‘Biggest corruption in Nigeria is degradation of our foundation’
Last month, Nigeria celebrated its 57th independence anniversary. At 57, many Nigerians are unhappy with the state of things in the country, saying it is now time to restructure in order to move the nation forward. The agitation for restructuring is heightening across the country, even though the political leadership seems to be uninterested in it. In this interview with AYOYINKA JEGEDE in Uyo, human rights lawyer, Uwemedimo Nwoko, who is also the attorney general and commissioner for justice in Akwa Ibom State, said the only way forward was to restructure and fix the foundation of Nigeria that has been corrupted over the years.
He explained that the greatest challenge facing Nigeria today is the challenge of keeping the nation together.
His words: “I strongly believe that if we are able to resolve sincerely the issue of Nigerian federation, it will be able to solve most of Nigeria’s other problems including the problem of corruption. I insist that the biggest corruption in Nigeria is the corruption of the foundation of the Nigeria federation. The corruption of the Nigerian federation has destroyed Nigeria. What do I mean by corruption of the foundation? The original agreement of the various ethnic nationalities that negotiated the creation and independence of Nigeria has been destroyed and corrupted by the many years of military dictatorship with a centralized style of administration that completely destroyed the federal system and created a unitary system. All the understandings and agreements people like Awolowo, Sarduana, Azikwe, the Oparas and the Enahoros sat down together to discuss the basis on which they form a Nigerian federation have been distorted. The sharing and control of resources have been taken away. We now have an over centralized system. We now have a unitary system where the centre is over loaded. The centre is caving in because it’s unable to carry the burden thrown on it.
“Everybody now walks up to Abuja to take money to go and run their own states. States have become very lazy and lack creativity. States have become incapable of sustaining themselves and they are not even bordered about creating means of sustaining their own system because at the end of every month, everybody walks to Abuja and collect a piece of the national cake. The national cake has finished and there is nothing to share again. States used to go to Abuja and share almost a trillion naira every month. Now, they are sharing less than three hundred billion because what they used to go and share has finished. Right now, the greatest challenge to the Nigerian federation and which is the main thing now is the reestablishment, rejuvenation, restructuring of the Nigeria federation; devolution of powers, taking so much away from the center and giving them to the component states so that Nigeria can move on. As it stands now Nigeria as a nation is facing the greatest challenge of how to move on with an overloaded centre.”
On the way forward, Nwoko said there must be devolution of powers, decentralization of the centre, taking away so much from the overloaded exclusive legislative list and allowing each component unit, each component state and ethnic nationalities to be partially in control of its affairs, resources and administration.
“Right now everything is at the centre, even up to employments. The centre wants to control everything. There is no way Nigeria can make any progress with the kind of disfigured, distorted governmental system that we are running,” he decalred.
Talking on federal government’s role in fostering national integration and unity, the activist lawyer emphatically declared that the government is not doing anything to give Nigerians the assurance of unity.
According to him, it is worst under the present administration. “Take for instance, why do you have the IPOB agitations in the South East? It is because the East has been alienated. Recently, governors of the North visited the South Eastern States and they were appalled by what they saw, the deplorable infrastructure in the South East. They saw the roads and they do not look like the roads in the same country they are living in. Governors from the North complained. Definitely, the federal government is not doing anything at all to enhance the unity of Nigeria. Another example is that, gradually the secularity of Nigeria as a state that should be non-committal to any religion is being destroyed. The federal government is pledging Nigerian’s land and territory to the Islamic body under the Islamic banking system. If you understand the Islamic banking system, anything that you mortgage to take facility goes. It is not redeemable like in the regular banking system. How did we get to create a situation where we are now Islamic bankers? We have brought Islamic banking and Islamic Insurance into the country. We have gradually destroyed the foundation of Nigeria’s unity. We are creating alienation between the religions in Nigeria. It is a thing that is creating time bomb. Whether we like it or not, until we begin to face the problems and take the interest of Nigeria as uppermost and not secondary to ethnic and religious interest, then we would not have been ready to make any progress at all.”
Responding on why it has become difficult to unite the country after 57 years of independence, Nwoko said Nigerian leaders are not honest. “It is because we are not honest. There is no more Nigeria that was created in 1960. That Nigeria that Saduana, Tafawa Balewa, Awolowo, Azikwe and all of them came together to create has been destroyed. Unity will always continue to elude us because the basis on which we came together has been altered in the middle of the game. We have lost direction and disfigured Nigeria. We have distorted the agreement and of course the natural product of that is mutual suspicion and so unity will never come in. You can never have unity in the midst of suspicion. Right now every section of Nigeria is suspicious of the other and that is why we can never speak with one voice,” he said.
Asked the practical steps which the Federal government can take to ensure harmony in the face of daunting insecurity, ethnicity and religious crisis, he said the government should fall back on the rules of engagement that created Nigeria.
His words: “Take for example, Nigeria is a secular state but can we truly say today that Nigeria is still operating as a secular state? Some states in Nigeria started with sharia implementation in Zamfara State during Obasanjo’s era and Obasanjo does not have a strength of character to address the issue because the governor of Zamfara state could have been called to order immediately at that time and warmed that he was bridging the constitution, rather we took it for granted and it continued. It spread into other Northern states up to a point that both Christians and Muslims were subjected to Islamic laws in Zamfara State whether you are an Islamic person or not. Christians should only be subjected to Christian rules and the general laws, while Islamic laws should apply only to Muslims. But when it started in Zamfara State, it was no more whether you are a Christian or Muslim, so long as you are in Zamfara State you are under Islamic law. That was the beginning of a serious derailment and gradually, we have sunk further into that position and it’s getting worse by the day. Governor Rauf Aregbesola in Osun State went and started Islamic banking. He introduced Islamization of Osun State because he is a Muslim and nobody says anything, whereas it is spreading to other parts of the country. One or two states are implementing Sharia laws even on non-Muslims. We have destroyed the foundation of Nigeria and Nigeria is gradually vibrating from our hands, one day if we are not careful, we will wake up and discovered that there is no more Nigeria. Those who have the privilege of leading this country should work and know that whatever they are doing is history today, that tomorrow, they will be part of history and for everything we do, there will be historical account of the role we played either in sustaining or destroying Nigeria.”
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