In this interview with Onyebuchi Ezeigbo, National Vice Chairman of the All Progressives Congress, South-South Zone, Chief Hilard Eta, says the best way to address the raging agitation for restructuring of the Nigerian federation is dialogue. Eta also speaks on the likely shape of the political landscape as 2019 approaches. Excerpts:
What is your view on the clamour for restructuring of Nigeria?
First of all let me start by saying that it is true the APC has restructuring of the federation as one of its cardinal programmes in the manifesto of the party but let me also say that the word restructuring in Nigeria means different things to different people and no one has been able to come up with a definition that will meet all of those that are clamouring for one kind of restructuring or the other. That isn’t to say that we don’t know that at the heart of all of these agitation is the fact that the way federal system is structured in Nigeria makes it too heavy at the top and there is a need for devolution of powers. You see, the resistance to restructuring has always come from the northern part of the country and I think it is born out of fear that is misplaced and that fear for me is due to not being able to clarify, not being able to interact and discuss with our brothers from the North and let them know exactly what some people in the South are looking for. There are people who think that restructuring means resource control. There are others who think restructuring means confederation. There are others who also think that restructuring means taking away the powers some people have been enjoying over time. I think the first thing those who are campaigning for restructuring should do is to come together and define it to other Nigerians who may be skeptical about what we mean by restructuring. Let me tell you if you look at the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, you will find so many reasons for wanting to restructure the governmental setup of Nigeria. Take for instance, you go to the constitution and it tells you that it is the president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria who issues you your driver’s licence. I mean it is ridiculous to even think about the president being involved in the issuance of my driver’s licence. So for something as mundane as the issuance of licence, it is funny; I mean you have a multitude of other things. So there is need for us to transfer the power to deal with this very mundane matters to the states of the federation. I think that the first thing to do is to agree on what we mean by restructuring and then we can go ahead from there.
Part of the disagreement over restructuring is that of the process for implementing it. Should it be National Assembly doing constitutional amendment or should it go by referendum?
Of course whether anybody likes it or not, whether you want to do a referendum or not, the constitution must be amended to reflect any new idea. Even if you want to devolve all powers from the centre to the constituent states you must amend the constitution to give it effect. So I think any document that can help the representative of the people which is the legislature of this country, any document, whether it was in 2014 or in 2010 or wherever it was, wherever it can be found should be brought together to be used as a working document for the National Assembly. We should also give opportunity to people who have new ideas, people who have other ideas apart from the one we canvassed in 2014 conference. I think it is a good place to start, all of these documents from the 2014 conference, the ones that was conducted by Babangida or Abacha, whenever it was conducted, should be brought together, and you can find that Nigeria has never been short of ideas. These ideas are found at the shores of government and that is a good place to start and Nigerians who may not have had an opportunity to contribute to the debate should also be given an opportunity to do so.
We heard that your party APC has already taken a position on the issue of restructuring and all that. Can we have an idea of the position the party has taken?
If you have restructuring in the manifesto of the party, it is settled that the APC is for restructuring. Not only is the APC for restructuring, the governors elected on the platform of our party have come out to tell the nation that they are also for restructuring. I prefer that the restructuring that Nigeria must have, the process should start immediately. The reason is that our economic backwardness, our political backwardness, our social backwardness can be traced largely to the awkward and unsustainable super structure of the country and not the sub structure of the country so it is important that we restructure now so that we will not have the unnecessary duty of having to force ourselves to the table.
I don’t know if it is essentially about the APC but some Nigerians are very quick into judgement in regards to APC. APC has been in power for two years. It is disingenuous for people to now look at the APC and say those types of things that they say. The PDP unfortunately, because whenever these things are done I think that they are just amplifying or reciting the propaganda of the PDP, but I beg to tell you that the PDP was in power for 16 years and hey never cared about restructuring; today PDP is all over the place talking about restructuring. So I think Nigerians should be a little patient with us. It is unfortunate that the unsustainable sub structure of Nigeria has brought the agitations that has come to Nigeria in the manner it has come at this time where the APC is in power and we are not afraid of the responsibility and the challenges of this time that is why today we are supposed to meet with the governors but by tomorrow we will meet with them. We will meet with the critical stakeholders, it is the APC led legislature that has accepted to look at the 2014 constitutional conference report. It is not a PDP led legislature. Let’s give a breathing space to this party.
In 2014 your party refused to participate in the said Jonathan conference. Will you be happy if the report that your party didn’t participate in is implemented?
I have said that there is no report that can be implemented holistically. I don’t think that the report is one that everything in the report will have a place in the sun. What I am saying is that it is one of the working documents. Even if Nigerians have had to discuss in a pepper soup bar it doesn’t matter as long as they are Nigerians. Let us begin to talk because when you look at what has happened in other countries, when you hear the history of Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, you have all this history and you think those things can’t happen in our country, you are just being naive. So if we must prevent those things happening to us, because when these people are beating the drums of war, most of them don’t have the benefit of the experience of war; so it is better for us that we restructure than when we are forced on a table to talk to ourselves. Now nobody is going to put a gun to our heads to talk but it is better if we are patriotic, if we are forward-looking, if we are visionary, if we see Nigeria 40, 50, 100 years from now then we need to sit down and discuss. That is my position on the matter.
Some APC leaders are saying that the quit notice and the agitation to pull out by pro-Biafran groups are all being politicised. Do you agree with that?
My comment is that the agitations from almost all parts of the country; the almajaris are agitating for a better life, the Yoruba man is agitating for better governance, the Igbo man is agitating, the Calabar man is agitating, there is no ethnic nationality in this country that isn’t agitating. Now we must interrogate; who are they agitating against and who should they agitate against? I laugh when I hear my Igbo brothers agitating against the Hausa/Fulani, and they are saying that it is the Hausa/Fulani that have marginalised them. When I see the Almajiris agitate. Are they to say that it is not even the Hausa/Fulani that has marginalised them? The same thing for the Yoruba, the same for the Igala people, the same thing for the Efik people, the same for the Ibibio people’ the truth of the matter is that Nigeria is sharply divided into two; the elites and others and the people that have marginalised all ethnic nationalities are less than one percent of the population of Nigeria and they come from all ethnic nationalities. I have done a personal interrogation of those who have superintended over Nigeria and very sadly I have come to realise only three Hausa/Fulani people have been in charge of Nigeria since independence. The first was Tafa Balewa, the second was Buhari and the third was Yar’dua; all others are not Hausa/Fulani but you hear everywhere you go to that it is Hausa/Fulani that has ruled us. Let me tell you; the relationship between the minorities and the majorities is such that at every point where you have a majority in a human setting not just restricted to Nigeria, the tendency is for the majority to appropriate to itself the space, the resources and the time of that environment. Between 1954 and 1967 when the war broke out in eastern part of Nigeria and Nigeria generally, in the eastern part of Nigeria where Ndigbo and other ethnic groups made up eastern Nigeria of that time, go and find out who were in the leadership roles whether in the judiciary, executive or the legislature, you will find out that more than 90 percent of them were Igbos. That is the truth of the matter, the Igbos were in the majority and the human tendency is that the moment you are in the majority you will like to dominate your space. Now even till today, go to Edo State today, in fact the first governor in Edo State who is not of Benin extraction was Ambrose Ali, Professor Osunbor and Oshiomhole; but every other one was from Benin and if you give the Benin people the opportunity they will rule till perpetuity; it is human. Take Delta State for example again; the first non Urhobo governor was Uduaghan and the second is Okowa, so it is a human phenomenon.
Now I know that within the human environment are certain things that are completely divine that makes it impossible for that kind of domination to go on in perpetuity, so now everybody in Nigeria is complaining of marginalisation but I tell you even a man from Bayelsa today is complaining of marginalisation whereas Ebele Jonathan was president for 6 years.
So I think the first thing we need to do is to identify the people that are marginalising us and then we put them away from leadership. I watched a television skit where Nnamdi Kalu was canvassing for arms and ammunition in America and an Igbo man stood up and asked him why can’t we start from within our state and ask for good governance. Those people that have collected our hundreds of billions of naira, why can’t we ask them to use those billions to develop our environment. That is where we must begin because something interesting happened yesterday where the people of Anambra State warned Nnamdi Kalu to stay in Abia and stop threatening them. I knew this was going to happen because you see it is human nature. So I am not oblivious of the fact that there are certain areas of Nigeria that have the little that the elite has allowed to trickle out of their grasp, that a part may have had more than the other but you know one thing I see that is common is that poverty, ignorance has found their way to almost every corner of Nigeria. So it is not restricted to any ethnic nationality. That is my position on agitation for secession and the balkanisation of Nigeria.
What is it that has prevented your party from holding its mid-term convention months after it was due?
Finance. A lot of people would not like me to have said that but I would say it again and again; it is finance. The reason the party hasn’t had that midterm convention is because of finance.
Would you like to give us the details of this financial constraints?
I wouldn’t like to go into details but I do know that the party hasn’t been able to do that because of lack of finance.
Are you not worried as a member of the NWC that you are breaching the party’s constitution by not holding the convention?
I am seriously worried that we cannot convene this midterm convention but I have told you that the convention has been shifted to September and we hope by the special grace of God that we will be able to have the finance to conduct this convention.
It appears that there are some cracks within your party, that your governors are not solidly behind the NWC.
There is no crack at all. I think you should take what the national chairman told you as it is, it is the truth of the matter.
Lastly, ahead of the 2019 elections, it appears that there are a lot of crises in all the states being controlled by APC: Kogi, Baylesa, Rivers, Bauchi and others, especially in Kogi State where people are already being killed. How do you want to resolve all these crises?
Let me tell you, I keep answering this question over and over again and I don’t know how else to say this, political party is a human organisation. Even in your family you have disagreements. There is simply no way where you can put more than two people together, even when you have only two people together, there naturally will come a day where both of you will disagree and that doesn’t mean a meltdown of the party. I have it very difficult to understand because all of us were here when between 1999 and 2003 where there were about four senate presidents of the PDP and nobody was talking about the party having crisis here and there. The party is on top of every situation. One of the fundamental tenets of politics is conflict resolution. The reason that has been accepted as a fundamental tenet of politics is because it is a known fact that when you put two or more people together that there would be disagreements so you must create both in your constitution and you step up institutions for conflict resolution. As you are aware in the matter of Kogi, a very high level committee was setup, which means that the party is on top of that situation. There is no situation in the country about the party where the party hasn’t taken proactive measures to deal with the situations as we find them and hundred years from now, as long as it is a political party where people come with likely self interest, you must have acrimony and it is only a party that isn’t worth its name that will not be in a good place to resolve all the conflicts as it finds in the party. I must say this again; the Nigerian public and when I saw this it is squid towards the South East and South South and the media hasn’t given us the benefit that they gave to our predecessors. Regardless of the fact that we have had disagreements within the party this party has had one set of leadership in the National Assembly, we have had one set of leadership in the presidency and for a party that came together from different political affiliations and.. I think that we have done well. The next thing you will hear is ‘the change that you people promised us?’ Like Ameachi said the other time, the party promised change not miracle and for every change to occur there must be a gestation period. If you stop planting corn in your corn farm and you begin to plant yam you must wait for that yam to germinate, to grow to a point where you can harvest it. So please I want to beg the media and I also want to beg the public especially from the South East and the South South that we are not doing well in terms of nation building. No matter how much you hate a man the moment he becomes the president of your country, the moment he becomes the symbol of your country you must now begin to think only of your country. These are my views.
PDP has accused the APC of attempting to cover up the involvement of a recent defector to APC, Senator Ita-Giwa in the alleged diversion of relief materials meant for victims of fire outbreak in Bakassi area of Cross State, that your sole aim is to cover up her involvement in that saga. What is your reaction to this?
First of all if I give you the details of that situation you will even find it ridiculous that anybody will think that the APC and my humble self will want to cover up distinguished Senator Florence Ita-Giwa as if she had committed a crime. All of the relief materials that are involved couldn’t be up to 10 million naira and with all sense of responsibility I think that Senator Florence Ita-Giwa will not want to be accused of diverting relief materials for that course. I have written to EFCC, I have written to the IG of police so I don’t want to cause some discomfort for anybody who is interested in investigating the matter. I think they should be given access to the matter for them to investigate and come to the truth. If the truth is that Senator Ita-Giwa was the one who diverted these materials, our position is that she should be apprehended and prosecuted, but if she is not, then those who diverted these things must also be apprehended and prosecuted; but until that is done I have very little or nothing to say about that saga. But as a Cross Riverian I must say this, everything is pointing to the victory of APC in Cross River State. The cream de la creame of the political class has all moved over to the APC. The governor unfortunately has become jittery and it is an old politician who told me once that when you become jittery, when you become upset you are likely to make mistakes and he is making mistakes all over the place. The present governor knows that he has to call time in 2019 and APC is ready to take over. So that is the situation as we have it in Cross River State, Cross River State is the lowest hanging fruit for the APC in the South South and the governor is aware of that.