By Henry Umoru
ABUJA- FORMER Vice President Atiku Abubakar Tuesday said that if the country must achieve its set goals, there was the urgent need for the federal system to be restructured, just as he said that the president of Nigeria was the most powerful in the world because of the power he controls.
Speaking Tuesday at the 2012 Annual Conference and Awards Ceremony of Leadership Newspapers at the Ladi Kwali Hall, Sheraton Hotel and Towers, Abuja, Atiku Abubakar who was the Chairman of the occasion, also called on the National Assembly to pass a law that will establish a two party system in the country, rather than the present system.
The former Presidential aspirant on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, who also threw his weight behind calls for state police, however said that Nigeria as a nation does not need a uniform wage structure, adding that any state which has the wherewithal to pay more, should do so.
The theme of this year’s Conference is ‘’Is the opposition a serious alternative in Nigeria?
According to him, ‘’there is need, therefore, to review the structure of the Nigerian federation, preferably along the basis of the current six geo-political zones as regions and the states as provinces. The existing states structure may not suffice, as the states are too weak materially and politically to provide what is needed for good governance.
‘’In the same vein I see nothing wrong with the establishment of state police by the states that want it, as long as it can be insulated from and is independent of the state or regional government. The argument that governors will abuse state police is rather specious.
Should we abolish the Nigerian Police because it is often abused by those in power at the federal level? Should we abolish the state treasuries because governors abuse them? And should we also abolish local governments for the same reason? No. We should, as a people, struggle for and put in place institutional safeguards against abuse of power by those in power at all levels. We have a chance now to put many of those safeguards in a new constitution.
‘’And, as is typical with working federations around the world, state flag or anthem should not get us overly excited. Local identities and symbols are not antithetical to and do not preclude national identities. I, for one, am a proud son of Adamawa, a proud northerner and I am a proud citizen of Nigeria. American states all have flags and anthems; yet I do not know of many countries that are more stable and united than the United States of America.
‘’It is also absurd to say that all parts of the country should have a uniform wage structure for workers. Our states and regions have different revenue endowments and varying costs of living. And it is misguided for labour leaders to think that a uniform wage structure across the country is in the best interest of workers. Employers, including state governments and agencies, that have the capacity to pay more should be able to do so. That can spur competition for the best talent, which may indeed raise overall wage levels (and standard of living) in the country. Minimum wage standards should, therefore, be established by state/regional governments.
Atiku Abubakar who also called for the development of human capital, stressed that no nation can develop without the development of both human and natural resources, even as he quick to add that countries like Singapore grew without natural resources, adding, ‘’We have natural resources, but without human capital neither Nigeria nor the Niger Delta can be like Singapore, which did not have significant natural resources to start with. But a nation without natural resources can be like Singapore if it develops its human capital, as Japan did before Singapore.
‘’I followed a recent debate on the internet between some American professors and some intellectuals from the Niger Delta and a northerner. They were trying to answer the question of whether Nigeria or indeed the Niger Delta can be like Singapore. They all agreed that no nation in the world has developed without a combination of its natural resources and human capital.
‘’This is an important lesson for all of us. We must, therefore, demand good governance at all levels of our government. The immense developmental strides achieved by our First Republic leaders were achieved without oil revenues, yet we have for over forty years now been behaving as though nothing can be achieved without oil revenues. We should all be thinking more about production rather than distribution or sharing. I do not know of any country in the world that has developed just by its leaders gathering in their capital city every month to share revenues from rent.’’
He however said that the country can grow without oil and meet up with all its challenges, stressing that he went to school without oil money, adding, ‘’I am a product of regional parliamentary democracy. I received free qualitative education from the primary to the secondary and university levels. I was even paid to attend school. The money which the government of the day, my local authority, used to pay for my education and those of my contemporaries was not derived from oil revenues. So I am not a product of oil boom Nigeria.’’
Speaking further on the need to address the present federal structure, Atiku recalled, ‘’During the 1994-95 constitutional conference some of us argued that such organs as Federal Ministries of Education, Health, Agriculture and Sports were unnecessary. We reasoned that their responsibilities should be devolved to states and local governments. At best the federal government should establish standards and regulatory bodies and give grants to states that conform to them. This proposal was not adopted by the constitutional conference, so the current structure was retained. Why should we be talking of federal roads and federal secondary schools? Decentralization is not an invitation to the breakup of the country and national unity should not continue to be confused with unitarism and concentration of power and resources at the federal level. Of course I am aware that some of the main beneficiaries of our erstwhile regional parliamentary democracy have been hiding behind a call for restructuring to push for the breakup of the country because of their proximity to a finite natural resource and transient political power.
‘’One of the consequences of excessive centralization and the military rule that facilitated it, is that the Nigerian President is the most powerful President in the world. This is because he could quite literally unleash all security agencies on an individual or organization, undermine the National Assembly, and turn the judiciary into an almost pro-government and conformist organ. This is not in the realm of speculation; it has been happening in this country. Indeed I drew attention to it when I was in office as Vice President and was having a political face-off with my boss. It is not healthy for democracy and must be changed.
‘’I also want to recall that during the said 1994-95 Constitutional Conference, Dr Alex Ekwueme, GCON, the Second Republic Vice President of this federation, introduced and canvassed for the concept of geo-political zones. I was among those who opposed it because I thought that Ekwueme, coming from the defunct Republic of Biafra, wanted to break up the country again. Now I realize that I should have supported him because our current federal structure is clearly not working. Dr Ekwueme obviously saw what some of us, with our civil war mindset, could not see at the time. There is indeed too much concentration of power and resources at the centre. And it is stifling our march to true greatness as a nation and threatening our unity because of all the abuses, inefficiencies, corruption and reactive tensions that it has been generating.
‘’Our judiciary is bloated, and increasingly conformist and pro-establishment. Yet justice is always delayed. In the US, which has a larger population and land mass, we find that the judiciary, while not bloated, delivers justice faster. I would like to see a more activist judiciary at all levels – local, regional and federal – one that actually does justice rather than hide behind technicalities to do injustice. I would like to see a judiciary that is able to live up to its billing as the last hope of the common person.
On two party system, the former Vice President said, ‘’I will just remark that I have long been an advocate of a two-party system because of our class, ethnic, religious and regional faultlines. My recommendation for legislative amendment in that regard is for the National Assembly to pass a law stating that there shall be two political parties in Nigeria, full stop. It does not have to decree their ideologies or platforms. This, in my view, will produce two political parties that will cut across our various divides, and be viable alternatives capable of forming government after elections. Ruling parties all over the world never want strong opposition parties and in contexts such as ours are capable of undermining efforts by opposition parties to coalesce into a single formidable alternative party.’’
Gen. T.Y. Danjuma
Alhaji Maitama Sule
Professor Pat Utomi
Gov. Kayode Fayemi
Prof. Jerry Gana
Isa Tata Yusuf Rep of Aliko Dangote
Gen. Jeremiah Useni
Gen. Joshua Dongoyaro
Gen. Ishaya Bakut
Gen. Martin Lurther Agwai
Senator Ameh Ebute
Mr. Sam Amuka, Publisher, Vanguard
Mr. Sam Nda-Isaiah, Publisher, Leadership Newspapers
Ambassador Buba Marwa; Prof. Pat Utomi; Chief Bola Tinubu; Chief Bisi Akande; Paul Unongo; Senator Ayogu Eze; Senator Lawan Shaiubu; Dubem Onyia; Rep of Borno state governor; governor of Taraba state, Baba Suntai; Senator Jonathan Zwingina; Uku ka of Wukari; Minister of state, Power; Senator Ahmed Datti; former minister of water resources, Obadiah; Senator Emmanuel Bwacha; deputy governor of Ekiti; deputy governor of Osun; state; Isa Tata Yusuf representative of Aliko Dangote; speaker, Ekiti state house of Assembly, among others.
Some of the Award recipients were former Minister of Defence, General Theophilus Yakubu Danjuma who got the Person of the year award for the year 2011; Ekiti State governor, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, Governor of the year 2011; Speaker of the House of Representatives, Aminu Tambuwal, Politician of the year, 2011; Aliko Dangote, Business Person of the Year 2011; Chinedu Ikedieze and Osita Iheme, A.K.A Aki and Paw Paw got the entertainers of the year 2011 award, among others.