In this monitored interview, Professor Wole Soyinka, a Nobel laureate, deplored the state of the nation, pointing out that Nigeria is at the brink, because ‘we are being served a toxic brew; a toxic brew of ethnicity, greed and also distorted history’. He also wondered why the current administration appears to be encouraging divisive activities of certain elements in the country. INIOBONG IWOK brings the excerpts:
What is the worst-case scenario for Nigeria with the constant call for separation and how soon will this worst-case scenario happen?
Each time somebody says ‘Oh, I don’t know the meaning; I don’t know what they are talking about anyway. Restructuring; what is it? I would answer them; begin with massive decentralisation. The gospel has been preached for more than a decade, I addressed House of Assembly in Lagos; in South-South and once in the North; and I passed on this message- push the envelope of federalism as far as it can go. If there are any problems in terms of constitutional interpretations, head for the Supreme Court. In the meantime, however, try and be as self-sufficient as possible. In other words, generate your own resources in a way that it cannot be concerned by the centre. Like one state is producing the whole percentage of VAT and yet, the major part of that is going to the centre; which then distributes the way it wants. That’s federalism and that leads to cry for secession and all of that. So, we’ve got to absolutely reconstruct. We’ve got to decentralise.
Call it whatever name you want- reconfigure- but in a practical way; not just rhetorical. We have had how many conferences – everybody knows that this constitution is not working; even those operating it; they are just enjoying it because they are the ones who interpret the constitution anyway they want. Look at the whole issue – the breakdown of security. The centre obviously cannot protect; has proved itself incapable of protecting the nation; yet you are insisting you don’t want state police; you don’t want community police; you don’t want Amotekun; you don’t want anything except centralised regimentation. In the meantime, it doesn’t matter whatever those who occupy that centrality of power and responsibility are competent or not; it doesn’t matter whether they are unlucky or not; it doesn’t matter whether the world has moved so far forward and the nation has become so transformed that old remedies no longer apply and therefore, you need new minds, no; you insist on centralism. I mean what kind of mentality is that? A self-centred; short-sighted kind of leadership, especially in this complex nation- a nation of ethnic, religious, cultural, economic, traditional complexities, the like of which no other nation, may be, on this continent.
What is your prescription to well-meaning Nigerians seeking political power for radical societal change?
We have been seeing the transformation of herdsmen in the bush. At the time, we didn’t know that the herdsmen were on their own scenario; we thought at a time that it was Boko Haram implanting cells in the South West under the guise of herdsmen. Even the security services thought so. It was only later that it was discovered that these were herdsmen who were then later on proven to be Fulani herdsmen; who are buying up farms; driving farmers away from their farms. In some cases, the herdsmen, said ‘Oh we pay for your crops’. I convened a meeting in Osun when Aregbesola was the governor, which was attended by a number of governors or their representatives. I remember Kayode (Fayemi) was present; Sola Adeyeye was present and also Yoruba leaders, General Akinrinade was present, among others. I asked them, what preparations are you people making because the South is being infiltrated; what are you putting on the ground as preventive or even as an offensive, if it comes to that? We had a good meeting, discussing all that. A representative of Ondo said, yes, they had indeed been observing the change in the forests- in the farm lands; that in fact, that the Commissioner for Land had passed notice to farmers that no farmer must again lease out his farms. There has been a continuity; nothing is happening now that come as a surprise to me and to a number of people. In fact, that’s why I threw a party all by myself when Amotekun was set; I said, at long last these people are waking up to their responsibilities. And then what happens? Somebody objects, sitting in Aso Rock, to this very minimalist structure of defense and protection of the people who elected them to look after their welfare. My sense of despondency about our inability as a collective, to anticipate even what is happening now.
Despite your differences, you and former president Olusegun Obasanjo are on the same page on the state of the nation; should Nigerians expect more collaborations from both of you?
People should know Obasanjo and me by now. It is a love-hate relationship which has been going on for donkey years; as he, himself, said one day, when we get to wherever we are going; I have a feeling it will continue. It is a kind of natural phenomenon. Why I call it natural is because it is happening; it has refused to stop. Remember that during the conference – Africa Day – organised by UBA; I took pains to call attention to his (Obasanjo) warning and I said forget the messenger, could you please fasten on the message. In fact, he was warning about Fulanisation – he used that expression – of this nation, and the dangers this portended. So, Obasanjo is not a man bereft of ideas, at all; he can be very perceptive.
Should the efforts to tackle insecurity be more collaborative?
Let me tell you something; I am sure he won’t mind my telling you this. When my forestry was invaded, not for the first time. I chased out the cows; the police decided to issue fake news to counter fake news. I got a message from him (Obasanjo) saying, don’t take your security lightly. Don’t think that this was an accident. I said this for people to understand that the public fight doesn’t mean we don’t take each other seriously on serious issues. Both of us, I know, will stand side by side to repel any attack on the wellbeing of Nigerians at any time.
Will Nigerian survive the disagreement over the political structure and federal system 60 years after the first attempt to dismember the country was made?
Yes, everything is interwoven; we all know that it is our responsibility as supposedly rational and concerned beings to try and disentangle these issues when they threaten the fabric of the nation; by fabric I am not talking about a mythical nation; I am talking about the humanity of the nation. It is the humans who make up a nation. And there are many ways of tackling such issues.
Let me give you one instance of the entanglement; or shall we say, ethnic issues with economic and social. Recently, you must have come across ABCD project- ‘Anything but Cow’ Day. The project was launched recently and I have two rams to show for it, because I was presented with two rams by the Movements as both symbolic and practical gesture.
It is called ‘End Cow pandemic’ – that was during the launch of phase one; phase two started first week of March. Many more groups are coming on board – Afenifere, Yoruba Youth group, etc. Now, it is interesting that after the February 25th inauguration, the Association of Cattle Breeders by Miyetti Allah and company, I think about two days later, they decided to also stop importing food and cattle into the south. Well, this is where there is ethnic collaboration – even though we are supposed to be antagonistic, but both sides are working towards the same goal. Cattle seems to be the problem. So, one side says stop eating beef; the other side says, we are not sending you any more beef. For me, problem solved! Let’s see whether we can live without beef or not. All that this Movement is saying is ‘stop eating beef’ I mean you are still in the lack of luxury. So, this is one of those areas it would appear that an issue of insurrection is taken to narratives of ethnic – because when one group says, ‘ok, we are not exporting any more beef across the border, they are already dividing the nation; whereas the ‘end cow pandemic’ is actually looking for support all over the nation, even in the Diaspora. So, one side is treating it in an ethnic way; the other one is saying this is an issue for survival – people are being killed; they are being displaced they are being raped; they are being brutalised; they are being made to undergo dehumanisation on a level that attempts to rival what went on during the civil war. This is not an ethnic issue – no; it is not. But one side is trying to make it look like it. It is exactly the same thing that the Miyetti Allah did at the beginning of this, when people were saying herdsmen have become terrorists; and then Miyetti Allah got up and said; ‘shut up; we haven’t yet begun; we conquered; we Fulani, we conquered you; so, no complaints, otherwise you get more of these things!’ So, it all depends on mental attitude and also tactical choices.
This is one of the reasons you see me backing the ‘End Cow Pandemic’ Movement. If we do it that way, then we eliminate violence; we eliminate ethnic issues. It is not only the Fulani people who raise cows, the owners of the cows that invaded my place probably were Yorubas even though the herdsman was a Fulani. It is not the first time they did that and I warned them. So, mental attitude, tactical choices– these are approaches which would enable us not to go to that very dangerous brink of ethnicisation. No. we just have to be rational and to select (shall we say) our weapon of resistance, very carefully and very rationally.
It you had the ears of state governors, what advice would you give them against the recent allegation of an ex-CBN deputy governor that the sponsors of the Boko Haram were planning to start a war?
There is no question at all that some people would like this country to be plunged into a war. From that observation, it is easy to accept the fact that it is in the interest of certain groups in this nation to go into or embark on another civil war.
Different motivations; the most dangerous of course, I would call the motivation behind those who actually arm these mercenaries. There are powerful people in this nation; groups, sectors who would like the past erased. Some of them are standing trial for corruption on a massive scale; and a fraction of the monies they have stolen, is sufficient to actually equip a fair-sized army and take on the nation.
And they don’t mind expend that money in order to be able to escape their eventual destiny. Religion has also been used in a very deleterious way. The issue of gold in Zamfara, where attention is being diverted towards religious piety in actual fact, the poor-deluded polity is being robbed blind. It is like the old saying that when the old imperialists, the colonisers came to this country, with their advance guard of missionaries; they came with guns and bible. They gave the guns to the people; and said to them ‘start reading and shut your eyes for prayer’. When they opened their eyes, the bible was still in their hands, but their land, their property was gone. That’s what has been going on in this nation- those who want to sit on top of the resources such as gold; while however, sharing in the resources – may be, oil from one side, may be VAT from the other; or other forms of taxation while they are keeping their own natural bequeaths all to themselves.
Some of them don’t mind starting a war just to ensure the limitation of sharing their own wealth; that is how corrupt they are. I used that word ‘corrupt’ not in terms of stealing alone; but endangering the rest of humanity simply in order to profit themselves. So, civil war, I think that we are on the brink. We are on the brink because we are being served a toxic brew; a toxic brew of ethnicity, greed and also distorted history.