At 85, elder statesman, Alhaji Femi Okunnu’s recollection of events and issues in Nigeria’s chequered history is astonishing, He buttresses his narration with dates and vivid description of circumstances surrounding issues and events, a clear indication that he was a key player at critical junctures of the nation’s history or an interested observer. Okunnu, a former Federal Commissioner for Works and Housing under the General Yakubu Gowon administration and a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, in this interview with THISDAY, speaks on the state of the nation, identifies the problem of Nigerian federalism, and passes harsh verdicts on some past administrations particularly in the area of infrastructure development. Excerpts:
You clocked 85 recently, how does it feel at 85?
Well, I didn’t feel differently at 85 as I felt 10 years ago or even five years ago except that one now walks very slowly, movement is now being handicapped. If I remember my days as an athletes at Kings College, being a member of the quartet which sets the school record in 4X220 yards relay. I thank God for His mercies.
Going down memory lane, can you reminisce about the good old days, about life in Lagos and Nigeria in general?
If you talk of life in Lagos, apart from human beings, the political life in Nigeria was captured in Lagos City. No politicking of any significance in the rest of the country except the city of Lagos. Most of the politicians in the country particularly in the 40s when I was growing up as a schoolboy, up to 1950 were based in Lagos and they came from different parts of the country. For instance, someone like Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, who was elected first Lagos member in 1946 under the Richard Constitution, someone like Mr. Ikoli, who came from what you now call Rivers State and was educated at Kings College in 1910 and lived in Lagos as a doyen of journalism until his death. So Nigerian politicians were resident in Lagos and life in Lagos was life in Nigeria. People lived happily as one people and there was little or non-ethnicity. There were some ethnic groups but they didn’t dominate or take part in politics in those days. The country was moving on towards self-government following the experience of India which was granted Independence in 1947. The British Colonies were agitating for independence in their respective areas. So that was how Lagos was and Nigeria was in those days. People of different ethnic backgrounds regarded themselves as Nigerians unlike today when ethnicity has taken root in our polity.
From your last statement about ethnicity, about the divisions in the country, when you look at what is happening in the country today such as North-east where there is insurgency and terrorism, in the Middle Belt where there is herdsmen/farmers’ clash and other security issues in other parts of the country, do you entertain fears about the future of this country?
Well, the future of this country doesn’t look bright now. But I have faith that Nigeria would survive at the end of the day. You talk of the insurgency in the North-east, the Boko Haram and the atrocities being committed by this bunch of people which is a great problem for the country. The present government did much better than the past government in tackling the problem, but the problem is still large. It worries me how much assistance the government sought or received from Western Powers in terms of intelligence. We seem to lack knowledge and intelligence about the activities of these people. The West and the East, I am talking of Russia, have their ways of being part of the insurgency. When I say part of the insurgency, you find some people, their job is to procure among the insurgents those who will relay or give up information about their activities to the authorities. We seem to lack that and the Western Powers are either unwilling to help in that area or they were not asked to help. France has tremendous influence in French speaking West Africa countries that are also involved in this insurgency as Chad, Cameroon, Niger which are also affected by Boko Haram, although not as much as Nigeria. So, that is a huge problem which we have to tackle. If they don’t occupy any land they are still in the country and now carrying out guerilla warfare. That is a great pity but we have to face that problem.
The problem of the herdsmen, to me, is unfortunate that it’s not been tackled the way it should be tackled. First of all, I regard the activities of herdsmen as purely economic. I look at the herdsmen the way I look at the spare parts sellers in Lagos for example. It is an economic issue and not a political issue, but people are politicising it. Now, if you are a spare part dealer, you either obtain a piece of land from government in the state or you rent a parcel of land. And if you have been allocated a parcel of land by the state, you are lucky to sell your spare parts. The same way if you rear cattle, you look for a piece of land to rear your cattle or you ask the state to give you a piece of land. Unfortunately, it is not so. Historically, it is true that these herdsmen came from arid part of Africa, no grass. They used to come with their herds to different parts of the country and sell. And on their way to the Southern part of the country, they trespass on people’s private land. That had been tolerated over a period of time. And they also use stick to guide the cattle to make sure that they don’t derail. But it is no longer the same these days where they invade private properties. Invading private properties is trespass in law. You can’t come to land with the economic trees, crops for any reason and eat the crops and the grass. That is trespass for which I can take you to court. That is wrong. The fact that it is historical, that they have been doing it for more than two centuries is not relevant. There had been some solutions suggested to meet these situations. I think Sir Ahmadu Bello encouraged ranching in certain parts of the North. I am trying to look into my records whether the government of Gowon didn’t wade into this problem of establishing ranches in some parts of the country. The solution is for these ordinary Nigerians who own the herds, this cattle, to negotiate with either individuals or government of the states to have a place for ranching. It is not to brazenly attack farmers in different part of the country. It is entirely wrong. There are two other aspects to these issues: One, the herdsmen are poor people, they don’t own the herds. They work under the owners of the herds who are faceless people. These ‘unknown or faceless’ cattle owners are guilty of this offence more than the poor herdsmen who go about. Again, it has been suggested and strongly too that majority of these herdsmen are non-Nigerians, that they come from Niger, Chad, Mali and so on. And that may well be true whether they are Fulanis, Hausas. You know the Fulas or Fulanis, they call them Fulas in Guinea, they occupy the Northern Belt of Northern Nigeria, From Senegal to Nigeria, you have the Fulas or the Fulanis as a major ethnic group. So you can distinguish easily the Fulanis from Nigeria, Mali, Senegal or Guinea. So, a number of them come from outside the country, we were told. Finally, I think Nigeria now have the Miyetti Allah group who now have come out openly to say they are behind this herding. It is time we move away from feudalism to modern world. The poor herdsmen moving on foot over miles from the north to the middle belt and other parts of the country should be a thing of the past. They should adopt modernity and end what I would call feudal system of herding. That is my view about herdsmen issue.
You raised an issue such as herdsmen coming from other countries, which shows the flaws in our immigration system. It is also an indication of the weak border security that we have. Before now, the unhindered movement of the herdsmen and other people was attributed to the ECOWAS Treaty that gives freedom of movement of people and goods. Should we allow people to hide under the treaty to perpetrate these atrocities?
Well, I have not examined the treaty or the protocol about immigration but I believe that freedom of movement of people and also of goods is part of what we signed for. Freedom of movement, yes. But it doesn’t give you the rights to trespass on other people’s land. Trespass is trespass anywhere; in Mali, in Ghana or in Senegal or Niger, it will still be trespass. But let’s separate the wheat from the chaff. Freedom to move about, freedom to move your property around is one thing, trespassing on other people’s land is a different thing entirely. Just as freedom of movement of Nigerians doesn’t give you the rights to trespass on other people’s land.
Still on security. Just last week, we had a tragedy in the North-east where some girls were abducted by Boko Haram. This is the second time we would be experiencing this as a nation. We had a similar tragedy under the last regime. In the North-east where we have Boko Haram and insurgency, sadly we still have girls in schools unprotected. Again, the president has described it as a national disaster but many people believe that it is not only a national disaster but a national disgrace. What is your view?
I will stick to national disaster because you cannot protect everybody. You cannot police every part of the country. You cannot set up security apparatus for every school even in North-east not to talk of every school in Nigeria. How many schools there are that you have to provide security for? The schools in the North-eastern part of the country must be in hundreds. So you can’t provide security for each and every public institution, not schools alone, hospitals, even ordinary people need protection, in your house you need protection. So policing the whole country is a huge thing. It is not possible to police the whole country, not only in Nigeria but in any part of the world. But whether the policing is being handled efficiently is a different matter. The major thing is to destroy these heartless people, this Boko Haram. That is the major challenge we are facing. We have to end the insurgency.
There is a growing agitation for the restructuring of the country. As we go into 2019, it is going to be a major issue. People hold different views though. But when we talk about restructuring what should we be looking at? In addition, do you subscribe to the view that it is the panacea to the problem of national integration and the problem of Nigerian federalism?
I do. The country has moved from federalism to unitary system of government. I have been looking at the past constitutions of the country to see when and where things went wrong. I have had some in-depth examination of the problem of restructuring. Until a year ago, I held firmly that those who were asking for national conference were overdoing it, that they didn’t really need a huge caucus to look at the constitution as a whole. I have held that view for the past 30 years since people have been calling for it long before the civilian administration came in 1999. A good number of my friends clamoured for it, but I don’t really think they looked at the problem in-depth. I have examined the constitutions since federalism was installed as a political system in 1954. I have examined the 1954 constitution, 1960, 1963, 1979 and 1999 constitutions. I have also studied some conference papers, conferences leading to Independence in 1960, notably the 1957 London Conference and 1958 London Conference which produced the 1960 Constitution. The 1963 constitution was more or less the same as the 1960 Constitution, the main difference was Commonwealth and Republic. Under the Commonwealth you have the Governor-General at the apex of the political system and under the Republic you have the president. So, it’s just removing the governor general and putting president. I have examined four areas in these two constitutions. 1963 Constitution and its predecessor, the 1960 constitution, to me were perfect fit for federalism. It provided true federalism. The basis of federalism is coming together of a group of states to form a union whereby certain powers of sovereignty held are surrendered to common unit called Federal Government. Under our system, the political leaders in the Region at that time in 1957, 1958 and thereafter relinquished certain powers called Exclusive in the Exclusive Legislative list to the Federal government. Now some areas which I looked into very deeply are finance, judiciary, local government, electoral process. In the case of finance, which is the key issue because you can’t run a government if you don’t have money. We can see the result of governors are queuing up in Abuja begging for money. Finance in the 1963 constitution made it possible for states to also have direct access to economic activities of the country. The most popular one is the rights of the states of origin where minerals are found and extracted to have 50 per cent of royalties and mining rents which the Federal Government collects. 30 per cent are put in a distributive pool and 20 per cent held by the Federal Government to run its services. It is not only minerals, there are other commodities where the custom dues are also collected, Imports and Exports, wherein 25 per cent of these rents or customs dues are put in the distributive pools every quarter under the 1963 constitution. So it is not only profit from the minerals which include oil as stated in the constitution. Whether it is onshore or offshore. Continental Shelf was regarded as part of the states where there is continental shelf. In simple language, oil producing states or region also collects 50 per cent from Continental Shelf. So the states have a wide area where they collected their finance which they were entitled to under the constitution and not begging the Federal Government to give them money. Now, all that was put aside under the 1979 constitution under Gen Obasanjo because he was in power by the time the constitution came into effect on October 1, 1979. What was its substitute? All revenue would go into the federation account, whether minerals or whatever commodities. And how you spend that money was left to the National Assembly to decide. It is now the president who would present the budget to the National Assembly and whatever that National Assembly decided was the Law. That was in 1979. That was carried over to the 1999 constitution with this caveat – in the case of minerals, the state of origin would get at least 13 per cent. The formula then changed completely. The formula in 1979 was worse than 1999 because that one gave nothing to state of origin. That one just say put everything in one pot and then we distribute it from the pot. Under the 1999 constitution, the state of origin takes 13 per cent. The federal government which took 20 per cent in 1960, 1963 constitutions now takes about 52 to 54 per cent from the common pot and the balance is shared between state and local governments. You see that distortion, a complete reversal of the sharing formula. The Federal Government has acquired more money than ever before. From 20 per cent to 52-54 per cent. That’s to much! To do what? To carry out functions which have not changed radically. When I say radically, let me qualify that. The Exclusive Legislative List in 1963 Constitution contained baerly 40 functions for the national government: foreign affairs, currency, banking, defence and such like. In 1979, the list ballooned to almost 70. But they were not functions of great direct benefits to the ordinary people. Functions such as primary education, primary health care, water, housing and the like which affect people directly, you denied the states government the money to carry out these functions which come under residuary. Residuary functions are functions which are not in the exclusive legislative list., like housing, primary education. Secondary education is… because of Federal Government intervening in secondary education. University education is either states or federal. Primary healthcare also. The health of the populace is not the business of the federal government. And that takes away a big chunk of revenue. So, the state which needs money to run healthcare for the ordinary people is denied to function in that area. Then, local government. As I have said on many occasions that I don’t mind Section 7 of the Constitution of 1979 and 1999 which states that the system of local government shall be under a law by the state House of Assembly, not federal, and functions of local government, finance included, restructure of local government, whether you want to add or reduce in number, is the business of state government. I don’t mind especially the emphasis ‘democratically elected’ so that the state doesn’t nominate as governors do illegally. A situation whereby they nominate or dissolve the local government is wrong. I remember I took former Governor of Lagos State, Alhaji Lateef Jakande, to court on three occasions when he was governor, and I won in defence of that section. You can’t handpick people to serve in local government. Again, local government is a function of the state government. The Federal Government should have nothing to do with local governments. Before 1979, local government was a function of Regional and State governments. In my time in government, we had nothing whatsoever to do with local government. Because Local Government is a system whereby you decide how to run your house, I mean the way I want to administer my state is not a concern of the federal government. Local authorities had never been a function of federal government even in the 1963 constitution. Incidentally, in 1963 constitution, there were about five constitutions: The constitution for the federation, Northern Nigeria, Eastern Nigeria, Western Nigerian and Mid-Western Nigeria. So it’s a book containing five or so constitutions which is not the case now. Federal government had no business in local administration, it was the function of Regional government. The government of Gen. Gowon adhered to 1963 Constitution and was guided by 1963 Constitution which ran from 1963 to September 30th, 1979.
(Cuts in) Was that so? But the constitution was abrogated by the military.
No. No. It was not. The Constitution remained but certain sections of the constitution were suspended. We were very careful not to takeover the functions of state governments. Where we did it was under state of emergency for peace, order and good government of Nigeria. But by and large, we did not really take over functions of state governments. For instance, housing was the function of the state government and they continued to build houses for their people. Even though I thought of National Housing Scheme while I was in government but I dropped it because it wasn’t my business to build houses for state governments except for the federal capital, in Lagos. Even then we didn’t build any housing except for the historical FESTAC which was built to hold All African Festival of Arts and then for the houses to be sold to Nigerians after the festival. So housing, we were very careful, it’s a state matter.
This is very interesting. Would you then say that the alleged distortion of Nigerian federalism by the military was accentuated during the Gowon regime in the sense that it was the government of Gen. Gowon that took over regional universities, radio, television etc.?
No. It was with the agreement by the state governments. It was voluntary. Ahmadu Bello University was taken over because there was no longer any northern regional government. North was divided into six states. It was like my taking over state roads; the governors begged me to take over state roads and pleaded that they would take over local authority roads. The military distorting the constitution to some extent was exaggerated. The problems started with the Constitution of 1979, not about Gowon or Babangida’s government. No, they did their own bit. It was the constitution, those who finalised the constitution. For example, I was a member of the drafting committee of the constitution and I have examined our reports. I have it in two volumes and looked at the area of finance.
Obasanjo’s government did not follow what we recommended. I don’t know whether there was an alteration or an agreement between the constituent assembly presided over by Sir Udo Udoma which examined our reports, but the final product, 1979 Constitution, which Obasanjo signed, to me, is the critical year and critical period when Nigeria abandoned federalism and moved on to unitary system of government. If you have command of finance, what else? In the government I served, Ogbemudia continued to receive 50 per cent from oil, Diete-Spiff of Rivers State was also getting 50 per cent royalty. The only change that Gen. Gowon made was offshore in 1970 to boost federal finance. It means oil extracted in the sea should be for all. It was the only area he intervened, otherwise, on finance, Gen. Gowon followed it as it was enshrined in the 1963 Constitution. To me, the harm was done to the structure of the polity by 1979 constitution, the mistake was also repeated in 1999 constitution. For instance, local government which I am talking about now, it was Gen. Murtala who brought in local government as a national issue during Dasuki Commission. The late Damcida was even accusing Gen. Obasanjo in Abuja in 2005 that it was he who implanted local government as national function. And Damcida came to me and said I was wrong that after the coup of July 29, 1975, he as a permanent secretary was a member of a committee set up by Gen. Murtala Muhammed to look into the problem of local governments before Dasuki came in. The rot started from there but the point is that it didn’t stop with the end of the military rule on September 30th, 1979. It was implanted in the constitution and remained so till today. Another area is judiciary, which we don’t talk about. We have an over-centralised judicial system in Nigeria. Under 1963 constitution which remained till 1979, the federal government was in control of the Supreme Court, there was no Court of Appeal as at that time. There was no Federal High Court. It started as Federal Revenue Court in 1972-73 to help in getting federal revenue to be adjudicated speedily instead of state High Court handling the matter. That was how it started before it metamorphosed into High Court.
The Regional State High Court, each region took care of its own High Court System. The Chief Judge or Chief Justice of the state in those days was appointed by the state government. The judges of the State High Court were appointed by the government of the region. In my time, government of the state. Federal Government had nothing to do with appointments, dismissal and remuneration of judges. But it started in 1979 when Federal government took complete control of all judges, not just Supreme Court, Court of Appeal, Federal High Courts. The appointment of judges in Lagos, Kano, Borno, and Enugu States is handled at Abuja by the National Judicial Council (NJC). Discipline is handled by them. Part of the salary of all states High Courts are paid by the Federal Government. That is not federalism. That is unitary system of government. Recently, the Governor of Abia State retired the Chief Judge and they appointed another Chief Judge and Abuja said quickly that he (the governor) had no power. And that is true under the present constitution. That is not federalism. That didn’t happen under the 1963 constitution. The judiciary came under the umbrella of the federal government in 1979.
Let me finish with the issue of Local government which is part of federal control as you find in the constitution, Section 8, about adjusting the list of local government, describing the states, you remember that schedule in the constitution, which should not be there. It shouldn’t be there. Boundaries are described by survey coordinates not by the number or description of local government within the state. Some of them are still quarrelling over boundary. So that schedule should be removed completely from the constitution. Then bringing local government into distribution of finance is to me a way of enriching those states which have no oil. They now share in the oil booty to the detriments of the oil producing states. Let those who produce minerals enjoy the benefits of what God created within their states and if they want to give a part of it, then so be it. In America, it is a 100 per cent thing. That is federalism. So we have to look into judiciary to return it to federalism. You have to look into finance to ensure that those who produce the commodities or who consume those commodities should have a fair share of what they consume or produce within their state. Incidentally, federal has sufficient money; company income tax is a huge source of revenue for the federal government and they don’t share it with anybody. There are other income sources that can generate finance for the federal government. But the federal government has assumed too much.
Independent candidature which was part of the political system; the colonial government didn’t care whether you stood alone to contest local government elections in Lagos or elections under the Clifford Constitution of 1922 or 1946 Richard Constitution elections. But what we have now or what you and I voted for at the last election were political parties and not human beings. I don’t know who represents me in the National Assembly. He never came to me to seek my vote. We now vote for party dictatorship the like of which I can’t find anywhere in the world. The ballot papers show APC, PDP, UTC and I am supposed to put my thumb in one of them. That is also undemocratic. We should return to voting for individuals. Whether he scores ten votes at election, let it be. Let’s stop this party dictatorship. Finally, there is Section 6 Sub-Section 6 (d) in the constitution which to me enshrines Army Rule, which means you cannot question the decrees of the army in the court of law. It was inserted in the 1979 constitution and repeated in 1999. To me, that should be removed. It was not just memory of Army Rule, you cannot challenge the competence of the army to issue a decree. That is what that section says. To me, it is dangerous.
Now, land use decree issue started with the feeling that government was paying large sums of money for acquisition of land for public use. That was when the debate started that we should find a way to ensure that the government doesn’t pay too much money. If you had a road project, a large amount of money voted for that project goes into paying compensation for land owner even where there are no buildings or structures on the land. I was involved in trying to solve that problem but wasn’t part of the decree itself. Now, land use decree has a title to every inch of land in any state in the governor of that state for the benefit of people within the state. So it is nationalisation by the government. For instance, it’s really land tenure system in Northern Nigeria. Northern Nigeria, from time, land was owned in common. If you wanted land to build a house or for farming, you write to the authority for a plot of land. That was what the government of Obasanjo did, federal application that applied to the rest of the country. There is a section there, Section 49 which states that the title to every inch of land is owned by the state but land held by the federal government before the promulgation of the decree in 1978, such land would remain federal government land. What has happened over the years especially in Lagos State is that the federal government quarters for example, the quarters at Ikoyi, the title of the land is held by Lagos State under the Ikoyi Land Ordinance before Independence because legislature before 1960 had no power to pass legislation. It was order from Britain. From October 1, 1960, the Ordinance became an Act. It became Ikoyi Land Act. When Lagos State was created, Ikoyi Land Act was transferred to the new state to oversee, other lands that are outside Ikoyi: Land in Ikeja, Lagos Island, Yaba, Apapa and all the land held by the federal government as state government of Lagos federal territory. So State Land Act was also transferred to Lagos State Land Law, at that time edict. So the quarters in Ikoyi for instance, the title to the quarters is held by the Lagos State under the Lagos Ikoyi State Land Law. That is one aspect of the decree in which the federal government is still at fault, is still holding on to doggedly.
You talked extensively on fiscal federalism and the judiciary, I want you to look at the structure of the Nigerian federation. Beyond fiscal federalism, there are arguments that the structure itself has a problem. We moved from three to four regions. Under Gen. Gowon we moved to 12 states. Under Gen. Murtala we moved to 19 States and under Gen. Babangida we moved to 21 and now we have 36. If we add Abuja that makes it 37. The land mass has not increased, in fact, it has decreased because we ceded Bakassi. If you look at the states now some of them are not viable. Do we need 36 states?
You are now summing up the problems. We brought up finance, judiciary, now we are talking of the states. The word restructuring means different things to different people. But the fact remains that we need to restructure the polity. I have dealt extensively with what went wrong with finance because we have abandoned fiscal federalism. Now it is federal government takes all. Judiciary, federal government takes all because it is in command of everything largely. The states creation is us, aided by the military. Gowon’s 12 states structure was in answer to demands by nationalists at the conference in 1957 and 1958. Middle Belt wanted their own state, oil producing states; Calabar, Ogoja, Rivers Movement wanted their state. All at the conferences in London and another conference held in Lagos.
The Colonial government asked them to pick a choice – If you want Independence which you are demanding at first in 1959 which was later pushed to October 1, 1960, fine, but if you want creation of states or regions they were all demanding at that time, it would delay the granting of independence. That’s part of the record of the conferences at that time. But the oil states, the Middle Belt said they should go for independence. Borno, the Kanuris led by Ibrahim Imam and other stalwarts there too said they wanted independence because they were never captured by the Fulanis. They were Kanuris and Shua Arabs and they wanted their own separate region. So it was by agreement by the nationalists by that time that they should all embraced independence. Mid West was created in 1963 by the political opponent of Action Group – NPC, NCNC. What Gowon did in creating 12 states was to end the agitation against one region being larger in area and size than the rest part of the federation. That was Northern Region. The other parties apart from NPC did not like that. All the parties whether in government or out of government revolted against the North having more than 50 per cent representation in the National Assembly which they got in 1954. That was what they demanded at Ibadan Conference of political leaders in 1950, the first of its kind. Saudana said he would not repeat the mistake of 1914 if they were not given at least 50 per cent representation in the new National Assembly. There was that agitation that the North was too big. So Gowon answered that part. He also answered the agitation of the COR (Calabar, Ogoja, Rivers) State Movement. Incidentally, Sir Udo Udoma in his biography explained why the COR did not become a state. Instead you have River State for Ijaws, Kalabaris and South Eastern States for the Ibibos and Efiks. Then Tarka, Middle Belt, the Tivs were in armed revolt before independence which was crushed by the army. They didn’t want to be part of the Northern Region. They wanted a region of their own.
Then the Yorubas in Kwara also wanted to break away. Action Group fueled that fire. Just as Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe fueled the fire in Kano. Hausa largely led by Aminu Kano wanted his own state out of the North. What Gowon did after seizing power in 1967, not so much to break the backbone of Ojukwu, but to answer the demand by those who wanted new states. To me, that is the ideal situation as far as state creation is concerened. The Old Western Region minus Mid-West and minus part of Lagos Colony which came into being in 1861, that is Ikeja including Agege and Ikorodu, then Epe as a unit and Badagry as a unit; they were part of Lagos Colony before Nigeria was born. History had it that in the 50s, the Action Group was formed about 1950. There was a move of Lagos being marched with the Old-Western Region. Lagos which was about 100 years old as a colony operating separate administration.
There was agitation by Lagos people with a slogan ‘Gedegbe l’ Eko wa’. It means they are not part of Western region and entirely on their own and the first to be captured by the British. What the British did was to take out the town and it became city in 1952. They took it out of the Colony/ Province and left the remaining part of the colony in the West. General Gowon now returned the rest of the Colony; Epe, Badagry and Ikeja to Lagos as a colony entity to become a state.
The bulk of Yoruba speaking Nigerians were in the West. In fact, the bulk of Ibo speaking were in East Central State as a state. The North had been broken already. To me, creation of 12 states was a perfect fit for a federation, enjoying the benefit of finance as laid down in the 1963 constitution. But then Murtala came and everybody wants his local government, his village to be a state. In 2014, people still demanded creation of states to make it almost 60. The craze for creation of state creation also destroyed the federal structure of Nigeria. The more state you create the more powers you vest in the federal government. The money doesn’t grow according to your demands for states because it is the same amount of money you have, and now have the money distributed among 36 instead of 12.
Now, the cost of governance. Again, it is by us and not the army. We have the governor in each state, what do we have a deputy governor for? The governor must have an executive and where there is no work you create ministry. A state government which has little money has 15 ministries! Remember the governor must have numerous aides. I have a paper from an executive committee in 2005. I had the paper from Aso Rock. Obasanjo had, maybe including some top people, 87 aides, one paper read 86 aides.
(Cuts in) Some state governors now have 3,000 aides…
Precisely. And now the money you have, you create this huge bureaucracy. Mark you the judiciary, the judges will still have their salaries. The judges, the judicial officers, the bailiffs down to the messengers would earn their salaries. Then you have the House of Assembly, the ‘Rt. Honourable.’ Incidentally, Rt. Honourable is English honour. There were only two Nigerians who were conferred by Queen Elizabeth of England as Rt. Honorable Members of the Privy Council. Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, when he became governor general, and Sir Adetokunbo Ademola. Today, every Tom, Dick and Harry now carry Rt. Honourable and even the council chairman and the councilor. So the whole thing has been bastardised. We used to have part-time councilors and now they are referring to themselves as Rt. Honourable and they also have their own personal assistants. So the cost of governance is a problem which politicians have created and not the Army. So there is no money to pay the public servant. The money has shrunk, which began in 1979 up to the present constitution. As I said, the Yorubas could have kept to their Western State, Ibos should have kept to their East Central State and no need for Abia, Enugu States and so on. Now, see the number of governors they have and the number of bureaucracies they have created. All for nothing but vanity. To me, the states should merge if you want Nigeria to be great, if you want Nigeria we as young persons in those days fought for on the streets of London. I can’t see that in Nigeria now but I believe it will come somehow, may be after my lifetime.
How do you see the proposition of the South-west when they suggested eight regions?
They are confused. I looked at the position on the internet, just like those who talked about six zones. CL Temple who was number two to Lord Lugard in 1913 before the amalgamation. recommended the division of Nigeria into six zones almost like what we have. The maps are there and the sketches are there. I will show you. So all the talks about six zones had been in existence for over a century. If Temple had won, division of Nigeria into six instead of Northern and Southern Protectorates, Nigeria could have been a different place. There could have been no big region dominating the rest of the country. But that was not to be. What is dangerous in this idea of zoning is that it doesn’t answer the description of federalism. They want states to remain, they want zones and you still have federal. That is not federalism. Federalism as we all know is a group of states, in America colonies, that came together and said we can’t run independent colonies and said let’s come together and cede part of our power to one central body while those states still remain viable by keeping what they have. And they gave to federal what they think they need to run the federal government. But now the federal has taken everything and now dishes out what they suggest to the National Assembly. So the six zones is a non-starter, it is not part of the constitution and cannot be part of the constitution of a federal entity. It is either you have six zones or states or regions but you can’t have the three: federal, zones and states. It means each zone will now have head of government. It would have its own cabinet, they must pass legislation. It is a huge cost and this is not even federalism. I was surprised that my friends who gathered and also my late friend, Alex Ekwueme, whom I tackled that what he was suggesting was not federalism. I read the report of their meetings and said no, they are not talking about federalism.
For about seven years, you were Federal Commissioner for Works and Housing. Today, the state of our infrastructure – power, road, housing – is pathetic. When you look at the state of infrastructure today, how do you feel and drawing from your experience, what do you think is responsible for this and how can we get out of the problem?
I feel very sad. I was Federal Commissioner for Works and Housing for seven years and seven months under Gen. Gowon administration and because of the army rule, we were also the legislature. We pass laws and execute the laws. I met about 7,000 miles of federal roads. I left about 20,000 to 21,000 miles of roads. The roads taken over at the request of the state governors to take over their own Trunk B roads. At the time I left most of the roads were either under construction or rehabilitation had been completed or construction was about to begin.
I am still proud of that record. First of all, a road with heavy traffic needs rehabilitation or reconstruction after 15 or 20 years of use. Unfortunately, the governments after Gowon didn’t do much. I will excuse Murtala/Obasanjo government because the roads were new. I will also excuse President Shagari who incidentally provided money when he was Federal Commissioner for Finance in my time. Gen. Buhari who overthrew Shagari should have done some planning about repairing the roads. But the government I blame most for breakdown of roads is Gen. Babangida , Abacha and also Obasanjo who followed Abacha. Gen. Abdulsalami only spent a year. They did very little to repair, rehabilitate not to talk of reconstruction of these roads for years; from 70s to late 80s and 90s until recently when the federal government is paying attention to road repairs. So for 30 years these roads were left as they were. The same with buildings such as states and federal secretariats. When I travel round by road, I use newspapers to cover my face because I don’t want to see the rots. I feel it in the potholes and because of the discomfiture. Past administrations didn’t care about the roads. I was pleasantly surprised when I travelled by road to Benin. It was the exception that I could make in this part of the country to see Ore-Benin Expressway about three or four years ago. I was happy that the road had just been reconstructed. That was all. The roads from Port Harcourt to Enugu, Enugu-to Otukpo, Otukpo-Jos no repair. The road from Calabar to Yola to Maiduguri, one of my roads, no repair. The road from Warri, Benin, Auchi , Kotonkarfi, Abuja, no repair. Lagos -Ibadan Expressway is been under repairs for how many years now and it is still what it is. That road, I started the construction but wasn’t completed before I left. It was completed soon after. You know its state. Shagamu-Benin, Ibadan-Ilorin-Jebba-Kontangora-Kaduna-Kano. Ilorin-Lokoja and so on. It’s criminal neglect by these governments. Well, in Lagos we all suffer the bad state of the road. The federal road from the old Ports; Apapa-Iganmu nothing is happening. See what is happening to Eko Bridge. From the Stadium down to Ijora and down to Seven Up Junction to Apapa see what is happening. It’s been turned to a park.
The parcel of land we reserved for that project (Apapa-Seven Up to Iganmu for vehicles using the Ports to take away goods), the subsequent government turned it into a container park. It was designed as a park for vehicles to move to the Port by control mechanism. We made provision for canteens for drivers to buy food or even sleep overnight. It was part of the Apapa road project on the right hand side before you get to Mobil Oil. I don’t know if it still there. At that time import was not as heavy as what we have now. What government should have done was to create as many of such parks as possible so as to control the vehicles. They can still do it but they are not doing it. Thank God that the present government is now reconstructing the Apapa road under Dangote/Flour Mill partnership or concession. But this is one out of many. I blame Babangida and Abacha’s regime and Obasanjo for the neglect of Nigerian roads and the other governments which came in until four years ago. How do you want to grow your economy if there are no good roads? Railway is in comatose, they are trying to revive it. This could have been used to cart the cattle from the North instead of roads. So the economy suffers as a result of bad roads. It is not a matter of joy to see what you helped to create being destroyed.
It is interesting that you mentioned Obasanjo ‘s period. Incidentally, Obasanjo succeeded you as minister of Works after the overthrow of Gen. Gowon’s government in 1975. Looking back, as statesman and someone who had been in service, what would be your verdict in the eight years of Obasanjo administration?
Failure. Failure. Plus his three years as a military head of state. Failure. In sincerity, tell me what Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo can look back and say this is my legacy as head of state. Is it roads, energy or what?
(Cuts in) He said he produced 25 billionaires…
That shouldn’t have come from a head of state. You impoverished millions of people and you create or created 25 or so billionaires. Is that something he should be proud of? How about ordinary people? With all the money at his command. Some money which should have gone to the state government to use in education, in health, housing, the bulk of it were held on to. I have been asking the question what can Segun look back to and say this is what I did when I was in government? Not road, not housing. In federal hosuing I created Federal Mortgage Bank out of Nigerian Building Society. What money are they giving the federal mortgage bank to help ordinary Nigerians to help ordinary Nigerians to borrow money to build houses in different part of the country? And not even power, the exclusive federal concern. He spent or wasted millions of dollars. What is the result? South Africa has 50,000 megawatts and we are still struggling with less than 7,000. We are on generator now. I have two generators and I have inverter. And we buy electricity, so if NEPA or what do they call it now comes fine, if it doesn’t come, too bad. I hear he says telecoms. My land telephone doesn’t work. They’ve killed it. In Europe, land telephone is part of the package. What happened to Post and Telegraph? It was killed. What did he make of that? I learnt he says he brought mobile phone. Before it became popular in Nigeria, stewards in Dahomey were using GSM. So he didn’t create this technology. What else can you say he did in his time? I can’t find.
(Cuts in) He fought corruption, created the EFCC
Well, he created EFCC, but as people said, he protected his own friends. As a friend of his I can’t see what he can look back and say honestly this is what I did when I was president. Not much. Finally, He created these problems. 1979 Constitution. He killed federalism.
On a final note, this interview was shifted at your request and the reason was that you wanted to watch a football match. Can you tell us about your passion for football and how you developed interest in that team? Also on a critical note, don’t you see it as concealed cultural imperialism that as a notable member of Nigerian elite you are also part of the obsession for European League when the local league is not developed?
Let me put it this way. When I was young I was a sports man. I was fortunate to be selected as a member of Nigerian Hockey Team, the first team to play international match against the Gold Coast (Ghana). There were two of us, myself and a classmate. We played Hockey in the 1952 team against the Gold Coast. I developed that interest even at primary school because I took part in the Empire Day primary school competition in 440 yards athletics. So my interest in sports I acquired when I was in primary school and it was heightened when I was at Kings College. I played Hockey, cricket, and not even football. To your question, I became a fan of Arsenal because of one person, Dennis Compton, a great cricketer. The cricketer monthly magazine rates him as No. 7 in their all-time greats in England where Cricket started. Debonair cricketer. About the time I was at Kings, Compton didn’t only play cricket for his country but also played for Arsenal. And at school our History Master used to buy Daily Telegraph regularly, and as a school Librarian in my time he would give me a copy after reading and I would read and put it in the library for other students.
Let me answer your charge. I was Vice President of Nigerian Olympic Committee. So, I was very much interested in Nigerian sports. That book “Engaging with History”, would show you a chapter: ‘The glorious sports in Nigeria.’ I played Hockey for Nigeria in 1952 and 1954. I sponsored Hockey, All Nigerian Hockey Competition, and All Male Hockey Competition in Lagos State. But I found that the Hockey Federation and Sports Administration are not really interested in what they are supposed to do. It is bickering, money to travel and the government interference in Hockey has killed the interest of people in sports. It should not be Nigeria struggling to raise Olympics Team when in 1996 in Atlanta , and I was there when the Nigerian football team conquered the world in First. Ajunwa, I saw her take Gold in Long Jump, Oshikoya, now a street named after her. In terms of international competition, that was Nigeria’s greatest triumph. So in terms of watching and being interested in Sports in Nigeria, I count myself as one of those who helped to develop sports generally. But the governance of these various sports administration has been found wanting largely because of government interference. Now, if sports is not being developed in your country and as a sports man, for longevity and as a past time to relief me of the wahala. I watch Nigerian team play. The other time. unfortunately, we lost to Morocco. The Moroccans were better than Nigerian team at this last competition. I tried to watch some, not all. I don’t’ follow the local football league but when it comes to Nigeria going outside the country, I am for that. So Arsenal , we are not where we should be. We shouldn’t be No. 6 in Premier League. But it has had its own glorious days and there are glorious days ahead.