We cannot wish the conference report away; that report will be implemented one day. Those opposed to restructuring are merely delaying the progress of this country. Restructuring is an affirmation of the maxim that the only constant thing in life is change. One can only delay change but cannot stop it.
Former President of Aka Ikenga and a member of the South East delegation to the 2014 National Conference, Chief Goddy Uwazurike, says no reasonable government would dump the recommendations of the conference, which were “comprehensive and solutions to the myriad problems we face as nation.” A lawyer, he spoke with NKEMDI KANU
WITH all the calls for restructuring, do you think that the lack of recognition of the recommendations of the 2014 national conference is helping matters?
I am surprised that the All Progressive Congress (APC) administration of President Muhammadu Buhari decided not to look at the report of the conference, maybe because restructuring was at the heart of our sitting. But with the benefit of hindsight, I am less surprised. At the conference, some people, who lost all the issues they canvassed for, said to us, “we assure you that we are coming to power, and when we do, we are not going to look at this document; we are going to throw it away.” Apparently, they knew what they were talking about, because they are now in power. So, I could venture that this lack of enthusiasm about the conference report is premeditated.
The idiosyncrasy of the Buhari administration is stopping it from seeing what is so obvious. The country is facing all kinds of problems and most of the solutions were proffered by this country’s eminent men and women, who for four months sat down day and night brainstorming. In that process, we had people who had sat in four or five previous constitutional conferences. There were the highly educated and the not so highly educated people.
The report of that conference, bound in 22 volumes, is very comprehensive. It treated petitions from virtually all parts of Nigeria; none was considered insignificant.
The report, among other things, looked out for women asking for affirmative action; we voted in favour of at least 35 per cent. Also, the issue of where a woman hails from and where she is married was handled. We tackled the contentious devolution of powers and listed the things that should be delisted from the Exclusive List and transferred to the Legislative List.
Didn’t the recent amendment of the constitution by the National Assembly address aspects of the national conference report?
I think it is more of grandstanding by the National Assembly. If they really wanted to do a thorough work they would have taken the entire draft constitution prepared by the national conference and gone through it line by line. At least that draft constitution was prepared by all the tribes in this country. The National Assembly is playing the ostrich by not adopting the report. If they had done a thorough work, they would have looked at the major changes and adopted those changes as their own working document.
Even then, it is still not late because some of those changes are in the form of bills. Any lawmaker can get hold of a bill and adopt it as his own.
Unfortunately, the reason the lawmakers did not do a thorough work is because the anti-confab feeling is still active in the National Assembly. The legislators were angry that we were taking over their jobs; but we told them that we were not because we were only giving them our advisory notes. And when the present government said that they were not interested in the conference recommendations, most of them knew that it will be a hard sell to even get there, to study what is so obvious and is before them.
We cannot wish the conference report away; that report will be implemented one day. Those opposed to restructuring are merely delaying the progress of this country.
Restructuring is an affirmation of the maxim that the only constant thing in life is change. One can only delay change but cannot stop it. If anyone had told the soldiers 30 years ago that they will not be in power by 1999, the person would have been executed.
With the divergent calls for restructuring, what would an acceptable restructuring entail?
Restructuring of the mind is as important and critical as the restructuring where we (the people) control our resources. If oil is found in Imo, the state will control it and pay tax to the Federal Government. That’s restructuring.
Restructuring means true federalism. This idea of everybody waiting on Abuja to collect monthly allocation is wrong; let every state or zone develop the resources at their disposal in order to develop at their pace. A typical case in point is the issue with the minimum wage, where some states cannot pay their workers, and yet the Federal Government is considering increasing salaries. If Lagos State can afford to pay, the same cannot be said of Zamfara, Osun or Imo states. The states differ in the abilities to garner resources, and the present structure pampers some and holds some back in terms of development.
What would you say to the argument that the presence of a credible leader will stem the tide of agitations for restructuring?
It is difficult to talk about a good leader because we don’t even know how to elect a good leader; the present structure doesn’t guarantee that. When a leader sees the constitution and says it is the constitution that guides him or her, then that is the beginning because the person swore to uphold the constitution. It is therefore a breach of your oath if as a leader if and when you ignore the constitution. A good leader may not operate well where there is a skewed structure on ground.
Who do you think is afraid of restructuring with all the reluctance in the polity to embrace it?
Obviously, those who control power are afraid of restructuring. They fought to get power but they were not prepared for governance. This country will be restructured because of governance. Those with power have the yam and they have the knife and the day Nigeria is restructured, there will be a healthy competition. This can’t be stated more often. It will be a throwback to the 60s with the regions, each at its pace, engaged in positive and healthy competition, which was the catalyst for development. Each region maximized its natural endowments and worked out areas of priority in its needs. For example, there was a competition in education between the Eastern Region and the Northern Region, both late starters, to catch up with the Western Region, which was in the forefront in the sector. With time, it turned out that the Western Region was looking behind as the Eastern region played catch up with the Northern Region coming in the distance. Today, those in power are holding us ransom and will oppose anything that threatens their position, including restructuring.
And were you surprised that the bill on devolution of powers didn’t pass through the amendment process?
I was not surprised. At the national conference, a prominent northerner had said, “you are all wasting your time on this thing. When it comes to the National Assembly, we will be waiting for you. We will show you where the power is.” We were told. But my only response then was that ‘time will tell.’ Maybe after now, a National Assembly will arrive that will take a more thorough look at what is before them.
How do you rank the devolution of powers in the entire structure of restructuring?
It is the key to restructuring the country. At the moment Abuja has too much powers and the call is for the power to be unbundled and passed on to the state governments along with the appropriate appropriation. Some of these powers encumber the Federal Government rather than enhance its effectiveness. For example, why should the Federal Government be giving contracts for the drilling of boreholes, a matter that is more appropriate for local governments or states? Unbundling will make the government lighter and more effective.
We suggested that the Federal Government should handle External Affairs, Internal Affairs, Military, telecoms, Finance and the states should handle the rest and any state that feels that it is too weak to stand on its own can demand to be collapsed into a neighboring state.
Devolution of power is important as it talks of fiscal federalism. If oil is discovered on my land, I, rather than someone else from outside, should be allowed to manage and have control over the land. But the situation we have now is that of ‘take the benefits of oil and leave them with the burden.’ It is wrong. The owners of the land should explore the oil and pay tax to the Federal Government. That was the situation before the war.
And that is why we keep saying that we should go back to the 1963 constitution as the only constitution that will help us in this country.
Devolution of power is important as it talks of fiscal federalism. If oil is discovered on my land, I, rather than someone else from outside, should be allowed to manage and have control over the land. But the situation we have now is that of ‘take the benefits of oil and leave them with the burden.’ It is wrong.
It doesn’t seem that the pro-restructuring lawmakers will ever have the numbers to pass the major decisions in the National Assembly…
They can summon the numbers provided they do their homework properly. When you want something, you must know what to do. No matter the strategy deployed by any other zones, you can always slip through. Part of it is preparation, it was faulty from the beginning on this matter.
Why is the 1999 constitution seen as the deathbed of restructuring in spite of previous efforts since 1960 to restructure at various levels?
The 1999 constitution is a big problem going forward. We have done our best to get it to work, but you see politics in everything. We have to have our own constitution, the last time we had one was in 1963, which the emergence of the military put paid to. We are looking for our own home grown constitution.
Our position at the national conference is that, we had to have an autochthonous constitution in the sense that there will be a truly civilian constitution where the various groups will say, “We the people…hereby attest…”
The day we sit down, we will take care of many things, including the military side of the constitution; some parts of the constitution can only be changed by four fifths, others by two third.
Would you link the October 1 quit order by some northern youths to the Igbo in the north as part of the call for restructuring?
The entire discussion begs so many questions. Why target the Igbo if you want restructuring or if you are opposed to it? What purpose will the forced departure of the Igbo from the North serve in any scheme? Are they testing the waters on the issue of referendum, secession or excision of any section, which is not even in the constitution? None of it makes sense.
But perhaps, what is very obvious is that the people making the call, whoever they are, were procured by certain interests to destabilise the Igbo in the North. Are these people, who are pretending to be northern leaders, representing Benue State or Southern Kaduna? These people were hired for a single purpose: pretend to be youths and incite one people against another.
I will said that nobody fights if he is in power; you fight to get power, and when you fight to get power, you do not destabilise the base; you cannot debase your base.