PROF. A.B.C Nwosu, academic turned politician was a First Class Commonwealth Scholar, who entered the political arena after he was appointed Commissioner for Health in Anambra State in 1986. He subsequently served four other military regimes in that capacity. At the onset of civil rule he was a leading contender to be governor of Anambra State but found his footing after President Olusegun Obasanjo appointed him as his Political Adviser. He was subsequently appointed as Minister of Health before the end of Obasanjo’s first term.
Nwosu in this interview speaks on the contentious issue of restructuring the country. Excerpts:
By Johnbosco Agbakwuru
There is the clamour for the restructuring of the country, what is your position on restructuring?
Restructuring of the country is imperative. We have no choice in this matter. We will either restructure, or we cease to exist as Nigeria, it is an existential threat. Restructuring is not new. Post-January 15, 1966, one of the study groups set up by General Ironsi was on structure. When Gowon took over in July, remember we had a conference which broke down; one of the things then was about structure. Aburi was nothing except structure. When President Babangida came in, it was structure, when Abacha came in, in the conference attended by Dim Chukwuemeka Odimegwu Ojukwu, Dr. Alex Ekwueme, it was structure. When Obasanjo set up his own political reform, it was about structure. When Jonathan set up his own, it was still about structure.
When something is not working, you change it, you redesign it to work, and that redesigning is restructuring. We have no choice in this matter. If we don’t understand it, it will explode in the face of our children and our grand children, and it will be a shame if we want something that will really consume our children and our grand children.
There is the fear that restructuring may lead to disintegration of the country, what is your reaction?
People are free to fear anything. My belief is that when something is inevitable, we should then try and speak with the same language. The danger I am seeing now is that we are speaking different languages on restructuring. Some think that restructuring is about regionalisation, it is not. Some think that it is about the break-up of the country; it is not. Some think that it is so that you will deprive them of the money they come and collect at the centre illegitimately; it is not. It is about making sure that all governments in the country, federal and the states work optimally. Therefore in my view, the key thing in restructuring is the devolution of power and greater autonomy to the federating units.
The Federal Government collects about 52 percent of the national revenue, and this is wrong. Even if you divide the country into the original four regions, the four will be unviable because the bulk of the money, 52 percent has been pocketed by the federal government. It is very wrong, and it cannot be more wrong than that. The Federal Government in an ideal situation should not have more than 35 percent of national revenue and if that is done and all the theft, most of which you see is at the federal level, and not at the state level.
Whether you recover forty something houses, so many billions of dollars from safes and private buildings, they are not being recovered from states; they are being recovered at the federal level. There is too much money at the federal level. Even if you had policemen in Nigeria with hundred eyes and whistleblowers with hundred whistles, they would not be able to catch 52 percent of what is being stolen in more than four hundred ministries, departments, agencies and parastatals. You can’t catch that. If you remove it and make it 35 percent, most people will go back to their states to help develop their states, and there will be less money at the centre given to foreign affairs, defence, immigrations and all those functions the federal is performing.
Not sinking boreholes etc., and therefore, you will find that there will be less money to be stolen and there will be greater autonomy and government will be nearer the people and take care of the people. That is why we should now sit down and work out the details of how we can do that. Before I end let me give you an example. Look at a brilliant man like Dr. Kayode Fayemi (Minister of Solid Minerals Development), I respect him but give him one million years in the ministry of solid minerals, he will achieve nothing. This one he is going round saying we will cooperate with states to bring minerals will not work. I saw him in Enugu the other day; there is Article 39 in the federal Constitution which stipulates that mines, minerals et cetera are under exclusive list. Is the Federal Government cooperating with states to give oil mining licences? It is the Federal Government’s responsibility, whether the mineral is gas or liquid or solid, it is mineral.
So how can he now operate the way he wants to operate without Article 39 in the Constitution which is on the exclusive list being put on the concurrent list? How can he?
These are the reasons we must restructure. All his good intentions as minister of solid minerals cannot be brought until you restructure and make that item on the concurrent list so that states can come in. It is then that special funds can be brought. So, that is how I look at it, devolution of power most be central. Resource control is central, and those who are afraid are those who think they have no resource and it is wrong. Every part of Nigeria has resource, enormous resources and what I find laudable is that the same people who are saying no resource control are on the other hand saying we have more resources than these people who are talking about resource control.
What is required is to have a national fund for the development of those resources so that you will bring coal, bring Barytes in Nasarawa, bring all the bitumen all to full development and bring them to the national wealth sharing table and you will increase the size of the cake, and they take their own derivation too just like cocoa was used to spur the development of resources in the other regions.
The East went and developed its palm oil, Mid-West developed rubber; the North developed groundnut, cotton, etc. Each part of this country has abundant resources, and we are letting resources kill the human love which we have for ourselves. So it is only restructuring that will let us focus on building the nation.
Do you consider it worthwhile the idea of going back to regionalism, like the four regions we had in the First Republic when there was strong competition among the regions?
I was at the national conference of 2014 organised by President Jonathan. The representation was well done for me. What was the agreement? It was agreed that we shall have a central government with more powers devolved from it to the federating units and that the states as presently configured, shall act as the federating units. That conference did not agree on either six geopolitical zones or eight geopolitical zones or twelve. I was also in charge of the Igbo Secretariat when Ojukwu, Ekwueme, and Co. came and argued it under Abacha. That conference also did not agree on geopolitical zones as federating units, it agreed on six geopolitical units for administrative reasons, for sharing reasons, but not as federating units and its report is available.
Now, what 2014 said and what became a major issue was that nobody is good enough to rule over another person without his consent.
Any group of states that agree to can cooperate. Which means if the six states of the South-West agree on their own volition, nothing can stop them from acting as a zone. If the five states of the South East agree, nothing can stop them. But if the six states of the South South do not agree, they should not be forced. That to the best of my understanding was what was agreed in 2014 which I was part of. So, even if you have two regions North and South and the federal still keeps 52 percent, the North and South will be unviable, completely unviable. The key issue is that we have money for our country, say one hundred naira, and the central government collects fifty-two Naira, and they expect the rest of the country after you have removed derivation to live on that? It is wrong. The Federal Government has become a behemoth; it is unmanageable.
The waste is too much. If you look at the Kontagora Report, you will see that the Federal Government has over eight thousand abandoned projects throughout Nigeria that will require over four trillion naira to complete. They are in different stages of completion. If you restructure and devolve power, you can also devolve these uncompleted projects, and the states will look at them and evaluate. We have a federal prison at Nnewi (Anambra state) the man at Abuja who has never crossed River Benue down to the South East will now determine the priority rating of that prison and the borehole which he doesn’t know where it is.
The key thing, devolution of power, devolution of responsibilities, devolution of resources. If people don’t understand it, it is about greater autonomy to the federating units. If they still can’t understand it, it is like begging the Archbishop to let the Parish Priest be in charge of local weddings. It is not the Archbishop that is in charge of every wedding in every parish or every burial in every parish. This is what restructuring is all about.