Let’s have 1960 or 1963 constitution before 2023 elections — AFE BABALOLA -GCFRNG
The military believes in central control, and that is the problem of Buhari himself
The elderly statesman, icon of the legal profession and university entrepreneur, Aare Afe Babalola, SAN, is a committed personality; kind of an enigma. As a nonagenarian, there are not many in his age bracket who enjoy the kind of health that he does.
He remains agile, mentally alert and does not wear glasses. He made points and reinforced them with book and magazine references that he pulled out and read without glasses. In the public domain, he is known to be 92 years old, with a birth date of October 30, 1929. But Aare Babalola, in all probability, is older than that.
“You see, in 1937, when I enrolled in elementary school, I could already make 200 piles of yams on my father’s farm. I don’t think an eight year old can do that. Age is more than that, ”he said. A self-made man, Chief Babalola did not get a formal education beyond the elementary level, but he strove to educate himself and eventually earned degrees, first in economics and then in law.
In the first part of this interview below, he assessed the state of the nation, gave an idea of what is responsible for the growing divide between North and South, what is best for Nigeria between secession and restructuring, assessment of the former President Olusegun. Obasanjo’s mandate and his position in the agitators of the Yoruba Nation.
He also probed the position that Nigeria should have a new constitution before the 2023 elections, adding that what should be done is to replace the constitution in use now with the Republican Constitution of 1960 or 1963, insisting that the National Assembly is losing. time and resources in your bid to amend the constitution.
Nigeria faces challenges on many fronts. What is your advice to our leaders and followers, especially the youth?
The problem we have is that people don’t realize that Nigeria didn’t exist until 1884, when Europeans who described Africa as a dark continent met in Berlin to divide Africa among themselves for their selfish interests without consulting them.
In doing so, the enclave known as Nigeria today was handed over to Britain as if we were slaves, as if we were yams, and consists of more than 400 languages, tribes and whatever.
I must thank and bless the memory of Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, who was also a self-taught person. He trained himself, and Awolowo, a great man, Aminu Kano, Enahoro, and others, all of whom fought for our independence.
Between 1950 and 1960, these people went to England several times with other leaders to find out how these numerous nations in the enclave can work together and eventually become one nation.
A country is not necessarily a nation, but a country can become a nation depending on how you can make people believe that they can work together.
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Germany has many tribes, Switzerland, Canada the same. But until there is the will and desire to be a nation, a nation cannot emerge from a country that consists of many nations.
Look at the outcome of the 10-year long meetings in England that led to Independence in 1960. They agreed that we have different languages or whatever, but we can become one.
They appreciated it. North, South and West appreciated it and decided on a federal constitution that allowed each part to develop at its own pace. Allow each party to develop their own culture but at the same time come together as a country and then you will feel proud of yourself.
This is how we came up with the 1960 constitution, a federal constitution with regions; later it became four regions with the Midwest.
Things were going very well with us. Western Region was leading with Chief Awolowo, doing his best to grow us. If the military did not come, the Western Region would have caught up with Great Britain.
The problem we had was the military. The army believes in central power, the central way of doing things. They believe in central control, and that is Buhari’s own problem. He was trained to be a soldier. He was not qualified to be a lawyer or to be a doctor. He is used to central control.
When the army returned to the barracks, they gave us a constitution that again strengthened the center so much that the so-called states were nothing more than mere servants who used to collect money at the end of the month.
They destroyed the local government completely. I was a councilor before, that was in 1964 or 1965. They didn’t pay us; we wanted to help. We were all lawyers or doctors, etc. We don’t take a kobo.
In the parliamentary system also at that time, the members of the house did not accept a kobo. They only received allowances to sit, with no salary. They were ready and willing to serve. The problem we have is central control through the constitution. Unless something is done about it, we can never do it again.
In fact, Nigeria may not exist if we do not change the constitution to the parliamentary system in the next few years.
Look at your external and internal debt. Look at how much we are using to pay down the debt. Very soon we will have nothing left but debt service. Where are you going?
You will not have money to pay the interest itself, you will be managing loans. My advice is that the sooner we call for a National Sovereign Conference the better, and the sooner we get back into the parliamentary system the better. That will end so-called leaders who do nothing but business.
At 61, do you think Nigeria has achieved nationality?
After Independence, each additional year is a year behind in development. There has been a backward development since the military took over.
Before they took over, we had Nigeria Airways, a shipping line, a first-class rail system. Where are they? At that time also the Naira was stronger than a dollar but equal to a pound. What do we have today? At that time, there was no poverty in this country.
If you go out today and want to get into your car, you will see someone well dressed, asking for money, saying that he has not eaten since the morning.
In my day, when I was young, there was no begging in this place. Ranchers were friendly people at the time. I’m sure you know what I’m talking about.
Generally horses, livestock are owned by entrepreneurs and they were given to these children to raise and we adopted the nomadic cattle raising system in 2021. It is a shame.
What do you think is responsible for the growing divide between North and South?
That is a difficult question. I think it is the issue of livestock. The South does not believe that it must cede land to the cattle owner for it to establish itself. Everyone believes that livestock farming is a business like poultry, pig farming, fishing, etc.
If you want to raise poultry in the north or anywhere in Nigeria, all you have to do is acquire land. If you want to make a pigsty, buy a piece of land and that’s it. It is a business. The owners of these cattle are rich people.
Almost every state in the South is making laws in this regard. I think they are right. Let me tell you with all my might that the nomadic cattle-raising system is out of date. There is no country that allows livestock to roam and graze farmers’ crops.
Anyway, in this country before the cattle ranchers did not allow their cattle to enter the farms, they used to go through narrow paths and we used to feed them. They were friendly but now they carry weapons.
Look at what they have done to a state like Benue State, Nigeria’s food basket. All the president had to do was report them. I heard the President say that he would order the Attorney General to find a bulletin produced by whites that would allow them to follow certain routes throughout the country.
Assuming there were roads, aren’t they already built with houses? In my weekly column I made it clear that there was no such newsletter. I did my research, there was no such newsletter. Now you can see that Southerners could and should infer from the president’s statement that he is supporting these people.
He says they have the right to do so. Look at the appointments made. He has the federal constitution that specifically states that he must follow the federal character.
There has been agitation for secession, separation, restructuring. As an elder who has seen a lot first-hand in Nigeria’s political development, what should be the best option for Nigeria to grow now?
In his 1966 book, Awolowo said that since Nigeria is a quintessential multilingual and multinational country, the only constitution that suits its peculiar circumstances is a federal constitution.
In 2001, I went to Port Harcourt where I was invited to speak. I asked: Is Nigeria a myth or a reality? I said that I am Yoruba first before being Nigerian, and I don’t know a Nigerian who is Nigerian first before belonging to his ethnic group.
The best way is to run a true federal constitution proper. It is then that nationality would emerge. Nigeria is not a nation today. Nigeria probably would have become one if we had followed the 1960 or 1963 constitution, but unfortunately, as I said before, the military came.
They didn’t really destroy the 1963 constitution, they suspended it. When the army left, the only thing they could have done was bring it back to when it was before.
Instead of doing that, they sat in their rooms, drafted a constitution that again concentrates power at the center. That is our problem today.
I have said it, don’t let us hold the next elections under the 1999 constitution. Let us have a new constitution before the next elections whereby we would have new rules on who can become a member of the legislature, age, qualification, background, evidence that you are a nationalist, evidence that you have contributed to the development of the country, you have your own business, not politics, politics should not be a lucrative business.
The constitution will also stipulate that there will be no salary for anyone who is a member of parliament, he will only take mandated assignments. And then we just need one legislature, we don’t need too many legislatures. We are spending too much money running the government.
That has been my advice and I still stand by it, unless we make peace far from us, don’t go to war. That we don’t have a case like Tigray in Ethiopia. We must avoid such a situation.
That is why I did everything possible when I was launching my Industrial Park, chaired by his Royal Highness, the Ooni of Ife, Oba Adeyeye Ogunwusi. I said look gentlemen, I pray that all that we have accomplished will not be destroyed on behalf of Nigeria. Therefore, I suggested that we have what I described as Summit of Hope.
That Summit of Hope must be convened by the Ooni that will bring all the important Obas, all the former presidents, former governors among others to discuss the way forward. I have invested money to start. I have even donated my beautiful assembly hall. The Sultan of Sokoto and many other people have accepted this Summit of Hope.
I don’t know if it will continue yet, but I hope it continues because that is the only way. We have to sit down at the end of the day and discuss the future of this country.
At that time we must agree to go back to what our ancestors agreed to in London, which gave rise to the 1960 constitution. That is the way out in my interest, your interest and the interest of those who will come after us. The sooner the better.
On the separatist upheavals in the country, couldn’t it be handled better?
What leads to unrest in regions, sections, etc., is nothing more than the fact that people are unemployed, people are poor, people are not safe on farms, in their homes, on the streets, on the road, and people now say: it would not be better to go back to what we were before.
Most people knew what life was like during the parliamentary system of government that we had between 1960 and 1966, they knew it. And they also know what happened in other countries.
Nobody who is happy, content and who is doing well in the country would want to leave the country not to talk about secession. People react to problems in different ways.
So in a way, they have a case against the government, the way it is run. Some feel why we don’t have to leave. I don’t think it is the best solution.
When Biafra wanted to separate, you knew what happened. Today, you want to part with someone who does not want you to part and has all the ammunition, you are directly inviting another Tigray from Ethiopia in Nigeria.
You can’t fight the man who has all the ammunition for the way they are doing it. For me, and I repeat, the best way is to have a gathering of well-meaning and well-respected Nigerians. And some of them have been saying what I’m saying, it’s not new, so we can have a new constitution.
Those in parliament are not ready to pass the resolution because they are profiting from the rot. So we have a very dangerous situation. Praying alone cannot help, that is not the answer. God does not help people who want to destroy themselves.
I appeal once more to the Ooni; I know that he is working on that, the Sultan, who is also working on that and for others. It should be the people who call the meeting of these other retired presidents and so forth, and there will be people like you journalists.
There are many Nigerians who want Nigeria to remain one. So let’s get them to talk to the president who obviously, due to his upbringing as a military man, doesn’t believe in parliamentary government.
After all, he was invited by the National Assembly to discuss security. Once, he said that he was leaving, but then he said that his Attorney General advised him not to go and yet the house knew of his powers.
Instead of insisting or threatening to charge him for security reasons, they refused to do so because most of them are in his party. If these people are re-elected under this same constitution, Nigeria will be divided at that time.
Former President Obasanjo is his very good friend. Nigerians believe that he had a golden opportunity that he did not use well in terms of restoring the country when he was in the saddle. Are there things that he thinks he could have done or shouldn’t have done?
Well, President Obasanjo is the best we’ve had since the military took office. When he took office, Nigeria was in debt. He knew the importance of foreign debt because it means that we will not have enough foreign money to buy and so on.
He knew it would affect the value of the naira. What did he do? He went to Paris and other places. He was going on this journey and Gani Fawehinmi sued him in court saying the reason he was going was because he wanted the stake from him. I defended Obasanjo in that, which was not correct.
He succeeded and the Paris club canceled our debt. We were back to normal. It was during his time that the amount voted for education increased because the law states that you must vote 26 percent of all your income for education.
I told him in confidence that we should do something with the 1999 constitution because I saw that it was not the people’s constitution, I saw that the constitution lied when it said it was made by the people, and in any case, it has repealed. the 1960 constitution that allowed regions to develop at their own pace and so on, now centralizes power in the center. I’ve said it, it’s in my book too. That is the only area where we do not agree.
So when you decided two or three years ago that Nigerians want a new constitution, I wrote an article and said congratulations, Obasanjo, for agreeing now. He had the opportunity at that moment to do so.
If he had, we wouldn’t be in the mess we are in now. Now he is part of us, he wants a new constitution. So your sins must be forgiven.
To let you know that I do not agree with him, as early as 2001, I wrote an article on the need for a new constitution. I was one of the first people to write an article about it. We had a conference about it and great people attended in Port Harcourt.
I always believe that there is a need to restructure, that is a new constitution. That can be achieved even now before the next election. We can have it if the president is serious, if the members of the National Assembly are serious.
Gentlemen, I am counting on you to support my vision and my vision is that we need a new constitution before the next election. It is easy to do. Let’s go back to the 1960 constitution with amendments and the amendment will be instead of three, four regions, we are going to have the geopolitical zones and that will solve all our problems.
Then we modify the area that allows anyone to dispute. We will modify the area that deals with the different legislatures. We just need a legislature, fewer people, no salary, subsidies.
Members of the National Assembly are currently amending the constitution and are not talking about giving the country a new constitution. What is your view on this?
I’ve written about it. They are wasting time. They are not addressing the problem. The amendment to the law also means replacement. They can replace, why are they modifying?
If you are in a court of law, file an action, file your claim, you can amend the claim by replacing it with a new one. So instead of doing all that, why not immediately replace the 1960 constitution with some amendments?
That is what I want to emphasize there. Instead of amending clauses, why not amend the constitution to replace what is causing problems for this country which is the excessive centralization of power in the center?
• EDITOR’S NOTE: The second part of the interview focuses on his foray into college entrepreneurship at the age of 80, when people typically don’t start anything new or take risks. Do not miss it. Coming your way on Thursday.
Let’s have 1960 or 1963 constitution before 2023 elections — AFE BABALOLA -GCFRNG