His, is a classical example of grass to grace. Starting out in 1970 as a Typist Grade III to being a Court Clerk, Administrative Officer, Qualifying as a Lawyer, Assistant Lecturer, Chartered Arbitrator, General Counsel, Senior Advocate of Nigeria and Acting Director-General of Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, Professor Paul Oboarenegbe Idornigie, SAN went down memory lane in a chat with Onikepo Braithwaite and Jude Igbanoi, narrating the odyssey of his life as he reaches the platinum age of 70, while commenting on the present state of the nation
Congratulations Prof or should we say ‘Lord Obingo’, on the occasion of this milestone of your Platinum Jubilee. We wish you a happy birthday, longer life in good health and prosperity. You have had an interesting career, from starting out as a Typist Grade III in 1970 to becoming a Senior Advocate of Nigeria in 2015, a Professor and the Acting DG of NIALS in 2019. Indeed, you an inspiration to many, that irrespective of your beginnings, you can achieve your greatest dreams with focus, dedication and hard work. How would you say your journey has been so far? Is there anything more that you want to do, or is it time for you to just sit back and relax after such a hectic 50 years or so?
Let me start by thanking you for this interview. Yes, the 50 years look like yesterday. Paradoxically, when I started in March 1970, I had no idea of how I would proceed nor end. However, it has been a journey that was divinely packaged, as every stage prepared me for another. I call the stages ‘turning points’. One such turning point was leaving Auchi High Court for the University of Benin. That was a major decision, as I was a ‘big boy’ at Auchi and nicknamed myself ‘Lord Obingo of the High Court’. Other than working in the court, I had no idea that I would read law and become an arbitrator (like a Judge). So, today when I am conducting arbitral proceedings and Counsel refers to me as ‘My Lord’, I say to myself, I was probably a Nostradamus, the 16th century French Astrologer and Seer who saw tomorrow. I have changed jobs severally from Auchi High Court to the University of Benin, University of Jos, Federal Ministry of Works & Housing, Nigerian Law School, Bureau of Public Enterprises, until I finally bowed out at the Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies in November 2020 where I acted as a Head of Department, Director of Research and Acting Director General. In retrospect, it has been an academically and financially fulfilling journey. I have also trained my children up to at least Masters level in the United Kingdom, while one has a doctorate degree already, and another will complete the doctoral programme this year. I attribute all this to God Almighty. He takes the glory and honour. Is it time to sit down and relax? That is a tough one for a Legal Practitioner and Law Teacher. I think that our oath seems to be ‘till death do us part’. I still feel that I have enough gas in my tank. So, it is not time to sit back and relax yet, otherwise, I will be bored. I still enjoy writing and from my secretarial background, I do not need a secretary nor personal assistant. Thus, my first draft is usually a typescript.
As a Lecturer in the Nigerian Law School, what subjects did you teach? Your students affectionately nicknamed you ‘In Charge’, and you didn’t seem to mind. What is the origin of this nickname and why did you feel so comfortable with it? How would you compare the standard of the Law School then to now? Has its decentralisation affected the standard of education and the Lawyers that are churned out of there? A lot has definitely changed since your time at the Law School, especially the grading system which sees what some say is an over-production of 1st Class graduates every year, raising doubts in the minds of some about the credibility of these grades. Kindly, comment on this.
In terms of imparting knowledge, I think that teaching at the Nigerian Law School was the peak of my academic career. I taught the Law of Evidence and Company Law & Practice. The two subjects were part of me: I knew all the sections and cases in the Law of Evidence, and I knew substantially the same thing in the Companies & Allied Matters Act (CAMA). How did the nickname ‘In Charge’ come about? At that time, I was so confident of myself, that I told the students that I taught law as it was as at the day of the lecture; that even if they made a first-class in UNN, Uniben, Unijos, Unilag or any other University, for the two subjects, I was in charge as I represented the law. You know there is academic arrogance, especially if you are on top of your game. I do not think that any student at that time, doubted my credentials and claims. In terms of standards, when I was there (1997-2004), the standards were really high.
At the moment, I think that the problem is not that of decentralisation per se, but a problem of falling standards of education generally. The consequence is that mediocrity has been entrenching mediocrity – poorly baked students became teachers, and only had footnote knowledge. So, when you produce students with poor background from the secondary school through University, there is little that the Law School can do in one session. Regarding the grading system, when we were there, it was very rigorous and we had several external markers, but there were complaints then about the grading system. I think that the change has led to the production of many first-class students. Though, I still believe that the Law School has a mechanism, to ensure that standards are always maintained.
You are a well-known Chartered Arbitrator. As arbitration practice gradually continues to deepen in Nigeria, worries have been expressed as to the proliferation of arbitration bodies. Today, there are at least three chartered institutes, all struggling for prominence. Under these circumstances, how can we ensure cohesion in arbitration practice in Nigeria, especially as Nigerians do not seem to consider the arbitral awards final and binding as they are supposed to be? What can be done to make arbitration more popular in Nigeria, especially as it’s a much quicker process than litigation, and also as a means as decongesting the courts?
I know of two Chartered Institutes in Nigeria, one Nigerian and the other global. I belong to the global body. I do not think that we are struggling for prominence, as our international standing towers over and above others. Ours is the world’s leading qualifications and professional body for dispute avoidance and dispute management. I liken our position to that of ICAN and ANAN. We have tried to unite, but we ended up in court. It is ridiculous that evangelists winning souls for arbitration, are in court. In my view, some of the users of arbitration in this country are to blame, for not according arbitration its pride of place. Arbitration is effective and efficient, especially if the process is driven by an expert. The relationship between the parties and the arbitrators, is contractual. Thus, there is a duty on the parties to carry out their bargains. For example, how can you voluntarily draft a contract with a clause on arbitration, and when arbitral proceedings are efficiently and professionally conducted but the final award is not in your favour, you will be looking for a ground to apply to court to set aside the award, and sometimes courts are ready and willing to indulge such applicants? We, at the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators, UK have trained Lawyers and Judges. We will continue to train them, to appreciate the attributes of arbitration.
It is interesting to state that on 26th May, 2017, Hon Justice W S N Onnoghen, GCON as the Chief Justice of Nigeria, directed the Heads of Courts to issue Practice Directions on Arbitral Clauses in Commercial Contracts. My Lord proposed, inter alia, that
(a) no court shall entertain an action instituted to enforce a contract or claim damages arising from a breach thereof, in which the parties have, by consent, included an arbitration clause, and without first ensuring that the clause is invoked and enforced;
(b) that courts must insist on enforcement of the arbitration clause by declining jurisdiction, and award substantial costs against parties engaged in the practice;
(c) that a party who institutes an action in court to enforce breach of contract containing an arbitration clause without first invoking the clause, is, himself, in breach of the said contract, and ought not be encouraged by the courts.
I am convinced that, if such Practice Directions are issued and enforced, our standing in arbitral practice will be enhanced. Currently, arbitration is treated like a first step to litigation. It should not be so. It ought to be a stand-alone alternative, especially for pure commercial transactions. Be that as it may, we will keep engaging the lawyers, judges and other users of the process.
What are your plans as you retire? Where would you likely tilt more towards, Academics or Arbitration and law practice?
Teaching is a job I love. This is interesting, because I rose to the level of a Senior Assistant Registrar in the Registry of the University of Jos before I moved over to the Faculty of Law as an Assistant Lecturer. However, the problem with teaching especially for a professional, is the salary structure, conditions of service, facilities and environment. For instance, how many public tertiary institutions in Nigeria can conduct teaching online? In this digital age, coupled with the Covid-19 pandemic, this is the way to go. It is regrettable that because of this pandemic and the strike action embarked by academic staff, we have lost over a year since early 2020. Secondly, how I wish that ‘my take home pay will take me home’. If this happens, I can assure you that many academic staff will not do any other thing other than to teach, research and carry out community service. I think that we are yet to accord teaching its pride of place, in the scheme of things in Nigeria. In the face of unemployment, I am amazed that at 70 years, more offers of employment are made to me. As a Catholic, I have decided to accept and continue teaching at Veritas University, Bwari, Abuja. Since the pay and pension scheme of tertiary institutions are miserable, I will continue to practice arbitration, law and be involved in consultancies. I know that some practicing Lawyers argue that a public officer including a law teacher can only teach and farm, otherwise there will be a breach of the Code of Conduct. I do not share this view. I do not believe that we should produce only academic teachers especially those in the professions, but teachers with practical experience. I concede that some of my colleagues abuse this by spending more time in their private offices than the classrooms. I think that this should be regulated by the individual employers, rather than a blanket ban. I want to state unequivocally that, the day that law teachers are prevented from practicing law, some law classrooms may be empty.
The fees charged by the Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies (NIALS) have been criticised as being too exorbitant and beyond the reach of the average Nigerian Lawyer, depriving many the opportunity to enjoy the rich research resources of the Institute. How, in your view, can this be reviewed?
I disagree completely, that the fees charged by NIALS are exorbitant. Some of those canvasing this position attend courses abroad, and pay more for materials not as rich as ours. NIALS is the apex of legal education in Nigeria. It is very rich. At the last count, it had five Senior Advocates, several professors, associate professors and PhD holders and still counting. Despite these resources available at NIALS, the fees charged are reasonable, competitive and fairly compatible with what is charged in similar foreign institutions.
You were at the Bureau of Public Enterprises as General Counsel. Criticisms trailed the BPE and its activities. It was accused of selling the nation’s choice flourishing enterprises for a pittance to cronies of those in government, through fronts. To what extent is this true?
I feel sad when I hear such complaints about BPE, especially with regards to ‘flourishing public enterprises’. Can someone mention such flourishing enterprises? I think that commercialisation, privatisation and restructuring of the Nigerian economy should be put a context. These activities are essentially in three phases – phase one (1988-1993); phase two (1993-1999); and phase three (1999 till present). I think that there is the need to examine the public enterprises privatised in the first phase. They were essentially public enterprises already quoted, and therefore, the main privatisation method was through the capital market. It was easy to deal with the enterprises in the first phase because they were incorporated entities – the commercial banks (Savannah Bank of Nigeria Limited, Union Bank of Nigeria Limited, United Bank for Africa Limited, etc.), oil marketing companies (Unipetrol, National Oil and Chemical Company Limited, African Petroleum Limited, etc), air and sea travel companies, fertiliser companies, paper mills, sugar companies, cement companies and motor vehicles and truck assembly companies. The choice of sale through the capital market was informed by the need to ensure wider share ownership in Nigeria, and the desire to extend the frontiers and depth of the Nigeria capital market.
The method of privatisation adopted in the second phase, was offer for sale or private placement. Nothing much was achieved in this phase, because of the fall out of the first phase. There was alleged imbalance in the distribution of shares, between the Northern and Southern States. Besides, it was not clear whether the Abacha regime favoured the programme. However, attempts were made at commercialisation and conclusion of performance agreements, with little or no success.
The third phase presented its own challenges, as the focus was on core economic infrastructure. One can say that the first phase dealt with flourishing enterprises, as the banks and oil companies were already listed in the Stock Exchange. The bulk of the enterprises in the third phase needed to be reformed and/or restructured before privatisation. The public enterprises included NITEL, NEPA, the Refineries in Port Harcourt, Kaduna and Warri, fertiliser companies, machine tools, mining and solid minerals sector, steel and aluminium sector, media companies and transport and aviation companies, among others. For instance, NEPA, NITEL, NNPC, NICON and NPA being statutory companies could not be sold through the capital market, without reform and/or restructuring. The method of privatisation adopted in the third phase, therefore, was the core/strategic investor sale. A ‘strategic investor’ is a reputable investor or group of investors having the required technical expertise, managerial experience and financial capacity to effectively manage the public enterprise. There was therefore, the need to reform these statutory bodies before privatisation. The National Council on Privatisation (NCP) under the leadership of His Excellency, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, GCON established several steering committees, including the Oil and Gas Sector Implementation Committee (OGIC), the Telecom Sector Implementation Committee, Electric Power Sector Implementation Committee and the Steering Committee on Competition and Anti-Trust Reform. All these Committees were inaugurated between 2000 and 2001.
The OGIC midwifed the drafting of the Petroleum Industry Bill that is still before the National Assembly. Indeed, the first draft was done in 2006/7. The Telecom Sector Implementation Committee midwifed the passage into law of the Nigerian Communications Commission Act, 2003; the Electric Power Sector Implementation Committee drafted the Electric Power Sector Reform Act, 2005, and the first draft of the Federal Competition Commission Bill that was later changed to the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Bill was drafted by the Steering Committee on Competition and Anti-Trust Reform as far back as 2005. During the privatisation programme, it was found that the pension benefits of staff were denied, and indeed, the funds were misappropriated partly because the schemes were non-contributory. The NCP/BPE also drafted the Pension Reform Act, 2004 under the direction of the Steering Committee on Pensions Reform in Public Enterprises in Nigeria. The Steering Committee on Solid Mineral Sector supervised the drafting of the Minerals and Mines Act 2007.
Other than these laws, the NCP/BPE drafted the Ports & Harbours Bill, the Nigerian Railway Authority Bill, the Nigerian Postal Commission Bill, the National Transport Commission Bill, the National Roads Fund Bill, the Federal Roads Bill and the National Inland Waterways Authority Bill. What am I trying to explain? The NCP/BPE seem to be known for sale of public enterprises, than the reform activities it has carried out. I can say this because I was involved – I was in BPE between 2002 and 2009, and was General Counsel between 2004 and 2009. Thus, I was involved in all transactions.
One question that is never asked is the state of the public enterprises prior to privatisation. Were they functioning? Were they in operation? I will start with the Aluminium Smelter Company at Ikot Abasi, Akwa Ibom State. At the time of privatisation, it was still under construction; the FGN had spent over $3 billion and it was still under construction, and yet the cost of a new plant world wide was less than $1bn; Delta Steel, Warri was not fully operational; Ajaokuta Steel Rolling Mill, Itakpe Iron Ore company and all the steel rolling mills in Jos, Katsina and Osogbo, was partly shut down; Eleme Petrochemical at Port Harcourt was partly shut, if not fully shut down; the fertiliser company in Port Harcourt had more liabilities than assets; all the motor assembly plants in Ibadan, Lagos, Kaduna and Bauchi were shut down, or partly shut down; the ports were mismanaged as the NPA was landlord, manager and provider of port services. I can go on and on.
The point I am trying to make is that, few public enterprises were actually flourishing at the time of privatisation. In this category, we have NICON Hilton, but certainly not the power sector or the telecoms sector. We all remember NEPA, NITEL and NPA of old. So, in the case of these utility companies – the economic infrastructure, sufficient reform had to be done before privatisation. The way I used to describe it is like ‘trying to transform an ugly duckling into a swan’. No investor was ready to touch our railways or airways. Indeed, the Nigeria Airways was dead before privatisation. We had to liquidate it because of its debt overhang. For me, it was a gloomy picture. My service as General Counsel gave me the opportunity to have a panoramic view of the Nigerian economy as a whole – how public enterprises were established and mismanaged over the years. Other than being the General Counsel, I was also the Head of Secretariat (Company Secretary), and so was Secretary to the Management Committee and Assistant Secretary to the NCP from 2003 to 2009.
I was involved in the preparation and drafting of documents used for privatisation – Advertisement for Expression of Interest, Non-Disclosure and Confidentiality Agreement, Request for Proposals, Share Sale/Purchase Agreement, Concession Agreement, Lease Agreement, Asset Sale Agreement, Shareholders’ Agreement, Disclosure Letters, pre-contract Agreements (eg MOU), Power Purchase Agreement, Gas Sale Agreement, etc. We carried out due diligence on all potential investors especially in a core investor sale.
Now what is the success story? Look at Eleme Petrochemicals and Transcorp Hilton. I am very proud to have been involved in the privatisation of Eleme Petrochemicals and Transcorp Hilton. but sad that NITEL failed several times. When NITEL was sold to Transcorp, Transcorp had British Telecoms as its technical partner. When you are evaluating a company in the telecoms sector, and you see BT, what else are you looking for? Unfortunately, as soon as the Share Sale/Purchase Agreement was signed, Transcorp and BT had issues and hence the failure of the transaction. I must stress that BPE is one of the most organised and efficient statutory companies in Nigeria. The privatisation methods and processes are world class. However, it is accountable to the political class. Even if there is political interference, it is minimal as the processes do not allow that. I do not think that anybody will refer to the DISCOs and GENCOs as flourishing public enterprises, being creations out of the acclaimed inefficient NEPA.
Whenever, I hear about this claim of sale to cronies, I often ask to be told of the enterprise so sold. I remember very well that, Eleme Petrochemicals was comatose before privatisation in 2006. As soon as it was discovered that it had been turned around and was making profits and declaring dividends, there were calls for revocation of the sale. Like I said, what was the state of Eleme Petrochemicals before privatisation?
Even after restructuring, all the attempts to list the shares of Sheraton Hotels & Towers and Nigerdock Plc on the Stock Exchange failed, because they could not meet the listing requirements. NCP/BPE succeeded in privatising Port Harcourt and Kaduna Refineries in 2006/2007 to the Dangote Group, but due to pressure on the Government, the investors requested for the purchase consideration which they had paid. Can you imagine if we had privatised these two plants in 2008, whether the issue of fuel subsidy will still arise today?
Whether we like it or not, globally, the last three decades have witnessed a fundamental shift in the paradigm of infrastructure delivery around the world. Governments in industrial and developing countries alike, are retreating from owning and operating infrastructure, and are focusing on regulating and facilitating infrastructure delivery services by private firms. It is often said that around the world, the governments perform three main functions: they tax, they spend and they regulate and of all these functions, regulation is the least understood. So, it is in Nigeria.
In Nigeria, we started with the passage of the NCC Act in 2003 with a single regulator. The Electric Power Sector Reform (EPSR) Act 2005 also has a single regulator, even though licences are granted for generation and transmission, but in the draft Petroleum Industry Bill before the NASS, it would seem that Government has completely misunderstood the concept of an independent regulator. First, I do not support the establishment of two regulators (upstream and downstream) for one sector. I will, for regulatory certainty, prefer one regulator. Second, I do not support the powers given to the Minister of Petroleum Resources, to grant and revoke licences on the recommendation of the regulators. The powers to grant and revoke should reside in the regulatory body, as in the NCC Act and EPSR Act. For me, the vesting of enormous powers on the Minister of Petroleum, is like two steps forward and five steps backward. We should not be looking at individuals when drafting, but strong institutions. I am commenting on the PIB, because the first draft was done by OGIC when I was General Counsel in BPE.
How would you rate the CAMA 2020, especially in comparison to its predecessor? Does it really have innovations that will assist the ease of doing business in Nigeria?
I consider myself a lucky and privileged person in many respects. I started with Company Law, 1968, then CAMA 1990 and now CAMA 2020. CAMA 1990 is a product of the Nigerian Law Reform Commission, as can be seen from their Report of 7th April, 1988. CAMA 1990 was revolutionary, as it codified many common law and equitable provisions. In December 2015, I led a team of Consultants to carry a diagnostic review of laws relevant to the business environment, identify legislative gaps or deficiencies and make recommendations. In February 2016, our Report titled ‘Comprehensive Review of the Institutional, Regulatory, Legislative & Associated Instruments Affecting Businesses in Nigeria’ (now referred to as the ‘Idornigie Report’) was ready and presented to the National Assembly on 21st March, 2016.
In 2016, Nigeria was rated 169th out of 189 countries in the Doing Business Report, 2016. In our Report, we identified the reasons why our ranking was that low focusing on the 11 areas in the lifecycle of a business which are tracked and measured as indicators, including starting a business, dealing with construction permits, getting electricity, among others. We recommended a review of the issue of minimum share capital, multiple directorship, definition of small companies, formation of a company, capital reduction, statutory filings, amongst others. The Nigerian Law Reform Commission had also done some work on the reform of CAMA 1990.
Prior to the passage of the CAMA 2020, most of our recommendations were already being implemented, and these reflected the improvement in our ranking in Ease of Doing Business. Also, prior to CAMA 1990, incorporated trustees was regulated by The Land (Perpetual Succession) Act, 1958. The provisions of this Act became Part C of CAMA 1990. However, Sections 823-848 (Part F) of CAMA 2020 deal with Incorporated Trustees. While CAMA 1990 was an improvement on Companies Act, 1968, CAMA 2020 is also an improvement on CAMA 1990. All the recommendations in the Idornigie Report, amongst others, were captured in CAMA 2020.
The innovations in CAMA 2020 include provision of single member/shareholder companies; introduction of statement of compliance; replacement of authorised share capital with minimum share capital; procurement of a common seal is no longer a mandatory requirement; provision for electronic filing, electronic share transfer and e-meetings for private companies; provision for virtual Annual General Meeting; exemption from appointing auditors; exemption from the appointment of a company secretary; creation of limited partnerships; reduction in filing fees and registration of charges; restriction on multiple directorships of public companies; business rescue provisions for insolvent companies and enhancement of minority shareholder protection. They will certainly improve doing business in Nigeria.
However, Section 839 of CAMA 2020 dealing with suspension of trustees, has remained controversial. The section provides for the suspension of trustees under certain conditions, and their replacement with interim managers. The question is who will be interim managers? Can the CAC act unilaterally or seek a court order, before making such appointment? It is noteworthy that these provisions are similar to those of the Charities Act of the UK, 2011 (Section 76). In the UK, we have a Charities Commission, but in Nigeria, the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) carries similar functions, among other statutory functions. Whereas in the Charities Act of the UK, the Charities Commission can suspend a trustee after instituting an inquiry under subsection (1) of the Act, subsection (7) of Section 839 simply provides that the CAC can suspend after an enquiry into the affairs of the Association. I think that the CAC should re-visit Section 839 of CAMA, and streamline it with Section 76 of the UK Charities Act.
Our country seems to be in a state of total disarray. The security situation is at an all-time low, especially with the Boko Haram, kidnapping and the Herdsmen/Farmers crisis. What is your opinion about the steps that the Ondo State Governor has taken to fight insecurity in his State, and the response of the Bauchi State Governor, specifically with regard to justifying the Herdsmen bearing arms to ostensibly to protect themselves and their cattle, and his assertion that the forest reserves in Nigeria belong to all, so the Herdsmen have a right to be there? Do you think the appointment of the new Service Chiefs will make the difference that Nigerians are expecting? What about the role of the Police in all this? Is the Police doing enough? Do you see any way out of this conundrum?
I agree that we are like a ship without a captain. Everybody is pulling apart. I really do not believe that a public officer like a Governor of a State, would make a pronouncement like the Governor of Bauchi State did in relation to carrying of arms. I am 70 years old. I was born at a time when there was order in this country, and we were ruled by enlightened and educated politicians. It would seem that being a politician now, is licence to lie and act illegally and unconstitutionally with impunity. We now have politicians, forging ordinary school certificate to run for a political office. I am aware that the many Governors are candidates of EFCC. I am aware that several ex-Governors who have retired to the Senate, are also candidates of EFCC. I ask myself, how did we get to this level that this is the calibre of leaders that we have? Is this the country that we had the Aminu Kanos, Azikiwes, Awolowos, Okparas, Enahoros, Ahmadu Bellos and in the same Bauchi State, Alhaji Abubakar Tafawa Balewa? Do these public officers weigh the consequences of their public utterances? What I also find is that, the level of impunity is so high that even when treasonable felonies are committed or there are constitutional breaches, there is no sanction.
The question is, who will call the Governors to order? Nobody, I mean nobody. They are not accountable to any body, because most of them rigged themselves into Government House instead of the real Government House at Kuje or Kirikiri. That is where they belong. The Governor of Bauchi State, ought to know better.
In the case of Ondo State, there are fundamental issues here. The Land Use Act, 1978 which is part of the Constitution, vests all lands on the Governors. To that extent, as the trustee of the people of Ondo State, there is a duty on the Governor to protect his people. The Constitution provides for freedom of movement. This right is not absolute, as it is qualified under Sections 41(1)(a) and 45 of the Constitution pursuant to a law that is reasonably justifiable in a democratic society. Under the Constitution, therefore, there must be a law restricting or derogating from this fundamental right to freedom of movement. A community reading of the provisions in the Land Use Act and Sections 41 and 45 of Constitution, is that the Governor can by law restrict the movement of the Herdsmen for the purpose of protecting the rights and freedom of other persons. More fundamentally, are the provisions in Sections 13 and 14 of the Constitution. All organs of government are obliged to comply with, observe and apply the provisions of Chapter II of the Constitution. In Section 14(2)(b), the primary purpose of government is to ensure the security and welfare of the people. To this extent, the Ondo State Government has a duty to ensure the security and welfare of the people of Ondo State.
Now, for an APC Government who promised security as one of its policies, I think that there is total failure here. Failure to provide security is a constitutional breach, and is impeachable. In the present dispensation who can impeach Mr President? Not this Senate filled up with what Lord Denning would call, ‘timorous souls’. I have never seen a Senate as docile and complacent as the present Senate. I see it as an extension of Aso Rock. We used to have such in State Assemblies, where Governors were like Garrison Commanders of their States, such that they can send a bill to the State Assembly in the morning and it is passed into law in the evening.
In the case of Service Chiefs, I have a fundamental question. First, can they assume duty without screening by Senate? Is this not fait accompli now? Who can dare challenge the process of recruitment of the Chiefs? Is this not impeachable?
Whether the new Chiefs will make a difference? I ask, what has changed, other than the officers? While I pray for them, I do not think so, especially when a retiring Chief says that it will take 20 years to clear Boko Haram. What a country!
In terms of the role of the Police, I think that morale must be low at the moment. How can an Inspector General of Police retire statutorily, and in the face of other eminent and qualified policemen, he is granted an extension? What is the basis of the extension? We did not know that he was due for retirement? What happens after the three months? So the Police Force will collapse without him?
The way out, is to have a Government that is sensitive to the yearnings of the people. It is called a democracy. This is certainly not a government of the people by the people and for the people. Many now see this government, as out to inflict pains on Nigerians. Certainly this is not the ‘change’ that we yearned for. How can one assert that the ‘forest reserves’ in Nigeria, belong to all? The Herdsmen have actually taken over Nigeria and hence, the assertion. One wonders how the arms and ammunition that are being used for kidnapping, were transported from across our borders to southern Nigeria. I think that the body language of the Federal Government has not helped matters – the Herdsmen own Nigeria. They maim, rape our women, kill and kidnap with impunity. Why won’t they claim that they own all the forests? I think that the Government should think seriously about empowering Nigerians to own guns, after proper due diligence on the applicants and registration of such guns. Such applicants should be duly licensed. This way, the Herdsmen will know what to expect, as they plan their attacks. Something drastic has to be done, and done urgently too in this regard, before we are fully colonised by the Herdsmen.
The country seems to be extremely divided on ethnic and religious levels, more so than it has possibly ever been, apart from during the Civil War. What do you believe is responsible for this? Though many Nigerians have criticised the Buhari administration for fuelling these divisions, others say that under the Jonathan administration, it was also a South- South affair. What can be done to stop this ethnic bitterness? It was this type of thing that fuelled the genocide in Rwanda. What must we do to stem this negative tide, before it spins fully out of control? Would the Federal Character provisions of the Constitution be of any use in this matter, if they were actually implemented?
We do not need a soothsayer to know that there is ethnic division in this country. Several government policies have facilitated this. Let’s start from the primary school. The cut-off-marks for the 36 States of the Federation is not the same for entry into Unity Schools, and yet they are called unity schools. In the Secondary School, the cut-off-mark for entry into the Universities, is not the same. I recall that in the 70s, in a bid to bridge the educational gap between the North South, remedial programmes were established in the Northern Universities. What has become of these programmes? They ought to have bridged the gap by now, as admission into the programmes was strictly for indigenes.
In the public service, there is the Federal Character Commission that continues with the discrimination against certain ethnic groups. As if this is not enough, we have a President who is totally indifferent to the ethnic imbalancing started from primary school. Look at the heads of Federal parastatals, the military and para-military. I think that this Government simply thrives in controversy – will not remove Service Chiefs even when they tenures had expired; will not remove EFCC Chairman even when the Senate has rejected him; will not sign the Electoral Act even when it is in the interest of democracy; will not appoint an IGP early enough but instead, extended an expired tenure in the face of opposition; will recommend the scandalised service chiefs as non-career ambassadors; recommend a candidate for appointment as EFCC Chairman in the face of opposition, etc. So, for me, the ball is squarely in the court of the Presidency.
The Federal Character Commission should not be a permanent Commission, but an interventionist Commission. Why must we have quota system permanently? Why must some States permanently enjoy the status of educationally less developed States, and the political class like it? What confers on them this right to remain perpetually educationally less developed States? The cut-off-points for entry into secondary schools and universities, is laughable. What do we explain to our children, as the reason for the discrimination – unity in diversity?
Nigeria is also a docile country, and so our rulers take us for granted. Whenever I watch Government functionaries lying to us on TV, and they know that they are lying to us, I wonder if they think about life after office. I find most of the songs composed and sung by Fela Anikulapo Kuti in the 80s still relevant today – its government magic; no food, no water, no light. Now compounded by insecurity.
How would you rate this administration after approximately six years in office vis-a-vis it’s three main campaign promises – fighting corruption, insecurity and revamping the economy? Is there a need for restructuring Nigeria and drawing up a new Constitution? What are your thoughts on this?
As a teacher, I will not score this administration anything near a re-sit or repeat, but withdrawal from the system. It has shown manifest incapacity to govern and this is done with impunity. I am not a politician, but simply a concerned Nigerian. I am from Edo State, I used to go home every Easter, Sallah and Christmas holidays. In the last three years, I have been scared to go home. You are not even safe in your homes or streets.
In terms of fighting corruption, I think that the Magu saga represents the fight. Even in a pandemic, the distribution of relief materials was completely mismanaged, until the people revolted and broke into warehouses where the items were kept.
Regarding the economy, I hear of getting into and out of recession, but I do not feel it. I just know that the economy is bad.
On the question of restructuring, I think that it is over-due. I am aware that the concept means several things to different people. As a Lawyer, my focus is on the Exclusive Legislative List in the Constitution. That should be re-visited. One of the other areas to be revisited is Section 44(3) of the Constitution, vesting the entire property in and control of all minerals, mineral oils and natural gas in the Federal Government of Nigeria. Zamfara State has shown the way out of this. Look at the Jos Plateau, look at the Niger Delta Region, and the effect of exploration or exploitation of mines and minerals in these regions. Look at the level of development of these regions. Given the penchant for reckless acquisition by our political class, I am not saying that the Governors will do better than the Federal Government, but let the owners control their resources, and pay tax to the Federal Government.
Having said all this, I still believe in the Nigeria project. We need nationalists and patriots, to drive the project. As a 70-year-old man, I am just sad that my life appears better than that of my off-springs and generations to follow. I bought my first car in 1976 – a Volkswagen Beetle for less than N3,000.00. I bought my second car in 1981 – Peugeot 504 with A/C for N7,000.00; I stayed in University Quarters with Boys Quarters; I ran a decent life without any other extra income than my salary; I went on vacation to the UK; I trained my children in good public schools, etc. Today, all these are luxuries. Now, you can train your children up to doctorate level and they are still dependent on you, whereas, during my time, after secondary school, parents were dependent on their children.
Thank you, Prof.