Hon Ben Nwankwo
House of Representatives member from Orumba North and South Federal Constituency of Anambra State, Hon Ben Nwankwo, in this interview with Anayo Okolie, spoke on the need for additional state for some geo-political zones except the North-west and the autonomy of local governments amongst other issues. Excerpt:
What process should be adopted to enable us realise a working and people’s constitution?
I like that word- people’s constitution. The present constitution did not take into consideration, the political balances in the system that would create stability; that would drive national growth and which would bring about the formation of a national consensus and connect people to their country. The 1999 Constitution has disconnected Nigerians from Nigeria. There is no unity, the people are different from the country; the country is existing without the people and the constitutional review is worthy at this time because we have to begin to re-examine issues as country.
As we walk towards our 100 years of amalgamation, we should begin to think about things that would bring us together, not something that would put us apart and I expect that the take of Nigerians in that constitution should be the protection of the people’s rights. Two, to be for people to have full participation in governance because governance is supposed to have a kind of stability and participation that will promote national growth, national unity and also promote national consensus.
In the amended constitution, I expect us to have a Nigerian dream, so that every Nigerian, no matter the age will know where Nigeria is heading. What is the Nigerian dream? What is our vision as a country? Where do we want to get to? Where we want to be is also very important and the constitution should be able to clearly define our national objectives and how to bring the country together as a people.
One of the contentious issues in the constitution review is the agitation for more states. Do you share the idea?
Yes, every country or sovereignty has got its own peculiarity and Nigeria has got hers as well. In this case, Nigeria is not supposed to have more than 36 states structure but unfortunately for political reasons, we have stepped up to that 36 states and people are not still satisfied. When you compare the size, the technology and the resources of America running a 50-state structure and Nigeria is running a 36-state structure, with request for more creation, you will know where we are heading to.
Presently, there are very high clamour for more states and I think it is very justifiable because of some imbalances that through previous exercises. For instance, Nigeria is divided into six geo-political zones and I think that the six zone structure should be maintained and then, each geo-political zone should have equal number of states and equal number of local governments, equal number of federal constituencies, equal number of number of senatorial districts and this would bring about what I called equal federalist structure whereby no part will feel superior or more important than the other.
There is a kind of equilibrium and strategic balancing that will bring about a consensus of understanding amongst all the people of Nigeria. Therefore, I think it is not bad if all the geo-political zones come up to seven equal states and I think that is enough for Nigeria if done. Some people might argue as to landmarks but what about those people who have more population against those who have landmarks and vice versa? Once this is done, I think, it would be able to bring about peace and progress in the federation.
What about the agitation for council autonomy?
The vision or rather the philosophy of the local government system is to bring governance and dividends of democracy closer to the people. The constitution guarantees the existence of a democratically elected local government system on one hand. On another hand, took away the same freedom by creation of some road blocks and unless these road blocks are removed and the system strengthened, the local government will not be able to deliver on its mandate.
The local government system has some functions ascribed to it by the constitution which means that the local government should be independently run, physically autonomous, administratively free and operationally able and capable to deliver on those functions. But today, the state governors have privatised or chattered the local government as a trust fund through which they do whatever they want in the name of development. But I think, they have got their own money and that should be enough for them to develop their states, rather than use the local government allocation as their trust fund.
The local government should be autonomous if it must be responsive and responsible to the people and able to build a participatory democracy at the base and foundation of the structure of Nigeria. As at now, the local government has no root and if something is not done immediately to check or prevent what is happening today, the local government will never achieve its aim.
You are from Anambra State and in about 10 years, the state has not conducted council elections. Are you comfortable?
Anambra’s case is a scenario different from the Nigerian scenario and that is what we are witnessing in the local government system of Anambra State. The last election that was conducted in Anambra State was in 1998 and you can also see that the non-conduct of the local government election in the state has political instigation in the operationalisation of the electoral democracy in the state because there is no foundation at that grassroots level.
The political class has found itself in-between- the reason being that we are empty of foundation and the people are not able to participate at their local level. Everybody is now participating at the state level and at the state level, there had been so much pressure. But if they democratised the local government system as it were, the pressure at the state will reduce.
Secondly, it will enable dividend of democracy and development to circulate around the 117 communities, irrespective of the fact that state government is trying by dispensing cash to town unions. I think that should be better handled, better monitored, administered and evaluated by the local government system closest to the people and the community rather than have state government run from Awka to 117 communities. They should allow the 21 local governments deal with their component communities and I think that should be a better structural arrangement.
Anambra 2014 is at the corner and the people of the North senatorial district are saying it is their turn to produce governor while at the same time, the people of South and Central senatorial districts are warming up for the contest.
Aren’t you worried?
My view is that the clamour by the North senatorial district is not unjustifiable. The opinion of the South cannot be jettisoned and the Central’s dream of continuing to govern is also not unconstitutional but the point is that Anambra is yet to chart a political course. We are yet to have a consensus of understanding. We are yet to have a charter of participation whereby we will be able to determine the zoning formula and from the zone it will start.
I share the sentiment of the people of the North senatorial zone but since 1999, they have also been participating in the governorship process except that they have not been lucky or maybe the calculation has not favoured them. But the truth is that in democratic governance, except it is understood, express and written, you cannot release power to any component group. For now, I think it is a flat table and anybody can play except if the political class, opinion leaders and traditional institution as well as religious organisation come together to say, for us to build understanding and for us to have equity, let us have this arrangement and then put it in place from effect from a particular and known time.
And then we shall begin to practice it like the kind of arrangement we have in Orumba North and Orumba South Federal Constituency. There is an agreement in place from 12 November, 2006 in the house of Dr. Alex Ekwueme which was signed by the leaders of the two local government areas and counter signed almost in affidavit by Dr. Alex Ekwueme himself and it is working and that was why in 2011 election, a candidate of Orumba North came out to challenge the arrangement that benefited him in 2007, people came out in mass and said no to him and he lost out in the election.