Nwuche: Nigeria Should Revert to Regionalism

10 Jan 2013

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Hon. Chibudom Nwuche

Former Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Chibudom Nwuche, in this interview with journalists in Lagos, speaks on some of the prevailing political developments in the country. Charles Ajunwa presents the excerpts

Campaign posters of President Jonathan recently flooded Abuja and that has continued to generate ripples; what do you think about the trend?

First of all, I think that the Presidency has disowned those posters. I know, having been in government, that some people are overzealous and for reasons best known to them print posters most times in their own personal interests. For me, I think that it is too early for campaigns to start because people should allow the President and give him time to deliver on his promises to Nigerians. It is about two years into his tenure and has two more years to go. I think we should not be living from election to election, there must be an interlude for performance.

So I don’t buy the recent posturing by various parties for offices; it is too soon in the day. You do not begin to write the government off even before the government completes its tenure or has just gone half-way into its tenure. We need to give the President time to manage the economy. He has promised so many things, lets begin to see them materialise. Some are coming through while others require some time. If we begin to politicise now, it means that we are living from elections to elections and there is no interlude for governance. So we should give the President time to work and to focus on governance and not distract him.

As a former lawmaker, do you think the constitution review process is necessary now?

Well, I may not be the right person to ask because already, I have taken a step. In 2003, I prepared a position paper on contitution amendment which I submitted to the then Senate. When I was in the National Assembly, I was also the Deputy Co-chair of the Review Panel on the constitution. I believe that our constitution as it is will not help Nigeria to grow. Nigeria has a structural problem that we must address. Anybody who is put to run this country would have difficulties to succeed because the structure is wrong; the centre is too powerful. We are not a true federation which we should be. 

There is need to devolve power to the various regions. The states are too small and too many in numbers and some can hardly pay salaries. Also, there is no checks and balances at the state level. In most states, the assembies are in their governors’ pockets. So if the governors perform, it is because of their conscience. There is no external pressure on any governor to perform. Those that are performing have conscience otherwise, in terms of institutional checks, there is none. That is why I always advocate for regionalism- let’s go back to six regions because that is the only time that Nigeria recorded measurable and noticeable progress.  The North had groundnut pyramids; the West had their cocoa and we had palm oil in the East. At that time, oil wasn’t significant yet we survived. We were a wealthy nation; we had good health care; we had good roads; we had security; so we need to go back to six structure. Let’s use the six zones as the building block for our federation so that members of the House of Representatives will go back to their regions and build the Regional Assembly; we will only have one national parliament. That, for me, will be cheaper for us.                

The cost of maintaining 109 senators and 360 House of Representatives members is too much for the country, we can’t afford it. We are a poor country. If you look at our oil production and population, we produce 2.6 million barrels at the most or 2.1 and we are over 160 million Nigerians. So, the per capita is not much when you do the calculation. We can’t afford a huge assembly of nearly 109 and 360 members combined together. I will advocate, as I said earlier, that we have one National Assembly of let’s say, 109 members depending on the figure we will agree on per zone.

Critics of the ongoing constitution review fear that a process that would not guarantee a referendum is not reflective of the people’s wish. Do you agree?

The difficulty is that we need to be careful to avoid anarchy. The National Assembly for now proximates our mandate. Nigerians turned out to vote for them. We may argue that in some instances, there were manipulations but in the majority of cases, the votes were counted and the real winners emerged, so they represent Nigerians. We must assume that they are the people that hold our mandate.

We know the problem with Nigeria. There is consensus on major issues on the Nigerian problem. So even if you go into a dialogue or gathering of ethnic nationalities, it won’t produce anything different from what we already know. We can begin to become anarchic if we try to say the National Assembly does not have sovereignty, then who has sovereignty?

Considering the posturing of the North and South on fundamental areas like state creation, state police and resource control, don’t you think the review might end up an exercise in futility?  

Well, these issues were there even in our own tenure but it did not prevent us from arriving at concensus on particular areas. You see, people should not think of it as a wholesale amendment of the constitution; it’s done piece meal. Where there is a consensus, they amend and its a gradual process. In most countries, the constitution is amended slowly and deliberately. They should look at critical areas and what are really the objectives? One, is to unbundle our federation so you look at those areas and amend them.  Inspite of the diversity of views between the Southern and Northern legislators, they still have areas of agreement. On the issue of state police, I am for regional police because I think a state police will be an oppressive instrument in the hands of governors who are dictatorial and many have shown that if given a chance, they will abuse it.

Recently, some lawmakers raised the alarm that the governors are against constitutional amendment and looking at the governors’ influence, can you agree less?

My appeal to the governors is that they must put Nigeria first. The governors have so much power in this country that they can decide where Nigeria goes, so they should choose for us as a country to tread the path that will lead to progress and properity. The governors nominate or perhaps influence the election of people to the National Assembly, nominate ministers, give names of ambassadors, board members, appoint commissioners, local government chairmen.

So, they have a lot of powers. If indeed, the governors want to change Nigeria for the better, they can do so. The governors must ignore sentiments and look for the best. We must have the confidence to use our best. You can’t keep blaming the president forgeting that the president is acting or working with the instruments provided by the governors. They gave him those to be made ministers. We should look more at the governors and how they select Nigerians who represent the states. So the problem is not only in the centre, people should also look elsewhere as well. Also monies that go to states, when they are shared, how are they used? So, we must stop accusing the Federal Government all the time.

But the Federal Government has the greatest chunk of the revenue?

Don’t forget that the Federal Government has presence in every state. They have roads in every states that they construct, water projects, federal universities, agricultural projects. But in most states, you will not see any tangible thing they do with the money.  In most states, unlike the president who has an assembly that is robust- that is bi-cameral- the National Assembly checking him; most often, the state assemblies are quiet. We must learn to locate the blames appropriately.

Why is it that an average Nigerian politician wants to remain in power by all means?

In most parts of the world, people go to elective offices for instance, to the National Assembly, after they have made their marks elsewhere. They will go to offer service but here it may not be the case because our democracy is just emerging and I think that we need to grow our economy. Our economy is not broad enough to accommodate many people.

If we have different means of livelihood, the focus on politics will be less and pressure will be less. You see, because of the pecks, we appear attached to public office and everybody wants to be there. We must reduce the pecks of governance. This is driving the desire to participate and most times, over-heat the polity in the process. I think the desire for people who want to stay forever in power maybe they have nothing else to do but most importantly, we must build our economy. We focus attention on a few mega businesses like Nigeria Breweries, Nestle, Dangote and others. No country grows that way. You grow by empowering small and medium scale enterprises. When there are more opportunities, people will look elsewhere rather than politics.

Why the constant face-off between the executive and the legislature?

It is the nature of the presidential system of government that we are practising. I don’t think it will be the same if we are practising the parliamentary system. The nature of presidentialism which we practice is that there will be constant competition between the arms of government.  This is because the constitution gives the powers of budget approval to the National Assembly while giving the powers of conception and submission to the executives.

So, by definition, it is formular for crisis because each party will prefer to have something wider than what the express words of the constitution stipulates. But that is where human ingenuity comes in. The National Assembly must work with the president and arrive at workable budgets.

Do you share the belief that the National Assembly has become conduit for corruption?

It’s a wrong assumption. Maybe I should use my case as an example. Before I went to the National Assembly, I was in the oil and gas sector. I was there for nearly 10 years. I did downstream and engineering. Our company worked for major oil companies including Shell, Total, Agip and Mobil among others. I left my business and went to the National Assembly. When I was there, I was the Deputy Speaker for four years.

And while I was there, I was not accused of corruption by anybody and I left there over nine years now, nobody has called me on any issue linked to corruption. While I was there, I never asked for bribe from any minister or from anybody; I stand to be challenged. So, I am an example as a member of the National Assembly. What you are talking about is alien to me. The fact that a few people show dishonesty does not mean that every member of the National Assembly is corrupt. I take exception to that. Most of us went there to serve our country dearly.

What’s your take on parties de-registration?

I have a different view on that matter. When you stop funding parties, those that are not serious will by themselves close shop. The issue should be for INEC to give Nigerians free, fair and credible elections- an election where there is no interference at the point of announcement and where the votes count. 

How would you react to the Transparency International rating of Nigeria on corruption?

When I saw it, I was unhappy because I thought that we should be doing better, improving on the fight against corruption. Any country that does not fight corruption cannot progress because it is like trying to fill a basket with water. I think we should fight corruption more vigorously. I am looking forward to seeing convictions in some cases with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). Nigerians are asking for a more robust fight against corruption and they are asking not just for arrests but convictions of high proflie offenders.

Tags: Politics, Nigeria, Featured, Nwuche, Regionalism

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