Richmond C. Amadi is an independent journalist, Book Publisher, member of RSU Alumni, Researcher (currently researching with Researchgate.net), Writer, Motivational Speaker. He is a BSc Holder in Office and Information Management, and Diploma holder in Management all from Rivers State University. Currently doing his MSc with RSU. Contact him on [email protected] or [email protected] All Social Platforms: @amadirichmondc
We brought Buhari to power but… Jonathan won my heart – Prof Akin
While responding to sixteen questions in this interview with Punch Newspapers’ correspondent, TUNDE AJAJA, the professor of International Law and Jurisprudence, who was also Buhari’s ally, Akin Oyebode, gives insight on Nigeria’s foreign relations.
The professor responded to questions on national issues, including security challenges and challenges facing Africa and what the future holds.
He commended Jonathan’s government, despite being hard on him during his time in office, said Jonathan appointed him even when he was on the side of President Mohammadu Buhari.
He warned Buhari’s led administration over continued violation of constitution, said the President is taking Nigerians for granted on security. Read below.
The President once said the herdsmen killing Nigerians were from Libya, and some people have also said that the insecurity in the country is being fuelled by the influx of foreigners into the country, aided by the ECOWAS protocol that allows freedom of movement of persons among members states. Do we blame the protocol or it’s just an excuse?
I can’t speak for President Muhammadu Buhari; he has more information than my humble self, but I am aware that Cameroon and Chad are not members of ECOWAS, so if he says the Fulani coming in are from outside, we should look at it critically. For me, Buhari wants to be clever by half by talking of invaders, whereas he’s just shopping for an excuse to justify the tyranny of his kinsmen who want to impose themselves on the country. But, let me give you a bit of background; the Fulani originated from Futa Jallon, Senegal, Mali and to some extent Guinea. Even Usman dan Fodio, their arch-priest or father confessor, was not a Nigerian. The Fulani had no state or homestead in Nigeria. They overran the Hausa states in the 19th century and imposed themselves as Emir on them and Usman dan Fodio himself said he had to come and dip the Quran in the Atlantic but the Yoruba people stopped him in Osogbo. People know the Afonja story in Ilorin, and even in the northern fringes of Yorubaland or places like Ikare and Auchi, where they wanted to impose emirs. They wanted to impose themselves and they continued blaming the British for stopping their thrust towards the southern part of the country. So, maybe they (Fulani) wanted to re-establish their caliphate over the whole country and transform Nigeria from a secular state to a caliphate. I don’t know what their plans are but I read things from so-called Miyetti Allah and the people who romanticise about overrunning Nigeria. Some of them even claim that Nigeria was ordained by God to be theirs and they have a sacred duty from providence to reclaim what was given to them. If overrunning Nigeria is their game plan, then you can’t point fingers at others as being foreigners. As we say in my town in Ekiti, everybody knows his father’s house. If they can’t point to their parents’ houses, then, they would continue to look for places they can overrun.
Are you implying that the Fulani are immigrants?
The fact is that Nigeria seems to be chafing under the intrusion of non-Nigerians who kill mercilessly because they don’t have any affinity with any of the ethnic groups inhabiting Nigeria. So, they have been very cruel and inhuman in the way they deal with the farmers. The conflict is almost beyond the comprehension and capacity of Buhari, who is a Fulani. Atiku also claims to be Fulani – because people are disputing the circumstances of his birth – and that was why I didn’t vote at the last election because it was a choice between two Fulani, so I didn’t bother. I was most times analysing on the television. However, Buhari might want us to forget the fact but some of us will not forget. We know where his sympathy lies. He claims to be a nationalist, but he’s not. The Fulani know how to protect themselves. For example, when people talk about the necessity for Buhari to rejig the security apparatus, they don’t know who they are talking to. He even confessed a few weeks ago that he has to appoint the people he knows; his kinsmen. It is a Fulani dominated government and that has cost him a lot of credit such that many people don’t believe him anymore because he wears tinted glasses to analyse everything going on. Buhari is taking people for granted, but the Yoruba are the most widely educated people in Nigeria; they are wise and so they can see through all the shenanigans of the Fulani potentates who want to impose themselves on the rest of us.
Still on the issue of insecurity, the issue of porous borders has always been a subject of national discourse, how do you reconcile that with the ECOWAS protocol?
At a level, you are right; it’s a contradiction but you see Nigeria was a creation of British colonialism. I’m sufficiently familiar with the trajectory of Nigeria to analyse it. Since we were created by the Brits, we had to inherit the borders that they established on the one hand with the French and on the other hand with the Germans. We were at the confab with the Lamido of Adamawa and he was threatening that he would go back to his kith and kin if Nigerians continue to harass him, because the empire of Adamawa was divided with blue pencil by Lord Salisbury, which was drawn to cut off 80 per cent of his territory for the Germans. So, he still has a bulk of his people in Cameroon. Another example of the arbitrariness of Nigerian boundaries is found along the West African coastline, where there are Yoruba speaking people, like in Porto Novo and Cotonou (both in Benin Republic); the Ga in Ghana and even Togo, and that is why you have someone answering (Emmanuel) Adebayo, the footballer. In the eastern part, the boundaries between Cameroon and Nigeria are also not fixed; people criss-cross. For instance, between Nigeria and Niger, there are places that claim to be outside Nigeria but the people there owe allegiance to the Sultan of Sokoto. The classic example is the home of Prof Abubakar. In his family house; the living room is in Nigeria while the bedroom is in Chad. So, we are surrounded by kith and kin. That is why my senior colleague, Prof Asiwaju, who is the foremost expert on Nigerian boundaries, talks about artificial boundaries. However, we should not cry over spilled milk if we truly want a united Africa by 2063, which is 100 years from the founding of the African Union. People are thinking of when Africa would be like Europe so that we would have common currency, flag, free trade area, customs union and an integrated community, which we have yet to achieve. We are still praying and hoping that a day would come when the boundaries would be irrelevant because as Africans our destinies are intertwined.
Are you of the view that Nigeria should have wasted no time in signing the African Continental Free Trade Agreement?
As the largest concentration of black people on earth, we have a stake in the African Union. That is why some of us were perplexed that Buhari was dithering over signing the African Continental Free Trade Agreement. Finally, push came to shove and he had to sign. I don’t know his calculation but he likes passing the buck. Someone of great insight and foresight would have signed that agreement earlier as a vote for African unification, but again you can’t exceed your limitation. If you are not properly schooled in African politics and if you look at how long it’s taking him to have a cabinet, you put a question mark on his claim to fame as a leader. That was why a country of this standing, worth and promise was like perambulating and sleepwalking on the issue. We used to call Goodluck Jonathan clueless but I don’t know what to call Buhari. Wednesday made it five months that he won election and it’s about two months that he was sworn in, and even though he assured us he would no longer be ‘baba-go-slow’, one just feels sorry for Nigeria. Look at what President Paul Kagame is doing in Rwanda. The enthusiasm and dynamism that one expects from a country of this worth have been lacking and when you now have a cabinet of lacklustre mediocre in charge of affairs, you just hang your head in shame. Quite seriously, I don’t know what (Vice-President Yemi) Osinbajo is still doing there. He is far smarter because I know him; he was my student. A brilliant guy like that should distance himself from mediocrity.
Are you saying the vice-president should have resigned?
That’s what I’m saying. He should not have joined him for a second term. For me, he has overstayed his welcome and they are even relegating him to the side. I think a brilliant man like Osinbajo should quit and go back to his ministry or law practice. How does he survive in the welter of suffocating mediocrity that you find there? The Fulani have no little or no regard for him. I would call the whole thing the tyranny of mediocrity; that is the problem Nigeria is facing right now. I feel sorry for the country that we are saddled with such an incompetent leadership, making us the butt of jokes internationally. Quite sincerely, I don’t feel comfortable with what is going on and it’s a very serious indictment if Nigeria can’t throw up a leadership that is superior to what is being offered now. People would just shake their heads and feel pity for us. We only wish Nigeria well. But the time would come when we would have fit and proper persons. This man can’t move Nigeria anywhere; the country is collapsing under him. It’s the young people I feel sorry for; we are at the departure lounge and I have my boarding pass. I’m just waiting for my flight to be called. At 72, that’s enough and out of it, I gave 44 years to Nigeria as an academic. I feel proud to have had that opportunity to serve my country. Nigeria would make it, given the right circumstances.
Do you see Africa being like Europe someday, in terms of cooperation and economic integration?
Hopefully, the day would come maybe in the time of my grandchildren. I’m not an afro-pessimist; I’m very optimistic about the future of Africa. The contradictions in the world would compel us to recognise the worth of collaboration and cooperation between African countries and Africans. I think Africans would throw up leaders that would recognise the imperative of our coming together. We would be forced to recognise that whatever success we put up in Europe, our future is in Africa. I’m a very proud African and I’m proud of my country. I feel we reserve the right to go to heaven the way we want. This is a great country; there are Nigerians working for the National Aeronatics and Space Administration in the United States and there is hardly any university of worth in the world without Nigerian professors. Justice Taslim Olawale Elias was the President of the International Court of Justice, while Prof Thomas Adeoye Lambo was a deputy Director-General at the World Health Organisation. Nigerians have success stories if only we can have enabling environment to self-actualise. Nigerians will make it any day once they have leadership that is inspiring, but I’m sorry Buhari doesn’t inspire many people. He doesn’t show the requisite personae that could spur people on. Even his claim to integrity has one thing because of the nepotistic attitude that he has in terms of appointment. It’s as if the rest of Nigerians are non-starters and I don’t believe it. In every part of Nigeria there are success stories. If only you look hard you would find them. So, I’m disgusted by what is going on. But like I said, the contradictions in the world would compel Africans to recognise the worth of cooperation among themselves.
With the kind of projection you have for Africa, do you feel it’s needless to review the protocol?
My view is that as a pan-Africanist, I’m perfectly in favour of opening up African countries to other Africans and I’m against xenophobia like you find in South Africa. One reason I have refused to go to South Africa is their attitude. I had been invited to give lectures but I declined because of the visa conditions. I’m not angling to go to South Africa. You can’t have an omelette without breaking an egg, and my choice is that we leave that protocol on freedom of movement as it is. It might be a testament to the future and as lawyers would say, in futuro, but it’s looking towards a better future for West Africa.
If we are to leave the protocol as it is, how do we address its huge contribution to the insecurity challenge in the country?
We should tighten our surveillance system using electronic gadgets, not just CCTV. All sorts of things could be used to monitor ingress and egress, as lawyers would say. In this country, we don’t even know how many we are; we only live by guessed estimates. Sometimes you hear that we have 201 million people but some of my friends say we are not up to 100 million because, according to them, the economy of Nigeria can’t sustain 200 million people. So, let us do an accurate census, but you know there are forces raged against an accurate census because it would expose the lie. When we have an accurate census, it would be the beginning of our journey to modernity. With that, you would know who is who and you can do proper planning and management of the economy. We also have to re-organise ourselves and have proper police, custom and immigration systems. If I were President of Nigeria, one of the first things I would have to do is a proper and accurate census, for planning purpose. Until we have an accurate census we have not started the journey to modernity. There is no part of the country without resources that can be tapped to generate money, so we don’t have to go cap in hand in this feeding bottle federalism, as said by Ike Ekweremadu in Toronto during a lecture. He said every month end the states would carry their feeding bottles to Abuja for replenishing and it was a very metaphorical and accurate picture of the situation in Nigeria. We have to reconfigure Nigeria to earn the respect we deserve.
It would seem other African countries are taking Nigeria for granted, with attacks launched against them in South Africa and Ghana?
You remember what Abike Dabiri said a few weeks ago when she was reacting to the case of the UNILAG professor that had to leave Ghana. She said we would not pay them back in their own coin. We are bigger than that. The Ghanaian President ought to apologise to us because if we were to kick Ghanaians out of Nigeria, how would they feel. But we don’t want to re-enact that tit-for-tat situation. We are very liberal in Nigeria. It is better to thrive in a better union like West Africa than ‘what-I-have-I-hold’. Like Michelle Obama would say; when they go low, we go higher. We can’t descend to others’ level of myopia.
It seems Nigeria is usually at the centre of mistreatment by other African countries, like South Africa and Ghana, is that the best Nigeria could do?
Nothing comes without a cost and we have to pay some price for the role we are playing in Africa. Like I said, tit-for-tat will not help us in Africa. There are not as many South Africans in Nigeria as we have Nigerians in South Africa. If we say all Nigerians there should come back home, we have almost 40 per cent unemployment in Nigeria and 70 per cent of our population is young population. It’s true that South Africa has more capital investment in Nigeria than we have there, so it’s not a very streamlined relationship and so it might be cost prohibitive for Nigeria to retaliate against South Africa. I think we have to use diplomacy to impress it on them that we bore the cost of their liberation, and that was why Nigeria was called a frontline state even though we are so far removed from the struggle. There were times Thabo Mbeki and Nelson Mandela stayed in Nigeria, and many of their citizens came to school here. Nigeria paid tremendous dues apropos South Africa’s liberation. I think we have to push the envelope to remind them that we played our role when the need arose and they are not the ones to pay us back in counterfeit coins.
Why then is the Nigerian government not doing the needful; rather what we see is that our government only condemns the attacks?
I would look at it as prolongation of the lack of capacity by the government. The former Minister of Foreign Affairs (Geoffrey Onyeama) did not have the requisite push for that office. His father was a judge at the International Court of Justice. He went to Cambridge and he’s well educated. But he wasn’t decisive and he’s too calm. Locally, we have no radical stance but we are looking for direct foreign investments and when you are a beggar country, there is a limit to the dynamism of your foreign policy. As I said, our foreign policy with respect to that of South Africa has been stymied by the unequal relationship we have with them. When we look at the ledger, the debit side is bigger on our own side. It’s asymmetrical and South Africa has greater potential to manipulate the relationship than Nigeria could. Those are unstated facts which nevertheless impinge on the capacity of Nigeria to influence the course of events in South Africa. Of course, we invite the South African ambassador but we don’t give him a dressing down because our capacity to do that is limited. Right now, we might loathe to admit it but they seem to be calling the shots and so we have minimal leverage over the course of events. We don’t have much to fight with, except emotions.
Does it mean we are completely helpless?
That is not to say we cannot make the necessary noises, but that will not curb the xenophobic attacks. The xenophobes in South Africa are envious of the panache of Nigerians. You know we are a boisterous, loud, brash people and because of that they are not too happy with the way we are carrying on with our enterprises and maybe their women. Nigerians exert themselves anywhere they find themselves while they are not as aggressive as Nigerians. The resentment at the success of Nigerians in South Africa should be properly situated so we recognise that success breeds envy. If the shoe was on the other leg, we would not only scream hell, we would press the button. But, in this case, what buttons can you press than to recall your ambassador to impress it on them that you are not happy with what is happening or you take the matter before the African Union. We can harass them using international law, but if push comes to shove, what else can you do than lay aside and lick your wounds, which is what we have been doing. When your economy is booming, you tend to have greater respect from other countries and as you carry yourself, so would the rest of the world carry you. However, we are still the world’s largest black nation. Given our population and market, that gives us some leverage, not considerable, to be seen as an active member of the international community. But it does not give us the thrust. All we need is to tidy up at home and give the rest of the world the impression that we are cleaning up our acts and then we would get the deserved respect.
This issue also seems to be local because you find Nigerians working in Indian and Chinese companies in Nigeria being maltreated. Are we so weak that we also can’t protect our own on our land?
The point is well taken. Nigeria is weak, relatively speaking, because we need these foreign direct investments. Whoever dictates the piper calls the tune. Since we depend on foreign investments for the wherewithal for our economy, the capacity to criticise or stand firm to the shenanigans and inanities of foreign investors in Nigeria is severely circumscribed because you are looking up to them to provide employment and pay taxes, which is why we are being taken for granted. There was a time in China that signs hung on restrooms read ‘Dogs and Chinese not allowed’ in their own country. There were signs prohibiting service to dogs and Chinese in their own country. But now, who can try that. If you are purchasing things from another country, you might have to compromise certain things. That is the reality of the situation. I don’t want to be too hard on Nigeria, but foreign policy is a prolongation of domestic policy. If you have a competitive economy and you produce things that find a place in the international market, then you would increase your profile.
Beyond the economy, it seems leadership also plays a role, because Rwanda now commands a lot of respect in Africa and beyond not because of the number of their products in the international market but due to the leadership there. Can we say leadership is also a factor?
You are perfectly on target. Kagame has done a lot to transform the image of Rwanda. Little things matter. So, I agree with you that it’s a combination of factors; your economy and the leadership profile that your leadership musters. I almost fell off my chair when Buhari was telling Angela Merkel that the place of his wife was in the other room. I said the woman (Merkel) this man was talking to has PhD in physical chemistry and I said this man sold us short in the international community.
But you supported Buhari in 2015, what changed?
Yes, things changed and like I said, I refused to vote during this past election. I voted for him in 2015; I took the trouble to join the queue and vote for him. I thought anything but Jonathan. Jonathan was clueless but now we got a worse person than Jonathan, so I didn’t believe he deserved a second term. Some people taunted me for supporting him but I told them I was extremely sorry. The man is a disappointment and he is severely overrated. Are you proud of a President who takes months before having a cabinet? And when the list finally came out it’s a mixed grill, containing, as they say, the good, the bad and the ugly. A mediocre leader can only have persons not superior to him, whether intellectually or in moral probity.
Do you think things would be different this time round?
No, morning shows the day. He promised not to be Baba-go-slow but it has taken him two months to put a cabinet together. What is the magic about a cabinet? I hear he might pick up anybody who is against him; maybe they would come and pick me up.
How do you feel when his followers a We brought Buhari to power but… Jonathan won my heart and some others abuse you for your views on him?
I survived Sani Abacha, and that is why I respect Jonathan. As hard as I was on him, he nominated me to the Council of the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs.