By Levinus Nwabughiogu
Professor Alphonsus Bosah Chukwurah (ABC) Nwosu was a political adviser and later Minister of Health in the administration of President Olusegun Obasanjo from 1999 to 2003. Before then, he superintended the Igbo secretariat at the 1995 Constitutional Conference. At the ongoing National Conference, he is a delegate representing Anambra State. In this interview, Nwosu speaks on resource control among other issues.
What do you say after the centenary celebrations?
Nigeria after 100 years makes me sad. I was in secondary school when Nigeria got independence in 1960. I was in Government College, Afikpo and we were full of hopes. We were trained with the spirit of public service and we were expecting to build a Nigeria that will be a pride to Africa and would add value to the black skin. In fact, some of us were so starry eyed that we thought we could do for the black skin what Japan did for the yellow skin.
It has been excruciating pain to see Nigeria go down before our very eyes. The educational system has gone down. Anybody can quote statistics. When I went to secondary school, from class one, we had our test tube racks. You could pour dilute acid unto chalk and identify the gas with litmus paper in my class one, in a village primary school. At school cert in 1962, we were 55 that took the examination, two streams, 45 had distinction in mathematics, 49 had distinction in literature while three persons had distinction in all the subjects they took and most of us were children of illiterate mothers. Some, children of palm wine tapers. Some, children of farmers, drivers of permanent secretaries also had their children there. There were equally ministers children. So, there was equal access. It is for that reason that many of us speak the name of Dr. M.I. Okpara as if he was a saint. We believe he should be a saint. Leaders of that time came there for our prize giving. They bothered about the children of tomorrow and they built a society that if we had followed in their tracks, Nigeria wouldn’t be where it is now. So, if you see the free fall in education, health, transport, it is saddening. Talking about transport, during holiday, I would be given a warrant, I am sure children now don’t know what is a warrant. I would get to the railway station, get into the second class coach, stop in Kafanchan, spend a week before proceeding to Kano. We had a canteen in the train. So, you can see that what is happening now is not a very good experience for us.
Are you casting aspersion on successive governments?
I don’t believe in blame game. I think what has happened is that especially since 1970, because of the 1967/70 war, we failed to plan for population increase. Population increases in geometric proportion and it is still the same old Government College, Afikpo with the same old test tube racks. No addition, no anticipation of increase in population. But before then, there was Government College, Umuahia. They added Government College, Owerri and Afikpo. And then they added Queen’s School, Enugu which was government college for girls. The leaders of that time planned for the increase that they were expecting and gave quality education. What has happened is that we didn’t plan that there would be many people in Lagos. We didn’t plan that they would have more cars in Lagos; instead we went on to say we could have odd and even numbers. That is the kind of things we do that doesn’t take place anywhere. So, in summary, what I am saying is that when a leadership fails to plan for the population, even what it has will deteriorate. I also refuse to make a distinction between military and civilian regimes. The same blame that goes to the military, goes also to the civilian and I am kind to the military because I went to a school with a cadet unit and I know that some of the best brains either chose to go to the university or the military. We don’t have a peoples army in Nigeria. We have an elite army. So, some of them became Heads of State and planned and achieved something and they can point to it. And some of us civilians became Heads of Government and did nothing and we can’t point at anything. So, it is just intellectual laziness. The only area where military has not been good to us was that being military they have a single command; and therefore, they tended to concentrate power at the center and in the process destroyed the painstaking negotiations which our founding fathers did to give us a federation. So, we now have a pseudo – federation with power at the center. You couldn’t just wake up under our founding fathers and create 10 states or 19 or 36 states. It took due democratic process to create Mid West as a fourth region in 1963.
What do you say about the people of Nigeria? We have fought a war and it does appear that those reasons for the fight are still a recurrent decimal, now, threatening to tear the country apart.
I like the word you used “recurrent”. When something is recurrent it means you haven’t found a solution to it. Let me tell you the recurrent things: the fear of the minority, that they would be dominated by the majority; the fear Fears of injustice and inequity; the fear of unemployment; the fear of fallen standards in social and physical infrastructures. These are genuine fears and we see them playing out everyday. So, these are recurrent issues and we should deal with them. If we don’t deal with them, we may go on as long as we like, in the next 100, they will even become worse. But I have a greater fear. I think there may not be the next 100 years if we don’t resolve the fears now. Three are three fears. we have to address the fears. One, when a fear is so palpable that you can almost cut it with a knife, you better do something about it or you face insurgency. You have faced serious insurgency in the Niger Delta. It started with Isaac Boro. We must address why that insurgency is and it is the fear that after the oil is gone, they would be left with nothing. They look at Oloibri and it is clear to them. The fear of insecurity came second that your lives are not secure in parts of Nigeria which you call your own and therefore the Igbo decided to find their own state called Biafra. It took so many lives. It took everything. It’s over. We have to realize that we have to address that insecurity. Then came the fear of unfairness and inequity in the exploitation of the mineral resources and we saw again insurgency in MEND. It took a very God-fearing and smart President in former Yar’Adua to surgically excise this fear through his amnesty programme. May God bless him. Now, we are facing the fear of insurgency and we can clearly see it’s a problem of poverty and under development. We must address them. If we don’t address them, they will address us. And the collateral damage will be so much that nobody will be saved. That’s why I said that we may not have the next 100 years. These things are no longer ethnic or religious. You can hide between ethnicity and religion but they are not really ethnic and religious. I am quite clear that wherever you have insurgency, either low level or high level or civil war, the insurgency has to be dealt with decisively. Then you can start the rebuilding process.
Talking about insurgency and the ways to deal with it, many people are of the view that government lacks the political will to deal with it?
I sympathise with the government of the day because the President, speaking specifically, is not from the area and he needs the support of the leaders of the area in order to be decisive. If he doesn’t have this support; if the leaders of the area are ambivalent, then the President has to be circumspect because we have to keep this country one. I will be more specific. You cannot be complaining that your children are being killed in schools and yet asking for the military to be withdrawn from your area or even threatening to take the military commanders to the International Criminal Court. Nobody likes to die. The military doesn’t even want to die. So, if they are dying and losing their lives, the least we can do is to give them support. Military leaders died in the civil war on either side. All that is gone and we are one country struggling to become one nation. I was a witness to the so many private meetings between Gen. Gowon and the late Odimegwu Ojukwu. If both of them could meet, shared meals and discussed before Ojukwu died, it shows you that all that is gone. But you cannot go and do decisively the same thing here again.
Now, there is a National Conference going on where many issues including the ones you mentioned are being discussed. You are a delegate. Can you say that the conference will resolve all those problems?
I hope that the conference will address many of the problems decisively and frankly. I was very happy at the plenary; that it was a no-holds-barred plenary and you will notice that the comments were dominated by insecurity. Everybody body was against insecurity and urging the leaders to take a cue from the conference and not make this a divisive issue. It is not a matter of politics. But talking about many other things, I am happy in the Committee I find myself: Devolution of power. Devolution of power deals with true federalism, resource control and revenue sharing. I am happy to be there because I believe that it is concentration of power in the center that is responsible for most of the problems in Nigeria. In Nigeria, power is not power to do good. It is not power to give public office. It has degenerated into power to dispense patronage; power to do unto my own what I would not want to be done unto others. You don’t see the unfairness in the fact that you are giving patronage to mainly your own people. So, everybody now wants to be in charge of the Presidency because all the power at the center is vested in one man-the President – and he becomes about the most powerful person in the world. If we look at the power and shares it as our founding fathers did between the center and the federating units; maintaining the equilibrium, I think that whether you are at the center or at the state, you will not be civilian dictator. I am also interested in resource control and revenue sharing. I think that’s is where a lot of the issues to stabilize this country will be centered. The situation where the Federal Government takes 56 percent and gives to states 20 percent and peanut to local governments makes absolute nonsense of federalism. For example, what are local governments doing in a Federation Account? They are not federating units. So, unless you are a member, you are not there. That’s why you find that during Federation Account, the local governments are not there. But this money is given to states to pass onto local governments and then you begin to examine, do they get to the local governments? Or did we trap them at the state? Or did we put our people at the local government? Why don’t we do the simple thing and say Federation Account is between the federal government and the federating units? I am also not happy that the money between the Federal Government and the states has to be kept by the Federal Government. They come for meetings and sit with the federal Minister of Finance and account-general of the federal government. Why can’t we have a Director-General or Accountant-General of the Federation? Even though the Presidency is in charge, it has its own minister. Let its minister sit there but not as the chairman. The Federation Account belongs to the Federal Government and the states and they should decide. It is not even a matter of everybody rushing here, wasting money on hotels and haggling and sharing. No. If the formula is decided, at the end of every month, the people who are to draw from it are credited with it. Let the federating units go and deal with their local governments in their areas. Now, the resource control and revenue allocation. In a democracy, there is the rule of law. But in life there is also what is right, what is wrong, what is just and what is not just. A friend talked to me and said ‘this is the law of the sea, this is the law of the land, the law under the sea, the law of above the sea’. I am not a lawyer. But I know that you pay derivation. You don’t pay derivation to Anambra. You don’t pay to Enugu. You don’t pay to Ebonyi, Kogi, Benue and Katsina. Why do you then pay to Rivers, Delta,etc?; it is a recognition that this resource is physically in their areas. Are we right to say that what is in somebody’s area does not belong to him? It can be done. And I hope we will provide Nigeria with a template for doing it. Let me also tell you one of the things we must look at in doing it: we can have a single pronged approach. Derivation. Take your money. But in that derivation, a lot of derivation should also be taken care; just like we take care of the state where it is got, we must also look at the communities from where they are got because states are richer but communities from where the oil is extracted are not richer. Another way we should look at it is: do we really need to create more bureaucracy? NDDC, Niger-Delta Ministry to deal with these matters? Already we have too many bureaucracy. Let us go one way: derivation. You collect it provided that what you get from derivation goes also to the communities where you get them. I think that if we do that and the overriding principle is fairness and justice, we will get it right. Finally on this area, there is enormous mineral wealth across Nigeria. Precious stones. I am talking of very valuable minerals. Why don’t you deploy these things to attract foreign exchange for us so that these states can also benefit from derivation formula? If we look at it this way, we will be able to arrive at an understanding.
Many people including Professor Ben Nwabueze are expressing doubt over the legitimacy of the ongoing National Conference. What is your take?
I was involved in the 1994/95 conference as the head of the Igbo secretariat and you can see that conference produced a draft constitution that was not made law but it carried a moral force. So, the outcome of what we do is out of our hands. We can make recommendations. But my determination is that it should have such a moral force that you ignore it at your peril. Two plus two is four. Two times two is four.
Two squared is four. However you look at it, you arrive at the same answer. If we arrive at the same solution that the power at the centre is too much, if we arrive at the solution that we need to be more equitable and fair in treating the Niger-Delta region, if we arrive at a fair solution to the poverty and the consequent insecurity in the country along with many things, I want our decision to be so right and so banked on that those who ignore it will do it at our peril. We have neither the mandate nor the power to legislate nor to force other Nigerians but we have tried it to complement them. I think that this conference is not antagonistic to the National Assembly or to Mr. President. If we submit what we have to them, it is to help them see directions where we can go. Many have said that we are not an elected body. Many people in this conference will never run an election. But the fact that you are not elected does not detract from your quality. Aside election, quality by quality, you will see people who you should not ignore. The fact that I didn’t run an election to become a member does not diminish me in any way whatsoever. In fact, many people, when we have looked at the electoral process, you would see that what is the issue is getting the right people, people with public service to come in. So, I think that saying that I cannot win an election in my ward is neither here nor there. I have run election before. I ran election in 1998. If I have refused to run election thereafter, it is my decision. This is a very quality conference and I am hoping we will arrive at quality decisions with new arguments that will help this country address the recurring issues. Those who say they don’t want to look at it, the consequences of the future will be on their heads. It will not be on the heads of those who have done what they should do. So, I am not going to worry myself and, by the way, I know Professor Ben Nwabueze very well. He knows that I have tremendous respect for him. I have worked closely with him. I have been guided by a lot of what he has written. I have enriched myself enormously from Professor Ben Nwabueze’s profound knowledge of the law. I only disagree with him on the ethnic nationality thing. Nigeria has since moved away from the 1960 era. We cannot be talking about ethnic nationalities in 2014.
That is my view. I cannot downplay it. But anything about devolution of power, you will see that I am almost 100 percent guided by Professor Ben Nwabueze’s views. So, you will find out that what we are arguing has not excluded anybody. We are also respecting the National Assembly’s authority and power to legislate. We are also respecting Mr. President’s power to execute. So, we might end up giving them draft bills and all that along with our report. What they do with it becomes their own business. Basically, the purpose of this country and why many of us are there is to remove all these recurring impediments to Nigeria’s development so that the country can proceed to develop and improve on the quality of lives of Nigerians.