Why Nigeria must decentralise, have basis for unity — Soyinka

Nobel laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka, has said the decentralisation of the power of the Federal Government is the best way to maximise development in Nigeria.

He noted that previous national conferences organised to address the challenges facing Nigeria were deceitful.

He said the exercises were merely held to pacify aggrieved Nigerians.

Soyinka stated this while delivering a public lecture, titled: “Recovering the Narrative,” in celebration of the 50th anniversary of PUNCH Nigeria Limited.

He added that past national conferences about the decentralisation of Nigeria were mere distractions and charades.

According to the Nobel Laureate, the conferences were merely held to pacify aggrieved Nigerians, stressing that the organisers and attendees came with different agendas in mind.

The well-attended public lecture, held at the Civic Centre, Victoria Island, Lagos, had attendees from all walks of life such as government officials, military top brass, media chiefs, captains of industry, and members of the civil society, among others.

Recall that in 2014, former President Goodluck Jonathan organised a national conference that brought together individuals from across the nation, regardless of political affiliations.

The conference discussed restructuring and made various recommendations, which have not been implemented since it was held a decade ago.

In the same vein, former President Olusegun Obasanjo, during his tenure, organised a national conference in 2005 aimed at restructuring the country. 

Still, the report was not implemented because of the ex-president’s third term agenda.

Soyinka further stated that the word “restructuring” refused to disappear despite evasion by one elected leader after another, saying some politicians were afraid of restructuring as they interpreted it to mean the dissolution of the country.

Thus, Soyinka said he preferred to use expressions like reconfiguration and decentralisation instead of restructuring.

He said: “When the word restructuring is booted around, we often have the challenge, what do you mean by restructuring? 

“Well, I don’t even like the word restructuring, I prefer the expressions like reconfiguration, decentralisation. 

“And those who lead us, they recognise the necessity of it, they recognise the importance and almost the inevitability of decentralisation until they get in power.

‘Decentralisation key.

“Reconstruction, reconfiguration, decentralisation, all this is necessary to maximise development.

“We speak about food hunger because it is real. 

“But palliatives are temporary stop-gap policies. 

“They do not reach the heart of the problem. 

“This is why we need to decentralise development as massively as possible.

“To anticipate accustomed banal responses, let me state quite clearly that no one has ever claimed that decentralisation – a precise word I personally prefer – will end hunger in the land or terminate religious conflicts and other forms of national malaise, no. 

“We simply insist that this is central to the incomplete mission of – nation-being. 

“It is essential to activities of basic existence such as food production, and access to such products.

“Palliatives remain crude, short-term, stop-gap measures only. 

“As a veteran of food security working conferences from Uganda to India, from Paris to Sochi, I insist that, for a nation to be food self-sufficient, and sustainably, decentralisation is the key, not collectivisation.

“Reconstruction, decentralisation is not a slogan, and it is time we stop the pretence. 

“Decentralisation conferences have been proved to be mere distractions, especially by those who have a different agenda in mind, such as the third term agenda.

“It’s about time leaders stopped taking this nation for a ride. 

“You know we must decentralise. 

“Security has become a bugbear, from all corners of the nation, that has been the cry. 

“Decentralise simply so that the government can come closer to the people and productivity can really be manifested as a product of citizens, not as manna from heaven. 

“That is the attitude obtained at the moment.

“Those who come in power have indulged in pretend exercises, engaging the populace in totally phony exercises – obviously just to ‘pacify the natives’. 

“It is surely time this demand be taken seriously and addressed head-on.

“There is no shortage of reasoned and implementable propositions in past conference papers, including even sham, money-guzzling initiatives, summoned to distract attention from conspiracies for self-perpetuation in power. 

“It is high time we stopped the cyclic distraction of re-inventing the wheel. 

“The spokes are in place, the rims intact. 

“Only the will, not the wheel, is missing in action.

“It does not mean that nothing of value has come out of some of the conferences we’ve had in the past. 


“So, the tones are there. 

“People have worked out proposals, in spite of even knowing that they have been brought together for a charade.

“One of our obas in Ogun State came to me to say, ‘it going to happen, and we have nominated you to go and represent us’. 

“I said, ‘well, he’s going nowhere’. He came back later to say, ‘You were right. It was proper wayo (deceit), they wasted our time. He said they fed us well o, They gave us allowances, but it’s all a waste of time.”

Speaking on the “Basis for unity”, Soyinka posited that people’s representatives must come together to discuss the basis for Nigeria’s unity, adding that any part not satisfied should be free to “take a walk”.

He said: “I know that the fear here is one of collapse, breakup; that has been the excuse being given by several regimes. 

“But suppose the nation is breaking up informally, in other words, as a fact, rather than as theory, aren’t you better just address this, come straight on, and see exactly what happened?

“What is wrong with general representatives sitting down and saying, this should be the protocols of association? 

“Anything outside of this, anyone who does not want to accept these protocols, abide by these protocols, and manifest these protocols in the act, should take a walk.

“I have no problem at all, with even what is known as a nation beginning as a vast football field and ending up as a ping-pong table. 

“If that is going to restore dignity to citizens, if that is going to guarantee three square meals a day, then so be it.

“Permit me to end with one of my extreme convictions – I call it extreme, but it is nonetheless a product of history – including contemporary actualities – if you don’t believe me, just cast your gaze in the direction of Ukraine, of Gaza, or the Horn of Africa. 

“That conviction has weathered time and localities, and declares, quite simply: Let nations die, that humanity may live!”

The Nobel Laureate, harping on restructuring, said: “The present contraption is not working – neither economically, developmentally, or even as a material expression of any functional social philosophy.”

Also, Soyinka charged the press to play its role, saying: “The press, needless to urge, has a crucial role to play in this! 

“However, be it noted that the press is only one of the enabling estates – all arms of governance, most pertinently, at the state level, have a propulsive, even commanding role to play in the effort.

“Repeatedly, backed by constitutional authorities, both publicly and privately, we have pointed out to them that there is sufficient constitutional leeway in the present protocols of association – if I may quote myself unapologetically – to “push the envelope as far as it can go without actually bursting” – if the centre continues to shirk away from this now strident imperative. 

“I repeat that wearisome call yet again. ‘’:There can be no further evasion.”

Relatedly, Soyinka also demanded justice for the late Editor-in-Chief of Newswatch magazine, Dele Giwa, who was assassinated 37 years ago, and Deborah Samuel, a student of Shehu Shagari College of Education,  Sokoto, who was stoned to death by her mates in 2022 for alleged blasphemy.

Appreciating the fact that Justice Inyang Ekwo has asked the Attorney General of the Federation to bring the killers of Giwa to justice after three decades, because the killing violates the right to life under the Nigerian Constitution and the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, Soyinka also demanded justice for Samuel, who was killed recently for allegedly blaspheming Prophet Muhammed.

He said: “What remains cogent for Dele Giwa, exists just as clamorously for Deborah Samuel. 

“We need to have that killing re-visited, then until we obtain absolute judicial closure.”

The literary icon also warned against military coups in Africa, especially as being witnessed in Niger and other francophone countries.

Soyinka stated: “Is it possible to deny that we are, at this moment, witnessing history repeating itself? 

“A cordon militaire, a khaki belt that we considered permanently unbuckled and jettisoned, is being refastened, and tightened, under our impotent gaze? 

“That belt consolidates daily, even to the extent that its wearers now feel sufficiently confident to pronounce themselves a sub-region within a sub-region, having taken the step of ‘seceding’ from the umbrella body, ECOWAS. 

“Largely Francophone for now, it narrowly failed to distend itself with an Anglophone nation quite recently, that nation appears to have been ‘saved by the bell’. 

“Or perhaps there is a secret understanding, even a pact, that this neo-khaki belt is meant to be strictly francophone.

“Consider the signs emerging from one time-tested democracy located at the historic westernmost departure point for Africa’s traumatic history of enslavement that lasted over two centuries! 

“I shall let an appeal, circulated to a group of us, speak for itself. 

“It is an appropriate indicator of the concerns into which some individuals beyond their immediate borders are drawn time and time again. 

“Even where one is impotent to intervene, to alter the course of events, such summons still serve as a template against which one sees reflections of the lurking threats in one’s own internal condition before such threats actually materialise.”

Soyinka recalled a letter of concern sent to him by a friend, saying: “Senegal is currently undergoing a major crisis.

“The President of the Republic has abruptly halted the electoral process, cancelling, for the first time in Senegal’s history, the presidential elections scheduled for February 25. 

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“With his mandate ending on April 2, he has decided to postpone the elections to December 15.

“The entire country is in anger. 

“It is uncertain what will happen, but it’s highly likely we are entering a cycle of uncontrollable violence. 

“This Head of State and his entourage have been involved in so many malpractices and corruptions that he fears for his own safety.

“We, intellectuals, civil societies, and political parties, are organising ourselves for resistance. 

“That’s the current situation. 

“I will keep you informed of developments and actions to be taken.”

“Again, let us recall that a khaki belt does not simply spring to life from nowhere and from no causes. 

“We know what those causes are, and they are never without warning signals – suppress those signals as often and as brutally as you choose, the fingerprint smudges are clearly there for all to see.

“Coups are not thereby justified. 

“They are politically amoral, illusionary, and dehumanising. 

“All known organisms – among which we must reckon human society – evolve in an ascending direction of more and more self-sufficiency, and less and less dependency. 

“This presupposes, for human society, increased capacity for navigating the unexpected. To come down to concrete examples, experience teaches us to anticipate, and thus devise, and structure responses to the untenable, such as corruption, marginalisation and – most insistent of all – the will to dominate.”

Soyinka opined that “historic consciousness is also part of the human asset, and when we see supposedly mature people today carrying soldiers’ shoulders high and jubilating at yet another jackboot intrusion in their lives, one comes close to despair, seeing the evolutionary process operating on a reverse track.

“And where the home-bred imperators proceed to forge new alliances with foreign adventurers, one can only mutter the embarrassed question: haven’t we been here before?

“There are, however, two questions that should agitate us, and they are questions that African leaders should take to heart as this new entity, the Russophonie, begins to consolidate and take formal shape. 

“One is: is the continent an inert, expendable commodity, condemned to change hands eternally under foreign will? Then, two: is the present contender for imperial possession the same socio-political entity that, in the nineteen-fifties sixties and seventies, aided the liberation of the continent from Western imperialism?

“Just those two questions for objective reflection, and we can return our attention to how the continent itself, despite her harrowing past, continues to lay herself wide open for serial rape.

“My observation is that, from north to south and east to west, this home continent is burdened with far too much of unfinished business, imbuing in much of leadership thinking a psycho-pathology of evasion, rather than a pro-active temperament that takes on board, simultaneously, in one hand, the immediate, mundane task of governance – health, housing, economy, infrastructure, environment, unemployment, much of which ailments have provoked a craving for the short cut – military intervention and – firmly in the other hand, the unfinished business of nation being. Remedies are thus left to individual desperation.

“We find this expressed in the form of what is now known as the ‘japa’ syndrome – seeking not just food and shelter, but also marginal identities elsewhere, even if this ends in lining the Sahara sands with their skeletons or, more highly publicised, the sea-bed of the Mediterranean. 

“They feel nothing for origin, feel no further sense of belonging, seek nothing further at its hands.

“Even right here, the Biafran war of secession offers us a constant springboard for a rethink. All we have to ask is the question: is that war over? 

“Taken narrowly, for instance, an ancient statement of mine which warned that a people who had resolved on secession could their mind that a seceding part of a nation could never be defeated, would appear to be contradicted by a mutual, terminal ceasefire ritual.

“The leaders did sign the article of surrender. 

“A policy of No Victor no Vanquished rang out vibrantly and the three Rs were promulgated, and probably with the most sincere intent to deliver as declared – Reconciliation, Restoration and Reconstruction – or something along those lines. 

“However, is that all? Then tell me, what is MASSOB? Or, more currently and militantly – IPOB? 

“Only a few months ago, I was sent a statement allegedly issued by IPOB, canvassing an internationally supervised plebiscite among the Igbo to determine whether or not their people wish to remain within Nigeria. Peacefully. Legitimately. 

“I have not read of any follow-up, but I am assured that it was not fake news. Certainly, early pronouncements and actions of that movement weigh on the side of authenticity.”

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