*On dichotomy: Let’s forget the past and move on
*’Resources in the North outweigh oil’
Senator Suleiman Asonya Adokwe, who represents Nasarawa South Senatorial District of Nasarawa State in the Senate, heads the powerful Senate Services Committee and is also a member of the Constitution Review Committee as well as other vital committees of the upper legislative chamber of the National Assembly. A lawyer and sociologist, Adokwe comes across as one who deeply understands the many complex issues that Nigeria is grappling with and speaks with passion about how to promote unity and progress in the country. In this interview, Adokwe cautions against a revisit of the controversial oil dichotomy law and pleads with Nigerians to learn to concede things to others in the interest of peace. He also advises President Goodluck Jonathan to learn from the barrage of criticisms against him and put his critics to shame at the end of his tenure. The interview is very insightful but blunt.
By Soni Daniel
Is it not an irony that governors of the 19 northern states are stoutly opposed to state police at a time they are being confronted with a lot of security challenges?
It is indeed an irony because I had thought that the governors of the region would be the first to jump at the idea. I don’t really know the agenda behind the rejection of state police. Some of the fears that have been expressed are genuine going by the ugly experience of the 50s and 60s when the Native Police Authority was in operation. The situation was particularly worrisome in the North where the police were used to oppress the opposition.
With such a situation, there is natural fear about state police. But my argument has always been that we should not be afraid to make laws just because of the unfounded fear that somebody will not implement it properly. In law, we have what is called Presumption of Regularity-that is, any official thing that is done is presumed to be done in accordance with the law-until the contrary is proved. So, we should make laws with positive expectations in mind. The fact that certain negative tendencies are being exhibited now should not preclude the fact that the law you are going to enact is aimed at bringing positive effects to the society.
We are operating a federal system and the constitution has spelt out the areas of responsibilities for each tier of government. If the House of Assembly of a particular state has the right to make laws for the state, it follows also that the state should have the capacity to enforce its laws. And if you say that the governor will use it to oppress his opponent, it should not stop us from making the law for state police because that is not the intention of the law.
Any governor doing so would be violating the law and, of course, you know that nemesis will eventually catch up with such politician. As we are seeing now, if a sitting governor decides to use his police to witch-hunt his opponents, his successor also has the power to go after him. As it is, you will find out that gradually those in power will begin to even check their excesses without being told so that they do not suffer at the end of their tenure.
In fact, in the United States of America, for instance, where you have various layers of police, there are still local influences on the police there. There are some people who use the police to suppress others. This is what we hear on daily basis and it is not a new phenomenon.
In Nigeria, the Nigeria Police is still being used by well-placed citizens against the less privileged ones. A governor can use the present police to do whatever he wants to do by just summoning the police commissioner and giving instructions. The CP in the state would tell you when it is convenient for him that the governor is the Chief Security Officer of the state and that he had directed him to do this or that and the day it is not convenient for him, he would say that he is not answerable to the governor but to the president or taking ‘orders from above’.
Even if we are not going to have state police, the law must be made in such a way that wherever the police are, the state governor can have well spelt out control over them.
It means therefore that in spite of the opposition from many quarters, the National Assembly will vote on it.
Certainly, the issue is on the list of issues slated for constitutional amendment. The debate can be won and lost depending on the mood of the members of the NASS. It can go either way. In fact, the way I am seeing the arguments now, we may have a divided house on the matter, which means that each member will vote on it. This may be done to assuage the sharp division that has arisen between the northern and southern governors and among well placed Nigerians. Even the president has spoken against it. So, you can see that it is an issue that is of utmost interest to most Nigerians and the NASS has to do something about it.
There is another contentious issue before the NASS, the Petroleum Industry Bill, which has tended to divide the lawmakers. What fears do you have about the bill?
We have created a dangerous situation in this country whereby everybody is suspicious of the other person. Somehow, there is a sense of doom looming in the country. It is as if the world is coming to an end so that everybody wants to acquire as much wealth as they can amass before the doom comes. This state of mind is borne out of the high level of mismanagement that has taken place in the country over the years. If we had managed the wealth we have so far derived from our natural resources judiciously, I am sure, by now, the contribution of oil to our Gross Domestic Product, GDP, would have been so negligible that having any possession of oil would have meant little or nothing. The possession of oil-related wealth would not have given anyone any edge over other Nigerians as is the case now. It is just because we have refused to develop other sources of revenue that Nigerians have come to regard oil as the only means of survival. Sadly, oil does not really grow the economy of Nigeria because less than 200,000 Nigerians, out of a population of over 160 million, are working in the sector. It is an irony that everybody in Nigeria is waiting on oil neglecting the real sectors that can significantly grow the economy and create jobs for the masses.
‘Alternatives of revenue generation’
I belong to one of the 19 northern states and I have continued to agitate and tell our own state governments that they will have to look at other alternatives of revenue generation to boost their economy. My advice to them is that whatever money they are getting from the federation account should be used to improve the natural resources available them. I am saying so because I have been to the creeks of the Niger Delta and I have seen the adverse effects of oil on the environment. I know how oil spills have devastated the creeks. They do not have any alternative economic venture again because they cannot fish and have no land for farming. But up North, we still have large fertile land for cultivation. So, we should use whatever resources we are getting to open up these lands for more productive ventures. If the available land in the North is adequately cultivated, the revenue from there will far outweigh the resources from oil. In fact, even if you give all the oil money to the Niger Delta and they don’t give us, they will end up spending the money on the food produced by the North.
That way, the money still comes back to the North. I recall one time when there was very serious fuel scarcity in the North and we could not transport tomatoes to Lagos and other southern parts of the country, a basket of tomatoes, which normally sold for between N10,000 and N15,000, went up to N100,000 per basket. Any cost that is shifted from one area must eventually be borne by the consumers of the goods and services produced by the others.
Give and take’
So, my understanding of the PIB is that it has been well contemplated in many ways to compensate the oil-producing areas and to open up other areas of the economy. There are areas of disagreement between us and there are areas that we will agree among ourselves. There is need for a change of attitude by all in this matter. Those who produce the oil should consider themselves fortunate that there are other parts of the country without oil and that those areas need to be developed for their own future existence too. And the parts of the country that are not producing oil should also appreciate the level of devastation that oil production is causing to those communities and make allowance for the welfare of those communities. So it is a give and take attitude that is needed with a view to looking at a bigger picture of what is good for this country.
Many are afraid that the crisis in the North has crippled the economy of the region while others say it has not. Are you worried about the violence in the North?
You don’t even need any statistics to know that our economy has been disrupted. Kano, for instance, used to be a booming economic city but it is no longer so. In fact, the mere fact that one now has to move from one point to another in the North with so much anxiety is bad enough because you are not sure you will get to your destination safely. You can be ambushed any time. The truth is that even if the fear is unfounded, it is there all the same. Because of this sense of fear and uncertainty, people are constrained from doing business in the area as they used to do in the past.
It is true that people are farming as usual in their localities but are they able to safely evacuate their farm products to the city centres for sales so that they can benefit economically from their work? Traders used to move from Cross River and other southern areas to Dawaki in Plateau to buy dogs and sell palm oil but they can no longer do that. It does not mean that they are no longer breeding dogs in Dawaki or that palm oil is no longer being produced in Cross River State. People are just afraid of travelling to the North. I grew up in Jos, the Plateau State capital, and I lived there for 25 years. It was unthinkable that I would not go to Jos for at least twice a month, even after I had relocated from there. But since the outbreak of the violence I rarely go to Jos. I only went to Jos recently for the burial of my colleague, the late Senator Dantong. The situation in the area is a real setback to the pursuit of economic activities and social life. So, while it is true that people are still farming and doing what they used to do in their localities, the frequency of the exchange of goods and services in the cities has been significantly reduced. There are no social visits as they used to be in the past and these things are taking a toll on the economic life of the area.
Do you consider the renewed clamour for the review of the oil dichotomy Act necessary?
I do not think it is necessary. We are supposed to be making progress instead of taking retrogressive steps. If certain things happened and they were changed for good, we should only look towards progress and not to go back to past agitations. If anybody wants to take away the proceeds from the people who are benefiting from the onshore/offshore dichotomy today, it will not go down well with the system. I believe that the onshore/offshore decision was a political one and while it has served the purpose, it should be left at that. A time may come when another political decision may be taken to counterbalance what is happening now. There are things that we need to look at positively because this country has so much wealth and, as a matter of fact, every part of this country is endowed with one resource or the other. It is just a matter of time for those resources to be turned into wealth and revenue generation. I am very optimistic that prosperity will also permeate all parts of this country.
So I believe that there are littoral states that are benefiting from that political decision. While that is the position, they should also bear in mind that while they are benefiting now, something may come out in the future that may also benefit other parts of the country and they should also learn to accept that in good faith. If at that point they would not accept it, then the political decision could be reversed to put everyone on the same pedestal. But it is very difficult to begin to reverse the decisions that had already been taken. It should not be done so as to prevent an upheaval. You can see that the oil-producing states are even asking for more funds and we are saying that what you have is good enough and you can use it to develop those littoral states if the money is well utilized. My belief is that if the littoral states are well developed, there would be spillover effect to the North and we can all share in the prosperity.
The President lamented that his administration was the most criticised in the world. What do you think the president should do to satisfy Nigerians and stem the tide of criticism?
First of all, let me appeal to the President to take the criticism in good faith. If his administration is the most criticised, it also means that he has been the most tolerant of the people. It means that if he did not have democratic spirit and was not tolerant, he would have descended on the citizens and the people would have been afraid of him. We know of the enormous power at his disposal and he has simply decided to be humble and civil so that all Nigerians can get a sense of belonging in him. It is also good that he has not hounded down any critic of the administration. That is a plus to him as a person and to his government.
All that the administration needs to do is to look at those criticisms and sift from them. They are three categories of critics in this country. As far as I know, there are some honest and patriotic Nigerians who really wish the president well and they criticize so that he can use such criticism to move the country forward. There are others who simply criticise in order to be noticed while others continue to criticise solely to bring down the government in the name of opposition. Included in this category are people who had been in government but just as they are no longer in the system they begin to act as critics for selfish reasons.
What I think Mr. President should do, is to pick those views that are patriotic and use the grain of wisdom to move this country forward. I believe that the president is a very open and humble person. The president will be on top of the situation. One would have thought that Nigerians would have overcome their ethnic and primordial sentiments by now. People think more of their own tribes and so on instead of thinking about national development. To me, Mr. President has tried to move this country to this level because he had remained largely focused and committed to the yearnings and aspirations of the people. It is not an easy thing to run a complex nation like Nigeria. That is perhaps what most of the critics do not know. The President can sift from the avalanche of criticisms to prove his critics wrong. And I believe he can do it and make history.
He should not be afraid of criticism. Those are the things that will make him stronger and better. At the end of the day, where he needs to call off the bluff he should. Where there is need to get better advice to move ahead he should do so.