Yesterday, the team of panelists at the Vanguard Conference Hall gave their perspectives on what is restructuring. The panel was generally agreed on the need to restructure the polity. Today the panel is addressing the contentious issue of what system of government the country is presently operating among other issues.
Moderator: You say Nigeria cannot establish a refinery, but what do you say of what the authorities have described as illegal refineries and in the time of the civil war we also had Ogbinigwe bombs?
When I was talking about our ability to refine or produce distillates from our crude oil; I will always give it to one of our legendary leaders, the late Dim Chukwuemeka Ojukwu. In the days of Biafra, there was creativity. He established refineries by the rivers of Uzoakali. Some of us knew about that. He used Nigerians and brains within Nigeria, so that is why I say something is fundamentally wrong. Remember, I didn’t say that we have not been growing, but now we have what we call stunted growth.
What we have in the Niger Delta as we speak today are not refineries. They do not even qualify to be called illegal refineries. They are pollution plants. They are toxification and carcinogenic plants. I am saying this as an authority in the oil and gas industry and as somebody who has worked on land location and swam location, and deep offshore. What we have in the Niger Delta can best be described as toxification plants.
What they do is this: they tap into the pipeline of products that somebody spent money to develop or drill. What has been happening is stealing. You steal somebody’s products and the next thing you go without aligning yourself or respecting the standard scientific methods, you burn that product, and you pick the only thing you require, and all the other products are dropped on the environment and what that does to the environment is that it percolates. Once it percolates, it destroys ground water and habitat; people cannot drink good water, people go to the farms.
The next one that gets to the river destroys aquatic plants and animals. Even animals that come to prey on those rivers to take fishes suffer from temperature differentials which we call hyperthermia. Then, the ones that get burnt and get to the atmosphere pollute the environment; cause all kinds of bronchial problems and come back as carbonic acid or acid rain. I am an authority on that aspect and can talk about it.
But there is nothing wrong in starting from an embryonic stage. You can’t walk if you can’t crawl, so you need to crawl, walk, run and probably be a sprinter. I am in support of that. Let’s do the right thing and if we want to do the right thing, let us follow the necessary concept. Follow that trend, make sure you get the necessary license to establish, to reconstruct and operate. There is nothing wrong. I am for modular refineries. Let’s start and be building them in modules. What exists in the Niger Delta today can best be described as carcinogenic plants. In fact, carcinogenic materials because when something is a plant, you give some scientific qualifications. They are carcinogenic materials.
There is a lot of generalisation of who we think we are and who we think others are. When somebody speaks, who does the person speak for? Whether the person speaks for the North or the person speaks for the South, and I keep asking for the common man?
We can’t be talking about restructuring if we do not have a constitutional engineering that is clear, or says who we are as a country? What structure do we have that can benefit a positive discussion that can come out for restructuring. In that regards, we need to go into our historical setting. Where did we start from? I know that a lot of discussion about restructuring is saying let’s go back to Ibadan. Let us go back to 1963 when each region managed its resources. So, I asked myself who determines who owns the land and who determines who manages the refineries and others. These are issues that are quite constitutional which we need to determine by virtue of the kind of constitution that we have.
As we speak, the structure that we are building as a country is built on what we call “federal structure.” There is something absolutely wrong with the structure that we are using as a country today, and as someone who has been involved in constitutional engineering planning, I know that there was a time when we asked for Sovereign National Conference.
The essence of Sovereign National Conference was to bring something back to the Nigerian people. To be able to determine what kind of structure can work. If we look at it from 1963, particularly after the military took over till 1979 when we began to define the kind of structure we want Nigeria to have.
There is something missing. The fact that sovereignty does not rest in the people, and if you look at the charade that took place recently in the National Assembly. For them, their own definition is also that they are trying to restructure the country and so will vote for immunity clause suitable to them and which shows that there is a lot of confusion. We cannot restructure this country if we don’t have a definite constitution that defines our structure.
The constitution must define the kind of structure that we want. The constitution must say what goes to the state. Recently, a governor said he was going to cancel the local government elections that took place in his state; so what kind of structure is that?
So, I think that the Constitution has a role to play in terms of defining the kind of structure that we should have. And as we speak, the 1999 Constitution (As Amended) has not been able to do that. The recent efforts by the National Assembly have not done much. The closest that we have had to it is in some of the proposals in the 2014 National Conference asking a lot of questions.
What should be on the residual list? What should be in the concurrent list? What should be in the exclusive list? If we don’t determine some of these, we will not be able to determine who manages the refinery.
There are a lot of other issues we need to define. Who is the citizen of Nigeria? If I live in the North why would somebody ask me to leave the North? Is that part of the structure we should build? Because I invested so much in the North for so long, why should someone ask me to leave? Those are the things, to me, that are critical. We need to come to that stage, agree on a foundation before we can build any structure.
There is this form of analysis we call the “Mischief Rule.” What was the mischief that we have tried to cure with what we have now? We had a structure that ran on a tripod. At the all the constitutional conferences we had before independence, it was agreed that the country should run in regions. That is the foundation of our founding fathers, and we have been singing that their labour should not be in vain. Now, if we lay that foundation on a tripod, we will see that that is why Nigeria does not have a common hero.
Ask many Nigerians, the heroes of Nigerian independent; they will mention three names. In Ghana, the one name that will be mentioned is Kwame Nkrumah. In Zambia, Kenneth Kaunda. But it was not only Kwame Nkrumah that fought for Ghana’s independence, but Danquah was also a major player. In Tanzania, it wasn’t only Julius Nyerere alone, but their countrymen decided that there should be a hero; like in a match, that there should be a captain. We started a foundation without a captain; we had three captains. The events of 1966/67 made us to pretend to live a lie that we can have one captain. All over, we have been trying to like a cloth, patch it. You patch it this way; you patch it that way forgetting where you are coming from.
I sincerely believe, we must return to basics. Ahmadu Bello took time to groom his people to believe in the North; Michael Okpara took the time to groom his people to believe in the East; Awolowo took the time to groom his people to believe in the West. I’m aware that as at 1963 we had the Midwest region – that was an interplay of politics. Now, with what we have, you caused people to believe in their regions, then, you want their offspring to believe in something else. That is why when things are being done in this country, people lower them to their regions, some tribes.
One of the reasons things are not working is that we are living a lie. We are pretending we are united. What is the essence of federalism? It is unity in diversity. Anywhere federalism is practiced, people have understood their diversity. We have a common purpose; we have a common focus; those things that bind us together, let us put on the Exclusive Legislative List.
We are not practicing federalism. Our fathers laid this country on the foundation of federalism. That is why they have 45 items in the Exclusive List. Now we have 68, you have added 23, and even in the other 30 that amount to Concurrent List, you say that any legislation in that regard, that whatever the National Assembly decides, takes precedence.
The implication is that the National Assembly may decide on the 30 and that means that the state will continually go to the national for everything and that is what is happening. Now when we talk of restructuring if you ask me, my understanding of restructuring is that we have a structure, but that structure has been distorted. We should restructure it back to when it was not distorted.
Decisions in this country are not taken to enhance our economic well-being. They are taken to enhance the beliefs of some people that the country should be run in a particular way. Look at the devolution of power; some people just stood as a caucus and said no, we will not devolve powers, Land Use Act, no!
As long as decisions are taken to spite some people based on perception rightly or wrongly, anything you discuss administration or finance – because those things rest on the substratum
Now when some people discuss restructuring, they behave as if they do not know what we call economic restructuring, what we call administrative restructuring – because the substratum is this political restructuring. Once you get it right, the inner creativity in people will come out.
There is a reason why nobody is ready to call those people who produced the Ogbinigwe to come out and help the country succeed. It is a political decision. There is a reason why they will not give international airport to a particular state. These are political decisions; they are not economic decisions.
I will describe the structure we have now as “come chop” structure -”Come and eat.” That is what it is. From the moment General Aguiyi Ironsi promulgated decree No. 34 in 1966 and centralised the structure of the federation under military rule, the situation has not changed. Rather, what happened is that when the military changed hands several times, some people discovered that what Ironsi started was to their advantage, so they now bounced on it, put it in the 1979 Constitution and continued it in the 1999 Constitution.
For me, the structure we have on the ground now which is centralized federalism is a military structure. It served during the military period, and when the military was about to end, they felt for their personal interest to continue to hold sway, they now put it in the 1999 Constitution and imposed it on the civilian democratic order that was coming into place.
For me, what we have had between 1999 and today is nothing but transitional democracy, a transition between the military and full-blown democracy and federalism that is yet to come and that cannot be acquired through the instrumentality of the 1999 Constitution.
The 1999 Constitution remains and will always be a decree by the military. It has nothing to do with “we the people.”
For me, for us to have the structure we need, we have to do something about the Constitution, not by amending it, because there is nothing you can amend to get what you are looking for. You have to change it.
The people of Nigeria should sit together and come up with a new constitution that will give them that structure of federation that will be able to move Nigeria forward. Not this one, because this particular centralised federalism has put everything in the hands of the federal government. It has put everything in the hands of the president, and because some people have that advantage, both deserved and undeserved advantages, which they had they split the country the way they wanted, gave to themselves the number of states they wanted, the number of local governments they wanted and the number of federal constituencies they wanted.
They put the revenue formula in such a way so that all those numerous states and local governments which they created will just be “zapping” the federation to the disadvantage of others who were not in power with them. There were some groups of Nigerians who were not around the table when these decisions were taken, and they are suffering the disadvantage.
So the “come and chop” structure we have is to the eternal disadvantages of some groups and the eternal advantage of some groups, and that is why we are having these agitations.
These agitations will not end until we do something about the structure. What I am saying is that we are probably the only federation in the whole world that at the end of every month, the states, local governments, and the Federal Government will sit and collect free rents from oil and share. After sharing everybody goes home to go and eat. Before the war, the various regions were massive production centers. They produced wealth and paid some part to the federal government, and with what they realized, they were able to establish fantastic programmes and projects. I