Sunday, May 11, 2014 1:41 pm
Dr. Femi Obayori, a delegate to the 2014 National Conference from Kogi State, in this interview with SEUN BISUGA speaks on, among other topics, the management of the Confab, the place of Kwara and Kogi states in Nigeria, and the relevance of the Science and Technology committee
Q: Recently, delegates squashed hopes of state police in Nigeria, with the argument that state governors were already helping the federal police through provision of vehicles, equipment and funds. What is your position on this debate?
That is rubbish as far as some of us are concerned. Nigeria does not belong to anybody. If we have to devolve, it has to be all the way. If we don’t have state police, you cannot say you have devolved powers. There are those who benefit from the present rot and do not want any change. The fact that it is state governments that fund the police and make them effective actually points in the direction of the need for the state to take charge at certain levels. Nigeria is about the only country where you claim to be a federation and the federating units do not have their own police outfits. In fact there should be police at local government and metropolitan levels as obtains in other countries of the world including the United States of America.
The argument that the state police is prone to being politicised by a sitting governor is not valid. It is because we still think in the mode of not allowing institutions to function. It is a matter of rule of law and lack of respect for the constitution, which is even rife at federal level.
So we are waiting for them. I learnt in any case, that committee has reversed all its previous decisions, as they were not arrived at by consensus, but rather by voice vote, which is not in accord with the rule of proceedings. But either way, we from the South-West are waiting for them. We aree not going to endorse anything that is not in the interest of our people. We have not come to the conference to negotiate away the Yoruba Agenda on the altar of one, indivisible Nigeria. Such conquistador mentality being carried around by people from certain sections of the country stand repudiated. And that is it.
Many Nigerians still think the National Conference is a waste of public funds, especially because pictures that have made the rounds showed empty conference rooms, delegates sleeping and sometimes playing games on laptops. Do you reckon otherwise?
I think that would be a narrow appreciation of the matter. One, let me quickly make clear that the claim that each delegate collects N4 million monthly is not true. It is actually N2.92 million and this covers hotel accommodation, transportation and sitting allowance. Now, for those of us who are on leave of absence from our work and who still have to pay our bills in Lagos, Calabar or Port Harcourt, it is a lot of sacrifice. Averagely you spend about N1 million on hotel accommodation a month, and another half a million or more on transport. Then there are other expenses. For instance, maintaining delegation secretariat outside the conference.
Now, on delegates sleeping, that is not the rule but rather exception; though you’ll agree with me that some delegates seem too old to perform effectively. Also there are those when, if you see them sleeping, it is as a result of a lot of intellectual work and caucus meetings they’ve had to attend after the regular session. There are consultations and some of these drag into the wee hours. If a man went to bed at 4am and has to be up again by 8, then you expect that it might be difficult to remain fully alert the whole day.
Why did the National Conference committee on Political Restructuring and Form of Government kick against the option of regionalism?
I wouldn’t know why. But I attribute it to all we have been saying. People want the status quo to remain; they don’t want change. The corrupt unproductive system that they feed fat on is what they want to retain. They want to retain the present structure to give them the largest share in an economy that does not produce anything. They don’t want a clear definition of our federation. They are averse to the notion of federalism, with true federating units. Instead of states producing, they want states that only take federal allocation and since the present arrangement is skewed in their favour, they do not want to lose their advantaged position. But if we fail to adopt regionalism there is no way there can be real progress for the peoples of Nigeria. Those who are saying regionalisation will strip the states of independence and opportunity to develop actually have a superficial appreciation of the issue.
In fact the position of some of us is that what we need to adopt is confederalism. We need a very loose centre so that the various peoples in Nigeria can develop at their own pace. Who says some nations or nationalities must be drawn back all in the interest of Nigeria’s unity. If you ask me, I will say the secession clause needs to be incorporated in the Constitution.
How much impact do you think the results of Confab will have on the future of Nigeria?
Whether the conference will have impact on the future of Nigeria or not ultimately depends on two things: the outcome, that is, the report of the conference, and secondly, the readiness of Nigerians to translate it into reality. A lot in this respect will depend on feedback on the part of those delegates who can say they truly represent he people.
But what bothers me so far is the management of the conference, for instance the ways issues that ordinarily should not have come before the conference were brought on board. This is creating a lot of distraction. Transport, science and technology, environment etc are actually not issues for this kind of conference and do not deserve to have committees dedicated to them.
It would appear that there is a grand plan to gag those people who have been identified to have views contrary to what the hegemonists stand for. The way delegates who signify intention to speak are allowed to do so seems rather selective and I don’t think this will augur well for the fate of the conference.
How does the Science and Tech committee plan to improve the interest and knowledge of Nigerians in this sector?
We are recommending that there is the need for encouragement of the use of local languages for the transmission of knowledge in the area of science and technology to the ordinary people, particularly the informal sector and micro, small and medium scale businesses. The wrong notion that scientific development and knowledge is an English or western thing has to be practically challenged by taking research findings to the end users in the language they understand. It is also our contention that there is the need to deliberately promote inventions and innovations that address immediate local needs. There is need for synergy with regards to sustainable use of natural resources in indigenous communities and development of innovations that would conform with their institutionalisation resource management practices.
Furthermore, it is our firm belief that unless there is a deliberate move to create an enabling environment for effective interaction among educational institutions, private sector, researchers and funding agencies along the line of building technology parks and innovation clusters in our institutions of higher learning, not much can be achieved. The end users need to be brought into the picture of R and D because they know best exactly what they need.
Lola Akande, in her book, In Our Place, tried to explain that people from Kwara and Kogi states are lost in Nigeria; they do not belong to the North, South-West or East. You’re representing Okun in Kogi State. Is there any conscious effort to clear the perception of Nigerians?
It is not just about clearing the perception of the public, we are about to effect real change. The Okun people in Kogi State believe that there was never a time we agreed to occupy our present position in Nigeria politically. We were balkanised in the Northern Region by the colonial masters by force in 1900. The amalgamation of 1914 was carried out without our consent and in 1946, when the opportunity came and other Yoruba in the North were merged with the South-West, again we were denied the opportunity to go with our kith and kin, the Yoruba. The subsequent state creation exercises that first put us in Kwara State in 1967 and later in Kogi State in 1991, were carried out by fiat by the military.
So, for us, beyond merely going with the tide, we see ours as a case of quest for internal self-determination in Nigeria. We believe that, in accord with the relevant international charters including the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights, the Atlantic Charter and all other principles and laws on rights of peoples to self-determination, we deserve to have a say in our geopolitical location and under what type of government we live.
Particularly for us, our relocation from Kwara to Kogi in 1991 has subjected our people to all the consequences of being a minority in a panhandling federation that Nigeria is. Our people are marginalised and discriminated against in government appointments both nationally and internationally, infrastructures are neglected and the work force has become bloated in the interest of the majority ethnic group in the East Senatorial district, while Okun people have been depopulated from the civil service. Since 1991, Kogi has been ruled by only people of the Eastern Senatorial district, both military and civilian. In 1991 there were 19,806 workers in Kogi State Service, of which about 8,000 were from Okunland and about 9,700 from the East, but today the total figure is 35,200 or so, with over 24,500 of these from the East and Okun having only 6,519.
So we the Okun people are demanding that we be relocated from the North Central Zone to the South-West Zone where our kith and kin are. We are Yoruba and we hold that regions or zones should be on the basis of ethnocultural contiguity. We are demanding boundary adjustment. We have five local government areas, and are present in one or two other local government areas.
We demand that a plebiscite be conducted amongst our people to answer the question whether or not the want to be relocated to contiguous Yoruba state of Ekiti. Our paper has been presented to the committee on boundary adjustment and I can tell you that significant progress has been made.
Many Nigerians find it laughable that your committee is to discuss space and nuclear regime in Nigeria when there are no signs of implementing the basic information communication technology equipment across Nigeria let alone building a nuclear plant. Do you think Nigerians are right?
My take on this is science is one field every society must take interest in whether or not it is immediately relevant to their needs. We cannot afford to be left out. Moreover, space science is not only relevant as space science devoid of connection with real life. It is relevant in agriculture, mineral prospecting, aviation, weather forecasting and various other areas. Serious nations cannot afford to entirely depend on the world powers for information and relevant data.
We also must be in a position to take informed positions at the international level.
The same goes for nuclear science. The applications of knowledge of nuclear science in radiography in the medical field, power generation and several other peaceful uses are areas to consider. There is a sub-committee on this and I am sure by the time we are harmonising the reports of the committee, they are also going to come up with things very relevant to real life and overall development.
You are on the Biotechnology and Biodiversity subcommittee; what are we expecting?
We are proposing that there should be a National Biodiversity Authority and that there should be biodiversity boards at state level. Thus, we are proposing that there should be an Act on conservation of biodiversity which is to ensure the conservation of Nigeria’s biological diversity, regulate the use of its components and sharing of the benefits and all other aspects connected thereto.
We also feel we need to define our biodiversity correctly to include the microbial components so that we go beyond the emphasis on the national parks and game reserve.
We are proposing speedy passage of the bill establishing the National Biotechnology Development Agency, NABDA, into law. We also propose a speedy passage of the bill on bio-safety into law.