Government of Ekiti State, Nigeria.

FEATURES: Fayemi’s Fears

October 26, 2013

Dr Kayode Fayemi

I knew the position of the National Leader of his party, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, on the national dialogue proposed by President Goodluck Jonathan, before I asked him the question.

But still, I proceeded to ask, because I know that Dr Kayode Fayemi, governor of Ekiti State, is a man that has a mind of his own.  He has his convictions, and would frankly tell you his mind.  So I asked: “What do you feel about the oncoming national dialogue?”(That was two clear weeks before the All Progressives Congress came out with its position this Tuesday).

I remember that at the same month last year, when the sing-song was economic integration of states in the West, and why Ondo State must come under the control of the then Action Congress of Nigeria, I had asked Fayemi if every state in the region must be ruled by one party before integration could be possible.  He had responded frankly:

“Interesting question.  Yes and no.  No, because integration is about development.  It is about taking advantage of opportunities and competence of each state.  The ideas that drive you also have a place in your economic agenda.  I am not of the school of thought that we must all belong to the same political party in order for integration to thrive.  But I do know that if we don’t have shared ideals and principles, it will be difficult.”

I had posed that question on South-West integration to Gov Fayemi about two weeks before the election for a new governor in Ondo State in October last year.  The ACN candidate, Rotimi Akeredolu, and some other governors in the West, including the National Leader, Tinubu, had made a fetish of the need for all states in the West to be under the umbrella of one party for economic integration to work.  But trust Fayemi, he voiced his convictions.  “I am not of the school of thought that we must all belong to the same political party in order for integration to thrive.”

Before I met the governor over two weeks ago, Tinubu had again spoken on the proposed national dialogue, saying it was deception, distraction, and a Greek gift.  He, however, stressed that it was his personal opinion, since the APC had not met to arrive at a general position.

So I asked Fayemi:  “How do you see the proposed national dialogue?  I already know the opinion of Asiwaju Tinubu, National Leader of your party. But what is your own opinion?”

And the governor answered:

“Our leader’s position is one that I will like to echo, really. I have been long involved in the struggle for sovereign national conference as I’m sure you are aware. I spent the better part of my life as a civil society activist, as a convener of the Citizens Forum for Constitutional Reform. And we came up even then with an agenda for national conference. I also acted as an adviser, unofficially, alongside my brother, Julius Ihonvbere, to the late Chief Bola Ige on the plan for a national conference, which then became a plan for a constitutional reform chaired by Chief Ayo Adebanjo at the time. So, I am an unapologetic promoter of national conference. Of course, it puts me in a bind when those who used to pooh-pooh our idea have now suddenly come around to see the value in what we are saying. And that is why one must be suspicious of their motive for doing this. But regardless, my own personal opinion is this: as long as the conditions for this are ultimately not going to be defined by the powers that be, and the mechanisms put in place by the national advisory committee – I know quite a number of the people on the committee. They were my colleagues and are still my colleagues in the struggle for a national conference. Tony Nyiam is somebody I worked with in exile. I know him quite well and I know how passionate he is about a national conference. Tony Uranta I know very well. Dr. Ndabawa is an old colleague of mine, and of course I know Senator Okurounmu very well and I know how passionate he is about the restructuring agenda for our country. So, as individuals, they come with great credentials. But we’ve also seen this before in our country. My brother, Matthew Kukah was secretary of the Political Reforms Committee. He came with very, very solid credentials. He’s still a very solid person. Justice Karibi Whyte, excellent. And they came up with a document, which approximated, to a large extent, the feelings of Nigerians about restructuring. But that yeoman’s effort they put in place was truncated by one man’s hidden agenda. And that is why we must task ourselves, and the parameters must be set out very clearly now. It’s a good idea. I cannot but associate myself with a national conference given my own perspectives of it. But I am very suspicious of the motives behind it.

“And one way for the president, who has bought into our idea on the national conference, is for him to even demonstrate with powers that are within his own purview. There is one thing most of us in the national conference community we agree on. It is called fiscal federalism. It is well within the powers of Mr. President to review the revenue allocation formula, which he has not done so far and which has not been done in 14 years of the PDP administration to reflect, broadly speaking, the yearnings of Nigerians for devolution and derivation in the fiscal revenue allocation formula in the country. That does not need a national conference. He could do that as a demonstration that this is beyond opportunistic politics. That it is really about how we can forge a roadmap for Nigeria on a sustainable basis. If he does that, he might even win some of us over as converts. You know God works in mysterious ways. God uses the most unlikely person to bring about the most fundamental change, not out of any willingness on his part. But we all know that the president is struggling even within his own party right now, and he needs an escape route. I do not want to conclude that this is the escape route, but it is something that might help distract Nigerians from focusing on whatever might be seen as the inadequacies of this administration. But whatever it is, the parameter for this, as somebody who has been involved in constitution reforms around Africa, the parameter is that this must be subjected to a referendum alongside the election or separately from the election. That is really what will make it the people’s document. That is what will make it a sovereign national conference, not whether it is populated by ethnic champions, or religious champions, or political pundits, or economic merchants. And I am not talking about the kind of funny referendum that my brothers in the House of Representatives did with their constitutional reform agenda. People know what a referendum means. If we want to have a referendum, it will put the question fairly and squarely. And a model exists. If we go to Kenya, the country just did something similar to this. After a body worked on the constitution, then it was thrown open. That was how Kenya got the federalism that they got. I was in Kenya just two months ago to address the new governors on the kind of challenges that we were experiencing with our federalism. So I feel there may be a silver lining at the end of this, but don’t quote me yet. I am adopting a suspended animation mode.”

I have given copious space to the governor to express his fears about the national dialogue, so that the fears can be interrogated, dissected, and probably appraised.  It could well be the position of millions of Nigerians, and analyses of these fears may be instructive to the Dr Femi Okurounmu Committee, currently working out the modalities for the dialogue.

“ It puts me in a bind when those who used to pooh-pooh our idea have now suddenly come around to see the value in what we are saying.”

True. The about-turn made by President Jonathan and the leadership of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) is quite suspicious.  Like I noted two weeks ago, they did not see any blinding light from heaven, as experience by Saul on the way to Damascus, thus turning from a persecutor of Christians to a preacher of the gospel. So how did they suddenly get born-again without repentance?  Yes, repentance (deep regret, contrition, leading to change of mind and conduct) must precede being born-again.

But here, suddenly, we saw Jonathan, Senate President, David Mark, suddenly speaking the language of the same national conference they had spoken against vociferously as recently as a few months ago.  What happened?  Is there a grand plan to hoodwink us?  Is there a catch somewhere, a carefully laid booby trap?  Does it have anything to do with garnering support for the 2015 election?

I am as suspicious as Fayemi, Tinubu, and the others.  But then, I am willing to set my suspicions aside, while still keeping my two eyes and ears open for any monkey tricks.  The problems of Nigeria are so massive and multifarious, and while a national conference is not a cure-all-medicine, it will go a long way in finding solutions to most of them.  So, despite misgivings about timing (just 15 months before general elections), I’m still ready to take a chance, for the sake of the country.

Another fear expressed by Fayemi.  Good quality people are on the planning committee, but the conferences of the past had also not lacked top quality Nigerians, and nothing came out of them.  Justice Niki Tobi, Justice Karibi Whyte, Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah, and many others, are as excellent as they come.  But the conferences ended in smoke due to “one man’s hidden agenda.”  Is there a hidden agenda by Jonathan and PDP?  Maybe.  Maybe not!  So, what do we do?  Since a hidden agenda is never evident until revealed, or till we sniff it out, let us then keep our eyes pealed, our noses razor-sharp to smell any untoward idea.  But it is still better to talk, than not to.  Talk or perish, that is the state in which we are.  It is then up to the government to either dispel or justify the fears of a hidden agenda.

And then, this other fear.  According to Fayemi, “It is well within the powers of Mr President to review the revenue allocation formula, which he has not done so far, and which has not been done in 14 years of the PDP administration.  That does not need a national conference.  He could do that as a demonstration that this is beyond opportunistic politics.”

Food for thought.  At the very centre of our problems as a country is revenue allocation.  What should be the percentage of derivation to states?  Should states control their resources, and merely pay tax to the centre?  Is it justified for the Federal Government to hold the chunk of revenue to itself, and give a mere dole to states and local governments?  It takes no national conference to correct the inequity, but neither Olusegun Obasanjo, Umaru Yar’Adua, nor Jonathan has done it.  And a Nigerian president has the power to do it.  Yes, the Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission has promised to submit a proposal on new revenue formula to the President by December.  But should it have taken the PDP all of 14 years?  No wonder there are fears about this sudden awakening to a national dialogue.

And another fear.  Recently, without even waiting for the recommendations of the Okurounmu Committee, the President declared that the submissions of the national conference will be passed to the National Assembly for ratification.  Really?  It simply takes us back to the position the President had always canvassed that with a National Assembly in place, you do not need a national conference again.  Then why waste time on this dialogue in the first place?  Fayemi said the outcome of the conference should rather be subjected to a referendum, than handing it to the National Assembly, which may proceed to butcher it as it likes.

Fayemi’s fears are valid and legitimate.  I share in those fears.  But I also agree with him that: “God uses the most unlikely person to bring about the most fundamental change, not out of any willingness on his part.”  He used an ass to speak to Balaam.  He used a small girl to persuade Naaman, the Syrian General, to go for a bath in River Jordan.  He even used unbelieving Assyrian kings to deal with His own people, the Jews, and whip them back into line.  President Jonathan is the most unlikely person to bring about a fundamental change in the structure of Nigeria.  But he appears poised for it, if he is true, faithful and sincere. Time will tell.

By Femi Adesina

This article was first published in The Sun

Last modified: October 26, 2013

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