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Afenifere, Ohanaeze’s dabbling into politics is great disservice – Okorie

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2009 FG budget a booby trap
80% of restructuring lies with lawmakers
Those asking Buhari to restructure Nigeria ‘re wasting their time

By Olayinka Ajayi

National Chairman of the United Progressive Party, UPP, Chief Chekwas Okorie, in this interview, described the outgoing 8th National Assembly as hostile, unfriendly to president Muhammadu Buhari’s administration. He also described as disservice the role of socio-cultural groups like Ohanaeze, Afenifere in the political affairs of the country among others.

On the passage of the 2019 budget that was jerked up with over N90b by the National Assembly

The 8th outgoing National Assembly has been most unfriendly to this government. There is no doubt that there is no iota of synergy or healthy communication between the two arms of government otherwise things like this can’t happen without being earlier talked about. I see a large dose of blackmail that would make the president not to sign it and their tenure would come to an end and they would continue to frustrate the government. My advice is for the government to accept it and sign the budget because they would be going out in about 30 days time.

Chief Okorie

Since our budget has never achieved up to 70-75 percent of implementation,in the course of implementation, they can make all the necessary adjustment required in terms of cash tracking and all that. But if they throw it back to them, it will now snowball into another scandalous talk of 2019 budget not signed until maybe June or July and that doesn’t say well of the government we are running. And that is the picture the outgoing national assembly want to paint of this government. My candid advice is that the government should not allow them to get away with this blackmail by signing the budget.

Does this justify the accusation and counter-accusation of budget padding?

It does and it is blackmail. When the government said the nation’s assembly padded the budget, the government was not just mudslinging, they were talking based on verifiable evidence. Thank God that its a budget that would be spent over a year. The government can now set to win this blackmail by assenting it and implementing as the funds become available. And they can deal with that with a more friendly National Assembly that is coming in June.

On the exchange of brick-bats between Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu and National Assembly leaders – Senate President Bukola Saraki and Speaker Yakubu Dogara

There is no doubt that the 8th Assembly is very corrupt, recalcitrant and unpatriotic in so many ways considering the relationship they had with the executive from the very beginning but now they are going out in about less than a month. Yes, it is obvious that the president has been contending with a hostile assembly but the comfort is that a new and more friendly National Assembly will come in in less than 30 days.

What is your stand on those agitating for part-time Assembly?

It requires constitutional amendment and even the 9thAssembly would not amend the law to reduce their comfort zone. However, that is not a solution to our major problem. The solution to our problem is  restructuring of Nigeria. And restructuring is not an executive problem, it is a legislative problem. In other words, 80 percent of it is legislative. So let us have a National Assembly that would thinker on critical areas of amendment like exclusive list and concurrent list. That is one area of devolution of power that would make a lot of difference and gradually introduce restructuring without causing tension each time it is mentioned.

Those who said without restructuring there won’t be any election, we have had the election and what have they done? Key issues cannot be addressed by flexing  power. The restructuring that would solve Nigeria’s problem is 80 percent legislative responsibility and 20 percent executive responsibility. If we don’t focus on the National Assembly, we are wasting our time by calling on President Buhari to restructure Nigeria. Nigeria will continue to exist even if it’s obviously an unfair country.

Some are of the view that agitators of restructuring have ethnic and selfish motive…

Those saying so are themselves selfish. Obviously they are benefiting from the obnoxious 1999 constitution. The lingering insecurity in Zamfara and other parts of the North has made those against restructuring to clamour for state police. But we saw the need for it long ago. It is now they are seeing that state and community policing would go a long way in curtailing banditry at the local level. Is it not part of the restructuring we are talking about? We never knew that all sorts of solid minerals like gold, silver, diamond being mined in Zamfara and Niger were entering into private pockets. But when you asked the governors of these states, their response is solid minerals belong to the federal government. Meanwhile the federal government is not monitoring it. We heard that the kingpins of those miners are the ones sponsoring the killings in the North. If they hear resource control and restructuring, all they think and remember is crude oil. If we had restructured this country, states like Zamfara and Niger would be wealthy. So they are shooting themselves in the foot by wanting to stay in a structure that all their attention is focused on crude oil and crude is becoming less attractive worldwide. When crude oil becomes useless, they would now begin to talk about restructuring.

How did we get here as a nation?

We got here gradually. When Nigeria adopted a unitary system of government was when we began to concentrate power in a few hands and when we were going into civilian democracy, the constitution that was produced in 1979, was fairly a better constitution but by 1999 the Abdulsalami Abubakar government largely influenced by some Mafias from the North imposed the 1999 constitution on Nigerian people. It was an imposition. For instance; it was Alex Ekwueme’s proposition for six zonal structure and rotational presidency that the constitutional conference adopted and recommended were yanked off by the Abdulsalami Abubakar government and so we now talk about six zones which are not in the constitution. But when it is convenient for them, they would remember there are six zones and when it is not, they would tell you it is not in the constitution.

So this was how we degenerated to this level and we have got to the point where states governors are not creative in terms of internally generated revenue. It is only Lagos State that is leading the way, many others are waiting at the end of the month to go to Abuja to collect their allocation. Because of the nature of government we have been operating, every aspect of the economy, agriculture or even education is put in the centre and that is why we have as many as 60 items in the exclusive list while we have less than 20 in the concurrent list. So that is why people are talking about devolution of power and the general term for it is true federalism, true federal structure so that Nigeria can grow, develop and every part of Nigeria would benefit from it.

Do you foresee a true federal structure in or after this administration?

Yes, I foresee it. I believe that within this administration, there would be some constitutional changes that would define our federation better. I don’t think the 9thAssembly would not take insecurity seriously with regards to state police and community policing. I think they would be able to do something about it and that also requires some constitutional amendment.

How long would Nigerians wait to enjoy the dividends of democracy?

It can be done within one tenure, it depends on how determined we are. For example; we have all these socio-political and cultural groups – Afenifere, Ohanaeze, PANDEF among others. These people leaving cultural things to dabble into politics are doing us a great disservice. They are not helping matters.

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If they are really cultural leaders, there is nothing that would stop them from inviting those who are representing their various areas of influence in the House of Representatives and Senate and having meetings with them. If we have four geopolitical zones in the National Assembly agree on certain constitutional amendment on critical areas that would bring about true federal structure, you already have a majority that would pass it irrespective of the party because these lawmakers are actually loyal to their own people but the socio-cultural groups are not doing that.

You have never had that any of these group ever had a parley with their representatives in the Assembly, all they do is hold meeting somewhere, entertain themselves, come-out and address a press conference and issue a statement. They can do that 10 times a year and achieve nothing. These were the same people who said if there was no restructuring, there won’t be an election. As if they have their own army. Then, they have started again, without restructuring, Nigeria will not survive. I don’t believe in them talking and talking.

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