Barrister Oladotun Hassan is the President of the Yoruba Council of Youths Worldwide (YCYW). In this exclusive interview with ‘Dotun Akintomide, he bares his mind on his organization’s work in collaboration with other regional youth leaders across Nigeria, centered on youth development, emancipation as well as participation in governance. Beyond status quo, he also touched on how Nigeria can raise new breed of politicians who can slog it out with the existing political establishment ahead of 2019 general elections and thereafter. EXCERPTS:
Recently, Yoruba Council of Youths World Wide had the 7th edition of its yearly summit, can you highlight what your organization has been able to achieve through this effort, as well as your milestone over the years?
On the 18th of March, the Yoruba Council of Youths Worldwide also known as ‘Igbimo Odo Yoruba Lagbalaye’ celebrated her 19th anniversary of establishment and also had the 7th edition of her youth international conference which also coincided with my own birthday anniversary as the founder of the organization. It was a triple landmark and we were able to use that opportunity to reach out to our own, because we don’t find it so funfair based on the mood of the nation which we believe it’s undergoing a lot of challenges and in a dire need of salvaging. We are in a state of disrepair, as far as we are concerned as an organization. Seeing the embodiment of Nigeria, there’s a need to dissect our past and relate it with the present to forecast a better future for the nation. This was what led to the theme of this year’s edition which is “Nigeria: The Past, Present and The Future” which we tagged the ‘Isokan Omoluabi’. These are virtuousness of our persons as Yoruba and we believe that Omoluabi principle should be a nationalistic ideology. It shouldn’t be restricted to Yorubas alone. If every citizen can imbibe the virtues of ‘Omoluabi’ – that is, the virtuousness spirit or ideology and owing to the fact that it will bring about good governance, then our democracy will be better promoted which will in turn bring about unity. It will foster the progress of the nation because everyone will have the spirit of patriotism which is very low now. These are elements that build a nation. A nation is not just predicated on electioneering and after that it is called ‘Democracy’? Yet, that is the ideology of what we understand as democracy in Nigeria. After the elections, you become agitators and beggars again. You begin to beg for what has already been promised. These are real issues we were able to bring to the fore on the 18th of March and we were able to have an erudite scholar and core Awoist to really give us a retrospect on how it was and way forward on how we can improve. We were able to beckon on Professor Banji Akintoye. We had the presence of the leadership of the Arewa Consultative Youth Forum, Shettima Yerima. We had the presence of the President Ohanaeze Ndigbo Youth Council and the leadership of the Yorubas were there. Likewise, we had representatives from the Ijaw Youth Council. It is more or less a national movement and we believe as an organisation we must think nationalistic. We must be more empirical with our opinion and we cannot be so restrictive because Nigeria is now being shrouded in zoning formula and divided with ethnics and religious bigotry. These are divisive tendencies that have divided us apart. If we begin to come together and we tagged it as ‘Isokan Omoluabi’, these are real things that we want to be frontal about and discuss and we were able to achieve the task on that day. The program goes a long way to show that this is the way to go for us to begin to build a nation based on true federalism. A true federalist state will not yearn for a unitary system and the set-up we have found ourselves. We ought to have passed the way we are, if we are to operate on a true federalism because under that notion, we have a succinct dividend of democracy, we will have social justice rights institutionalized and everybody will be moving at their own pace and progress. With true federalism we will have a true people’s constitution where the law is above man and everybody will be under the same laws and be governed by the laws and not different laws for the rich and the ‘haves’ and separate laws for the ‘have nots’.
You mentioned true federalism, when you look at the different fragments that made up Nigeria, you will realize that some regions are agitating for something different from the other regions and having that common voice had somewhat became evasive. Considering mutual suspicion and certain vested interests, don’t you think some groups are hell-bent on sabotaging efforts that would lead to a fiscally federalized state for fear of losing out in the implementation?
The fear of the unknown and the penchant for deceit is the foundation of what brought us to where we are. The interest and hegemony of the northern region has always held us back beyond where we’re supposed to be. Don’t only take the north as the only ailment. There is a complicity on the part of the other regions too. On the ailments that befall us as a nation: one, in collective bargaining system, you stand by what you believe in, but as a matter of fact, the way we are being designed al-binitio from day one and even the way our colonial masters built this nation was to build on a platter having one less economically buoyant state; whereby it will become their own apron bag to work over the other well economically buoyant regions. And that spelt the way the likes of Awolowo were never allowed to become a president, the way other progressive minded individuals such as M.K.O Abiola were never allowed to become a leader in this nation, because there is a set up agenda which is a script. The script is the one leading us to where we are and that’s why the baton that was handed over to us as a nation was better divided across that line. The employment and appointment capacity in the federal parastatals and states; the armed forces as far as the federation is concerned are more tilted towards a particular region. These are no gain says that we have to be smiling about and a more of what propounded us to this destructive end that we have found ourselves. Except the needful is done for us to revamp our consciousness and do something about it, nothing will change. We know that there are lots of agitations for restructuring which the northern interests have been very much uninterested about. It has really shown and indicated their handwriting on how Mr President who promised the devolution of power from day one as part of his promise has failed. Because if he denies his party, it will mean he’s denying his existence as president because you can only become a president via a political party as far as the nation is concerned. You work on your party manifesto and you cannot deviate from those lines of thoughts that you sold to the people. It becomes a breach of contract, once you have refused to meet up with your own end of an agreement. The people’s social contract was re-invested on March 28, 2015 and those investments are failing today because some people’s interest and individual’s hegemony is over and above being superintendent over us and that’s why we are failing. The best way to go is for a real discourse and I have called for it that we needed a sovereign discourse. We need a sovereign constitution. If we have a sovereign people’s constitution, we wouldn’t waste time in a conference discussing issues. We only need a sovereign constitution that emanates from the people. It will take us three to four years to construct a constitution. A constitution is not built in a day. It takes time and ideology and the constitution must have been interpreted in our language. We know what is good for us and we have the NEEDs document, the SDG document, the 1963 constitution and the rest. We could merge all the better parts of these laws and developmental agenda. We call technocrats who understand the sensibility and psychology of power and the reasoning of our people to now sit down and tilt towards those needs of the people. The people already have their needs. We’re not freshers to know what we want as a people. Anybody coming to lead this country and he’s asking what do you need as Yoruba is more or less thinking in abase, that he doesn’t even understand what he’s coming in to do. An average leader must know what the regions want. He must know that what the north needs now is more of a restructured system, whereby in the next ten years we will be able to plan an ideological mode of the people in that region.
Considering the ideological mode you talked about, there is Development Agenda for Western Nigeria (DAWN) Commission which Southwest leaders had formulated as blueprint for the progress of the region, yet many have argued that they can’t implement it in complete isolation without collaborating with other regions. How best do you think the blueprint should be adopted?
We have come to understand the terrain of the Yoruba land as a very unpredictable environment. We must understand our people and I understand our people the way we think, the way we pull up our interest. Definitely, the DAWN commission is a succinct idea. But as far as politics is concerned within the region, it has nailed the coffin of the DAWN commission beyond the nose of the proponents. The people that are supposed to be the promoters are the governors, speakers of the state assembly. DAWN commission was supposed to be our home grown baby and economic vault point of reasoning, of planning, of building a region on its own. Today it has become a shadow of itself due to the failure of the governors to promote it.
Why are the governors not promoting it?
Because we are divided across political lines. In each political party, there is divisive tendency. In every home state, there are lots of wranglings and even acrimonies among the governors has really frustrated the implementation of the DAWN Commission.
But the Southwest Governors have been holding meetings, the last time they met at Ibadan.
The governors are only meeting on a cosmetic grounds and nobody is ready to move on that platter of planning. I have always aligned with an ideology that is realistic, not when an ideology has been so premeditated to the submissiveness of some particular set of people to fetter their own interests and their weights. How many meeting has been held and how much of the meetings’ implementations have we seen? Say this is DAWN commission’s project in Lagos; this is the rail line of the commission’s investment or this is the account of the commission; or the percentage of the budget that each state is committing to be used for DAWN commission’s project. That’s the way it supposed to be. The governors hold the meeting on DAWN commission, but I have advised that for it to have the expected deliverables, it’s until we have a National Assembly’s act that has the South West Development Commission as an Act of the parliament just as the North East has been able to benefit from that in years. And we have the Niger Delta Development Commission and these are commissions that go beyond the normal budgetary allocations for States and the FEC releases, because there must be some certain percentage for that region especially from the resources generated from that region.
Don’t you think the federal government will want to say no to that, because there is no inherent violence in Southwest like we have seen in the Niger Delta and North East?
No! We think primordial and too sentimental and we’re too aligned to views that take us no where. Why must we have a crisis before you begin to give people what’s desirable to them. The developed countries plan ahead but we fail to plan and allow the situation to plan our lives. The agitation in the Niger Delta has not survived beyond the mouth piece of those agitators. One, the region is now more impoverished than the way it was when agitations were on. The same oil pollution and degradation of the region is still on going. For God’s sake, why do we have the NDDC. It has now become a melting pot for some cronies of the government and a feast end of some persons. And that’s the same thing we’re seeing in the North East Development Commission. For the DAWN Commission, we presented a bill of demand at the 2017 conference held at the premier hotel in Ibadan and propounded a bill of demand. One of the demands is for a Southwest Development Commission to be adumbrated upon the ideology of the DAWN commission, whereby a National Assembly’s Act will give right based on the resources generated from the region vis-a-vis economic potential. A certain percentage must go into the commission and the commission must be able to agitate and program itself into education, infrastructure and human capacity development. In consonance with the federal interest we will be able to achieve a whole lot for the common good of the people. We propounded the Southwest Development Commission and Sport Council and we know that these are things that will build us together which is not to cut us off from Nigeria but to develop. Awolowo was able to think Southwest first and able to plan at home, tinkering on how to manifest those plan of his on a national scale. Some people felt that the way this man was developing his region could be a risk factor to the developed nations, so they needed to nail him.
There has been so much talk about the prospects of youths taking over power and some young people had even gone ahead to form political parties to gravitate towards the mission. How much of youth participation are we going to see this time? And how realizable are these plans?
I am a supporter of positive change. There must be a paradigm shift away from the old norms. The present generation ought to have been in capacity as at today. Those that managed this country in its early stage were younger than our present age of youths that are now agitators now in the modern times. Unfortunately, only a handful of us understands what power, politics and interest is all about . As far as we are concerned with the present crop of these promoters of new political parties, they must understand that political parties in the those days grew as a movement. You must be conscious of the need of the people. You don’t just rise up overnight without having an antecedent of where you want to start up from. This was why the names of these political parties are only remembered, nobody knows what their plans and ideologies are. In the country today, how many of these political parties are at the brim of challenging the government in power. There is less voices that you hear on radio and most of them are speaking on the interest which they propose to go for. So, it is a re-awakening call, that there is a need for a merger of interest for us to move from where we are to where we are supposed to be. It is not about merging the parties now, but merging the ideologies. Ideologies were merged together to form the APC from some nucleus homes of political points to get to where they are. But they’ve failed because they brought good ideology to the fore, but could not implement it. But if we are to move from the point where we are, we need the people’s force and that’s the first force.
As a key stakeholder speaking for the Southwest youths, what would be your role alongside other youths’ formations and groups across regions to nudge young people into having the right ideology, plans, political consciousness and preparedness to massively dominate the Nigerian political landscape in 2019 and beyond?
We have been on the discourse for sometimes now across ends with regional youth leaders. For real, in as much as this discourse has not manifested to what we are moulding towards, it is good to let you better understand what we are planning. One of our key plans is for us to have a sovereign national youth conference. Let’s take up this country beyond political lines. Let’s dissect and come up with political plans, go for technocrats’ ideology and expect some input and let’s merge something of our own together, then we can present it. As time goes on, what we built now as idealists of those new things we want to project, time will definitely meet us at an equilibrium. We will definitely be in that position to determine the fate of this country if we start discussing it now. That is one of the plans that is ongoing and you can see at our program, the presence of the leadership of Arewa Consultative Youth Forum and the Ohanaeze Ndigbo that were present. We have to think about the psychology and future of our people in relation to how we can have social justice, economic revolution and how we can rebuild the country in the interest of how we are being seen to be. We cannot pretend to be what we are not and we cannot give what we don’t have. As far as this nation is concerned, I have always related to people that we need a new national constitution and state’s constitution. Also, we need regional laws that will bind us together. It is not about regionalism now, because if we truly have a well defined state constitution which devolves the exclusive list interest from the federal and right to the state. Whereby, every state will be independent to manage its own resources and have power to move at its own pace. All it needs to do is to pay a particular percentage to the center to manage our security, foreign policy and economy.
Having been subjected to years of unemployment, impoverishment and machinations, young people had perpetually struggled to amass economic power enough to seek political positions. How best can young people amass economic power to stay relevant in politics?
I have always said this times without number that politics is not the only route to success in the life of a nation, especially for the younger generation. It is not the only thing to refine you as a gold to be able to cater for your need. The only best thing that you need to grow is your self instinct, discipline, your vision in as much as nothing good comes easy. Most times, the society promotes those with strong will and ideology to move the nation and break the shackles. Now, the training at the university has since changed. Maybe the new private institutions are doing vocational trainings. We don’t need to waste one year for NYSC again acquiring nothing. My own advise to make the nation more economically buoyant is to commit the one year to a professional and vocational training in IT and other critical aspects, rather than the NYSC that graduates are embarking on which yields no profit. Through this you can build people that will go into ship building and other trainings that will add value beyond what it is now. The time can be spent on producing things that can be marketable like toothpicks and other things we travel to China to buy. Our young graduands should have been able to fit half-way into the plan upon graduation so they can move out to the labour market successfully because they already had what they wanted to do. If you are a lawyer, it does not mean you cannot learn farming; because you are a doctor doesn’t necessarily mean you cannot learn fabricating. These things will better be manifested when you have now graduated and young people will always have something to fall back on. Also, the BoI or bank of agriculture and other entrepreneurial banks should help in injecting financial power into innovative business projects. For instance, you cannot give a graduate N200,000 to start a business, he will need a tangible loan and their certificates can be used as collateral.
If we have only Buhari and Atiku emerging as major contenders in 2019 without serious challenge coming from some new breed of politicians, don’t you think Nigerians would be in serious dilemma going to the poll?
I don’t see Nigerians being in a dilemma, it will only make us to be more intellectually conscious of our rights, needs and priorities. We have tested sets of leaders in the past, their capacity and interests. For a Buhari who made Nigeria wasted two and half years in managing his health, an ailment we don’t know its Genesis. It was not even disclosed to us how much was spent and we were only turned to prayer warriors. At the end of the day the president cannot even boast of a project he has commissioned. For the fact that he has come to Lagos to commission bus stops and other economic interests of Dangote at the Lekki free zone or the Chagoury’s interest at the Bar beach doesn’t change anything. Those are not the interests that propound our own interest as a nation. Those are private interests that he has gone to commission, not public- private partnership that will bring employability or add value to the budget, but to increase the wealth of those people they’re commissioning their projects. Leave the bus stops or terminals out of it, they’re things that doesn’t need to be celebrated. As far as the nation is concerned we need to renegotiate the capacity for us to get the best. That is, the negotiations of interests. Now that the pre-election affairs are being under-studied, Atiku has always been at the fore front of argument for restructuring, propounding theories. Definitely while he was Vice President we have to also see some of his goods propounding the privatization plans and ensuring the economic plannings. He was in control of the economic power vault of the nation as the Vice President to Obasanjo. Most of those good things that were done during Obasanjo’s era were jointly planned with Atiku. We cannot leave the two out despite the fact that they’re now divided across different ideological lines. We must speak the truth. Now that he’s trying to come in, he must sell himself more on the people’s needs than what he is coming to dispense and give to the people. He must be able to re-align with the present needs of the people. He must be able to give resolution and sign MOU, communiques on the interests of the people and aggregate those interests. People will be able to say that this is the way things will go if you eventually emerge. The only thing we need now is solution and freedom. We don’t know how we are going to get there because Nigerians are not happy with the present administration. It’s not about political party now.
Are you saying Nigerians should consider an Atiku presidency for 2019?
I would have subscribed to an idea for Nigerians to consider an Atiku presidency on different interests. But at the same time, the only problem I will be having is the political party he’s coming from which is another failed party. This is the party that has not given the rightful need of the people to them at the right time.
Even beyond the parties, these are two old war horses who had dominated the nation’s leadership and political space for decades and Nigerians are clamouring for a new order. Do you think either of the two would be able to lead the country to that new order?
Sometimes last year, I gave a sourcing time bound manifesto of how and way to go as a nation. As far as I am concerned, it doesn’t mean I have to campaign for these two people but because of the need for necessity and the penchant for our people to easily vote for monetary gains, Nigerians are still backward to their rights. In as much as we still have a very open opportunity and an opened window for now, we are not so committed to any one of them. I am only trying to say that should there be any need for us to choose between the darkness and the shade, we must still go for the shade because it can still bring a ray of light.