In this interview with FEMI MAKINDE of punch news, the Attorney General and Minister of Justice in the Second Republic, Chief Richard Akinjide (SAN), suggests that the structures bequeathed to Nigeria by the British colonialists must be altered before the nation can make progress
Nigeria is celebrating its 57th independence anniversary. Are you proud to be a Nigerian?
No, I am not. Nigeria should have done better than what we have now. We should have been the best country in Africa. Sometime ago, I went to a university in Cape Town to deliver a lecture, and after the lecture, I answered some questions. It’s a pity, Nigeria should have been like America, Canada or Australia, but we are not. I am not happy about that at all.
Where exactly did Nigeria get it wrong?
One, the British emphasised their own economic interest. Two, our education was very good, and after independence, it continued to be good. But now, it has become a disaster. We also got it wrong in terms of leadership. Unfortunately, the bad ones have been the ones ruling for a long time, and that is another reason Nigeria has not developed the way it should (have) since independence.
Do you consider the amalgamation of the North and the South by the colonialists a blessing or curse?
A disaster! An absolute disaster! There was no need for it at all. Don’t forget that before that time, the North and the South were sovereign states. They had different governor generals. In 1900, they were two different nations. It was only in 1914 that the North and the South were merged purposely for ease of administration. What was managed was the economic interest of the North and the South. We borrowed a lot from Australia at the time. From then till now, it has been a new Nigeria of foreign economic interest and that is the truth.
Are you saying that Nigeria would have been better than it is now if the North and South weren’t amalgamated?
Nigeria would have been much better. The thinking of the North is quite different from that of the South. In any case, the thinking of the western Nigeria is different from the thinking of the eastern Nigeria. The marriage of the North and the South was of foreign economic interest. There was no need for it at all. In any case, we took no part in the marriage, it was a foreign marriage foisted on the people.
Do you think Nigeria still has reasons to celebrate at 57?
(There is) no need at all. What are we celebrating? We are celebrating a bad marriage; we are celebrating disaster. I am not happy about it. I was very proud before independence that things would be better but things are very bad now. If you look at our children now, you will see that they travel abroad for education and they are doing very well. The best Nigerians are now abroad. You find them everywhere, in the US, UK, France, Switzerland and all over and they are doing well. They are not contributing to our own progress but are contributing to the progress of other foreign countries because they are not proud of their own country. That is the truth. Our best are trooping outside the country almost on daily basis.
You also played a role in the struggle for Nigeria’s independence. Do you regret it?
I don’t regret it. In any case, I was in politics before independence and I was also in politics after independence. What I regret are the consequences of independence because there was no need for military intervention. Since then, things have never been the same. In any case, the marriage of various ethnic groups by the colonialists has not worked, no matter how we try to distort things.
Ghana for instance was doing fine before the coup which spread to the whole of Africa and caused a mess since then. Even in South Africa, when the foreigners were ruling, it was very good but (since) the natives came, it is now bad. The economy is controlled by the foreigners and politics is controlled by the natives.
The marriage in Africa has been bad. Colonialism has not worked well in Africa. The Americans had to fight, when the capital was in New York, to drive away the British. It was a bloody war and it was supported by the French. But look at things now, America is the best country in the world and China is next to them. India is also moving at an incredibly good speed. They manufacture aeroplanes, cars and all sorts of good things but Nigeria has not been able to get close to that. Our marriage by the colonialists has been very bad.
Do you support some groups like IPOB agitating to break away to form Biafra?
I don’t believe in Biafra but the truth is that the marriage (of the North and South) has not worked well at all. What is the common denominator between the North and the South? What is the economic denominator between the Yoruba and the Igbo? The people of the Niger Delta are not happy. They believe that if they control their oil, they would have been better off. The consequence of colonialism in Africa is the worst in the world. The colonialists have gone away, yet they still hold our economy, no matter how they try to deceive us and distort the facts. I practice law in a number of West African countries. I go to The Gambia to practise law. I go to Dakar, Senegal to play golf. I go to Ghana and Cameroon. When I go through (countries) like that, I just laugh and say Africa, what have you done wrong? Why is it that America, which fought a bloody war with the British to gain independence, is doing so well and we are doing badly? I don’t see how that can be corrected unless things are properly made.
How do you think it can be corrected?
Are you saying each region should go their separate ways?
Yes. No matter how much we deceive ourselves, the western Nigeria was doing very well before and after independence. But since independence, it has been either a bad marriage or military coup. That is not the way to run a country. Britain is not run like that. America is not run like that. Likewise France.
Are you saying Nigeria would have been better if it fought for independence like the US fought the British?
We fought. There was a very big fight and I doff my hat to Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Anthony Enahoro, Chief Akintola (Williams), Aminu Kano, Dr. Michael Opara and others. But the truth is that up till today, no matter how much we lie to ourselves, when it comes to our economy, when America got her independence, they took over control with their hands. There was already a (United States) government in New York, but they moved it to Washington. When America was fighting Britain for independence, France helped them to fight Britain and Britain was driven away. At that time, some people were in the House of Commons in London and at the same time, they were in the parliament in New York; that was ridiculous. Sometimes, it would take six months to travel from London to New York. When it comes to colonialism, Britain has been the worst in the world; they like to lick other people and that is why India had to fight a lot of wars to get independence.
Thanks to the Labour Party. When the Labour Party came to power, it set India free immediately and the gentleman who was just a councillor in London became foreign minister in India and you see great men leading them. Once the arithmetic is wrong, and that was what happened to Nigeria, the mathematics of policy is very wrong. As long as that mathematics is wrong, we cannot get anything right.
Have your contributions to nation building affected your personal life in any way?
My contribution was not as free as that of other great leaders in the country, but I okayed my role and I have no regret about it. My children went to University of London, (University of) Cambridge, Oxford, Harvard and other universities in the world and they did extremely well. Some of them had first class in London, also in Harvard. I am very proud of that. Later I had the privilege of serving in Geneva, at the United Nations, and I served for five or six years. I was very proud (of that). When there was problem in Nigeria, I moved to London and continued my legal practice here.
What kind of problem?
There were lot of coups. The military were taking over power at will. That was the problem. One military ruler went to the University of Ibadan and asked the students there to contribute to the economy of the country. What is the economic strength of students? What money have they got? When those who don’t know are governing those who know, the consequences are poverty and lack of development. That is what we are having till today. Before independence, I went to St. Peter’s School at Aremo, Ibadan, which was one of the best schools in the country. From Standard IV, I went to Oduduwa College and I took my Senior Cambridge and had Grade 1. I had no regrets at the time but what I regret is the way Nigeria is structured, the way Nigeria is led, the way Nigeria is being governed and the way the economy is structured. If you look at the entire world, the countries with the worst set of economic structures are in Africa. People who control the economies of African countries are mostly foreigners. The real power lies in the hands of those who control the economy.
Which of the heroes of Nigerian nationalism do you miss most and why?
Oh, they are many. The best of them was Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe followed by Awolowo, S.L Akintola, Anthony Enahoro, Dr. Opara, Aminu Kano and several others. We produced excellent leaders. They were great leaders. If the economy of Nigerians is in the hands of Nigerians, as the political structures, the story would have been different. That is the truth. Things would have been completely different if Nigerians were the ones controlling nation’s economy. What we got wrong was the structure the British gave us which we have refused to alter ourselves. After independence, India altered everything to suit their own purpose and the country is now one of the best in the world. China which was in abject poverty has become the second best country in the world. That’s amazing and everybody is proud of that. Look at China, USA, Russia and others. I doff my hat to them. They are very great but it is not the same with Nigeria.
Can you draw any parallel between the struggle for independence and the calls for restructuring now?
People calling for restructuring now are partly right and partly wrong. The struggle for independence was natural. After the two major world wars, colonialism became irrelevant and the people who fought the wars made sure that colonialism was abolished. And that was why we had our independence. I had a privilege of going with (Tafawa) Balewa in 1960 to the United Nations in New York to be a member of the family of nations. But we have political independence on paper; do we have other things in our hands? Your guess is as good as mine on that.
What are your views on the issue of true federalism?
Talking of true federalism or bad federalism is nonsense. What you really need are good leaders in the country and not the third-rate people who have been ruling at local government, state or at national level. In many parts of Africa, you see Rubin’s leaders, leading the countries and as long as you have those rubbish people as leaders, there can’t be any progress. As long as you have those who should at best be messengers leading, there can’t be any progress.
How do you think Nigeria can get rid of these bad leaders?
I will not answer that question the way you want me to answer it but let us pray to God.
Which system of government do you consider good for Nigeria, presidential or parliamentary?
I prefer the presidential system of government. The presidential system is very good because to be president, you have to campaign all over the country and the people must accept you and vote for you. But in the parliamentary system, all you need to do is win an election in a small constituency and then you will say you would rule the country. That is nonsense and when you do that, it doesn’t really work. That is why Americans took presidential system of government. The same thing goes for China, France and Russia. The British system, their evolution and development is quite different from ours. Britain lives on colonialism. Without colonialism, Britain would never be what it is.
Is presidential system of government not more expensive than parliamentary?
Presidential system of government is not expensive but those running it are the ones making it expensive. They are making it expensive through greed. When they make laws, it is as if they will be in power forever. That is one of the reasons. They should have the aim of being in power for a number of years and leave the place for others to go there. Look at The Gambia. When the small boy, the (former) head of state, wanted to remain in power forever, other countries in West Africa asked him to leave, and when he did not want to go, they threatened him with military action and he ran away.
Some people are advocating a part-time legislature in a bid to cut governing costs. Do you support this?
That is rubbish. If you are in parliament (legislature), you should be able to do your work well. Also, if you are a minister, it is a full-time job.
Do you agree that the salaries and other emoluments of our legislators are outrageous?
Their payments are a disaster. When I entered into the parliament, I was earning £800 a year. When I became minister, I was earning £3,000 a year; that was a lot of money in those days. But today, people want to go into politics and become billionaires overnight. That should not be allowed and if you replace them with the military, that is even worse.
How do you think Nigeria can tackle corruption?
Corruption has to do with leadership and the problem is that those who are ignorant come to power through the military, which is the launching pad for corruption. But if you have the right people contesting elections and staying there for a number of years prescribed by the constitution, like you have in America, there won’t be problems like we are having in Nigeria now.
Are you saying Nigerians should no longer vote for former military men?
They should not. Nigerians used public funds to buy guns and boots for them and those ones should stay out of politics. But some of them are retiring from military and joining politics. I don’t agree with what they are doing. What we have is a military government masquerading as civilian government. That is rubbish.
But what did you do differently in the second republic from what is happening now?
We had a presidential system of government under (Alhaji Shehu) Shagari and it was very good. When Shagari came in for the second term, they used military coup to drive him away, and from then till today, no matter what name you call it, it is still military rule (that has been) masquerading as civilian government(s).
Do you foresee a military coup?
No. I don’t even want them to come back. If they come back, it will only get worse. The consequences of their coming back will be terrible. The richest people in the country today are military men and those who had relationship one way or the other with them. I don’t want to say anything further on that but everybody knows.
How has Nigeria fared since the return to democracy in 1999?
It is 50:50. It is not too bad and it is not good but it could be better.
What do you think we can do as a nation to make the country better?
One, there should be no more military incursion into power again. Two, we should have the best brains in politics. Not messengers or thugs becoming governors and pretending to be governors and wanting power for themselves forever.
How can Nigeria achieve progress?
The best thing is not to follow the British structure. Also, the economy should be run by Nigerians and not foreigners. If you don’t do that, you know the consequences. Do you see the economy of America being run by foreigners? Do you see the economy of Britain run by foreigners? That is what I mean. But if you look at our economic structure now, it is not in our hands. It is being run by foreigners and everybody knows the truth.
How will you rate the performance of President Buhari since 2015?
Your guess is as good as mine. I should have preferred that (since) Buhari has got what he wanted, he should go and rest while others who are real politicians should come to power. But people don’t listen to the truth; they want half-truth and half falsehood.
What is your response to those in support of his return in 2019?
I just laugh at that. If he does that, it will be a big joke.
Are you saying he will not win?
I don’t know but it is going to be a very big joke.
What did you mean when you say Nigerians should go their separate ways?
The West should go their way likewise the East and let the Northerners decide what they want.
Is it through dialogue or by what means?
It should be through dialogue. I don’t believe in military coup; it has never worked anywhere and it can’t work in this country.
You were a minister of education in the first republic. What do you think Nigeria can do to revamp the education sector?
First, the universities should be adequately funded. I don’t see the best university in Nigeria today like we used to. Secondary schools have also collapsed. When I was doing Senior Cambridge, many of us came out with Grade 1, Grade 2 and Grade 3. And when I finished, I was given a scholarship to study in England and come back to teach. I accepted the letter but I didn’t accept the scholarship because my parents could afford to send me to England.
Can Nigeria learn anything from the report of the 2014 National Conference organised by the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan?
The confab report should be implemented. I had the privilege of moving the final adoption of the report because I was part of the conference. The government should implement the report; to ignore it is to ignore the best thing for Nigeria. Former President Jonathan did well and I doff my hat to him.
Is it advisable that Nigeria should amend the 1999 constitution or drop it totally?
We should drop the 1999 constitution totally. I want to see western Nigeria as a sovereign state. Let the North be different and let the East be different. That is the way God created us; any other marriage is rubbish.