•Says Biafra is not the solution
•On power devolution: Those in opposition want Nigeria dead
By Henry Umoru
Chief Edwin Kiagbodo Clark, a foremost Ijaw leader, the Convener of the Pan – Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF) and an elder statesman, in this interview, speaks in the distortions inherent in the Nigerian system and the restructuring we need.
E. K. Clark
At what point did the distortions in the system that have given rise to the calls for the restructuring of the federation begin?
That was in 1966 when some army majors struck and most of the big politicians and many senior army officers were killed in a coup. Up till that time, the constitution in operation provided for fiscal federalism which implied that whatever you produced in your region, you take 50% while, out of the remaining 50%, the federal government that had little responsibility will take 20% and the remaining 30% will be shared among all the regions.
Aguiyi Ironsi took over and, advised by some senior Igbo army officers that Nigeria should run a unitary form of government, he promulgated Decree 34, which we are now practicing today in the name of federalism. When General Gowon took over from Ironsi, he decided to find out what Nigerians wanted. Northern Nigeria proposed regionalism; they no longer wanted a federal system of government. Western Nigeria was ready to go. It was the Mid – West team, headed by Anthony Enahoro, that saved the situation and the Gowon administration adopted a federal system of government. Meanwhile, Gowon did not abrogate Decree No 34. The war came and he created 12 states. General Murtala succeeded Gowon and created more states and we had 19 states. Other heads of state came and created more states until 1998 when the number of states came to 36.
What about the local governments that were said to have been arbitrarily created?
The same military governments arbitrarily created local governments each favouring the areas where their leaders hailed from. That anomaly gave KANO State 57 local governments whereas Bayelsa State has only 8. Besides, you cannot create local governments without the federal governments approving it; this is a weakness, this is not part of a federal system. Local governments should not be part of the federating units.
Local governments should be created by state governments, pay them, dissolve them if they want to and there should be no administrators because the constitution provides that local governments should be run by elected officials. But it is obvious that local governments were created to take money from the federation account. Kano State alone collects about six billion naira every month for its local governments whereas Bayelsa, with eight local governments, even though a small state but produces oil, how much does its local governments get? That is one situation people don’t understand. Now some people are in favour of state police even though Tanko Yakasai argued, in his book that the police in the hands of unscrupulous governors could be misused just like the native authorities of the past did. But state police will provide more security. And the constitution says governors are the chief security officers of their states whereas they don’t control the states commissioners of police. So when the governor gives the commissioner of police directives, he has to clear with the inspector general of police.
The National Conference of 2014 where you were a delegate representing your Ijaw people and the Niger Delta apparently tried to correct some of this anomalies but the recommendations have unfortunately not seen the light of day.
It is not only in the areas of revenue or the local governments and state police that we have anomalies and we tried to use the opportunity of that conference to address. The restructuring that many people want envisages that the Office of the Attorney General should be separated from the Office of the Minister of Justice such that the former is professional and independent while the latter is political. The Office of the Accountant General should also be split. There should be the Accountant General for the federal government and the Accountant General for the federation. These are some of the things the 2014 National Conference recommended. At the moment, the federal government has about 98 items under its control. All we are saying is that some of these items should go to states; since there are no regions, states should be the federating units. In education, why should the federal government be involved in primary and secondary education? In the 1960 constitution, University of Ibadan was the only federal university followed by the University of Lagos in 1962. ABU, University of Ife and University of Nsukka were regional universities at the time. What we are saying is that some of the items exclusive to the federal government should be concurrent. And then when you talk about agriculture, the federal government has no land, it is state government that owns land. Let agriculture be designated as a state function. So when you talk about devolution, it is all about rearranging the constitution so that more functions will go down; and if more functions go to the states, more revenue will be given to them. Today, the federal government receives about 58% from the federation account. It should not have more than 42% while the state and local governments should have the balance. This is what we call devolution of power and we are recommending. We also said that the National Assembly should be restructured so that it becomes part-time in order to save more money and the same thing should operate at the state level. Federalism is what Nigerians want so that everybody can have a say in government, in order for people to have a feeling of belonging to government.
Regardless of the recommendation of the 2014 National Conference and that of the 1999 constitution review committee of the National Assembly headed by Senator Ike Ekweremadu, the lawmakers last week threw out the devolution of power bill. What is your take?
It is like they were not listening to Nigerians. The whole of the South believes in devolution of power, the whole Benue in the north central believes in devolution of power, even Taraba, parts of Borno, parts of Kebbi believe in devolution of power. Then there are some prominent northerners like IBB, Atiku who also believe in devolution of power. In fact, APC, its manifesto talks about devolution of power. Recently the party set up a committee headed by the governor of Kaduna State, Malam Nasir El- Rufai to look at power devolution and they said they are not opposed to restructuring. And so all we are saying is that the National Assembly was insensitive to the feeling and wish of Nigeria. Unlike the Ekweremadu’s committee in the 7th National Assembly which went round the whole country and the mandate was devolution of power, this 8th National Assembly did not go anywhere. They just retreated to Lagos where they spent billions of naira of Nigerians money and came out with a flawed constitution amendment. Who gave them the mandate? They were elected to represent the people. Some of them are afraid that some of the benefits they have in the National Assembly, they won’t have it again, they will no longer enjoy the power they have today, the number of committees will be reduced; that is why some of them are narrowing their thinking on devolution of power. But I am happy to note that both the President and Deputy President of the Senate have said that this will be revisited when they come back from their recess; so we pray that they will listen and, during their holiday, they will be able to communicate with their people and, when they come back, they should do the right thing.
I want to correct one impression that was given wide publicity yesterday (Tuesday) when I said that ‘no restructuring, no Nigeria’. All I was saying was that we all believe in the unity of Nigeria, we believe in one Nigeria. A young lady at the Ijaw Academy, Kaiama, Bayelsa State asked Professor Wole Soyinka, about two weeks ago, when he visited with Prof J.P. Clark and others, ‘is the unity of Nigeria negotiable?’, and the answer was what I gave on Monday. We all believe that we should be one country, but on what basis? How do we belong to one country? What are the conditions? Are we going to belong to a country that is lopsided, one side oppressing the other; one side having all the appointments? This is what our forefathers did not do. They sat down in 1953 to discuss the basis of our coming together. We should all be equal. Our regions should develop at their own pace. Fiscal federalism should be part of it. This was what took them to London and this was what they negotiated. What I was saying (on Monday) was that it would be impossible to live in a country that is not restructured. The present constitution is oppressive, it is unitary and Nigerians rejected it as far back as 1953; not that we will secede, we are not talking about that. President Muhammadu Buhari said we must kill corruption otherwise corruption will kill Nigeria. I said we must restructure otherwise non-restructuring of Nigeria will kill Nigeria. I didn’t say we should break up or Nigeria will not exist. I believe in Nigeria.
You were once in the Senate. If you are to set agenda for the 8th Senate on how to bring back the killed devolution of power bill, what will you tell senators?
I have a different view completely. I believe that Nigeria needs a new constitution and I believe that the National Assembly has no authority to make a constitution for us. Constitution making is the responsibility of the entire country, the people of Nigeria and the National Assembly is not the people of Nigeria. But if we are to panel-beat the present constitution to make it look new, then the people must be consulted. And how do the lawmakers consult the people? Perhaps they should go back to their various constituencies as Ekweremadu’s committee was doing to find out the wishes of Nigeria before they should come back to revisit the bill on devolution of power. Without devolution of power, it will be difficult for the country’s constitution to work, no matter how they amend it. Some of the things amended are part of the restructuring we are talking about; but they should go the whole hog, the meat is devolution of power. So my advice to them is to go back, consult more with the people and when they come back, they should consider that bill again. They have power to revisit and they should revisit it.
The National Assembly has asked the Presidency to send the 2014 Confab Report as a bill to them; what is your take on this?
That should be the exact thing to do. The 2014 National Conference was made up of 492 people and about 100 various organizations comprising of the youths, young ladies, the handicapped, including the blind, the crippled, the deaf, were there. Retired police and army officers, judges, civil right activists, market women, everybody was there. There was no section of the country that was not represented and they came out with 600 recommendations and resolutions. And they went to the extent of amending the present constitution and produced a new version and some of the recommendations are administrative, government should do those ones. And then government should send a bill to the National Assembly for those recommendations that require legislative procedures. I also think the National Assembly has also got the copies of the conference report; if they have it, somebody should bring it as a private bill if the government is not ready. And as I was told, the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, SGF, and other offices all have copies. If they are sincere, they have a way of finding the report. The report was not only addressed to the Presidency, but also to the National Assembly, so they (lawmakers) should adopt the one they have. All the things we said about devolution of power, on transport, aviation, labour, works, on every ministry; we had 20 committees and some had co-chairmen while some had single chairmen and northern leaders, some of whom are now disassociating themselves from this thing, 12 of them were leaders of the committees, more than those from the South.
As a father and one who has seen it all, what is your message to Nigerians, especially against the backdrop of those beating the drum of war and calling for secession?
I think Nigeria is one country, we cannot break up. My advice to those beating the drum of secession is to take it easy. The war of 1967 to 1970 claimed so many lives and property, made some Nigerians to almost become second class citizens in their own country. These boys who are going around, and led by Nnamdi Kanu, some of them were not born at that time, and if they were born, they were very little children. I agree that President Buhari’s government has marginalized them. Okay. What of former President Jonathan’s government? I think the Igbo played a leading role in former President Jonathan’s government; they had every chance, every opportunity to develop their area. But some of them were selfish. The secretary to the government was an Igbo man. At a time, the Chief of Army Staff was an Igbo man; the Igbo occupied very important positions in former President Jonathan’s government, so they couldn’t have said they were marginalized. Rather it was the Yoruba who were crying that they were being marginalized. And towards the end of Jonathan’s government, he decided to give them so many posts because we all belong to one country called Nigeria.
So these boys should be told the history of Nigeria from independence to let them know that the Igbo were not marginalised in the past, especially in the First Republic and, in fact, their kinsman, Ironsi, was Head of State. Rather we the minorities have always cried of marginalization and not the three major ethnic groups, until 1966 when the coup of the young majors changed the face of Nigeria and the Igbo suffered in the war that followed, but the era is gone. And they won’t say that during Shagari’s time in the Second Republic the Igbo suffered because an Igbo man, Dr Alex Ekwueme, was the vice president. If the Igbo are marginalized, they are being marginalized by the present administration and I am one of those who support them in their cries against marginalisation, but secession is not the answer.
There is nowhere that youths will take over the administration of a place and it is very irresponsible for Kanu to say there will be no election in Anambra State in November. He should be arrested and detained. There is a limit to their agitation and I am happy that the President General of Ohaneze Ndigbo has condemned them.
And those agitating for secession do not know the implications. Kanu and his group are saying they have drawn a map which runs from Benue to the South-South, including Cross Rivers, Akwa Ibom, Rivers, Bayelsa and Delta, that will not happen. They should know the implications of what they are looking for, they should be educated and government should change and see that the Igbo are not marginalized. The Igbo produce oil in Abia and Imo states, and for you to establish the NNPC Board of nine members and the Igbo are excluded, it is unfair. And to make matters worse, six northerners whose area doesn’t produce oil are in the board? Two, why should an Igbo man not be in the Council of State? Why should an Igbo man not be a senior security officer? Even if they are not in the army, they must be somewhere. These are good cases that they have. In the appointments of persons into federal parastatals and others, why should the Igbo not be there? I think these are some of the things people are kicking against and we all support them.
How do you view the quit notice to the Igbo resident in the North?
I support the Igbo because anything against the Igbo is against all of us. How do you differentiate an Igbo man from a Yoruba man? How do you differentiate an Igbo speaking man from the man in Asaba? Enough is enough. The Arewa youths have no authority to issue that statement if they believe they are Nigerians and that they are in a country where everybody lives wherever he wants to. In the First Republic, a Hausa man was the Mayor of Enugu, an Igbo man held the same position in the North and Igbo people have been living in the North for at least a hundred years. No young Hausa man or a Fulani man should come forward to give the Igbo notice to quit the North by October 1; they are criminals and should be arrested. I was shocked to see the governor of Borno State sitting down with one of the northern youths who issued the quit notice to the Igbo and saying they had to review the threat; that is nonsensical. The governor of Kaduna State where the decision to ask the Igbo to quit was taken has said the boys are criminals and they should be arrested. But if they are not arrested chiefly because we want peace in the country, everybody should be treated alike.
I am also appealing to the northern youths to rescind that quit notice before October 1; in fact, that should be done this August so that we can have peace in the country