Professor Akin Oyebode is the Chairman of the Office of International Relations, Partnerships and Prospects at the University of Lagos and a member of the Governing Council of the Nigeria Institute of International Affairs (NIIA). In this interview with BIYI ADEGOROYE, the former International Law and Jurisprudence lecturer at the university examines President Muhammadu Buhari’s two years in office and the confusion created by the wordings of his recent letter transferring power during his second medical trip
What is your impression about President Muhammadu Buhari’s letter to the National Assembly, stating that Vice President would coordinate governance while he is away on medical trip to London?
I believe that it was, maybe, a mistake of the head and not of the heart, more so as Vice President Yemi Osinbajo had acted previously for nearly 50 days, during the absence of President Buhari, when he went to the UK for the first time.
So it was not unexpected that he would assume the mantle of leadership again this time. From the wordings of the letter, it appears the powers that be are rubbing salt on our wounds, because it is bad enough that the President is incapacitated.
Constitutionally, when the President is not available, he asks the Vice President to take charge of affairs. So for me, it was, may be a mistake as I said. It could not have been intended to make Yemi Osinbajo an overseer or somebody who is just co-ordinator governance.
He is the Vice President for God’s sake and we normally joke that the VP is a spare tyre; that you have no need for him except you have a flat. And now we have a flat.
And Yemi Osinbajo, whether you like him or not, is the man in charge of affairs – whatever description you want to give.
But it is a little bit provocative, and demeaning, insulting to pretend that he is not the Acting President. So, I think they want to ruffle feathers by making that statement, or give credence to the allegation that a cabal is charge of affairs. But without prejudice to that, Osinbajo has become the acting President and those who are displeased with his ascendency to that position should cope with the reality, not express regret or discomfiture with the fact that once again Yemi Osinbajo is the Acting President of Nigeria.
And that was why last time, we thought it was not altogether right for President Donald Trump to have spoken to a President that was out on vacation. Protocol requires that he should have spoken with the Acting President and I hope they are not sending wrong signals to the international community that Osinbajo is incapable, or that he is an impostor or pretender to the office of Acting President.
So may be that was wrong use of language, which I believe the National Assembly has just ignored.
What should we expect from Prof. Osinbajo while he occupies the office in acting capacity?
As I said, it is like a de ja vous. He has done it before for about 50 days and he showed a lot of panache in running state affairs. He went to places where the substantive President could not go to – Niger Delta and he chopped off success after success. He showed the nation and the world at large that he has the competence to run the affairs of the country. God forbid that an eventuality happens; Yemi Osinbajo will have to carry out the duties of President of Nigeria.
As I said, he is extremely cerebral and competent. He was my stu dent. I know that he has the ability to deliver the goods.
Like you said, in the case of an eventuality, do you foresee as replay of the 2010 experience?
I don’t see that happen because Yemi Osinbajo was elected on the same platform, on the same ticket with Buhari, so it was not the case of a godfather bringing him through the backdoor to impose him on an unwilling or reluctant President. Nigerians voted for them and they came on a joint ticket. So it is unthinkable now to imagine the Umaru Yar’Adua scenario if we want Nigeria to survive. Because the stakes are so high that if anything that rocks the boat, might bring about calamitous consequences.
At a workshop in Enugu a couple of days ago, Professors George Obiozor and Chukuma Soludo said the Nigerian project is one that has refused to work. Do you share this view?
I know of Soludo, but I know George. George is a student of realpolitic, a student of Hans Morgenthau; so he believes in politics of power and power of politics.
If by that he meant that we have been running a rickety federal system, then I am in all fours with them.
This is a funny federalism which is actually centripetal instead of being centrifugal. So there is too much concentration of power at the centre and there is a necessity for devolution, to break down this federal structure, bring the government closer to and empower the constituent units. So that the states would stop going to Abuja every month, ‘to replenish the feeding bottle’, like Ike Ekweremadu once said.
You know Ekweremadu was in my school in Toronto, Canada, and said Nigeria is running feeding bottle federalism.
That means that every month they take their feeding bottle to Abuja.
May be that is what Soludo and Obiozor have in mind and I agree with them.
We really need to dissemble, reconstitute, reformulate and decentralize governance and have functional federalism and have clear cut division of power, because that is the meaning of federalism; that power is not concentrated on one leader at the expense of the other leaders.
Again the military caused this because of the kind of constitution they imposed on us. These are some of that the confab which I am proud to be part of deliberated on. We labored for over two months, agonizing over the fortunes of this country.
And we made about 600 recommendations by consensus and that is why I’m miffed by the arrangement by some northern elements, not all of them, who met in Abuja and asked the government to ignore the recommendations. Actually that was very ungentlemanly of them, because if we agreed at a meeting and all the arguments were resolved by the so-called committee of elders. I thought it was too late in the day three years after for those who were part of that discussions and agreement to now rescind and renege on the implementation of the recommendations.
Penultimate week, some of your colleagues at the National Confab reconvened in Abuja. Were you there and what were some of the decisions taken?
I got the invitation but I was not there because we have expired so to speak and didn’t see any point reconvening.
And I smelt a rat because of the venue and because I know the posture of some of the characters and so I decided not to attend. May be it is time for some of the confabulates from the South to give a response to what some of elements in the North were trying to do two months ago. But the fact that the gentleman for all seasons, by the name of Prof. Jerry Gana, my former Pro-Chancellor, one of the prime movers, who spoke made the difference.
It was not a conclave of southern delegates, but a spectrum of confabulates, and he said patriotism should be given precedence over ethno-centricism. I think the discussion is still on because we are yet to perfect our union because of the way federal structure was tampered with by the military, starting with Yakubu Gowon and ending with Abdusalami Abubakar.
Nigeria is yet to have what lawyers would call an autochthonous constitution. Because what we had operating in 1979 was the Olusegun Obasanjo Constitution and in 1999, the Abdusalami Constitution and that constitution was Decree 24 by the way, of 1999.
It is not a genuine document by a constituent assembly in Nigeria, but one forced down our throat as constitution of Nigeria. The last time they wanted to amend the constitution, there were 118 proposed amendments. It is like panel-beating a car. If you have to panel beat 118 parts of a car, is it not better to discard that car and get a new one?
The Obasanjo efforts at creating a new constitution for Nigeria was dead on arrival because of it ulterior motive. And then the last time the National Assembly toyed with the idea of amending the constitution, they had about 62 proposed amendments. So if the document is so fractured, I will say it is worse than useless. May be we should go back to the report of the 2014 National Confab and see what we can select from there to make Nigeria a better country for all of us.
What do you make of the fact that for the past two years President Buhari has never hidden his aversion for the confab report?
Well, I am on record as having said he should rethink that position, because you don’t throw away the baby with the bath water. You might not be enamored by the person of former President Goodluck Jonathan, but you don’t kill the messenger in order to discredit the message. The lack of the bona fides by Jonathan immaterial, but that was a proposal that is on top of the table.
We should not run away from the fact that the constitution is fracture and we should not run away from that fact. We don’t have a working constitution because of the fissiparous nature of the Abdusalami Constitution. We might not require another constituent assembly because we have a proposal from those who were paid to produce one on a nationalistic and patriotic basis. Buhari will do himself a lot of good and go down in history as a President who did the needful in order put a fillip to a failed political economy. When you look at the array of personalities that took part in that conference, I remember discussing it with one of the confabulates Femi Falana, that no election could have brought that assemblage of people.
We should not shoot ourselves in the foot. We are living in very perilous times and we have to count our losses. It is disturbing for me to know that Buhari is listening to some people who were not impressed by the proceedings and recommendations of the confab.
In another two weeks, President Buhari would be two years in office. How will you assess his first two years?
As I said previously, we have a lethargic administration. To start with, it took him two months for him to put his cabinet together.
Then he said that those people who thought they would become ministers were noise makers. For me that statement was not too encouraging and the fact that he did not come out with a blueprint with regard to Nigeria’s political economy until two months ago, shows me that may be his government was not prepared for the administration of the country. And for a long time Buhari appears to have merely being in office, but not in power.
The change mantra, on whose crest he rode to power; if you shouted change, change and you got the power, and not two years after, it is just business as usual. Where is the change? He had three objectives – the issue of security, (Boko Haram), tackling corruption and the economy.
So if you want to look at the scorecard on President Buhari, I will say that it is in fits and starts. It will depend on his roadmap and where is the roadmap? We don’t seem to have his roadmap except in the area of corruption and even in that area it is more atmospheric than strategic in fighting corruption. We don’t really strategy in fighting corruption.
Corruption is part and parcel of free enterprise capitalism. Buhari is no revolutionary; he is an assured member of the ruling class, so he does not want to commit class suicide.
Although certain elements of the ruling class in the North don’t like his courage, because they say that he is too populist and they are afraid.
You know rich men are usually afraid of revolution. Buhari is not Jerry Rawlings. He had tried three times to become President and the fourth time Allah smiled on him.
I think it is work in progress. Mid-term report, again, I think his health has not been good. Somebody who has been challenged by old age affliction might not be able to give his best. Look at Robert Mugabe, 92 going on 93, he is now going to Singapore on medical tourism, how long will he survive?
And those who wish Buhari bad might not succeed because they are not God, because God has a purpose for everyone. And anybody can be sick at any time. So they have to indulge him, pray for him, and hope that he would come back and impress Nigerians during his remaining two years of his mandate.
The APC had a manifesto but as it is now, where are the three million jobs they promised? Where is the free lunch for school pupils and the unemployment allowance they promised? We have not seen any.
Why did you say the anti-corruption has been atmospheric?
I say it is more of drama, more of media show. There is no strategy. They do not even have any clear figure on how much has been retrieved. I know that some malevolent voices have said that most of the money said to have been discovered were more of hot air, managing to give the impression that something was happening. How many people have been convicted? Now I know of the INEC staff that made confessional statement and has been convicted. Fighting corruption is a revolutionary activity. You don’t fight corruption with kid gloves. You must be prepared to change the modality for governing Nigeria.
For instance, the legal system we inherited has been part of the stumbling block.
Recall that in far away Ethiopia, Buhari once said that the judges were part of his problems. What is safe to say is that there is a need to overhaul our criminal procedure system such that we put the shoe on the other foot. By that I mean do away with the presumption of innocence and replace it with presumption of guilt.
So if you are seen to be living beyond your means, and you have humongous amount of money with you, you are presumed to be guilty until you prove your innocence. So we adopt the French system instead of the British. Those things require a revolution. We are not in fact in a revolutionary situation rather a pre-revolutionary situation.
That is where Buhari’s problems begin, because the guys that are accused of fraud are high-heeled. They have a lot of money and nuisance value. Then they can pay heavy duty lawyers to defend them and you can see he scenario playing out. Because they will tell you there is presumption of innocence and the onus of proof is on you.
They will even make it difficult. In one particular case, I heard that one of the lawyers ran away to Dubai with the title document of property of an accused person- specifically that of Air Marshal Alex Barde, former Chief of Defence Staff. So it caused a lot of brouhaha on the part of those politically exposed persons accused of corruption. And they have been enjoying their long day in court with no end in sight. So it is a little problematic to issue a scorecard on Buhari’s administration.
What are the implications of the emergence of Emmanuel Macron as Presidentelect of France and Moon Jae-in as that of South Korea?
It tells me that everything depends of the level of political sophistication of the electorate. The French are very sophisticated politically. Next to Germany, they are the most important economic power in Europe and they have a very interesting history. It goes all the way back to the overthrow of the Bourbons, then to the French Revolution, the Napoleonic wars, the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizens, then three-colour flag, the Storming of the Bastille.
The French have settled all these issues way back in the 18 century. France has tremendous love for what they call glory; they call it the glorious France; they have a lot of history and they voted in their national interest to remain in Europe. France has the focus; unlike the current American disaster of a President they call Donald Trump, who thought that his populist policies would smash European Union into smithereens.
But you saw what happened not only in France, but in Holland, Austria and I think the same thing will happen in Germany. You can see that the theatrics of Donald Trump have been curtailed. Even in South Korea where you thought there was going to be some dramatic issues with regard to DRK, you can see that they have elected a former human rights lawyer, who is a little bit left wing and who wants to do business with Pyongyang.
It is a slap on the face of Donald Trump, because he has driven the situation to such a high level, high octane, high decibel And you know that North Korea is not a small fry. I was there in Pyongyang in 1989, and I saw the exploits of the Koreans and you know them and it dated back to 1953. I was in Panton Juan, the hottest part of the world now. Where you have troops of North Korea facing American GIs and the young man in Korea is leaving nobody in doubt that you don’t mess around with North Korea.
You remember the case of USS Pueblo of 1967 when the Koreans ceased an American spy hip and stripped it of anything usable and returned the carcass to the US.
So most of what Trump has been drumming up smacks of braggadocio. He knows that he could have brought World War III if he did anything nasty and the South Koreans want to do business with their kilt and kin and not want to be part of anybody’s geo-politics with massive vote against American intervention in the Korean Peninsula. As it is now, it seems Donald Trump is losing left right and centre. Look at what he did the other day, he fired the Federal Bureau of Investigations’ Director, James Comey and he made the reasons very plausible.
So all that is happening in the world now is a rejection of Trump’s American recipe for the globe, because Trump, I am sorry to say, is a political novice. That is why he is putting his mouth in every part of the world. And the last thing I want to say is that even the British that voted for Brexit, I think, will be having a rethink now, and Theresa May may have the shock of her life by losing the election that is happening very soon.
She might want to catch in, but with what is happening now, the British people would be asking: ‘Is it right to go it alone?’ I think they made a terrible decision and they are going to rue it…
And what point is Theresa May trying to prove? This is 2017; we are not in the 16 century when the British defeated the Spanish Armada. They should wake up and smell the coffee. They need reality check.
What is your take on the release of some the Chibok girls. One of the negotiators said over 1000 girls are still in their custody?
I am yet to read that as at now, but I heard that some of them are unwilling to return. Boko Haram is an arm of ISIS and they are very deadly.
Look, the havoc that ISIS has committed pales into nothingness when compared with what Boko Haram has done – the devastation of an entire region of Nigeria. If they are holding on to about 1000 more people that may not be far from the truth, but you know that the President has risen to the situation by routing them out of the country.
You remember what he did to Maitassini and he is a man who has commanded many of the divisions of the Nigeria Army.
He has proved his mettle and you can’t compare him with Jonathan, because Buhari has scored a lot of kudos in dealing with Boko Haram in the language they understand. Like Ibrahim Babangida once said they are masters in the management of violence.
So in that regard, I think we should commend President Buhari.