Surajudeen Ajibola Bashiru is a radical legal practitioner and a politician. He holds a Masters degree in Property Law with specialisation in Secured Credit, Corporate Finance and other areas, a member of the ACN legal team in Osun State governorship election, a strict believer in regional integration and a commissioner in Osun State, in this interview with SHINA ABUBAKAR, spoke on various issues.
OSDF: Something had been bordering my mind since the day you delivered a lecture about regional integration. Do you see regional integration working in the nation’s federal structure?
Bashiru: Well, the idea is like what I will call the microcosm of Federal arrangement. That is, while the state legally and practically remains autonomous, the region harnesses its resources, because when there is advantage between the adjoining states, the idea then becomes imperative. In fact, the idea of integration is a noble one. It is even being practiced in international and regional organisations and the whole idea is to ensure that there is continuity of benefits of the same culture and heritage of the people. For instance, Lagos, Oyo, Ogun, Osun, Ondo, Ekiti, Edo and Delta states, of the then Western Region share similar cultural heritage before the subsequent balkanisation of Nigeria into several states, which make the states weak financially, toenable them embark on massive economic empowerment and development for the people. So, the whole idea is to put the resources together and pursue joint economic programmes. This would bring about comparative advantage to the region. For example in the area of education, between Lagos and Benin in Edo State, the number of state schools is too high, but how many of the schools can measure up to international standard. But integration would bring about great turn-around, where some of these universities would become colleges of a greater Western university. Like the Ladoke Akintola University of Technology in Ogbomosho might become a College of Engineering or Medicine of a greater university, this would enable them have a central resource, while maintaining their autonomy, instead of having to balkanise the resources.
Also in the area of provision of infrastructure, like the roads; the roads that interlink the region, becauseof this Federal arrangement, some of them are bad and the people living in the areas are not Federal people and cannot even approach the Federal Government for their repairs. For instance, the Osogbo-Ibadan-Lagos expressway; if one is to travel on that road and there is a problem at the Ibadan Axis, everyone is hooked in the problem, but there is an alternative route from Orile-Owu linking Ijebu-Ode- Lagos expressway and if the road is constructed, it will reduce the stress on the Lagos-Ibadan road and one can live in either Osogbo, Benin, Akure or even Ado-Ekiti and work in Lagos. There is also the idea of linking the region through rail-lines, this would bring about advantages for Nigeria. I mean, by the time people begin to see good governance, economic development on the part of the people in the region, others may be forced to enter into similar arrangement and ensure genuine federalism in the country at all levels.
OSDF: The theoretical aspect is beautiful, but, what sacrifice do you think wouldcost to implement the idea. I mean, would some state governors in the region want to give-up their autonomy for regional government?
Bashiru: The way the idea works is not about giving up authority, what it really takes is to create structure. Like in the case of Osun State, a new Ministry of Regional Integration and Special Duties has been created to show that there the government is serious about it and I believe that the same thing is being replicated in other states, not necessarily creating a new ministry for it, but even a department that would really look into the idea of regional integration and ultimately, we need to create strong institution, of which something of the nature is already in existence. For instance, the Odu’a Investment Company with a board of directors from different states taking care of their interests, without taking away the authority of the governors. This new idea is not taking anything away from it, but in evolving the concept, we would only look at what needs to be done to cater for the entire region and at the various meetings among the states, we look at how to put a board in place to cater for the interest of the states involved and I am sure that at the various meetings so far, things are beginning to take shape, except Ondo and Delta States, which are being controlled by different political parties and if the man in Delta State does not see anything wrong in joining the regional concept, fine, but I am sure Ondo State government would not want to close its eyes to the idea of developmental issues. All the other governors who are from the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) are already fashioning out modalities for the success of the noble idea.
OSDF: Do you think the PDP led-Federal Government would not do anything to ensure that it frustrates the noble idea, especially seeing it as a rivalry from a party that is emerging as a threat to it?
Bashiru: Yes, there is a possibility. In Nigeria, it is unfortunate that even in matters that would bring developmental programmes, people still try to frustrate them. It happened during the time of Obasanjo, when he tried to frustrate the then Lagos State government, simply because the then Governor Bola Tinubu-led administrationfelt that local government should be taking down to the grassroots level by creating additional local government councils, which is clearly within the powers of the state government. But in this case, the whole concept would involve a critical examination of the constitution of Nigeria and all applicable laws to ensure that one, even programmes that are been created are within the ambit of Nigerian law and because we are a federating unit, we would also need to interface with the federal government and we hope that public opinion and the genuineness of the programme would weigh in the minds of power holders, to ensure that the programme works.However, whether they are cooperative or not, in as much as what we are doing is within the law, it would be a good avenue to test Nigerian laws in those areas that we may want to venture in, just like the way the Lagos State government sued the Federal government over matters of planning and Lagos won the case at the end of the day. We are also prepared for such legal battles, but it is hoped that the Federal Government would be cooperative, but whichever way, the Supreme Court is always there to settle such disputes.
OSDF: If the regional integration idea is successful, is it capable of recreating the glorious days of the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo in the then Western Region?
Bashiru: You see even now, without the regional integration being implemented, you can see existing government in the South-West, particularly now that the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), my own party is bringing up programmes in all areas, and I am proud of the party that are toeing the path of the developmental politics laid down by late Obafemi Awolowo and continued by late Chief Bola Ige and now being embodied by Chief Bisi Akande and then the national leader of our party, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, who actually could be said now to be new leader in the area of developing platforms for politics of development, in a pubis of social advancement and economic well-being of the people.
OSDF: Sir, I want to ask; being a lawyer for all this while and seeing the current Nigerian Federalism, the way it is, do you think in future, we would have a Nigeria with true federalism?
Bashiru: Iam an optimist,I believe that Nigeria will get there because, now as you can see, even from people, who are ordinary reactionary, have begun to see that if you do not deliver, people would vote you out and to the extent that you begin to see that there is commitment to genuine free and fair election. In that circumstance, the genuine pursuit of Nigeria would push for real federalism. It is because that for a very long time, people who had been in the corridors of power at the federal level are not just committed, to ensuring that genuine federalism is in place and especially in the area of fiscal policy, a lot of money is concentrated with the federal government, which does not commensurate with its responsibility, while other levels of government do not have the financial muscle to discharge their enormous responsibilities to the people.
OSDF: You think one day, we would have state police?
Bashiru: I think weshould have it now, because one of our representatives at the Senate, Professor Sola Adeyeye, during screening of Ministerial nominees, asked Mr. Labaran Maku that the only argument against state police is that it is liable to be abused and added that the Nigeria Police as it is, is it not being abused. If the argument against state police is valid with Nigeria Police, should we also scrap it? So what I think we really need is that we need to strengthen our rule of law mechanism, so that if there is rule of law in place, nobody would be abused. So we need to strengthen the Judiciary and the means of enforcing the rule of law mechanism.
OSDF: You were part of the legal team that helped reclaim the people’s mandate for Mr. Rauf Aregbesola, what was the legal team’s greatest challenge during the trial?
Bashiru: Well, the greatest challenge was actually the tailored attempt to successfully subvert the course of justice. As you can see, the first tribunal, that is, the Justice Thomas Naron-tribunal, the judgment was subverted, and a panel had been set up by the Nigeria Judicial Council (NJC) to probe the tribunal and we have hard evidence that showed unholy communications between the Chairman of the tribunal (Naron) and Mr. Kunle kalejaye, who was the PDP and former Governor Olagusoye Oyinlola’s lead counsel and an engine-room of the unholy acts, which gave us a setback for three years, because we had to go to the Appeal Court and got back to the tribunal and even the second tribunal did not fare better. The only thing it did was to admit the evidence before it, but did a terrible job about evaluation, but at last we were able to get good judgment through God-fearing judges as proved by the outcome of the NJC panel that probed the alleged misdeeds against the President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Isa Salami, an allegation which was sponsored by Senator Iyiola Omisore, who felt that his right to become governor of the state had been dashed. Their allegation was not supported with any iota of evidence.
OSDF: If Justice Salami was quick to be probed, why do you think it took NJC that long to commence the probe of Naron and Kalejaye matter?
Bashiru: That is a Million Naira question that every Nigerian should ask the NJC, particularly the Chief Justice of Nigeria.
OSDF: You are also part of the ACN legal team, seeking redress in some states, with the outcome so far, do you think that the last general elections were fair?
Bashiru: You see in the South-West,maybe due to the verdicts we got at the tribunals or the awareness of the people or the desireof Jonathan to have some semblance of legitimacy, maybe that’s why they decided not to perpetrate rigging in the South-West. But experiences in some other places had shown evidence of manipulation and ringing. For instance, I was in Akwa-Ibom State, the date on the result sheet for the governorship election was earlier than the date for the local government. You know the local government collation was supposed to be done before the state collation, also the voters’ register that were certified, there was no accreditation on them and where there were accreditation, the number does not match with the numbers of voters there. The same thing happened in Benue and Kebbi States.
In fact, I just learnt about ten minutes before we started this interview that the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) just won a senatorial seat at the tribunal in Kebbi State. So there is serious manipulation of the election outcome. Then the figures in some areas during the presidential election cannot be justified, especially in the East, where 100 percent of registered voters came out to vote, even the national figure by INEC was about 35 percent. So the figures in the east did not make it look like a serious election with credibility.
OSDF: With your numerous experiences, how would you advice INEC on credible polls in the country, especially at this time that some governorship elections would be held in 2012?
Bashiru: There is a difference between law and implementation. The Nigerian security operatives have roles in ensuring credible elections. Then INEC itself has roles to play in ensuring credible elections. It needs to purge itself of the many bad eggs within the organization, who are always willing to give up credible polls for money. The opposition partiesalso have to be very vigilant and must have strength to monitor the elections. In the South-West for instance, may be the experience in 2007 showed the opposition how to mobilize its resources to ensure credible polls.
OSDF: Do you think opposition parties are likely to win more seats at the tribunals across the country?
Bashiru: Yes, it has happened in Kebbi State and there is every likelihood that the ACN would win the other two senatorial seats in Benue State, because from the evidence on ground, the Senate President, David Mark did not win the election. Also the governorship election in Benue is a matter of contention and in Akwa-Ibom, notwithstanding the setbackat the tribunaldismissing the petition, the verdict cannot hold.Same goes for KatsinaState. We are confident that we would get redress and progressive government would be returned at the end of the litigations.
OSDF: What about Kwara State?
Bashiru: Kwara is also one of the states, where we believe election result was manipulated, especially the gubernatorial poll, it was a case of electoral heist. I believe the governor currently occupying the state Government House is a mere tenant, because very soon, with the evidence before the tribunal, we would win the seat back, by the grace of God.
OSDF: With your closeness to Mr. Rauf Aregbesola, do you think he can deliver the much-expected dividends of democracy for the teeming masses of the state?
Bashiru: I don’t want to speak as someone close to the governor, but I can confidently say that the meant well for the people. We have started seeing it in his employment drive, sanitation and flooding control. Also, urban renewal project is another one aimed at ensuring that at least one kilometer radius of the state-identified major cities is being habited by human beings. The roads would be dualised and proper structure would be put in place and the environmental emergency declared by the governor has made our cities and work places appear much cleaner and safeguard our health.
Another area is Education, I am sure more mega schools would be constructed to ensure that students have proper learning condition and the area of concentration would be primary and secondary education, because it is the bedrock upon which any further education can be strengthened and when you have a quality primary and secondary education, we would have better standard of Osun State students. There is also the issue of artisanship, where life academy would be established to train artisans in the state in entrepreneurial skills and ensure that people have a means of earning a livelihood and impact on the socio-economic development of the state. In the area of the Judiciary, am aware that a survey on how to improve judicial service has been conducted, as well as the area of law reform to ensure that our laws are able to cater for contemporary challenges.
OSDF: Some people only see you as a lawyer and not a politician. Are you a politician?
Bashiru: Well, I don’t know how you classify a politician, but the confidence the governor has in one, has enabled us to key-in into his vision and working assiduously to achieve it. So, if working towards achieving the visions of Mr. Governor, of ensuring that the state is transformed into an enviable level is what it takes to be a politici Ian, then political pundits would have to be allowed to judge that, besides that I don’t know how a politician is identified.
OSDF: What is your advice for young and upcoming politicians in the state?
Bashiru: I think they should be focused on their career and always dedicate themselves to the service of humanity. They should always remember that they would not be remembered by the amount of money they have harnessed to themselves, but by what they are able to contribute to humanity. People like Awolowo, Bola Ige and even Aregbesola would not be remembered as millionaires, but as people that love the masses and worked to ensure their emancipation. So, we should all try to dedicate ourselves to render service to humanity, because our stay in this world is ephemeral and one day, we all would be asked to give account of what we did here.