Agbakoba Explains Preference for Cooperative Federalism

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Olisa Agbakoba

Akinwale Akintunde

A former President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Mr. Olisa Agbakoba SAN, has clarified his recent proposal for a new development model, called cooperative federalism.

He said in Lagos yesterday that he preferred the political system he was advocating because it was focused on the people.

Agbakoba had last week, while presenting a document titled, ‘Legal and Institutional Restructuring for Next Nigeria’ at a press conference in Lagos, said political federalism or by its more popular name “restructuring” might be the way to go, but it had been misunderstood.

He said the agitation for restructuring by sub-national groups was causing harm to the country “because President Muhammadu Buhari does not believe in it.”

He called for the suspension of the agitation for the political restructuring of the country and proposed the new model of Cooperative Federalism.

However, some ethnic nationalities, like Afenifere, and Southern and Middle Belt Leaders Forum have rejected Agbakoba’s proposal, saying that restructuring was the only way to move the country out of its current crisis.

Clarifying his position on the proposed new development model yesterday, the senior lawyer said he was not surprised about the controversy the issue was generating and the name-calling in some quarters.
He said people made choices for reasons and his choice of cooporative federalism was based on many factors.

According to him, his choice of calling for the suspension of the campaign for the restructuring of Nigeria and proposing cooperative federalism are based on such a factor as the declining of the standard of living in Nigeria.

He said inasmuch as he believed in the ultimate goal of restructuring, other steps could lead to it.
“I was not surprised about the controversies. People like Yinka Odumakin and in fact, most of the ethnic sub-nationalities kicked against it and have called me all kinds of names that I’m tongue quote, a traitor and all that. So, I said no I’m not.

“But I’m a realistic flexible activist. And I just said to myself for instance, that have I attacked Yinka Odumakin for leaving Buhari? He must have his reasons because people make choices. And so I have made a choice based on a lot of factors.

“Most important factors for which I have made a choice is based on declines of the standard of living in Nigeria. I have made a choice because I see that government response is extremely poor and I have made a choice knowing that inasmuch as I believe in the ultimate goal of restructuring, there are other steps that can lead to it.

“I have made a choice going back to what Thambo Mbeki advised me at the airport when I met him in Abuja in 1989 and in Lagos 1989. I’ve made a choice based on the demands placed on the federal government by the civil societies with the complete exclusion of the state governments is not understandable and I have made a choice because the state governors are not as helpless as we think,” he added.

Agbakoba explained that if the idea of cooperative federalism or restructuring is about people, he did not see why anyone should insist that it is either this or nothing.

According to him, the country has followed this part before with the issue of Sovereign National Conference and Government of National Unity where people insisted that it was either these two or nothing.

“When I was going to grant an interview recently, I decided to reread the constitution and I was shocked that governors are not as helpless – that governors can build roads, hospitals, power stations, and virtually everything.

“There are areas of course that governors cannot do like federal roads, solid minerals and this is where the principle of cooperative federalism comes in. If there is East-West road that covers three or four states, why can’t the federal government in cooperation with those states get the programme done? Because if the idea of cooperative federalism or restructure is about people I don’t see any reason why anyone should say it is either this or nothing.

“We had tread this part before with the issue of Sovereign National Conference and Government of National Unity and we stood firm that without these two nothing else. We are having the same problem with restructuring.

“So, my clarification is that I hope that the time will come when we would move to the stage of restructuring but to the extent that we don’t have it the limited space that Governor Rotimi Akeredolu has to have cooperative federalism with the federal government to explore the bitumen in his state. But his people are not making demands. Ondo is a poor state but they have one of the world’s richest bitumen; Enugu is a poor state but they have one of the world’s richest reserve of coals, Ebonyi is a poor state but they have one of the best salt mines valued at about N14 billion. So, is it not good that we make demands not only on the federal government but also on the state governments? What stops you from cooperating with the federal government to harness these things?

“Look at police – everytime governors are complaining but under the National Police Council, all the 36 state governors play a role in picking the Inspector General of Police but they had never summoned a meeting since 1998 yet they complain. So, this is cooperative federalism that the states and the president come together to provide institutions for Nigeria,” Agbakoba said.