Nigeria needs to be decentralized for Nigerians to enjoy more, says Soyinka


Nobel Laureate, Prof Wole Soyinka, on Thursday, said Nigeria needs to be decentralised for Nigerians to enjoy the country more.

Soyinka made the case for decentralisation on Thursday at the PUNCH Newspapers’ 50th-anniversary lecture held at the Civic Centre, Ozumba Mbadiwe Road, Victoria Island, Lagos.

The lecture, which was delivered by the Nobel laureate, is part of the weeklong activities marking the 50th anniversary of PUNCH.

Delivering his lecture titled ‘Recovering the Narrative’, Soyinka said the country should toe the path of breaking up if the path would solve the country’s challenges.

The elder statesman said decentralisation would allow governance to get closer to the people, adding that it was high time for leaders to stop taking Nigerians for a ride.

He explained that while Nigerian politicians know the importance of restructuring, they change their tune when they get to power.

He said, “What do you mean by restructuring? Well, I don’t even like the word restructuring. I prefer expressions like reconfiguration and decentralisation. Everybody can grasp that, decentralisation. And those who lead, recognise the necessity of it. They recognise the importance, almost the inevitability of it until they get into power, yes, that’s the difference.

“It’s about time, I think leaders stopped taking this nation for a ride, you know, we must decentralise. Security, you know, has become a burden to bear. From all corners of the nation, that is the crime.

“Decentralised so that the government can come closer to the people, and productivity can really be manifested as a product of citizens, not simply as manna from heaven. That is the attitude obtained at the moment.

“I know the fear. The fear is collapse, break up. That’s been the excuse given by several regimes. But suppose the nation is breaking up informally, in other words as a fact rather than as a theory. Then, you better just address this. Come straight on and see exactly what happened. What is wrong with general representatives seeing them and saying this is the protocol of our association, anything outside of it? 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.

“We live in what is known as the nation beginning as a vast football field 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. One of my favourite expressions with people is “Let nations die, that humanity may live.”

While speaking on those who may oppose his call for decentralisation, Soyinka said, “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, decentralization is the key, not collectivization.”

Founded in March 1973, PUNCH, Nigeria’s foremost newspaper, clocked 50 on March 18 last year but its board of directors moved the 50th-anniversary celebration to this year because the anniversary month fell within an election month and year.

The 50th anniversary is being marked with the 40th anniversary of the passing of PUNCH founding Chairman, the late Chief James Olubunmi Aboderin, who died on February 28, 1984, at the age of 50.

The weeklong activities began last Saturday with a colourful novelty football match at the Onikan Stadium in Lagos.

On Wednesday, a three-day photo exhibition, showcasing 50 iconic photographs from the PUNCH rich archive, opened at the Alliance Francaise de Lagos/Mike Adenuga Centre in Ikoyi, Lagos.

The gathering of intellectuals and lovers of arts was led by a former Commissioner for Tourism, Arts and Culture in Lagos State, Steve Ayorinde, who was the curator of the exhibition.

The ceremonies will continue on Saturday, March 2, 2024, at Eko Hotels and Suites in Lagos, where PUNCH will host a black-tie dinner to acknowledge the contributions of its stakeholders to the success of the organisation.