Prof. Yusufu Turaki is a theologian and expert in social ethic. In this interview with TAI ANYANWU, he takes a look at the state of the nation and why the call for restructuring is gaining more ground. Excerpts:
What is your take on why Nigeria is where it is today?
We have too many dishonest Nigerians in positions of authority and who have refused to recognise and accept the fact that we are a multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-cultural nation. The came into government and they brought in their primordial, parochial and what I will call ancient views. People who lived in their ethnic enclaves before Nigeria was born.
They want to live like that in modern Nigeria without making adjustments and without looking for a common ground. They want to impose their parochial, subnational interests and subnational values upon the rest of Nigeria. There is no time that this has come open than today.
Nigeria is moving forward, acquiring new values and new structures but they want to impose their primordial ancient structure on the rest of Nigeria and that is the problem we have now. When our forefathers negotiated the independent constitution of Nigeria in 1960 and the Republican Constitution in 1963, they did well in wrestling power from the colonial masters but they should have sat down together and asked themselves how many ethnic groups do we have in Nigeria? We have well over 200 ethnic groups in Nigeria.
They should have sat down and said how do we create a Nigeria where every ethnic group will feel at home; and will feel that Nigeria belongs to them? They didn’t do that. They were only interested getting into the colonial shoe.
They created governmental structures and they kept those governmental structures intact. They didn’t modify them, they didn’t change them to suit the commonalities of all Nigerians and the plural nature and diversify of the Nigerian social environment. They didn’t do that and that is what we are suffering for today.
How did you receive Pastor Enoch Adeboye’s recent call for immediate restructuring of the subsisting political structure in Nigeria?
Pastor Adeboye said what millions Nigerians have been saying. But the political elites do not have ears to hear. They have a concept of Nigeria that is tailored only to service their interest and not the interest of the common Nigerian.
You were a member of the 2014 Constitutional Conference set up by the Goodluck Jonathan administration. How much work was done to put the nation on a right path?
I was a member of the 2014 National Conference; and will I tell you that if Nigeria implemented just one quarter of the resolutions and proposals and suggestions of that conference, Nigeria will be different from what it is today. But the refusal of the Nigerian political elites to even look into that document is evidence that self-interest is placed before the national interest.
Politicians who are in power today speak as if they are speaking for and on behalf of Nigerians but they are always speaking for and on behalf of their elitist self-interest. What is driving political leadership in Nigeria today is self-centeredness and pride as well as greed and lost.
Do you see restructuring being actualised?
Well, there two old movements that we are battling with. The first one is the political culture of the elites; it is going in one direction. The other one, I call it the national psyche; it is the correlation of all the inner centeredness which is the desire of Nigerians.
It is going in a different and opposite direction. The political elites have their own political ideas and their own views and they are going in a different direction from the national psyche. What I expect to see and what I am praying to see is that the political culture of the political elites since independence will crash, so that the national psyche will overtake and overthrow. What we need today is a new political culture. The current political culture in Nigeria was built and based upon three major pillars.
The first one is ethnicity, the second pillar is religion and culture; and the third one is regionalism. These are the pillars upon which the colonial masters built Nigerian political culture that we are using today.
No Nigerian since independence has been elected into office without the consideration and the powerful influence of ethnicity, religion and regionalism. This is what these three pillars, upon which rests the Nigerian political culture, has led us to today. We are more divided today than ever; what divides us are these three pillars, ethnicity, religion and regionalism. These are the three pillars that have successfully divided Nigerians.
Today, the political leaders, who hold power in Nigeria, are full blown outfits of these three pillars. These three pillars have created a highbred spirit that rules and controls the Nigerian political space. For Nigeria to move forward, we have to go beyond these three pillars: political culture of ethnicity, religion and regionalism.
You see, we have failed to use our diversity to be a normative norm created by God. I call it normative diversity. God created us in diversity, therefore it is normal but what has happened is that we have corrupted that normative diversity and we create boundaries around our ethnicity, religion and regions. So, the fear of restructuring is based upon these three pillars. The ethnic bigots will never allow a healthy dialogue of all Nigerians about what they want Nigeria to be.
Are you saying that we are stuck?
No, we are not stuck. The reason why I say so is that leadership is seasonal. If we have the right transformational leaders; leaders who are interested in transforming the Nigerian person to acquire and develop his full potentials that God has given to him; and leaders who will transform the Nigeria social environment, change will happen.
The situation today is such that those who successfully get into government power think that they can hold government machinery for their selfish interest but the quest and call for restructuring is gaining ground everyday, it is becoming more and more powerful and this is what is going to rock the nation unless Nigeria answers the questions that millions of people are asking about the state of affairs in this country.
What are your thoughts on the clamour for a president of Igbo extraction in 2023?
The Igbo man is right and the reason why I say the Igbo man is right to be president of Nigeria is this: He has seen presidents from the North; he has seen a president from the South-West and to some extent from the South-South.
He has also seen what they did. Somebody comes from the North and political appointments are made based upon northern interest. For example, look at political appointments into key political positions in the country today, you will find that the ‘original’ northerners, the Muslim North-West and the Muslim North-East are the people who dominate all important political positions in the country.
This is because a North-West Muslim is heading the country. And then when the Igbo say they want their own, you start accusing them of all sorts of things? But they see that there is no balance or in the leadership of the country.
It is not based on equality, it is not based on pluralism, it is not based on federal character but on nepotism. Federal appointments today are based on nepotism. So we cannot say the Igbo are selfish because they see how things are going. But that is not where I am going.
I will not join myself to such political quest. I will rather join myself to creating a new Nigeria where all Nigerians, north, south, east and west will decide drivon the country they want to have and build, a Nigeria based on common ground principles and values; a country where everyone will feel that Nigeria belongs to him or her; not having a hierarchical Nigeria where you have some who are first class citizens and those who are second class citizens.
How can we get the recommendations of the 2014 National Conference implemented?
What the 2014 National Conference did is that which has not been explained to all Nigerians. The conference report is divided into basically three groups. There is something that is exclusively for the National Assembly to act upon and they are few.
There are parts of the committee’s works that recommends that federal, states or local government can implement the 2014 report without asking any permission from anybody. Now, some people saying that the total report has to go through either the government or National Assembly. We don’t have to do that. There are things in the report that I have personally implemented.
It is only things that are political that you seek for a political instrument to implement. But majority of the 2014 National Conference are for individuals, organisations, states and institutions to implement but this has not been explained to the generality of Nigerians.
If that is the case, why is the political class afraid of implementing the recommendations of the confab report?
What is scary is our political history, our political structure and political culture; the way we have been set up by the colonialists and what happened when the military came into power. The major obstacle is the 1999 Constitution.
Many Nigerians feel very strongly that the 1999 Constitution does not reflect the wishes of Nigerians. The constitution was conceived, created, formulated and imposed upon Nigerians through the military instrument of power.
You have heard many views of Nigerians about the 1999 Constitution, there are some sections or regions in this country that have been given advantage by the 1999 Constitution to the disadvantage of others.
The 1999 Constitution gave some advantages and disadvantages to Nigerian groups and that is why the 2014 National Conference recommendations which was more or less a moderator of the excesses the colonial masters and the military have done to Nigerians.
It is like the clearing house, balancing the imbalances, removing the subordination and the subjugation of some people. Now, if somebody is at a position of advantage and the fellow enjoys that position of advantage and you tell him that you are going to remove that advantage, so that every Nigerian will be at the same level playing grounds, do you think he will accept that? The answer is no.
The primary motivating factor for some northerners not agreeing to restructuring is the fear of changing the 1999 Constitution. If you change the 1999 Constitution you are bringing in the principle of leveling Nigerian to be at the same plane. But the 1999 Constitution has created what I call a hierarchical structure for Nigerians and that is why we are where we are today.