Law  

Restructuring can only happen through referendum, says Clarke

Robert Clarke, SAN

Robert Clarke, SAN

Going by the recent developments, there is no doubt that a majority of Nigerians agree that the country needs to be restructured. But the greatest challenge appears to be how to get it done seamlessly. In this interview by JOSEPH ONYEKWERE, a Lagos-based Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Robert Clarke says to achieve that purpose, the President must call for a referendum. He also spoke about the anti-corruption drive of the present administration.

There is this renewed call for restructuring of the country. It got heightened with the call by Atiku Abubakar that now is the time to restructure. What is your view?

I am aware of the call especially from Atiku Abubakar and Edwin Clark that Nigeria needs to be structured, hopefully, to go back to the six regional states. I believe there is merit in it. I believe that the problem we have is the one committed by the military by creating 36 states in a federation. It is such a huge number. The proponents of that idea then did not take into consideration the enormous resources that would be required to maintain the 36 states. When you look at Nigeria, when it was created by the colonial government, they divided the Southern and Northern protectorates into 26 provinces and each province was been looked after by a resident. A resident, equivalent of a governor today will take care of the administration of each province.

I remember Bauchi, Yola and Adamawa were one province, which today is about three states. Ijebu was one province. Ondo and Akure was one province. If we had left the states at 26 or even the 21 we had, which came about because of the problem of 12 two-third. 19 states was ideal and Babangida added two more to remove the problem of 12 two-third. Because of the personal ambition of the late head of state then, Abacha, he decided to create 36 states. Today, 22 or 24 of these states cannot pay salaries. They are not worth more than a local government. The so-called federation that the 2/3 of the federating units cannot even maintain themselves.

The call for restructuring is to address the issue of marginalisation, which the creation of the states wanted to address?

The idea of creation of states was to reduce marginalisation. In fact, in Ogun state, there is still marginalisation. The Ijebu still want a state of their own. If you go to Kogi state today, there is still marginalisation. The dominant tribe is Igala. They were the minority in the old Benue state. They cried that there were being marginalised. Today, they are in Kogi State and they are the ones marginalising others. So marginalisation can never stop in Nigeria. If you create 100 states in Nigeria, there will still be marginalisation. If you go to Cross River State today, there are over 32 languages.

The idea of creation of states was to reduce marginalisation. In fact, in Ogun state, there is still marginalisation. The Ijebu still want a state of their own. If you go to Kogi state today, there is still marginalisation. The dominant tribe is Igala. They were the minority in the old Benue state. They cried that there were being marginalised. Today, they are in Kogi State and they are the ones marginalising others. So marginalisation can never stop in Nigeria. If you create 100 states in Nigeria, there will still be marginalisation. If you go to Cross River State today, there are over 32 languages.

Every 12 miles from Ikom to the border line… go to Plateau State, there are about 40 different languages. So, marginalisation should not be the reason why we should restructure. It is the survival of the country. We cannot maintain 36 states in the present position of our economy. The country will liquidate and we are nearing that state now. The restructuring is to enable Nigeria to be able to sustain capital projects rather than living and spending to maintain governance. The last political conference organised by Jonathan recommended in its report this issue of restructuring. But President Buhari has said he is not interested in the report because he advised against it when it was to be organised. When Jonathan created this conference, I went on television to say it is bound to fail because there was no legal structure on ground. Not only legal structure creating it, but also legal structure for implementing its decision.

Are you still saying the same thing?

I am still saying the same thing that there was no basis in law for Jonathan to call it. And the people he wants to give credibility to it are the ones that would be affected by it. You think the senate as at today and members of the House of Representatives would want to reduce their powers and emoluments? They will never do that. So we have to forget that conference. I remember suggesting that a referendum would have to be called first. That would tie the hands of the National Assembly because for us to change the structure of this country today, we need a legal basis and only the National Assembly under the present constitution can do so. But if the president says, this is a referendum; do you want to restructure or not?

Where will the president draw the power to organise a referendum from?

It is part of his executive powers. Section 5 of the constitution vests on the president with all executive powers. It is what is called administrative fiat. In America, if the president wants to appoint a nominee for the United Nations and the Congress is fighting with him, he will use his executive fiat to appoint him subject to approval. Our president today can call for a referendum and ask Nigerians: do you want a change in governance and what type of change do you want? You want a restructuring? If there is a yes to it, then the people have spoken. He will now set up a committee and with that referendum, he will now pass it to the National Assembly, requesting them to pass a bill in line with the referendum.

Do you think members of the National Assembly would be willing to pass such bill if it would affect their interest?

That is the power of the people. The people have spoken. Where there is referendum, they are bound to comply because people have spoken and they are representing us, so they have no alternative.

So what you are saying is that the only way of realising this restructuring is for the president to call for referendum?

That is the only way it can be achieved. That gives power to Mr. President to now go to the National Assembly to say the people want it, pass a law to enable me call a conference and that any decision coming out of the conference would be returned to you for approval. If that legal basis is there, then there will be no problem. Jonathan never sought any legal basis for the conference. There was no power other than calling people together. He cannot implement it. So, from the day he created it, it was bound to fail and I said it. That is the problem today. It has been thrown to the archives. That is what Buhari is saying that there was no law to give effect to the decision of the conference. Why do you now want me to build something on nothing? If you want restructuring, let the people speak. No member of the National Assembly will say the voice of the people should be ignored.

In your own estimation, is this government fighting corruption?

The government is fighting corruption! We can all see it. Depending on which divide you are, you may challenge the mode in which he is going about it. But something has to be done. Corruption has destroyed this country. So, sitting down and doing nothing is worse. But the way and manner he is doing it is debatable. If you are on the other side of the divide, you might say it is discriminatory; that it is only a particular people. If you are on the other, you will say no; that it has to start somwhere and the best way to start is the latest one. Interestingly, Jonathan has just said that he ruled Nigeria for just five years and that corruption has been in existence since 1960; why am I being picked? That is true, but he is the last man and we have to start somewhere. I believe that governments before Jonathan has been more corrupt than Jonathan. I can be bold to say that since 1999, all successive governments before Jonathan were corrupt. But we have to start somewhere. We cannot say let us start from 1960.

There is a school of thought that believes that we should rather fight institutional corruption instead of focusing on individuals?

The institution is made up of individuals. And institutions being a legal being and not a human being have no arms and leg. Those institutions like the Police are manned by human beings. Corruption is being done by human beings through the institutions. It is not the institutions that are corrupt; it is the people managing the institutions that are corrupt and using the institutions for the purposes of corruption. The institutions to fight corruption are there to do so such as the EFCC, ICPC and Police. If not for Buhari now, the EFCC has been there and others have been using it for selective victimisation of political opponents. So the institutions are there. What we need to do is to strengthen those institutions.

It is the institutions that make democracy. For any democracy to survive, it must have strong institutions. We have them; they are there but the people who are managing those institutions are the ones who are corrupt – the civil servants, the senators, members of the House, the Customs, the Police, all are corrupt. That is Nigeria for you today. We have to face it. If Buhari has to fight it this way, let us leave him. Tomorrow if he leaves office and he is corrupt, the next government will probe him. It is a shame to hear that somebody was given $2.4billion to fight insurgency and he distributed the monies to individuals.

But that allegation has not been proved?

They are on it now. It is being tasted. Those who look at it from that angle are on the other divide. I am not a politician and I have been a lawyer to politicians for almost forty years now. I know the way they think and work. What I am saying is that monies were received and acknowledged to have been distributed from a pool of money. It was meant for another purpose. We dont need to get a conviction to know that this money has been stolen. It is painful that Nigeria should be going to China to ask for a loan of $6billion. When Obasanjo left, he left $86billion in our savings. Today it is $26million. What did we use them for? In excess crude funds, Obasanjo left $45billion and all those governors started breathing down the president’s neck that the money should be shared. Without appropriation, they were sharing money. They are all thieves and they should be asked to come and account for this excess crude funds. So the country is fantastically corrupt as David Cameron said it. And I am happy that Buhari accepted it but added that they helped us in keeping corruption, so they should return the money to us.



No Comments yet

Related