In this interview with ISAAC SHOBAYO, he speaks on restructuring, the quit notice by the Arewa youths, Paris Club refund and other raging issues in the country. Excerpts:
Do you support the ongoing agitation for restructuring?
It is not healthy for the country. There is no proper definition of what restructuring is all about. When you say restructuring, what some people mean is break the country; some are using it to negotiate certain interests to get more from the common wealth of the federation. Another set of people talk about restructuring in terms of devolution of powers. There is confusion and we have not had a meeting point of what restructuring is all about.
From another perspective, some people believe that the word means break the country and this is coming as a result of various comments that have been going on, especially from the South-East, South-West and threat to stability since President Muhammadu Buhari came to power and South-South in particular; they have carried out acts of sabotage in their area. To compound the problem, the proponents of Biafra did not help matters. There was a statement from their leaders that they were prepared to go to war. We have seen various comments on social media concerning this, especially from the Nnamdi Kanu; they are threatening the country in general. I think that made the Arewa youths to address a press conference [where they] say if you want to go, you are free to go and went further to give ultimatum that the Igbo should leave the North.
You said there is no meeting point among various sections in the country on the issue of restructuring, but what do you have to say concerning the recommendations made during the 2014 National Conference as contained in the report?
Those who were selected to attend the conference did not represent the will and yearning of Nigerians. All members of the conference, no matter how highly placed they are, none of them was elected through popular vote and, secondly, the same person who set up the conference collected the conference report and was in office for over a year after the report was out, but refused to present the report to the National Assembly for adoption so that, if not all, some parts of the report could be implemented. So, it is pure mischief for anybody to come now and say President Buhari should look at the report and implement the recommendations or the resolutions.
The matter is, no doubt, generating controversies across the country. What is your assessment of the positions or comments of political elite and opinion leaders on this matter?
Their comments are divisive, if you take the position of the South-East for instance. When Nwazuruike and later Kanu were agitating for Biafra with secessionist agenda, their people did not say anything and in the process they were heaping insults. They were insulting northern traditional rulers; they were insulting the leadership of the North. No one from the East came out to condemn the act or dissociate themselves from what the proponents of the Biafra were saying and they allowed it until it came to a head. The same Kanu, who is being tried in a court of competent jurisdiction, went on to pronounce that people should not go to work. One would expect that in a decent society, you have an elected government and there are civil servants virtually in all parts of the eastern Nigeria. No single governor from the East came out to say, while we respect the right of anybody not to go out of his house, they must also respect the right of others who want to go to work, who are guided by the civil service rules to go their places of work in peace and call the police to maintain law and order. So, there is some level of complicity from the elite, especially from the South-East. The Igbo need to do more in terms of dissociating themselves from this pro-rebellion group.
The Governors’ Forum at its meeting endorsed restructuring; do you see this as a welcome development and a step in the right direction?
Well, it depends on the perspective at which they are looking at the issue. If they are looking at restructuring in terms of devolution of power, then so be it. It is like going back to the First Republic where by the revenue of the country was shared on 50-50 basis with royalty to the state that produced the mineral resources. We also need to ask them from which context are they looking at restructuring.
How then can we resolve the confusion over this agitation, because even the elite who are from the same part of the country are not united on the issue?
In his Sallah message to Nigerians, President Buhari also called for restructuring. If you devolve power down to the local government level, then you are doing some level of restructuring. But if you’re talking of restructuring in coded language, adding salt to injury, fanning the embers of division in the country, then it is unfortunate.
Would say two years of APC at the national level have brought relief to Nigeria?
Recession is a global kind of thing. It is not peculiar to Nigeria alone. The fall in oil price affected the economy of this country and this alone accounts for about 80 per cent of our total revenue. And it [revenue] went down because of other indications that pulled down the price of oil in the international market. And unfortunately, we have not been able to diversify properly even in area like solid minerals. But, hopefully, with discipline that is being entrenched in the public sector, I strongly believe that we would get out of the wood soon.
Do you subscribe to the idea of local government autonomy?
This is very apt. Part of the issue of restructuring is the issue of devolution of power and this resides more with the local government, by giving them full autonomy. This has been done before during the regime of General [Ibrahim] Babagida, when we had two political parties: the Social Democratic Party and National Republican Convention. I was the first secretary of Jos North Local Government; we were collecting our share of the revenue directly from the federation account and were able to do much for our local government. So, until the constitution is amended, we shall continue to suffer at the grass roots. Currently, the local governments are not generating revenue; all they do now is just to wait for allocation and pay salary. I believe that until they amend the constitution, the third tier of government will continue to suffer. There was an attempt during the Jonathan administration to amend the constitution to give them power, the governors at that time refused and directed the state house of assemblies not to give their assent to the proposal.
Since the inception of this administration, governors have collected bailout fund and Paris Club refund and used part of the fund to pay salaries, with Nigerians asking them what they do with the balance. What mechanism do you think should be put in place to make them to be alive to their responsibilities?
The checks and balances are the functions of the state houses of assembly; they are the ones that should provide these checks and balances, but unfortunately, most of the state houses of assembly are functionally weak. Most of the members don’t know how they won their elections, therefore, cannot perform adequately. They are sitting there at the beck and call of their masters, the governors. I think what the Federal Government should have done is to tie refund of that money to specific projects within those states and local governments. That is where the allegations of fraud and misappropriation of the fund come in; the governors see the fund as a windfall or manna from heaven. Posterity will judge all of us; many of them would be called one day to give account of such money.
What is your assessment of the APC-led government in Plateau State?
The governor is level-headed; he has been trying his best, but he needs to do more, especially in the area of employment. Employment in this sense is not about recruiting people into civil service, but providing ways and means by which people can be self employed, creation of skills acquisition centres across the state. There is nothing wrong if every local government in the state can have a skills acquisition centre.
What is your advice to the elite in the country that are deemed to be heating up the polity with quit notice and threat of secession?
Let me refresh you, this quit notice started from Plateau State. One governor gave quit notice to us in this state. When you start an epidemic, it can spread wide before you realise it. When Ebola started in Lagos, Nigerians stood up to it; we galvanised and stopped it from spreading. This quit notice started from Plateau State, because of the series of crises we experienced in the state. Many had been checked out of their various settlements. Governor [Ayo] Fayose also enacted a law giving quit notice to the Fulani herdsmen and Benue State also enacted another one. All these quit notices have been given and we have kept silence about them. It is very unfortunate that we found ourselves in this terrible situation. I expected all the Igbo in the North to dissociate themselves from the pronouncement of Nnamdi Kanu and his cohorts. They should say this publicly. All those moving from Nasir el-Rufai and going to Emir of Katsina to get assurance for their safety is good, but it is not enough. They are the ones whose interests are being threatened; they should dissociate themselves from the secession agenda.
From all indications, the Fulani have been stigmatised as result of constant killings alleged to have been perpetrated by the herdsmen (cuts in)
The Fulani have been stigmatised; the herdsmen have also become a brand for all manner of criminals. In Benue State, we have seen a situation where there is ethnic provocation and fight and they have used the name Fulani herdsmen as a basis to cover up the various crimes the security agencies have been able to prove in some instances there. When there was a problem with the Agatu, some people said 500 Agatu were killed. How do you kill 500 people and no one was arrested? So, these are some of the challenges we have been getting and we hope that security agencies would be able to deal with the situation.