In this interview, a chieftain of the pan-Yoruba group, Afenifere, Senator Femi Okurounmu, talks about the current coup alert, Buhari’s health, restructuring and the Igbo presidency
What do you think about President Muhammadu Buhari’s letter informing the National Assembly that Vice President Yemi Osinbajo would coordinate government affairs while he is away to the United Kingdom for medical attention?
There is nothing like ‘coordinating vice president’ in the constitution. In the event that the President will not be around to govern, he is expected to hand over to the vice president who will then take over as acting president. I believe that the people who constituted themselves as a cabal in the presidency were being mischievous with that expression. The content of the letter might even not be known to the President. They might want to upstage Osinbajo, so that he would not be able to act as president in the absence of President Buhari. I am glad that the National Assembly members discovered the anomaly, and did the needful. I want to charge Osinbajo to act as the President and he should not allow anyone to debar him. It is one thing to give a man a title, and it is another thing for him to perform the roles expected of him. Notwithstanding the contents of his letter of appointment, Osinbajo should act as the President and let his people know that they are not second-class citizens.
The Chief of Army Staff raised the alarm recently that some individuals have begun approaching some officers and soldiers for undisclosed political reasons. What’s your view about that?
The Chief of Army staff is only flying a kite to see how people will react if there is a coup. It is the Hausa-Fulani cabal – each time they feel threatened that power might slip from their hands, they think of a coup. All other coups save for the (Kaduna) Nzeogwu and (Gideon) Orkar coups, were all planned by the northerners. They did not want a repeat of what happened during the late President Umaru Yar’Adua when (Goodluck) Jonathan became president. So, they are already preparing to retain the presidency in case anything happens to President Buhari.
Some Nigerians want the President to declare his health status. Do you think Buhari should tell Nigerians what’s ailing him?
If Nigerians are the ones that elected him as their president, then he owes Nigerians the right to know. Nigerians should know the condition of their president’s health. He is no more a private person.
Anybody can fall sick. The President’s health issue should be of public knowledge. By not letting Nigerians know, the northerners are riding roughshod over us – southerners. They are exploiting our timidity. When it comes to facing the excesses of the North, a lot of us in the South can’t face them and assert our right.
We behave like an already conquered people. We always think northerners can do whatever they like and there is nothing we can do – that is the attitude of a conquered people. We should exercise our rights as equal citizens with equal rights and stop allowing the northern cabal ride roughshod over us.
There is an alleged lopsidedness in the recent recruitment exercise into the Department of State Services in favour of the North which the National Assembly is currently looking into…
The National Assembly is late in looking into it. From day one that President Buhari took off with his administration, it took off on this same note, in which all security chiefs and heads of government parastatals were all northerners. It was only Afenifere and a few others that spoke against that. Prominent individuals and groups especially in the South remained silent. A lot of the Yoruba behaved as if it did not concern them. Again, when President Buhari sacked officers from the military, they were all southerners. When herdsmen were marauding and killing people, Buhari did nothing. But let the people being killed rise to defend themselves, then there would be another form of offensive against them. So, the DSS recruitment is following the same pattern. It is not a new development. It has got to a crushing level. The government at the centre can be described as the government of the Hausa-Fulani for the Hausa-Fulani, with other Nigerians as their subjects.
Reently there was a clash in Ile Ife between the Yoruba and the Hausa, but only Yoruba suspects were taken to Abuja and charged.
The northerners believe that we are a conquered people, we are their subjects. All the security chiefs are Hausa-Fulani. See what is happening in Southern Kaduna and Benue, where herdsmen were killing people. How many people have they arrested? No arrest has been made.
But let the people try to defend themselves and anything happens to the Hausa-Fulani, then they will rise and start killing them. That is how conquered people are being treated.
What is your reaction to the decision by the National Assembly to increase its allocation in the 2017 budget?
Nigerians are suffering, they are crying, salaries are not being paid, still the National Assembly (lawmakers) behave as if they are oases.
They feel unconcerned. The National Assembly as it is today is a problem to Nigerians and not until people march there and drive them out there won’t be a solution. They budget for themselves and not for the people. They have refused to disclose what a lawmaker takes home annually. One is not talking about the salary, but other money they budget for expenses to run their offices. They have quarterly allocation. Ironically, Prof. Itse Sagay, the presidential adviser against corruption, used to be the one crying out against the illegal funds to senators, but ever since he got to that office, he has become blinded. He no longer talks about it anymore, even when it has become worse.
I agree with former President Olusegun Obasanjo who referred to them (federal lawmakers) as thieves. Budget padding is still going on. Hon. (Abdulmumin) Jibrin once raised the alarm on this, but instead of cross-checking his claims, Jibrin was persecuted. Since then, budget has continued to be padded. Nigerians should stop expecting the budget; it’s not for their welfare. It is for those in government; the executive, legislature and judiciary to have enough money to steal.
What projects have they executed with the budget, year-in, year-out, for the benefit of the masses?
But the Federal Government has just introduced a free meal a day for pupils in primary schools in some states in the country. Is this not laudable?
They promised this and good enough they are implementing it. But I must let you know that there are some hitches as far as the programme is concerned in Ogun State. I relate with some of the primary school teachers, and what I gathered from them was that some of the food vendors might show up for one month and they would vanish the next month. So it (the programme) is not consistent. They are fooling the people because the pupils are not getting the promised meals. I don’t know of a school where it’s been consistent.
The Afenifere which you belong has always rooted for restructuring but some people have called for true federalism and good governance. Which do you advocate for?
Without restructuring of the country, we can’t have good governance. Without restructuring, the kind of governance we will have is the type where Hausa-Fulani will dominate. Restructuring remains the only solution. It is the only means of achieving true federalism, as it was practised between 1960 and 1966. That was when we reaped economic progress. It was true federalism that aided the Western Region economically; same with the North and the East. The region based its priorities on the needs of its people. Those were the golden ages of Nigeria. But ever since the military obliterated that constitution and gave us unitary constitution, which was transferred to the civilians, Nigeria’s progress has been reversed. What could be referred to as fast-moving stream of development is now a polluted stream moving nowhere in which people are defecating. Until we have true federalism we can’t clean the stream and get it moving again.
What do you think of clamour for Igbo presidency?
If we have true federalism, Igbo presidency is possible, because it won’t matter who emerges as president. When I talked about the golden age, the Western Region did not have prime minister, but it developed faster. If there is true federalism, the federating units will be stronger, and they will only be sending certain percentages of their income to the pool at the centre. Policies at the centre will not hold any region back. In order to have a sense of belonging, people from any part of Nigeria must have a chance to become a president of the country. The presidency should not be classified as the exclusive preserve of a particular ethnic group.
That was why at the National Conference of 2014, we made a provision that it should alternate between the North and the South and rotate among the six geopolitical zones. Each zone will have a shot at the presidency. But the recommendations were not implemented. President Buhari said he has kept them in the archives. That means he was not interested in implementing them.
Former Vice President Atiku Abubakar and many others have been advocating for restructuring. Isn’t that encouraging?
A northerner can promise anything if he wants power. In 2007, Afenifere supported President Buhari when he promised restructuring and true federalism in his manifesto when he was in All Nigeria’s People’s Party. We made special dresses and campaigned for him in Ibadan. The same President Buhari in 2015 had jettisoned what he promised in 2007.
So, that Atiku is supporting restructuring means nothing to me. All they want is power to control the rest of us.
Many Nigerians are being deported from African and European countries almost on a monthly basis, while 10,000 others reportedly died trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea in search of greener pastures. What do you think is responsible for this?
It is the (poor) state of the economy that is driving Nigerians abroad. Every day, we see on social media how Nigerians are either being killed or our girls are used as sex slaves abroad. I wonder what our embassies in these countries are doing. Or don’t we have embassies there? We need a government that is responsive; a government that will see all Nigerians as one. If a citizen of the United States of America is maltreated anywhere, all Americans feel the pain, but here, our leaders don’t feel the pain.
Do you see Nigeria getting out of this mess one day?
The entire political class today no matter what party they belong, are all the same. They are all in politics for fame and fortune. Everyone wants to be there and take their own share. That is why you see them (politicians) defecting from one party to the other. The present crop of politicians cannot save us. We need youths in their 30s and 40s to form new political parties where they are driven by the vision to make Nigeria be at par with fast-developing and developed nations. They should ignore the present crop of politicians and form a new political party with a vision and mission. Realignment of the existing political parties cannot help. We need the youth with new orientation and new sense of values; this will help in creating a new political party, with positive values. That is the way forward.
Pastor Tunde Bakare recently noted that the current attacks by herdsmen against some communities if not checked could degenerate into a civil war. Do you agree with that?
If the rampaging herdsmen, invading communities and killing people are not checked by the relevant security agencies, those who are affected may resort to self-defence. I just hope the security agencies will rise to the occasion and do the needful before it will degenerate to the level of a civil war. They should not be seen to be helpless. They should stop the needless waste of lives and destruction of property. Unless they are saying these are not mere herdsmen on rampage.
The signing of the budget is also generating controversy. Some are saying the Acting President, Yemi Osinbajo, should sign it, while others disagree. What should be done?
Since the President has said the Vice President should act in his absence, I think he (Yemi Osinbajo) should sign the budget. While I pray for the President to get well and return home soon, we don’t know for how long we still have to wait.
What’s your assessment of this administration?
The administration has not performed to the expectations of Nigerians. Everybody is disillusioned. The Igbo are crying for Biafra. There is disenchantment in the South-South. If you ask people in the South-West – they may not say it – it is the same thing. – Culled from Punch.