Ex-Kwara Gov Latinwo opens up
Says Boko Haram a product of power struggle
Group Captain Salaudeen Adebola Latinwo is not only a retired military officer but a key player during Buhari /Idiagbon military administration as the Military Governor of Kwara State. A disciplined officer and now an elderstatesman, Latinwo in this interview with GILBERT EKEZIE, bares his mind on the proposed National Conference, and explains why Nigerians are skeptical about the motive of President Goodluck Jonathan. He pleaded that the dialogue should be embraced for all it is worth. He said he has refused to make comments on national issues since his retirement but the idea of the proposed conference has forced him to come out of his shell and open up. “Important as the exercise is, it is heavily loaded with suspicion, fear and mistrust brought about by a government that has lost credibility and trust worthiness in the face of its people. In Nigeria today, many overwhelmingly believe that the government is run for few and their special interests, not for the large majority of the people”, he declared. He explains this and say much more. Excerpts:
How has life been since you retired as a military officer?
It has been a sweet and bitter experience. When you leave service, it becomes a different game and it becomes difficult to blend. But I retired to take care of my home and family, in fact, it is like starting life all over again. I tried to narrow my purpose to the ones I can accommodate. Besides, I have farm in my home town where I plant cassava, yam, maize and poultry.
How was your tenure as a military governor?
We were told to go for a special assignment and to look after the state and manage its resources. It was a regime of war against indiscipline because there was no way we could achieve development without discipline. The environmental sanitation that is still in place today in so many parts of the country is the handiwork of our administration. We tried to mobilize the people for good governance. They were encouraged to be disciplined, maintain a cleaner environment, hoists national flag, wear badges, reciting national anthem and pledge. We led the people to understand that the government can do something. We were given some money and we used the little money we generated to fix roads, schools, hospitals, assisting the old and the young. We laid the foundation for good governance and effective management. We used the money government gave us and the little revenue we generated to serve the people.
Why have you been silent since you left office as Military Governor of Kwara State?
I am silent because I want to talk when I am supposed to talk. The issue of National Conference is what Nigerians have been agitating for and I think it is necessary to talk about it and people like me are needed to make our little contributions on the way forward for Nigeria because the time is now.
Could you compare the military administration to the present day democratic government?
We were able to get result. It was easy to mobilize the people and we led through decrees. It was easy to mobolize the people, there was discipline and it was result-oriented. The target was easy to come by without any disagreement. States were not allowed to borrow money and anytime there was need for that, the Federal Government had to approve that and anyone found to have been corrupt will be punished. Now, it is all about using money to mobilize the people. In fact, things were well monitored and fashioned.
What is your assessment of the present administration in Nigeria?
It is better to leave a place better than you met it. No one is expected to perform magic. It is not about depending on what the white people left for us so many years ago, but we need to do our own project. There is need for a rail across the country to ease the transportation problem of Nigerians. The roads are also there. We do not need to advertise what we are doing, but should tackle the underdevelopment. It does not need to be elaborated. Once people see that you are doing things in a better way, you will get their cooperation. Every leader needs to show things that they have done even when they leave office.
Could you comment on Boko Haram and insecurity in Nigeria?
The major insecurity problem we have in Nigeria today is the Boko Haram insurgence in the North which has taken the lives and property of many innocent citizens. I think, it persists because when it first started, the government was not serious about it. They were handled with levity, so they grew to become what they are today. At a stage when they began to see money and suport, their power increased and they became so difficult to handle. Incidentaly, the miliatry never had the programme to tackle suicide bombers and that is why they seem to be difficult to deal with. They go to the drinking joints, markets, churches, mosques, schools and other public places, shoot and throw bombs.
What do you think is the solution to insecurity in the country?
The people need to work with military and other security operatives by reporting the activities of the perpetrators. If someone is buying items for the production of bomb, such people can be reported. The idea of not accepting amnesty or peace move will not help the matter. We need peace because when the problem comes, we are too large that no country will be able to accommodate us. So, any one that is destroying your country is an enemy and should be seen as such and dealt with without mercy. You cannot rationalize their ideology. They are claiming that they do not want western education but they speak the best English. So, it is all about power and recognition.
What is your view on the proposed National Conference?
The clamour for National Conference, indeed Sovereign National Conference, started as far back as 1993, two decades back when there were glaring signs and symbols of marginalization, injustice and inequality in the body politic of the entire country. A multi-ethnic country with entire different orientation and value system, Nigeria’s problems till this day revolve round its inability to forge a true federation. Importantly, there was in 1994/95 constitutional conference organised by the military regime of the late General Sanni Abacha. We had also the National Political Reform Conference initiated by Chief Obasanjo regime, the first of its kind since Nigeria returned to democracy in 1999. The 2005 Political Reform Conference provided the basis for Nigeria to evolve the much canvassed true federation, it was headed by Justice Niki Tobi. Beyond these formal arrangements for the National Conference, there were contributions and submissions by various organisations and key individuals. The late Chief Anthony Enahoro fought for the convocation of the conference until he died. Similarly, we had others such as the late Ransome Kuti and the late Bola Ige. They worked relentlessly for the exercise. The records of their contribution, positions and submissions are available for the present committee to review.
Why do you think Nigerians must come together to talk?
Obviously, we need to dismantle the present obnoxious system and accord everyone equal rights, priviledges and opportunities. With the worsening insecurity, endemic corruption, mutual suspicion among ethnic groups, deep seated crisis within political parties, there is no doubt that the conference will provide a forum for all to table our differences for common adjudication.
Do you think it could lead to disintegration of the country as many think?
I do not think it will lead to disintegration, rather it will give us the opportunity to talk, understand our problems more and find possible solutions. A lot of people have not gone to the North to know how they live. The only thing we need now is for people to reason together. We should say our minds, so that we can understand ourselves. Otherwise, we will not make a headway in this country.
People are afraid that the present conference may end up like those held in the past. Do you believe so?
I do not think so. It is true that the past conferences had not yielded the expected results. Still, they were not out of place. At least, they have made the government know the major demands of the geo-political zones in Nigeria. So, that will now help the government on the present one. What will happen now is for them to update their demands so that the committee could look into them and make recommendations.
Do you concur on sending the report of the conference to the National Assembly for assent?
I think what the National Assembly will do is to intepret the conference report into law because it must have a legal interpretation. They are not expected to doctor it. So, we should not be afraid of the National Assembly, after all, we sent those at the National Assembly to respresent us and I think they should have our interest at heart. However, the report will end up at referendum.
What were the issues in contention at the last conference?
In general terms, the issues in contention laid emphasis on the nature of Nigerian federation, resource control, funding of local governments, type of democracy appropriate for the nation, whether presidential or parliamentry, tenure of key government officials, including Mr President, electronic voting, state creation, immunity for the President and other key people in government.
Among the geo-political zones, who agitated for what in the last conference held?
There were various submissions from all the geo-political zones. The North canvassed for rotational presidency between the North and the South, but stood against power devolution and regional autonomy. The west laid emphasis on regional autonomy that would enable each state to operate its own police etc, the East requested for rotation of office of the president and creation of more states and the South-south agitated for resource control. None of these was actualized since the findings of the various conferences deliberated upon were kept on hold by the governments in power at various periods.
What are the expectations of the proposed conference?
Interestingly, Nigerians are raising their voices to demand that the coming National Conference should be all-embracing, a conference of the nationalities that make up Nigeria. Of importance to note is that each of the nationalities lived as a united state of its own. Of note is also the fact that each nationality lived in many separate states or kingdoms, but possessed a strong primodial consciousness of themselves as one people. A consciousness underpinned by common language and culture and made dynamic, through various traditional collective practices, various interconnected institutions, folklores, rituals, etc. All these nationalities must, therefore, be represented in the intending conference, if the exercise is to be meaningful and rewarding.
Why do you think some people are against the conference?
Important as the exercise is, it is heavily loaded with suspicion, fear and mistrust brought about by a government that has lost credibility and trust worthiness in the face of its people. In Nigeria today, many overwhelmingly believe that the government is run for few and their special interests, not for the large majority of the people. The economic system is inherently unfair. The Federal Government is not protecting the most vulnerable in the society, especially the poor, elderly and the underprivileged. There is massive unemployment and endemic corruption in the system. No one appears to be doing anything substantial to reduce the anomalies. Therefore, for a government that has been known to have been doing nothing to reduce the suffering of its citizens to suddenly wake up from slumber and direct on the convocation of a complex subject such as National Conference, it will undoubtedly raise suspicion. It is difficult in the present circumstance to rule out a hidden or personal agenda. It is also not possible to dismiss the position strongly held by the opponents of the convocation of the conference, especially the political class, stating that the timing is wrong, diversionary and of personal interest.
Are you also suggesting that the conference should not hold?
No, be that as it may, we must think far beyond today and try as much as possible to prepare and make substantial contributions. We must not boycott the National Conference. Though the position of the opponents is clear, the language understod and the implication noted, boycott is not the answer. We need not to wait until tragedy and disaster compel us to convoke a Sovereign National Conference before we embrace an opportunity to hold conversation, not withstanding how little we believe the exercise will provide benefits. It is another opportunity to talk and we must take full advantage of it. History reveals that a country makes significant progress by talking and less progress by not talking at all. In fact, the people need to take advantage of the moment. We need to understand the mood of the time, the time change and the urgency of the moment. It is another opportunity coming at this time and it must not be allowed to slip off. We need to focus on the gains of the exercise, which shall be part of the build-up of a united Nigeria where no one will be oppressed. What we need is basically a change from ethos of political consumerism to citizenship. We must be held together by the recognition of mutual responsibility and obligation. The conference will provide this opportunity and we need to take advantage of it.
What should the government do to succeed on the proposed conference?
Regrettably, what the people have with the government of the day is what can be described as low trust relationship. What we need is high trust relationship which will spring up smile, confidence, acceptability and gear -up people to become animated and help the conversation to focus on positive outcomes. The government should take the initiative now, and, of course, it has all the instruments to achieve such goals. So, they must be put into actions immediately. This is the only way the people and the government can work together with less suspicion and mistrust. For the government to be taken seriously, it needs to go beyond mere statement of intent to exercises that will enable it to restore its trustworthiness. It must also demonstrate in clear terms, all the attributes of trustworthiness.
What system of government do you prefer for Nigeria?
The present presidential system of government is a replica of the American system with executive, judiciary and legislatives arms. They have different functions and are meant to complement one another with adequate checks and balances. However, the system is very expensive to run, especially for a developing country, which lacks basic essential amenities. A strong suggestion is in favour of the parliamentry system which we had and practised effectively shortly after independence. An acceptable way to reduce corruption and wastage is for the committee charged with the function of coordinating the relevant opinions on the National conference to accept the proposal to return to the parliamentry system of democracy.
Can you advise the National Conference committee members?
Obviously, members of the different ethnic nationalities who made up the country should have their representation at the conference. The conference must be tolerant of all various levels of discussion. We need to accommodate one another in the exercise. Recognised organisations, establishments, labour unions, the media, student bodies and other pressure groups should be allowed to have their say.
What is your advice for the federal government on the proposed National Conference?
We need a better, safe, more just and equitable nation for all Nigerians and I believe that it is possible if we find time to sit together and address the injustices of the past. Confronting the realities of the present and indeed charting the right course for the future. We can get there. It will not come for free but we can apply the principles of justice, equity and fairplay to determine an acceptable future and indeed, a real nation where there will be respect for the dignity of man and worth of his personality. A nation is only strong if its nationals are strong and have equal access to opportunities of social upward mobility. Agreeably, there are some elite who will wish that the status quo be retained. This interest must collectively be overriden.
Can you advise politicians on the conference?
The political leaders will use the conference resolutions to convince the citizens that it is the document of nationalities. So, they should massively mobilize opinions and make it clear to every one that indifference and apathy to the development, unity and peace of the country are no longer viable options. We need all to join hands to achieve this position and the place to start is the active participation of all in he National conference.
Why do you think corruption persists in Nigeria?
I think the situation in Nigerian is out of control. It is like the money the government is supposed to use to develop the roads, hospitals, schools and other infrastructure is going into private hands and there is no plan for tomorrow. So, people are busy stealing and when they are caught, no much punishment is given them.