Dr. Alex Ekwueme Celebrating his Birthday
The 80th birthday of Second Republic Vice-President, Dr. Alex Ekwueme provided an opportunity for stakeholders in the polity to debate some of the raging national questions- from constitution review to geo-political disputes. Chuks Okocha who was at the event, writes that what transpired could be described as a mini-national conference
It was an occasion to celebrate one of Nigeria’s best, Dr. Alex Ekwueme, a former Vice-President and architect of note. But as it turned out, it was no more than a mini conference where issues affecting the six geo-political zones and of particular note, the constitution amendment were dissected in national interest.
The venue was also significant. It was the prestigious THISDAY Dome in Abuja, the nation’s capital. The panelists were Governor Peter Obi of Anambra State; Niger State Deputy Governor, Alhaji Musa Ibeto who represented his principal; Leader of Niger Delta and South-south Peoples Assembly, Chief Edwin Clark; former Minister of Finance and Chairman of the Northern Leaders Political Forum (NLPF), Alhaji Adamu Ciroma; former Minister of Police Affairs, General David Jemibewon; Governor of Kano State also represented by his deputy, Alhaji Umar Ganduja and former vice-president of the World Bank, Dr. Oby Ezekwesili.
The sparring session, however, was moderated by the Chairman, THISDAY Group, Mr. Nduka Obaigbena with a retinue of respondents. They were former national chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Senator Ahmadu Ali; former governor of Akwa Ibom State, Victor Attah; protem national chairman of PDP, Chief Solomon Lar and former Bayelsa State Secretary, Bolaere ketebu.
To kick off the debate entitled: “International Colloquium on Nigerian Federalism: Building on the Ekwueme Legacy”, discussants were sharply divided on the constitutionality of the geo-political zone as presently constituted and the constitutional review.
Lagos State Governor, Babatunde Fashola, in his paper disagreed with moves to introduce the concept of six geo-political zones into the constitution. He opposed the idea which incidentally was first proposed by Ekwueme during the last constitutional conference organized by the military. Fashola position was hinged on the fact that the constitution does not provide for the creation of any entity without means of funding it. According to him, with the present agitation for more funds between the existing tiers of government, the zonal structure would find it difficult to survive. While faulting the numerous agitations for constitutional amendments, Fashola said nothing was wrong with the 1999 Constitution but for the manner of its implementation.
Responding to Fashola’s presentation, Obi said there is no need to amend the constitution in that respect. “The six geo political zone is based on injustice and inequality because some zones have seven states, whereas other zones like the south-east have five states. There is, therefore, the need to amend the equality as contained in the six geo-political zones. In an agreement, there must be protection of members and where there is inequality and injustice, then the agreement must be amended. The six geo-political zones as presently constituted is not an agreement based on equality.”
Ganduje also admitted that the six geo-political zones as presently constituted are not acceptable to the people of Kano State. He said the idea of six geo-political zones was a military creation during the 1994/1995 National Constitutional Conference.
He explained that as at the time, the six-geo political zones were introduced such that it coincided with the June 12 1993 controversy and that the north kept quite as it was the time seen to sympathise with the annulment of the June 12 election believed to have been won by a candidate from a section of the country. But apart from this, he said, “the creation of the six geo-political zones was full of deceit. It was not based on land mass and population. We are deceiving ourselves; the six geo-political zones are not acceptable to the people of Kano state.”
Jemibewon, however, opposed the call for the cancellation of the six geo-political zones. He explained that if anything of that is done, “there would be uprising.” Though, he said as at the time of the creation of the zones, people were not consulted. He also queried the rationale behind including Kogi State within the North central zone with core northern states of Niger and Plateau States. Thus, he called for a review of the geo-political zones, but not to scrap it.
Ibeto, on his part, called for the strengthening of the six geo-political zones. “There is nothing wrong with the six geo-political zones. What I will advocate is that the zones should be strengthened to perform. We need to strengthen the zones by providing the enabling environment.”
Ezekwesili in her submission said the significance of the colloquium was the identification of the vision and identity of the country. She also called for the establishment of law and order in Nigeria as what happened in Port Harcourt and Mubi where students were killed still remain a challenge to entity called Nigeria. She blamed the problem in the country on the absence of due process and respect for the duly constituted laws of the federation.
On the controversy over geo-political zones, she said what matters most is good governance as poverty is ravaging the country. “The problem in Nigeria is lack of good governance,” she said asking: “if Botswana, a land locked country that depends on aides could survive with a later discovery of Diamond and diversification of her economy, why not Nigeria?”
Ciroma, speaking afterwards, opposed zoning. But in the long run, he said the best thing is to improve the performance level of the states to ensure good governance. Though, somewhat ambivalent, he said if the arguments of the zones are carried into a conclusive end, then the states as a federating structure would have to go. Yet, he wanted the states to be strengthened so that they can perform.
Ciroma, who does not see the constitution amendment exercise as capable of solving Nigeria’s problem, denounced what he described the overwhelming influence of the powers at the centre. In conclusion, he prayed that there would be the political will to tackle corruption even as he called for national rebirth.
On his part, Clark said the zones as federating units are not equal as “some zones have more states than others. There are zones with seven states and others with five. Where then is the equality?” He said some states are dependent on others and cannot even initiate or generate funds as they depend on crude oil and federal revenue as their source of income.
He therefore called for the scrapping of the states to be replaced with the zones as the federating units. Clark also accused the National Assembly for arrogating the powers of amending the constitution alone and called for a national conference with the powers to amend the constitution, where every federating unit would be equal. “We need a federation of equal partners, where no federating units will have the powers of hindering the progress of others.”
Attah also called for a national conference where the future of the country will be decided and all ethnic groups will subscribe to the agreement of one Nigeria. So far, he said Nigerians are not satisfied with the agreement of the constitution as it were.
Bayelsa State’s for secretary, Ketebu said the white paper of the 1994 and 1995 Constitutional Conference was tampered with, as the outcome was not what the conference produced. She said Nigerians should be given opportunity to produce the constitution that is acceptable to it.
Ali said the zonal idea was a creation of the late Gen. Sani Abacha, to have six vice-presidents and prime ministers but that people were opposed to it. He said the issue of geo-political zone is irrelevant as what is needed is good governance. According to him, the underlying thing is “good governance. If there is good governance, there would be no question of Mubi or Aluu massacre.”
Lar called for the improvement in the status of the six zones. He lamented that the powers at the centre were enormous and that in the past, the regions had much powers before the military incursion into politics.
“It was the military that made the powers at the centre enormous. They made the states to become like the local government. My advice is that Nigerians should be patriotic and we should not be sectional. Let us work to improve the six geo-political zones; it is not to scrap them.”