Obasanjo’s call for Nigeria’s restructuring timely and crucial – Frank Kokori


Former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s call for an urgent restructuring of the country has been described as crucial and timely to save the country from break up.

This is the view of APC chieftain and former Secretary-General,  National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas workers, NUPENG, Chief Frank Kokori who however berated the former President for failing to restructure the country when he had all the opportunity to do so  when he  was in office for eight years. He also spoke on other national issues in this interview with TUNDE THOMAS.

What’s your reaction to  the recent  call for urgent restructuring of Nigeria by former President Olusegun  Obasanjo?

It is a timely call, and I fully support his call for restructuring. Except for those who prefer the status quo to remain because of vested interests  or members of the cabal who never want positive change and development for this nation, progressive elements across the country have always been in the vanguard of the calls for restructuring of Nigeria. Without restructuring, Nigeria is not going anywhere, Nigeria will continue to witness retarded development, and no tangible progress is ever going to be made. But all these notwithstanding, some elements especially from the core North want the status quo to remain because the present lopsided arrangement favours them. However, support for restructuring has always been strong in the South-West, South-South, South-East, and the Middle-Belt.

There would have been no agitations for restructuring if the military had not truncated democracy in 1966,and with their coming on board, they introduced unitary system of government whereby  power was centralized and concentrated in the hands of the Head of State and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces. This  faulty arrangement  was retained  by  successive military regimes from General Yakubu Gowon to Murtala Muhammed, Obasanjo, Buhari, Babangida, and Abacha. They   sustained that faulty  arrangement, and since then the  issue has become a  dominant one in our polity.

During the First Republic between 1960-1966 when true federalism was in practice, we never had this kind of agitations we are having today because each region was developing at its own pace, and there was never any attempt  by the central government to lord it over the regions. The regions were also using resources in their domain to develop their respective places. That was the period late Chief Obafemi  Awolowo used cocoa to develop the South-West, and the South-West became a pioneer in several things like  constructing the  first television station in Africa, built Cocoa House, and Liberty Stadium. Then you also have the groundnut pyramid in Kano, rubber coal, and palm-oil in the South-East. That era can be considered the golden period in Nigeria history. Those regional leaders including Awolowo, Michael Okpara, and Sir Ahmadu Bello used resources in their region for developmental purposes, to enhance the well being of their people .But unfortunately today we are running a unitary system which is detrimental to peace, unity, and cohesion in Nigeria. States today have become lazy because  everybody now rush to Abuja every month to collect  monthly allocations. The present arrangement in Nigeria is inimical to the well being of the nation. The present system will retard our development, it will never allow us to think outside the box. We have to restructure if we are to move forward as a nation.

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Would you say you are shocked that the renewed call is coming from Obasanjo whom some Nigerians have accused of failing to carry out restructuring when he was in office?

I’m not shocked or surprised. That’s the nature of our leaders. Some of them are hypocrites. Why is Obasanjo  clamouring for restructuring now when he then had all the opportunity to do so when he was in office for eight years. Same thing also with former President Goodluck Jonathan. Both of them organized national conferences, and part of the recommendations by these conferences was restructuring. So why didn’t Obasanjo, and Jonathan implement these recommendations when they were in office? This is why  I accused some of our  leaders as  being hypocrites.

Obasanjo loves Nigeria, and he doesn’t want Nigeria to break, and that’s why he is calling for true federalism in the country today. But the bitter truth is that when he was in power he was opposed to devolution of power or what some people refer to as restructuring because then he enjoyed all the trappings of office. But some of us especially those of us that were in NADECO  who fought for the enthronement of democracy in the country were disappointed by Obasanjo’s attitude ,and we expressed our disappointment with him. To put the pressure off his back, he put  a shambolic conference together, and even at that he abandoned all the recommendations made by that conference. Jonathan, and Obasanjo had the best opportunity to restructure Nigeria but they messed up the golden opportunity they had. Nigeria would not have been in the mess we are in today  if both of them had done the needful. But our orientation has to change now. The mentality of sharing must be jettisoned. More powers should be devolved to the states. There is no state that is not endowed with one resources or the other. Instead of waiting for revenues that is being gotten from oil producing states  to be shared at the end of every month, other states should look for ways to  explore resources in their domain for the development of their geo-political zones. Everybody is so much in love with sharing now  to the extent that states that banned alcohol consumption are even sharing in VAT revenues gotten from states that allow drinking of alcohol. Until we do the needful on restructuring, Nigeria will  continue to be confronted by myriads of challenges which will not allow the nation to develop.

Your party APC promised restructuring, it was part of its manifesto but after getting into office APC  is yet to  fulfill its promise ,why is this so?

It is true that APC  promised restructuring, and not only that  the party set up a committee headed by Kaduna State governor, Mallam Nasir-el Rufai which also recommend restructuring. It is not that APC is not ready to redeem its pledge to Nigerians but the problem I think is with President Muhammadu Buhari. Here in Nigeria, the President enjoys almost absolute powers. Not only that, there is concentration of too much powers in his hand. The president almost has power of life and death. What all these imply is that if Buhari’s body language doesn’t  support restructuring, then, what can APC do? From the look of things, it is obvious that Buhari who is not only from the core North but also part of the cabal  is not favourably disposed to restructuring. If Buhari backs restructuring, no force would have been able to prevent it from becoming a reality.

But it is not only Buhari that is to be blamed. Members  of the National Assembly were also not serious  over the issue. Imagine former Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu  for 12 years first sat as a member ,and later as Chairman, Constitution Review Committee but that Committee up till today has not been able to achieve any breakthrough and  part of its mandate was to look at this restructuring issue, especially how to make it a reality. Now that committee is  headed by the current Deputy Senate President, Ovie Omo –Agege. Let’s  see what they are going to do .Let’s hope they will be able to do it this time around. But anybody waiting for Buhari to restructure Nigeria may be wasting his time  because it is obvious his body language doesn’t  seem to support restructuring.

On the issue of zoning and  2023, some prominent  Northerners including former Kaduna state governor, Alhaji Mukhtar Yero, and Governor Nasir El-rufai  have expressed their support for the South to have it but some  groups in the North are still  insisting that zoning should be  scrapped and jettisoned…….

Cuts in.. For me, all these talks about2023 and zoning are distractions. I believe that it is a waste of time to be talking about 2023 now when we still have about three years before then. All those talking about 2023 are doing so for personal , and not national  interests. It is still early in the day to talk on 2023, and I also  think  it is inappropriate to do so for now. Talking on zoning, and 2023 now is a distraction. We should allow government to continue its work. We should not distract them. Again who knows what will happen between now and then? So let’s keep our fingers crossed for now.

The lingering Boko Haram insurgency has become a source of national concern, how do we end it?

It appears that both the federal government, and our military are not too much keen about the insurgency war again. If both are serious, they would have brought the insurgency to an end. There is so  much corruption in the war now that some officials now see it as an avenue to make money. A lot of people are  making a lot of money in the Boko Haram war  and so there is no commitment again. There is so much corruption in the  procurement of  arms and ammunitions. Before now our military were serious with the campaign but now they’ve relaxed. What I also discovered is that  most of our soldiers don’t want to come back home in body bags, they don’t want to come back home as dead heroes. In Nigeria here, if you come back a dead hero nobody remembers your family again, you are on your own, and our soldiers don’t want this to be their lots.

I  laugh when I hear some people calling on President Buhari to resign as a result of the lingering war. Have you ever seen a sitting African President resign voluntarily? No, and  Buhari won’t be an exception. But then  why should Buhari resign when he doesn’t have any scandal hanging on his neck? Even Senator Abaribe of PDP that spearheaded the calls for Buhari’s resignation, will he himself throw in the towel if anybody asks him to do so? Abaribe’s call on Buhari to resign is a childish call. He just made that call for propaganda’s sake.

Nigerians should not take Abaribe  serious, even members of his own party  didn’t take him serious. Any call on Buhari  to resign will have consequences. Such calls  will not only divide APC, and PDP  but will also divide the country.

What about the calls for the service chiefs to be fired?

The service chiefs are indeed very lucky. If not they should have been fired long time ago. Buhari has his own peculiar styles and ways of doing things  but honestly speaking if there is a pool of opinions across the country, many Nigerians would say  that they should be  sacked. They’ve outlived their usefulness. Not only that, they don’t have any idea again as to how to tame the insurgents. These service chiefs are not fighting any war again, they are just enjoying themselves. They’ve become so rich, and are just acquiring wealth, the best thing is to ask them to go  to pave way for injection of new blood  to fight the war.

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As a way of ending the insurgency, some members of the National Assembly have suggested granting amnesty and foreign scholarship  to  repentant Boko Haram members…..

Cuts in ….Anybody making that kind of suggestion should be sent to a  psychiatric hospital. Such people need to have their heads re-examined. How can you give amnesty to killers? These are murderous fellows who take special delight in shedding innocent blood. It is unfortunate that some people in authority  just talk anyhow. Federal government should not embrace  the idea. Those making the suggestion should take their own money to train those criminals, and not Nigeria’s money. As for those making comparison between amnesty for Niger-Delta militants, and the Boko Haram members, there is no basis for comparison at all. These insurgents are sadists, and murderers who kill pregnant women, children, pastors, Imams and other innocent people. Militants in the Niger-Delta are not murderers, they are not savages like these people. It is very sad that this is not democracy we fought for. A lot of people parading themselves as our leaders today are misfits, and this is why you can see some people suggesting amnesty for repentant Boko Haram members.

How do you think  the festering crisis in APC  can be resolved ,especially with the recent   court suspension of Comrade Adams Oshiomhole as the party’s national chairman ?

I believe that the reconciliation committee set up by  APC headed by Chief Bisi Akande will be able to do the job. The crises are not doing the party any good. However,  I believe that Oshiomhole should be allowed to serve out his term. He was elected for a four year term by the party’s national convention. Politics is all about give and take, APC members should be tolerant and accommodating of one another.

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