‘Restructuring must be based on national consensus’

Prof. Eghosa Osaghae

Prof. Eghosa Osaghae is a Professor of Comparative Politics and Vice Chancellor, Igbinedion University, Okada, Edo State. In this interview with MICHAEL EGBEJULE, he speaks on the need to restructure the country amongst other national burning issues. Excerpts:

What’s your view on proscription of IPOB by the Federal Government as a terrorist organization?
I have seen public domain of people who say there are legal conditions or basis determining when a group is terrorist. Terrorism is not such a hard and fast definition or phenomenon. Kidnapping, armed robbery, cultism, police harassment are forms of terrorism. The difference however, is that it is the state that determines what is terrorist.

People will say this is not a terrorist organization and they cite all kinds of international conventions and even Nigerian laws. The government responds by doing what it thinks is legally required. If the government has determined or defined IPOB as a terrorist organization in its own wisdom, and if there are counter-position, they should then go to the law courts to contest and clarify those things. The government has said that IPOB has an intelligence unit, an army, an anthem, and these are things ordinarily for civility sake should not pose a problem afterall, many institutions have anthems they sing and even pledges they pledge to. But once you have other things that suggest that you threaten the monopoly or the use of force and you challenge the state’s authority, the state deserves the right to device the legal basis for what it wants to do.

Do you think the clamp down on IPOB would bring an end to the agitation in the country?
One of the empirical and established basis of statehood is the abilityto have effective control of the territory that belongs to the state. That means government. is able to exercise its authority throughout the lengths and breadths of its territory. If there are threats to the government’s control, it behoves on that government to respond in an appropriate manner. A clamp down is part of what is expected to be the responses that a responsible government should do as demanded by statehood. There are what is regarded to as “legitimate modes of engagements”. In mainstream political sciences we don’t just say they are legitimate, but within the rules, laws and regulations. One of such means of seeking redress is to approach the law court, have civil engagement with a democratic structures not restricted to the state and national assemblies, another is to have a civil protest. You need to get the required permission so you can engage people, write petitions, send delegations; all of which are within the rules and regulations. When you then use methods that are extra-legitimate because they directly challenge the authority of the state. No state will fold its hands no matter what and say we should not arrest the drift. One of the responses that the state can have to a clampdown if government in its wisdom feels “this is threat”, then it can apply its own mechanism.

The immediate past governor of Edo State, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole said those calling for restructuring in the country are persons who lost the 2015 general elections?
Periods of transition produce all kinds of outcomes, you can have displace, replacement, overthrow and all kinds of things. Because these are contested terrains you will have strong views. In many instances, when people get displaced from office, there are counter mobilization steps that some of them take. To take a parallel example, if in Angola, or Cameroon or even in South Africa, once you displace people from office, you expect some certain reactions – that’s not unknown. In 1999/2003 when we had those kind of changes in some states in Nigeria, there were responses like adoption of sharia law; those were counter-mobilization. If Comrade Oshiomhole thought that was the case, there is empirical evidence to suggest that, that is not unexpected. However, I don’t think he meant by that, that the basis or demand for restructuring of any kind however defined is not genuine, I will be surprise if he himself feels that way. Now, what is restructuring? Restructuring is a product of the dynamics of the system of government we operate. Everywhere you have a federal system, it is recognized as a system of bargain, negotiations – continuous bargains and negotiations. You don’t finalize your federal instrumentalities/configurations because in the course of time, human societies demands change. You have the global economy that can make you poor tonight and tomorrow you become a rich country, all these things have a way of precipitating different demands and once you have those demands, they can lead to changes in power holding that may demand a review of jurisdictions. In Nigeria today, we have about sixty-eight items in the exclusive list and about sixteen in the concurrent list. In the balance of scale that means the federal government is very powerful. But you don’t have a federal system when you don’t have constituents units that are legal units that can challenge the federal government by its own actions and activities and in the event of jurisdictional conflict we go to the supreme court.

Everyone says the federal government has too much money, the states are getting some money; may be not enough, they are not getting the kind of money they should get. Lagos State said the taxes that comes from hospitality business belongs to it and begins to ask people to pay taxes to its revenue board and the federal government said it was a residual matter. It got to the supreme court and the supreme court ruled in favour of Lagos State – that is restructuring. The way we are going about it is not the only way for restructuring. Restructuring cannot only be done at the legal unit through judicial interpretations and reviews, it can be done through actions. All over the world, federations have restructured in this diverse manner. If the states were not dysfunctional, they also will be in the tick for the demand for restructuring; the political parties should also be in the forefront. When people refer to the 1963 constitution and all the bargains and negotiations that went on up to that period, they forget that it was the Action Group (AG), Northern Progressives Congress (NPC) and the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC); not Afenifere, not Ohaneze Ndigbo, NOT Arewa – these are unknown entities led by self-appointed leaders. The only legal people who have those qualities in a democratic system are political parties.

Action Group for instance had a motto that says “Unity through Federation” and everything it did reflected that. But today we have political parties that are responsible for the dominance of the centre, they all have only one determinate centre of power – that is the national, the governors have monopolized the space at the state level. Restructuring has many sides, different platforms and moves. America had restructured overtime, at the state, they’ve had boundary adjustments, the new deal, constitutional amendments. In Brazil, states had moved as legal entities to make demands. In South Africa, the national assembly parliament found that people elected to represent their provinces were not truly representing them so they decided to change the name to Council Of Provinces. Our national assembly made of people to represent their various states sees itself as part of that powerful centre and does not ponder to the interest of the constituent units. I’ve heard people talk about state police while there are things more fundamental than state policing. Will the fact of state police make the police more efficient? Will it solve the problem we have come to associate with the police – issues of impunity, definition of security? There is no policeman to safeguard the lives of the ordinary Nigeria because we are too ordinary. Three hundred thousand police men and women in the country, two hundred and fifty thousand of them are on special assignments; safeguarding the lives of governors, their wives, commissioners, local government chairmen, the noble rich and big people in the country – that again needs restructuring. We have always restructured in this country.

There was a time when the ethnic minorities that were deprived, dominated, exploited and oppressed clamoured for a strong centre. It’s partly because of that clamour and to have a safeguard to guarantee their safety, security and preservation that the police force was then made a national police force. Its because of minorities that we have new states. Whatever restructuring and outcomes we have now will not end out problems, those problems are open-ended there is no way they can end. When oil dries up as it is bound to or when it becomes less critical in the coming years and we get other resources, we will be back to this clamour. We must recognize that in the current world, the central government which is represented in our case is required to be strong.

But what restructuring means is that making the federal government strong should not be at the expense of the states; let the federal government be strong and also let the state governments be strong – its that kind of thing we are looking for. Government is simultaneous, its concurrent; there is no point at which this road becomes a local government road and because its local government road people who don’t come from that local government should not use it. All the goods and services that we have in this country belong to the realm of “Public Goods” and public goods are for all of us. So we expect all levels of government to function well, be effective and alive to their responsibilities.

President Muhammadu Buhari recently said in a nationwide broadcast that Nigeria’s unity is settled and non-negotiable, what’s your take on that?
It’s not the president only that has said so but it carries more weight when it comes from the president. When the Organization of Africa Unity (OAU) was founded in 1963, one of the things the founding fathers of Africa decided should help Africa was to accept the colonial determine boundary of states in the countries that we have so they gave a legitimate stamp to that. We accept those boundaries but the challenge in Africa is to see how everyone can work within those boundaries. At the continental level, there is an agreement that the boundaries that we inherited at independence should be kept. Its another matter if all Africa countries have succeeded in working out the basis of living in unit. In the Old School, we thought of Nation Building as something that requires a Nigeria; removing the Yoruba, Hausa or Igbo tradition; that was the ‘Assimilationist School’, which is regarded as national cultures, languages and so on. One of the manifestations of the old Africa regime was the search for lingua francas. Some people wanted single language, people will cite things like Awolowo’s statement in part to Nigeria’s freedom in 1940 when he said Nigeria is not a nation in which you have the English, the Welsh, the Scots. But in the context of Awolowo’s writing, the English are not the Scots, the Scots are not the Welsh, the Welsh are not the Irish, and all these are not going to be merged into one identity. They retained their various identities, the English philosophers themselves made it clear that in order to have the kind of cohesion, you don’t need to deny your being Scots, Welsh or Irish.

Today, we have come from the assimilation of the nationalist mode of cohesion to the pluralist mode. Everyone has a right to sub-national loyalties and identities, the essence of state and nation building, legitimacy for the state is to see how we can work out the basis for viable cohesion. If the president along with many other people say that the unity is settled, its settled to the extent that we have accepted the boundaries that there is a state/country called Nigeria.

We have been negotiating, we have done so at several points; before independence we were negotiating, we were structuring and restructuring. After independence, we have being negotiating. We fought a civil war, after the civil war, we’ve being negotiating. All of these land miles that we have had in various constitutional conferences, political conferences, the national conferences are all platforms for negotiations. I think if the president is to be interpreted correctly, it is a statement of hope and desire. We have settled states (empirical states) with defined boundaries, then we
continue to negotiate how to keep that state together.

Has the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) government, lived up to the expectations of Nigerians in terms of its programmes, policies and electioneering campaign promises?
It’s a question am sure every Nigerian can answer, howbeit,differently. We don’t all have to share the same opinion but, if you want to appraise or evaluate the APC’s performance, you need to have the criteria for doing so. If the party in its campaigns had a set of objectives, then sells itself to the electorates on that basis, if there are party chieftains, executive members of the party, its presidential candidate and candidates for other elective offices commit themselves to statement of policy and promises to raise expectations. We can look at what they have said and say they have
done well. Two years on now, are we close to what they have said? Or we are far from what they have said? Sadly, it is difficult to go to
the APC as a party and properly distill what the party stands for. I say this because in the past we had party like the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN), Nigeria’s People’s Party (NPP), National Party of Nigeria (NPN) these parties policies were clearly defined and they were not just deliverable but were measurable-deliverables and you could tell if you say free education. What is true of the APC is true of all other political parties in Nigeria today and just to remind us, it was after the APC won the elections that they started putting together policies, workshops just to show that the party does not have the coherence and ideological platform for beginning to do things for
Nigerians.

Most of the things we talk about revolve around what the president says; around what the president promised. For instance, people remember at his inauguration he said “I belong to everyone, I don’t belong to anybody”, that’s not an APC statement but rather a presidential statement. We talked about creating safety nets, employments, and so on. Maybe if you find the manifesto of APC you might find piece and pieces of these things. They have come to us through policy articulations that we have seen from the presidency. In a sense it will be difficult to assess what we should be using as
evaluation or criteria because they are so mixed and contradictory to have a coherent basis for such evaluation other than what people in the street will say “are our conditions better than the way it were two years ago?” Are we more secured today, is life more meaningful? Is there human security? Are there more jobs? Are the hospitals working? Are the schools good? Have the strikes gone down? Is electricity now available? Are the roads better? These are not APC templates; they are the templates of everyday living. Things got so bad at the point when the APC came in (at the national level) that we as a people had very high hopes and expectations. Whether those hopes and expectations have being met or are about to be met is another matter.

Let me explain further, when we talk about the APC, what almost all of us have in mind is APC as federal government, but Nigeria is a federation and therefore what happens in the states and local government are also measures of what the APC is doing. If you go to the APC states, some are performing better than others but in general, it’s a problem and its largely because the states are failing that is why many people are holding the federal government responsible. The states are mostly dysfunctional and because they are not delivering services, no sights of effective organization in response to citizen demands, we all then come to the conclusion that in whatever state you find yourself, if its not working, it means the president is not working; that is why I think those talking about restructuring have a strong point because as a federal system, we ought to be able to hold the state to account. When people complain about marginalization, they are meaning they don’t have roads, water, good schools but come to think of it, these are the responsibilities of the state and local governments. If the states were working these evaluations, appraisals will be fairer but because they are not, our focus and attention is almost entirely on the federal government. if I may say so by some irony, the federal government is the only government that is working.

The quality of governance at the federal level cannot be compared to the quality of governance in any of the thirty-six states. The president is not able to do the things that governors do in the states, the president is subject to checks and balances, civil society scrutiny and even the freedom of information bills but the same things are not applied to states and local governments. Unfortunately, when we do appraisals, we forget that Nigeria is a federal system.

On education, the recent cut-off points by JAMB for Universities and Polytechnics?
Don’t take the cut-off points in isolation. In some countries of the world, our secondary school leaving exams like the WAEC and NECO are called matriculation exams; so what you require as the basis to enter a university is your matric scores. In our WAEC and NECO, they say you must have five credits minimum, including English Language and Mathematics; so once you have that, you are eligible to be considered for admission in a university. Now we have added another lay which says you must pass the JAMB exam. We have being on JAMB issue for a long time; there are people who say we should scrap it, there are those who say JAMB is not a true reflection of the academic abilities of people we are going to have in our universities, others say just because it is not a true reflection of their academic abilities, we must have POST-JAMB screening exams – which is another layer of exams.
Because we are looking for ways to complement the basic eligibility of what we find in the five or four credits as the case may be. As far as am concerned, if a student has the basic requirements at the O’Level point and the student has taking JAMB exam, he should be given admission. Before now when they had post-UTME screening, many universities introduced a combination of criteria. They will assign some marks to what you get in JAMB, assign some marks to what you get in post-UTME and if you follow that, you are competitive. If a student score one hundred and twenty as a score, you relate it to what the students scored at the O’Level exams. Its possible for you find students who had “As” in their O’Level and score one hundred and twenty or one hundred and thirty in JAMB. Which should carry greater weight? Just to go back to the language we were discussing – this is all restructuring. We must all change, embrace these things, open these things up and see whether it is the way to go or not maybe in another two years we might say “its not really the right way to go”, lets get back to two hundred.



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