ChuksOkochareports on the last edition of Leadership Conference and Awards, where the issue of the present structure of the Nigerian state did not only renew debate for federalism, but also united the major opposition players for the sake of the country
The Leadership conference and awards lived up to its billing. It attracted the high and mighty of the political class. This is more instructive, given the difference in their political ideologies. Chairman of the occasion, former Vice-President AtikuAbubakar, is a member of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP); the Leadership Person of the year, former Minister of Defence, TheophilusDanjuma is also by all standards, a member of the PDP; Bola Tinubu is the national leader of the main opposition party, the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) and the lead speaker, Prof. Patrick Utomi, is a member of the Mega Social Democratic Party. However, the governor of Borno state, KashimShettima is of the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP).
But inspite of their different ideologies, they had one agenda: How to ensure growth and development of political parties in Nigeria as well as the development of true regionalism as a requisite component for federalism. As the chairman of the occasion, Atiku set the ball rolling when he called for true federalism based on regional arrangement. He also made public, his worry about the powers of the president of the country which he says makes him the most powerful president in the world. And unless the constitution is amended, the Nigerian president remains the most powerful in the world, Atiku warned.
“I also want to recall that during the 1994/95 Constitutional Conference, Dr Alex Ekwueme, the Second Republic Vice-President of this federation, introduced and canvassed for the concept of geo-political zones. I was among those who opposed it because I thought that Ekwueme, coming from the defunct Republic of Biafra, wanted to break up the country again.
“Now, I realise that I should have supported him because our current federal structure is clearly not working. DrEkwueme obviously saw what some of us, with our civil war mindset could not see at the time. There is indeed too much concentration of power and resources at the centre.
“And it is stifling our march to true greatness as a nation and threatening our unity because of all the abuses, inefficiencies, corruption and reactive tensions that it has been generating,” he said.
He therefore called for a review of the constitution to reflect the realities on ground. “There is need to review the structure of the Nigerian federation, preferably along the basis of the current six geo-political zones as regions and the states as provinces. The existing states structure may not suffice, as the states are too weak materially and politically to provide what is needed for good governance.”
The former veepee said true federalism must absorb its elemental factors, adding that: “In the same vein, I see nothing wrong with the establishment of state police by the states that want it as long as it can be insulated from and is independent of the state or regional government. The argument that governors will abuse state police is rather specious.
“Should we abolish the Nigerian Police because it is often abused by those in power at the federal level? Should we abolish the state treasuries because governors abuse them? And should we also abolish local governments for the same reason? No. We should, as a people, struggle for and put in place institutional safeguards against abuse of power by those in power at all levels. We have a chance now to put many of those safeguards in a new constitution.”
Atiku further asked: “Why should we be talking of federal roads and federal secondary schools? Decentralization is not an invitation to the breakup of the country and national unity should not continue to be confused with unitarism and concentration of power and resources at the federal level. Of course I am aware that some of the main beneficiaries of our erstwhile regional parliamentary democracy have been hiding behind a call for restructuring to push for the breakup of the country because of their proximity to a finite natural resource and transient political power,” he noted.
He explained that: “One of the consequences of excessive centralisation and the military rule that facilitated it is that the Nigerian President is the most powerful President in the world. This is because he could quite literally unleash all security agencies on an individual or organization, undermine the National Assembly and turn the judiciary into an almost pro-government and conformist organ. This is not in the realm of speculation; it has been happening in this country. Indeed, I drew attention to it when I was in office as Vice President and was having a political face-off with my boss. It is not healthy for democracy and must be changed,” Atiku admonished.
Still dwelling on the essence of true democracy in a federal system, Danjuma described state governors in the country as sole administrators and also the most powerful political bloc in Nigeria today. He said if powers of the governors were not whittled down; there would be no meaningful development. His main grouse was that the powers in the hands of the governors had made them become absolute rulers in their states.
Danjuma said the state governors are the real sole administrators whose powers in the political equation had become overbearing and burdensome. He said they are so powerful that they decide what happens in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP); nominate ministers to the centre and appoint sole administrators as local government chairmen. This, he argued will not make any appreciable progress unless the excessive powers of the governors are contained.
“There is nobody including you (Atiku) that can emerge as PDP presidential candidate unless the governors want you. The governors are the most powerful group of people in the political system. Until you phase out that fact and find a solution to it, we are going nowhere.”
Utomi who took time to dwell on the absence of ideology in the present political system described the parties as mere machines for winning. Utomi, however, urged the parties to pursue strong institutions that would drive national growth. As a prelude to the 2015 general election, he said progressive-minded Nigerians should build a movement that would push for social engineering, he said. He also advised the Independent National Electoral Commission to be agent of positive change, to the extent that votes would translate to barometer used to gauge “regime legitimacy.”
Tinubu who lamented the increasing cost of governance called for the scrapping of the Senate, an arm of the National Assembly. “We are complaining about the cost of governance but we have never considered the structure of the federation. Why do we need two
Houses of National Assembly?”
Explaining that the House of Representatives is adequate as a single legislative arm by virtue of its wide membership and closeness to the people, the former Lagos State Governor wondered why INEC draws its finance on a first line charge and still lacks the powers to appoint its officers. Tinubu said it would be ideal for INEC to appoint the Resident Electoral Commissioners so as to insulate the INEC officials from the influence of the ruling party.
The Borno State Governor, Shettima was though represente the Secretary to the State Government, Ahmed Baba Jidda, blamed the bane of democracy and growth of the opposition parties to poverty. He said: “It’s the number one threat to any opposition becoming a serious challenger because it replaces ideologies with cash and places price tags.”
The governor said the situation has made votes become objects for the highest bidders, thus forcing some otherwise patriotic election umpires to act against their conscience to enthrone leadership at different levels of government. He further identified lack of internal democracy as another reason why political parties have continued to face challenges in Nigeria. “It has only resulted in discontentment amongst members, thereby brewing crisis and failures as signified by loss of members and fictionalization of parties.
“In the build-up to the 2007 and 2011 elections, virtually all the key political parties were guilty of failures on internal democracy. My party, the ANPP, was accused of either imposing or wrongly substituting candidates, the result being a long pre-election and post-election litigation on the governorship tickets of Yobe, Kaduna, Kano, etcetera; the CPC which is about two or three years old was accused of wrongly substituting governorship candidates in Kano, Katsina, Bauchi and Taraba; the ACN was also accused of imposing candidates especially in the South-western states; and the PDP, as the biggest party, was accused of committing the most crime against internal democracy by allegedly imposing or wrongly substituting governorship candidates in Rivers, Taraba, Bauchi, Anambra and a host of others.
“These crimes were known because they involved governorship seats on which those affected ran to the media; one can therefore imagine those that may have been silenced not by persuasion and political negotiation but by the instrumentality of power.
“Though, all the parties seem to be guilty at different degrees, most of the feeling of discontent brewing in the country has largely and rightly, I must say, been directed at the ruling PDP at the centre, largely because of the size of the party, the number of seats it controls in the parliament as well as the number of states under its control, for the obvious reasons that there is lethal hunger, brutal insecurity, fatal unemployment, crippled education, substandard health care delivery and what have you. The list is long and successive leaders share the blame,” the Borno State Governor said.
The Chairman of Leadership Newspapers, organisers of the awards, Sam Nda-Isaiah, however urged the opposition political parties to unite and speak with a voice instead of its current lamentation of being rigged out by the ruling party. He was of the view that it was not enough for the opposition in Nigeria to continue to complain of being rigged out, explaining that the major problem of the opposition was lack of unity. “No interest group ever achieved anything anywhere without unity,” he said, pointedly.
Although, the event ended with the general feeling that the opposition must come together to confront the menace of allegedly constituted by the PDP; that the present structure of the country is another issue that must undergo serious political surgery was another fact that seemed to have secured the consent of all present. Whether or not the politicians meant what they all said at the event is another thing altogether and the manifestation of this or the contrary will tell in no distant time.