Restructuring: Nigeria Has To Continue Negotiating, Says Ajimobi
In this interview on Channels Television’s Question Time, Oyo State Governor Abiola Ajimobi spoke on Nigeria’s restructuring and others pressing issues in the country.
Nigeria just celebrated its 57th year anniversary of independence, what can you say about the journey so far?
Nigeria has gone through its trials and tribulations. We have gone through the era of recession, the era of economic boom, when even oil was selling at $100 per barrel and we were doing 2.2 billion barrels a day up to the period of when we had SAP (Structural Adjustment Programme) at that time. We have had our security challenges, civil war. We have had of recent insurgency and what have you. These are stages that all countries at one time or the other will go through. If you go back, we have had social evolution in this country. Like all countries, you go through social evolution starting from the period when we were an agrarian society mainly where we didn’t have much industry, where the infrastructure was relatively few. And if you look at our demographics, you will see that within those 57 years, Nigeria has grown tremendously.
Let us look at the path to nationhood now; it still worries observers that we are still at a point when we are negotiating and renegotiating our terms of existence.
It is normal. Everybody negotiates his or her own terms of existence. Even you are negotiating, I am negotiating. Nigeria has to continue to evolve to negotiate. But what is important to us, is that there comes a time and the time is right now, when looking at our economic situation, looking at our socio-cultural environment, a situation where a state in the federation cannot exist without support from the Federal Government is a sign of failure.
At the moment, there are several agitations. Are these agitations justifiable?
They are, of course, that is why I said life is all about evolution. We had a time when our fore fathers negotiated for independence and we had regions. At the time we had regions, it was meant to allow unity in diversity.
Do you support restructuring?
Of course, I support restructuring.
What is your idea of restructuring?
My idea of restructuring is that we have two options. One is, we must restructure administratively. A situation where the Federal Government controls virtually everything is not good for the system that is unitary federalism. What we want to practice is true federalism, where each state or each region as the case may be can have, to a large extent, independence – both monetary and fiscal, but not structural independence. We do not want to divide this country, this country must remain one. It is sacrosanct that we remain one.
Let us go back to your idea of restructuring. The Yoruba leaders have taken a trajectory that reflects political reality in terms of ethnic agitations now. Is that an indication that the Yoruba leaders are contended with status quo?
I don’t think you should zero the agitation to ethnicity alone. I think agitation is about the effectiveness and efficiency of the system, socio-political as well as economic development of the country. I think everyone agitating for restructuring is looking at development and progress. It is not about ethnicity alone.
You have consistently maintained that the North would always be against restructuring because they want the status quo to be maintained.
No. I think what is important for me is the fact that, whether you are talking about the North, if the North is gaining now, of course, they will not want to change it. All those who oppose changes are the people enjoying from the current situation. And I am saying, the way it is structured now, the North has more in terms of the number of states, in terms of amenities, local governments and so on. All we are saying is, we do not mind. You can have more states, you can have whatever. Let there be fiscal restructuring that for me is very important. Let every state.
So you are saying resource control is central to restructuring?
Resource control is part of it, but the resource control must be for development, not for disunity.
The presidency is giving signs that it is reluctant in adopting the 2014 Confab report. Should it be reported?
I have not seen the signs; the only thing I have seen was that the President was saying let people not hijack it, the supposed restructuring. Let us engage, preferably through the House of Assembly (legislature). I believe that as a democrat, as the President of all, the preponderance of the opinion is that we must restructure. But all he was saying was that whatever restructuring you are doing, it must not affect the unity of Nigeria.
Let me take you back on the issue of resource control. You have consistently advocated against a system where the state governments rely on the Federal Government for handout. So what would be your suggestion?
Some states are not viable as we are currently constituted. Be that is it may, if we want to retain them, I think what should happen is that each state now should handle its own mineral resources. Even if we say oil, for now, is going to be that of the Federal Government because that is what we all depend on, can we not say that all mineral resources henceforth should be given to the states. Let the states handle them.
Some people believe that we got into this situation because we abandoned Agriculture after the discovery of oil in Oloibiri in 1957. In your state, Agriculture seems to be the mainstay in the economy. So in terms of Agriculture reforms, what are you doing to increase revenue?
I think in our state we are lucky that Oyo state today is the largest state in the South-West. It has over 28,000square kilometres and all arable land. We are also lucky in the sense that we are the largest producer of cassava in Nigeria and we also have the highest concentration of Agricultural research institutes in Nigeria.