Horsfall: Understanding restructuring is key to progress
• Adopting presidential system was a big mistake
Nigeria is once more at a crossroad, and the topical issue is about restructuring, with your background, where do you think Nigeria needs to start the restructuring?
First of all, people have to understand what we mean when we talk about restructuring. What you talk about as restructure may be different from what I think, or what the next person thinks, especially the market woman, what does she think about restructuring? Some of us don’t find anything wrong with the present structure of the country, so when you say to them restructure, you are invoking strange language, they may understand it, but If I should remember one of the stories a friend told me about an uncle of hers who is no more now, he has gone to the great beyond, he had this friend of mine as a Managing Director of the then NDDC (Niger Delta Development Commission), giving him a loan, this elderly person a loan, and after sometime when the loan had become overdue, and the man won’t pay, he went back to the man and said, uncle this loan we gave to you is overdue for repayment, when are you going to pay? And he said no, you guys learn too much English, I don’t know what loan is all about, you gave me some money and I though government is public servant, we worked for government, you gave me some money and I think it is a gift from government, so I don’t know anything about loan.
So when you talk about restructure what do we really mean? Why do we want to restructure, what is wrong with the present structure of the country? Those are the things I think we have to address. For us, the older generation, when we talk of restructure, we are actually looking backwards, and looking back to the founding days of this country to 1960, 1963 and the constitution, which we had at that time that devolved almost all the powers to the federating units, at that time the regions, which were three, later four, and allowed them to exercise a lot of residual powers, a lot of initiatives. So, there was healthy competition and things moved pretty fast and there was development at, I will say, at the pace of every component region and so on and so forth.
This state of affairs was disrupted when the military took over power in 1966. So when we talk of restructure these days, we are looking backward, to those days when the federating units were autonomous and took decisions to develop their areas and work within their resources to move on. So, that is what I understand by restructuring.
Is that good for a Nigeria of 2017 or not?
The belief, like those of us who have kind of joined the agitation, is that the present system we are running was foisted on the country by the military, and the military system allows them one straight road, the command structure. Command must come from the top to the bottom, and the top in this case is the federal authority. A federation is not run in that manner, a federation is run at the basis of the agreement of the federating units and the understanding, where the federating units have demore power and authority to do things in their own way and have deliberately given certain powers and authority to the federal authority, usually limited powers.
In this case, what we have is a command structure, where the federal government, federal authorities have the bulk of the powers, authorities, they share the revenue, they collect it most cases and share it, and even though there is a formula, there is to be, when I was in OMPADEC (Oil Mineral Producing Areas Development Commission), we used to go to where we share the revenue, and before we share, they will take away a number of things, this one is for the federal debt, this one is for that, that and that, and the federal authorities have not actually contributed much of anything, to the revenue that we were sharing, but their preferences come before the other areas.
So, it is a system where there is a superior authority, the federal government and inferior component, are the federating units. And that is what I believe the present agitators for restructuring are talking about. Should it be the present way, or vice-versa, that is, for the federating units to ring to the federal authorities what they think they should do, in which case, means saying to the federal authorities, these are your responsibilities, this is the money you are to need to service those responsibilities, we voluntarily contribute that. It is going to be difficult for the present system to adjust to that, I think, because we have run it for quite sometime now and it has become the system where there is a boss who is the federal authority, and there are subordinate, be it subservient units below, that is the problem. We talk of restructuring back to 1960, 1963 level that is what we are talking about when we talk about restructuring.
Are you now suggesting that it would be better that Nigeria should go back to 1963 constitution dropping in its entirety the 1999 constitution?
The 1999 constitution is not considered as the people’s constitution, it was not done by the people, it was one of the instruments foisted on Nigerians by the then military authorities, remember it was (General Muhammed) Abdulsalami’s government who worked the 1999 constitution, they are still the military. So we want a constitution that is negotiated, discussed by all components of the polity, because the interest of all the components are involved, so if you started from one level, the federal level and they prescribe the constitution, its not been negotiated, that is what most argument is all about.
But going back to the 1963 constitution will mean going back to the parliamentary system and going back to the old regional structure, will that be acceptable in the present circumstances?
That is not what we mean. We are talking; we use that as a formula to frame a constitution that suits Nigeria in its current development stage. Principally what we are talking about devolve a lot more powers to the states, who are the federating units now, in those days it was the regions, but now it is the states. Therefore, if we have use that pattern, it means that the states will have, perhaps even more powers, especially residual powers than the federal government. As it is now, it is the federal government that is the ultimate authority in almost everything, and the states can only function with this acting parameter that the constitution has allowed them to do.
Given this your prescription of devolution of powers, how do we come about it, in the sense that the same 1999 constitution gave birth to the structure we have now, especially in terms of the National Assembly. And since the people at the National Assembly are representatives of people, they could equally serve the purpose of giving us a Nigeria, a kind of constitution that all of us would agree to. But do you share that?
I do not, and I don’t think most Nigerians share that, the National Assembly is empowered to make laws, constitution making is an organic law, ground norm, the lawyers would call it. And they are not empowered to do that, and to assume that authority goes beyond the powers which the people have given to them, go back to the people. The nearest thing you can call a people’s constitution today, is not even the same, it could be to evoke the 2014 National conference report, where we had 492 eminent Nigerians sitting down to chart the way forward for Nigeria. That is the nearest document that is generally agreeable to most Nigerians. Short of that, not even recommending that the proper thing to do is to go to the people and call for the conference of the people, they will elect their own representatives, and these representatives will seat together, look at the state of the nation as it is now, discuss the various interests of the constituting peoples, it is not government but the people, and they are the ones to look at the various issues, argue them, come up with ideas, and vote on them, and agree what will emerge as a constitution. Their authority supersedes that of any government authority now, because what do we say, we say the people’s will is expressed by those that they themselves have elected for that purpose. It is not the same as the National Assembly, who have been elected to make laws, to govern the country for the moment, but this is something that will review the entire ground norm of Nigeria, and it is beyond the mandate, which is given to the present National Assembly.
But sir, they surely have the power to amend the constitution, and of course in conjunction with members of the state houses of assembly. If we are faced with this kind of scenario, because a lot of people are talking of referendum, a lot of people are talking of convoking a fresh national conference, if the present government cannot go back to the 2014 report, can’t we find a solution, through the current National Assembly, since they have already started the process of constitutional amendment, even if it is going to be piecemeal, review the entire constitution and come up with a bit of amendment than come out with a new one, can’t that be done?
Of course it can, but why are we complaining now about the constitution that was given to us in 1999, we think that those who did it, they didn’t have the mandate to do it, the National Assembly has being elected to go and make laws for this country, they have not been elected to turn over the belly of this country, and then, negotiate for us what should be our new constitution, especially you would see that in one or two areas already, the National Assembly is not sharing the mood of the people. People are talking about restructure, of what I have discussed with you just a moment ago, the National Assembly is saying no need for restructure. So they speak for themselves for what they have perceived the situation to be like, but the ordinary woman in Jankara market and the ordinary person in some other fora think that that language is their own. They want to participate in what would ultimately be the ground norm of the constitution in which they would be governed, not only for today, but for generations perhaps to come. They must have the voice.
But the president broadcast to the nation, seems to have pushed the burden of restructuring, devolution of power everything on the shoulders of the National Assembly. He said that much, that they are the only legal authority to do that, to amend the constitution, even restructuring, that every agitation be channeled towards the National Assembly…
I think what the president meant and with due respect, I did not listen to the broadcast, I was dealing with a sick person. What the president meant as I will understand it, is that the National Assembly is the primary law making body of the country, but that does not exclude at all, will never exclude, the right of the people who elect even these National Assembly members to come forward with their own view, to make a constitution that is acceptable to them. Already you have seen that there is a clear division between the National Assembly and those people agitating for restructuring. National Assembly does not think there is need for restructuring, but the people think there is need to restructure. The National Assembly and every government as I know it, will say it is the will of the people they are serving, is that not right? That is what they are saying. Now the people who have this will, say no, give us a chance to also participate in the process, what is wrong with that?
Sir let us come down into simple language, could it be, from what you are saying, this is a two barrel question, could it be that the mood of the citizens of this country, is for us to interrogate the structure as set by the military, and to determine whether we want to practice democracy or meritocracy. The other part is, what are the relevant critical structures or issues that you will like devolved to the states for a beginning?
I will start by answering the second aspect of the question. It is not for me here to determine what to be devolved to the states although I have said in a very generalistic term that it is restructure back to 1963 or 1960, there had been a National conference in 2014, I think we take a cue from the report of that constitution, will largely be able to reflect the views of the people. I am told, I think we raised it here again that the National Assembly itself is looking into that report and obviously they are doing so in order to extract from it relevant views and aspects of the outcome of that conference, that may be useful to them during legislation, but not making a fresh constitution, they are not empowered to make a constitution, so short of us convening another conference to determine the views of the component parts of this country, we will probably go back to national conference report 2014, but that also will not solve the problem, if we want to follow a democratic process, then we consult the people.
But sir, remember that when we talk about the 1963 constitution and the 2014 confab report, we seem to forget that prior to 1979, there was a constituent assembly, and the product of that constituent assembly of 1978 was 1979 constitution, now place side by side with the 1999 constitution, 2014 confab report and that 1979 constitution, which among the three best appropriates or comes closer to that 1963 constitution you have been pointing at?
The constitutional conferences or reports of 1979, 1999; you of the press probably are clearly up to date about the criticisms that have followed those reports. 1979 was generally speaking, the reports they wrote Rotimi Williams constitution but, generally speaking, well representative of the various interests. 1999 again is the process of a military constitution that was arrived through military decree. That is what people are angry about.
But there are little differences between 1979 and 1999 constitution.
There are differences. Not too many differences, you have answered the question. Let the people speak, what is wrong with asking the people to speak for themselves. So let the people speak. What is wrong in asking the people to speak for themselves?
That is what the people are saying now, apart from the issue of nomenclature and all that, there are issues and they point to the fact that your region for instance, the quantum of money that have been granted to governors of south-south region, there is nothing on the ground to show that if further devolution of power is granted them, it will bear no fruit for the people, what do you have to say about this?
What region are you from? Has your region done better than the South-South?
We are not doing comparative analysis…
But you have raised the issue, my region for instance; you are suggesting that if my region, monies that have accrued to us have been mismanaged. So has almost every other region mismanaged its resources, partly because the people who emerged to spend this money as governor, politicians, this or that; are just that frame work that has been peculiar to us Nigerians, the person who emerges as the authority, whether elected, sometimes or foisted or selected has always assumed that status of a local chief. If you go down to your local Communities, I am from Rivers State, the highest traditional ruler we have there is the Amanyanabo. He is probably equivalent to the Oba who is in the west, and from the South-East it could be equivalent to your Eze. Those people think that they are the appointees of God, so they have freedom to exercise the authority the way they think and not the way you think. That is the problem But if we are running a democratic process, a democratic process means that the voice of the people determines the actions of the authority whoever the authority at whatever level, that is all that is to be addressed. I suggest.
I think he is trying to point out the issues of fiscal federalism, because when we talk of resource control, it is still part of restructuring that we are talking about. But in this instance, the South-South has been agitating for more resource control, I think the question he is asking is, with the quantum of money, apart from the thirteen percent derivation fund, apart from the money budgeted for the NDDC, money to run the ministry of Niger Delta, and all that, it seems there is nothing to show, particularly the South-South, nobody is saying that other regions are not culpable in the wastage…
That suggestion is subjecting, and I can’t seat down here in Lagos, in this comfortable environment to judge what is going on in River State. If you listen to the politicians, they tell you all sorts. The Governor of River State, even though I don’t agree with him, tags himself the project governor, Mr. Project. It is all over the place he is busy with projects, what is wrong is not the individuals, it is the present authority that they have, so it a matter of amending the institutions through a constitutional process in such a way that somebody in Government House, in Port-Harcourt or in Enugu or in whatever state, cannot get up to say, I did this for the people or I am going to do this. It is not his money, he is a servant, now they think that they are the master, so they give you what they wish, and they congratulate themselves, but before they give you ten naira, they must have misused thirty naira. So I don’t think it is only in our part of the country.
Could it be part of the fall out of the military mentality in our governance system?
It is the fall out of what we have discussed a moment ago, the constitution as it is presently framed is wrong, it places all the powers in the hands of the executive, that man occupying the executive position, I think we copied it from America, but they have safeguards there. They are civilized to the extent that we are not yet civilized, so that safeguard as they have there, is controlling some of the things that they do, but even there you can see the kind of utterances this present man, Trump, is making. I mean, it is frightening. If you let Trump to exercise his exuberance, he will soon bring the third word war. That is the constitution that we have copied, that has given the local government chairman absolute powers within the resources that he controls, and he controls all the resources and he accounts to nobody. Same goes for the state governors. Only at the national level, is there a sane head, because the two houses, the Senate and the House of Representatives are, generally speaking, active and are able to exercise their responsibilities. At the state level where I come from, I don’t know what happens in your own state, everybody in the State Assembly is a nominee of the governor, because he pays for them to be elected. And he chooses those who are to be elected to that assembly. So, I mean you heard of the case where governor takes his appropriation bill to the Assembly, and in twenty minutes, they have passed it, and that is the end of the story. You have heard of the situation where at some point in time, a governor had the Judiciary in his residence, in the Government House, he is running the legislature, the speaker is his own man, he is working from the governor’s residence, and that kind of thing. We are just making a fool of ourselves.
Should we not go back to a system that will check all these rubbish, I mean going back to the parliamentary system for instance?
For me, that is the best system, why? Parliamentary system is the cabinet system. In the cabinet, everybody has the chance to air his own views, and the prime minister in an ideal situation is primus interpares, they call it, it is just first among the equals, but it has to debate his initiatives for governance in the cabinet. It then has to go to the parliament, where all the ministers also belong, and they will argue against, not only the opposition, even members of their own party. So, at the end of the day, views are fully expressed, the parliamentary discussions are being listened to openly, the gallery is full, everybody who wishes to is there is member of the assembly representing his constituency is there, he can always go and whisper something to him, and when the man comes back, every now and again, maybe it is a week, maybe it is a month, the constituency has the right to go and question him on the stewardship. What it is now, is complete mixture or mismanagement of what is done in America, their checks are not available to us.
A fact of this current agitation is the return to regions. Some people are suggesting that if regions of the six geopolitical zones becomes the basis of the federation, that each component structure can now adopt, if it so desires, the parliamentary system, to curb these excesses of governors?
I don’t know that how strong that advocacy is. I don’t know, because I have been pretty well involved in these discussions, and people are more concerned about whether to have a zonal or states as the federating units to discuss issues, we now have thirty-six states, plus the federal capital territory. I dare say that if you wanted to interfere with this arrangement, there will be lot of resentments, already people have tested what you call autonomy in their respective states and to surrender it to now a zonal authority, it will be very difficult to convince people to do it. You have to actually convince everybody most people don’t think that you want to go back to the place where somebody, in the case of yours, which used to be in Enugu, will now dictate to the man in Abakaliki, what things he should do. It is very difficult. I think the states now have become so attractive to most people that they will hold on to it. So, I think even at the confab meeting, we have come up with a report saying that the states should be the federating units, because the sound thing was that the present states would not want to surrender their, should I call it autonomy or the right or whatever.
But there could be regional co-operation, regional integration?
Yes that is, it depends what you mean by that, because if it has no functions that will lead to what the state will not usurp the state functions as they see it now, easy to accept, if it will, people will kick against it, they don’t want to come back to these regional structures we practiced before, where the regions controlled the larger territory, as the states do now. The states are smaller territorial groups and they are closer to the people, and like we discussed a moment ago, the state governors until and unless the constitution is amended to give them less authority than they are enjoying powers they don’t want to relinquish. I don’t think they will want to go it in a total manner, that is the personal view of mine, I don’t think we should have come to the presidential system of government.
If you are to raise a kind of executive summary on the issue of restructuring, what are the points you will like Nigerians to get?
In one single word, I will say restructure back to 1963 to devolve all the things that we are agitating, talking about what will bring power closer to the people, because they are every state, every federating unit, that is all we are to exercise, to make your own constitution, you have all the basic issues that governs your people. The federal government had his own authority but it was limited to that of the federating units, which was limited to that of the federating units, which is why you would see that in that constitution, the leaders of the parties were actually at the regional level and their representatives, but the ones who descends the National level. So if we have that system repeated, I think the country will benefit from it.
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