Convener of the South East Elders Forum, Dr Dozie Ikedife, has analyzed the recent All Progressives Congress (APC)’s greenlight to yield to the yearnings of many Nigerians to restructure the country. He made some quality suggestions on the direction the restructuring should go with time frame attached to it, if Nigerians must have confidence in the people involved in the exercise. He said there must be wide participation of many stakeholders in the Nigerian project and not to be made an APC affair.
APC government has endorsed restructuring of Nigeria. Do you think that the party is sincere?
I’m glad that the party has agreed to restructuring contrary to what President Muhammadu Buhari said not long ago. But we must define what is meant by restructuring or what they call fiscal federalism. I think we must know what it is. Let it not be a perfunctory exercise. For example, I listened to a Muslim who said that they believe in restructuring, but he stressed that given that Sunday is a day of worship for the Christians and a work-free day, he contended that Friday, the Muslim day of worship, should also be work-free day. If that is the type of restructuring, then I think it is a joke. Second point is that if the ruling party, APC agrees to restructuring, it should not be done by the party alone because if the party is conservative, the restructuring will become conservative. If the party is progressive, the restructuring they will foster will tilt towards progressive ideas. If it is socialist inclined, then the restructuring will talk about socialist inclination.
If they are going to do restructuring, it should be by all comers. It may not just be by only the National Assembly, but we can have committees made up of all contending people to discuss issues involved. And people can prepare position papers and submit to the committees. It should be across party, it should be all-embracing.
And indeed, the restructuring may even better be described as drafting a new constitution in which case, we should have a constitution drafting committee made up of experts and whatever they recommend or whatever they suggest will be subjected to ratification by the generality of the population. That is how the thing should be done. The National Assembly is not in a good position to do a constitutional review or to give us a new constitution. The National Assembly is not in a good position to even make amendments to the constitution because from all their performances, we have seen that the National Assembly is holding the executive by the jugular. They do things that favour them irrespective of how it affects the country. So, they have disqualified themselves by their lack of altruistic approach to constitution amendment or issues that affect the nation.
Following up on that, the nation should also create what I call constitutional court that will deal with constitutional and election matters to take the burden of dealing with those things away from the regular courts because ordinary litigants go to court and their cases are not easily decided because of time limit imposed on electoral matters. They tend to take precedence rather than joining where they belong in order of first arrival at the courts to receive first attention. They jump the queue. Therefore, the ordinary courts should be removed from the burden of handling contentious electoral matters. This will form part of what will be included in the constitutional amendment.
But then, as I said earlier, there should be different committees set up to represent sizeable ethnic nationalities because it is impossible to include all known ethnic nationalities so that everybody will have a sense of belonging, so that when we say “we Nigerians” it will represent Nigerians in truth rather than mere expression.
I think the APC has come some distance by saying that they will now think in terms of restructuring. If they will do so, let them do it properly so that it will solve the problems that made Nigerians to call for restructuring.
What about what El-Rufai committee said on merger of states?
Talking about what the El-Rufai committee said, I agree that many states are over burdened by the weight of bureaucratic load they have. Every state has governor, deputy governor, state assembly, speaker, deputy speaker, commissioners for various items and countless number of advisers, assistants. That is very wasteful. I don’t say there should not be employment but it is totally wasteful in that magnitude. The recurrent expenditures tend to dominate the budget as opposed to capital and that stultifies infrastructural development.
Some states are really not viable, so why keep them? They keep borrowing and going to Abuja to collect some money like some local governments that collect money and share it out among the officials of the council and that is the end of it. Even local government system can be scrapped as they are today. They have not been very useful in some areas, indeed many areas. They have not solved anybody’s problem because their capacity has been reduced by some state governments, capacity to perform and they cannot even build one culvert or open up one road or tar one road.
And since their functions have been in all possible terms usurped by the state governments, they should be scrapped. In Lagos State they createed what they call development areas out of 20 local government areas and I think they are doing well.
States that cannot survive can be merged. But efforts should be made to have equality of states. You can reduce all of them to about five or even three states per geo-political zone as they stand today. When we had less number of states we were doing better. When we had 12 or 19 states we were doing very well. But these 36 states plus Abuja, many of them are incapable of paying their workers. It makes nonsense of the existence of the states. Then the federating units should be the geopolitical zones and they should be given more powers, then the power and attraction to the center would be reduced, so that each will develop their areas rather than going to the center to fight to be the President.
You see, during the olden days, before independence or thereafter, the person who was supposed to be the leader of the North and the Sarduana of Sokoto, Ahmadu Bello, concentrated on the North and sent the junior persons, subordinates to the center. Awolowo concentrated on the Western Region even though he showed desire to control power at the centre. He started by concentrating on the Western Region, and introduced the first television house in Africa, universal free education and so many other things.
If these people go over to their regions and concentrate their efforts there, then development will get to the grassroots faster. So, yes I’m in support of merger of states but let there be uniformity. We can say each current existing geopolitical zone be reduced to three states so that we can have a total of eighteen states plus, perhaps, Abuja. And we must ensure that there is equity in distribution of amenities and developments and patronages.
If such exists, then grumblings will be less and that will solve a lot of problems for Nigeria. And Nigeria’s unity which many people do not believe in now largely because of inequity in distribution of amenities and patronages will be a different narrative. So, that is what I want from whoever is talking about restructuring to take into account, to be sincere and do proper restructuring and not perfunctory restructuring.
From what you have said, it appears Nigeria will borrow a lot from the 1960 or 1963 constitutions in this restructuring exercise?
Yes, there are lots of things to be borrowed from 1960 or 1963 constitutions. They can even ask: If we are really enjoying the presidential system? If we are not, this is an opportunity to take a hard look at it and change it. It is very expensive to run compared with the parliamentary system. And when we adopted it, oil was flowing at a good price. If you don’t get the money the way you used to get it, you have to adjust your expenditure, otherwise you will be in trouble.
I don’t see why Nigeria should be borrowing money from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank and many countries that don’t have the resources Nigeria has. They don’t go borrowing. And it is painful when you see Nigeria seeking help from countries like Yugoslavia, Sweden, Norway, Belgium while Nigeria is bigger than those countries. What is the population of Belgium, even Britain which has a population that is below 60 million? Are you not ashamed to borrow money from them? You borrow from France, China and everywhere. China is big. The population is a little over a billion; Belgium is about 10 or 15 million and you go to borrow money from them, Sweden, Finland and Ireland; we should be ashamed of ourselves.
Is it not necessary to suggest the time lapse the restructuring exercise will last?
Yes, if they mean to do the restructuring, it must not be a never, never ending exercise. If there is seriousness and honesty in the exercise, there must be a time frame within which the restructuring will finish and be implemented either by presidential fiat, parliamentary enactment or whatever, it should not go beyond 2019. Preferably it should be done before the next general election because there are people who are saying no restructuring, no 2019 election. And they are saying it and it is catching up as a song. I don’t know whether it is possible but that is just to show that there is need to do it urgently. If it misses before the 2019 election, let it be done soon after but not to be like tomorrow that never finishes.
Any need for a referendum?
Yes. There are people asking for referendum but they are asking for it for a different purpose, for self-determination. I don’t think the two things should be mixed up. I strongly feel and believe that if there is more visible equity and fairness in the distribution of amenities and patronages, the cry for self-determination will be less. This is an opportunity for Nigeria to mend the cracks on its walls before the building collapses by doing proper and meaningful restructuring.
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