Ladipo Adamolekun, a professor of Public Administration, former lead public sector management specialist at the World Bank and author of book on Nigerian and African politics, spoke with PREMIUM TIMES in his country
home in Iju, Akure North Local Government Area of Ondo State. In this interview conducted in December, he outlined some constitutional and other problems and proffered solutions for the Nigerian Constitution.
PT: What would you say is hindering development in Nigeria?
Adamolekun: I would say that as Nigeria is currently structured, having good governance is not only a challenge, I can say it is doubtful that we can have good governance to maintain this same structure. When people ask me what I think of the forthcoming 2023 elections, I say that whoever wins, if what we maintain is the current structure; in order words, the basic law of 1999, it will be very difficult to achieve good governance.
That is what informed one of my recommendations in my *Nigeria and I, which is that a devolved federation is a necessity, not a choice. That will be my short answer to your question, which is looking at Nigeria as it is
now and how to make it function properly for Nigerians to enjoy good governance. When there is good governance the people rejoice, and you know and I know that people are not rejoicing in Nigeria today.
I am saying that for anyone who wins the 2023 election, the presidential election if what we still have is the basic law in Nigeria today and all of the contradictions and inconsistencies in it, it will be difficult to achieve good governance. That was why I called for a devolved federal system. Although some say we should stick with the 36 states, I think we should deal with the geopolitical zones.
After that, we should have revenue reallocation. There is so much money at the centre that the federal government begins to dabble in secondary school commission and even in primary schools. Right now, all the zones are clamouring for development commissions and the money is expected to come from the federal government.
PT: But the candidates of the three leading political parties, that is the APC, PDP and LP, in their manifestoes are promising to turn the nation around once they are elected into office.
Adamolekun: The elected persons cannot act against the basic law. The manifesto of APC in 2015 talked about true federation, repeated in 2019 manifesto. And then there was the El-Rufai Committee that came up with
sensible recommendations on how to change things to have good governance. Has anything happened?
So, regarding your attachment to manifestoes, I don’t share because we have a very good example in the APC manifesto of 2015, and 2019 and the record of APC governance. In other words, there is a disconnect between what is in the manifesto and what actually happened. I am saying that, if we really want to change things in this country so we can have good governance, the basic law, including some of the things that flow from it, like revenue allocation, must change.
My view (on the revenue sharing formula from the Federation Account) is 40 per cent federal, and 60 per cent for the sub-national governments. Universal primary education was only possible in Western Nigeria because of the
nature of the revenue allocation at the time. I say that confidently because I have looked at it carefully. To get our education right in this country, you cannot do everything from Abuja. It is not possible.
PT: How do we remove the obstacles to the actualisation of the structure that you advocate? Remember that a compromise was reached in the 2014 political conference, but nothing has happened towards that.
Adamolekun: Two of our major problems, poverty and insecurity, affect all the states of the federation. In the South-west, to tackle insecurity, they created Amotekun. Why, because despite the almost national agreement on the need to have state police, that has not happened because the President is a centralist, and that is his military culture. When the President said states cannot pay for police, those close to him did not tell him they can’t pay for the police if your revenue allocation remains the way it is. So the South-west decided that to protect life and property in their zone, they created Amotekun. If you ask me, that is one of the achievements of the South-west governors in the last five years. That is something for which the relevant armoury they require is denied them because everything again has to come from Abuja.
For me, the question you are raising, the realities will be on the ground and we will have no alternative. Maybe we are not yet there to accept some of these changes we are talking about. Other states have tried something,
the South-east tried Ebubuagu, although not with a similar result to that of Amotekun. Some northern states have vigilante groups.
PT: Every time the issue of restructuring or true federalism is raised, there is a conception, especially in the north, that it is an attempt to break up or weaken the country. How do we correct that misconception?*
Adamolekun: I will quote a former northern Nigerian politician to answer your question – Prime Minister Abubakar Tafawa Balewa. And he said, “the federal system, under the present conditions, is the only basis on which Nigeria can remain united.” That was in 1957. What he said then remains correct today. What we have today is not a federal system. The federal system of 1957 that Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, a northerner (I don’t do my analysis on the north, south basis, but on ideas and this was Tafawa Balewa’s condition for national unity in Nigeria) spoke of is a devolved federal system.
That is not a southerner. I am not quoting Awolowo or Azikiwe for you, I am quoting Tafawa Balewa. The federal system Tafawa Balewa was referring to in 1957 was a devolved federal system that took into account the ethnic,
religious and linguistic diversities that resulted in allocating resources to those different regions at the time. Didn’t the regions move at their different paces? Then the military intervened.
I am not a defender of military rule, but I understand their centralism. Because that is what the culture of their system tells them. It is like somebody telling me I am too academic. Of course, I am an academic. In fact, you are praising me. All these centralised activities of Obasanjo and Buhari, by May next year it will be 16 years since 1999 when we had a civilian rule, that Nigeria has been under natural centralists.
Of course, no military-cultured person is contesting now, that is a step in the right direction. But they have other liabilities and distractions, which I call the inconsistencies in the basic law. The current basic law cannot ensure good governance in Nigeria. There are significant areas that need to be changed.
The call to amend the Nigerian Constitution the way the Americans do theirs is not possible here because the 1999 Constitution was not put in place through the same process the Americans had their own constitution. If the people participate in putting together a constitution, they will bring in their own realities. It was the reality of the military that underpins the 1999 Constitution.
PT: When you talk about amending the constitution, the National Assembly is already doing some amendments. What are you suggesting on how to make these changes?
Adamolekun: I am very clear in my head that between 1999 and as we speak today, the ideas out there are adequate on which to base the review of the Constitution. Whoever wins will meet a brick wall and agree that there is a need to review that thing to give Nigerians good governance. Within six months it can be done. In order words, when you put together representative groups and change the things that need to be changed. That
is, remove the over-centralisation.
PT: Despite the burden that we have with the constitution, how would you access the current electoral process?
Adamolekun: I would say that after the 2015 election cycle when there was a peaceful change or transition of power, one thought that we were in the process of passing the electoral legitimacy dimension of democratic
practice. That was an achievement and it deserves to be acknowledged. Another achievement that deserves to be acknowledged is that since 1999, notwithstanding what occurred in 2007, the most rigged election ever, according to the persons who won. The Uwais Commission that was set up and the sensible recommendations of that commission are still locked up.
The ideas are there. For instance, to improve our electoral process, Uwais Commission recommendations should be implemented. One provision that concerns me is the recognition of independent candidates. Not that I will
be a candidate, but I can be politically independent. But right now, what we have are very weak political parties. Nigeria’s political party system is very weak and part of the weakness of the political party system is
traceable to the Constitution.
The Constitution says any party that wants to compete for power, even in the local government, must be a political party that is organised nationwide. That is madness. But that was the military mentality. You remember
Babangida’s a little to the left, a little to the right. There were only two parties and he built offices for them all over the country.
As of today, we do not have parties that mobilise citizens and that citizens are attached to. I can still show my membership card for Action Group. Because there was something to hold. How many people that you know
have membership cards? Of course, you know that I don’t belong to any political party, I am independent and yet I am not even recognised.
The idea of independence does not exist in our party system, so there is a tyranny of partisanship. The two major parties are APC and PDP, can you tell me what their principles are? Do they differ? If they differ, would Atiku have been APC, ACN and now PDP? Those are some of the reasons I said I don’t see this as going to take us to a promised land or good governance.
PT: Are you also faulting the laws regulating the party system?
Adamolekun: When you look at the Constitution, you will see there the constitution talking about their finances and party accountability, which are not enforceable. And then this is a very sad one: our justice system is too involved in our political process, with results that political leaders are now being pronounced by the court and not by people’s votes. We cannot have that and say you have a good apprenticeship in democratic governance. To get a candidate, to validate a candidate, everything goes to the courts. And there was a time when some of those things didn’t reach the Supreme Court, but then it was changed. Everything now can reach the Supreme Court.
That kind of thing should not happen. That is a decision that any enlightened government interested in good governance should be able to remove. I don’t know why our judges are interested in focusing on politics
rather than helping to resolve issues between citizens. That is why we talk about corruption in the judiciary.
PT: What is responsible for the electorate not being able to take decisions that could bring about the desired change and get politicians to change their behaviours?
Adamolekun: We cannot blame the citizens. First, I have said the parties are not citizen mobilisers. It is true that an enlightened citizenry will make better choices. If we are talking about education decline, we can see some linkage there. But I think that we would need political parties that carry citizens along and citizens are active. I
don’t know how we will make that happen. That used to be the case, but we lost that because of, I guess, 30 years of military interregnum and when parties emerged, they became coalitions for winning power and sharing spoils of office. We don’t have parties that mobilise citizens. And citizens cannot on their own get things right.
PT: Do you think INEC can deliver credible 2023 general elections?
Adamolekun: I already made reference to 2015, the fact that reasonably, by the judgement of all observers, the process was fair and credible. I think that the strengthening of INEC has been helpful and the introduction of ICT to ensure that results from polling units are sent directly. If you remember, it was late Olusegun Agagu’s election here that was not announced in Akure but announced in Abuja. That kind of thing, for instance, is no longer possible under the current changes that have taken place. There are some improvements in the process, but as we say in computer language, garbage in, garbage out. If the parties are what they are, as I have described it, the outcome is not likely to ensure good governance, even if INEC performs at its best. I am saying that there has
been progressive improvement in the performance of INEC. In 2011, I was involved in the electoral process at some stage, and I think that from where I sit, without going into the details of it, I think that the INEC
has been reasonably empowered and equipped.
PT: In your writings, you talked about the political development-oriented leader. Looking at the front-line candidates for the coming election, do you see any of them being development-oriented that can produce the kind of results that you proposed?
Adamolekun: I strongly believe that to salvage the country, meet citizens’ expectations and deliver good governance, the leader should be development-oriented, by which I mean promoting economic growth, reducing
poverty and ensuring security and generally moving towards prosperity for all its citizens. Actually, we have had some semblance of this in the past. Action Group manifesto had these words: Life More Abundant for All. That is the prosperity for all that I am talking about. So, it has happened in this country before. MKO talked about making poverty history.
What do we have now? By the mid-1960s, the poverty level in Nigeria was 25 per cent and you know what it
is today, 63 per cent. 133 million Nigerians living below the poverty line. So, the point I am trying to make is that we have had ideas about what a development-oriented leader should look like. I didn’t mention one person,
I mentioned Abiola’s relation to poverty and AG’s life more abundant for all. All of the things I mentioned there are possible.
But where we are today we have to leave it to citizens, and part of the purpose of ideas is to leave it out that any leader you vote for should be development-oriented. One that would be committed to economic growth, and ensuring security – you cannot ensure security in Nigeria today without state police, I can say
How many of them have said, “state police is a must”? You have to be for something. Abiola was so clear about it, make poverty history. In my town here when I came from the World Bank, I heard people saying “igba
Abiola lan’reti” (we are waiting for Abiola’s rule). I was amazed. What he said resonated with this rural level where you are.
It is not impossible. Life more abundant for all. Free education, free health care, roads, that is not theory, it was what happened here. We had Universal Primary Education (UPE), we are the first set of free primary education in 1955, which was my last year in primary school.
These are possible, but I cannot say xyz embodies them. Because anybody who is talking security and is not
saying state police, that person is not credible. You cannot ensure security in this country without state police. Amotekun is a good demonstration. How can you tell us you are doing community policing from Abuja? Can you do community policing without speaking the language of the community? No.
Check your politicians who are saying I am going to ensure security nationwide, and then such person is not adding that there shall be state police in all the federation and resources will be allocated such that state police can be financed, then such is not credible.
When we talk about 133 million Nigerians in poverty, this is not what Lai Mohammed can go on state television to say who is saying so, this is a rigorous thing. That finding is even worse than what the World Bank estimated (you remember I worked with the World Bank before and we credit ourselves with rigorous stuff). The World Bank estimated 92 million, this report says it is 133 million. Who among them has been able to address the issues of growing the economy, reducing poverty and ensuring security? And you cannot do any of those things with all the resources in Abuja, with your police in Abuja. No.
PT: The South-west governors have taken far-reaching steps towards the implementation of state police in the region as recommended in 2014 political conference report. What other things do you think they can do to further push the region towards development?
Adamolekun: I am aware of the constraints and that is why I commend them for the relative success of Amotekun. But if you take infrastructure, Tinubu when he was governor, tried the IPP (the independent power project) but the federal government stopped him. If Tinubu had succeeded then, it would have cascaded down through the South-west.
I am disappointed that the good example of Lagos State in taking care of its universities that it created,
saying there is no strike, that didn’t cascade down through the South West. But that should actually be the case throughout the federation. But because we are talking about the South West, I think that on the infrastructure end, there are some limitations. The constraints are incredible. But there is nothing wrong with trying to do something about it.
Between the former Ekiti State Governor, Kayode Fayemi, and Akeredolu, they wanted to do something about the Akure-Ado-Ekiti road, what happened? The Federal Government did not allow them. Those are the things that need to change.
They can do something about the universities. Finally, since Universal Primary Education started in the South West, I am very disappointed that we cannot say that the situation of primary education in the South West is better than elsewhere. Because they are the inheritors of good practice. They have dropped the ball. At least to a large extent.
In my home community here when I did a study in 2015, 50 per cent of people going to primary school are in private schools. Meaning that primary school enrolment in Ondo State is largely due to efforts by private schools. Myself and I think also the governor, went to free primary school. That is retrogression.
I don’t know the situation in other states, I can only talk about Ondo State where I did an on-the-ground study and the information I used was provided by SUBEB and the Ministry of Education. As I said, there is nothing special about my community, it is the same across the state.
So, I think South-west states and their leaders ought to be able to continue to be champions of free universal primary education which started in this zone, of course including Edo at the time and even Delta in 1955 and was successfully implemented at least one decade, if not longer.
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