogun State.
“It is no longer a remote problem for me. It is an actuality,” he said, recalling that the killings carried out by suspected Fulani herdsmen in Enugu some months ago was mismanaged by the government.
“In Enugu, why did it take so long to investigate the killings? It’s like the case of Ese Oruru. What is all this? What is security for? That thing should have been addressed immediately. (In Enugu), they shouldn’t have waited for directives from Buhari or anybody. This is a crime against humanity. There should be no debate about it.
“The military should have been drafted there immediately; the police, first of all, and the military – if necessary. I found out that the victims were arrested; what’s all that about? This menace is underestimated. If they had reached my secure place in Abeokuta, then it is no longer a remote problem.”
He faulted the proposal to create grazing reserves for herdsmen in the country, saying rather than do that, ranches, where members of the public could go to buy cows and goats, should be created.
The octogenarian said the term “grazing reserve” would convey the meaning that government had carved out some people’s land for herdsmen to use for their commercial enterprise.
“The word ‘reserve’ is the problem. If there are ranches, it doesn’t matter where they are built, ranches are a commercial proposition, it isn’t a Fulani issue. You can create ranches so that cows, goats could be bought there. This shouldn’t be an instrument of politics, race or ethnicity.
“But when you talk about reserves, it suggests that people can bring cattle from Futa Djallon, Senegal, and if they get here, they can get reserve. If it’s a ranch, it’s a pure commercial proposition, you want to trade. I will like to see these cattle people go back to the position they were before in which there was mutual collaboration between them and farmers,” he said.
Soyinka called on Buhari to consider the report of the 2014 National Conference convened during the tenure of ex-President Goodluck Jonathan, lamenting that the country had been moving round in circles without direction.
“We have a habit of consigning files to the dust shelves and then we start all over again. The (confab) report that came under Jonathan is even more superior to the one that I participated in as a member of PRONACO and I think that should be addressed seriously.
“The recommendations strike me as workable, practical, and in fact, as answering some of the anxieties of this nation. This is something I think that Buhari should tackle seriously,” he said.