Defeat Of Devolution Of Power: Former Governors in NASS Failed Nigerians —Oshiomhole
The Supreme Court recently upheld the election of Governor Godwin Obaseki of Edo State. How do you describe the victory?
We thank God because you cannot take justice for granted in the sense that there are still men and women who believe justice cannot be procured. As you witnessed in court, it took only minutes to dismiss the appeal filed against the election of the governor by the PDP candidate. It re-affirmed the fact that the democratic process is growing and, two, that we have courageous men and women on the bench at all levels. It was clearly a busy-body affair. And if you listen to the comment of the Chief Justice of Nigeria in the Supreme Court judgment, he said they had gone through this over and over again and they could not find any reason to question the findings of the lower court. So ,to me, it was a sound victory but people should know that if you have no case, don’t bother to go to court.
Just like my case in 2007, I always say this is not a mystical thing. The road to justice is well laid out in our law. But the PDP cannot change, they were celebrating few days before the Supreme Court judgment. Their Chairman even called one of our House of Assembly members to say the governor and his deputy should start packing from Government House, that it was over for us. And, of course, you also look at the fact that when the court adjourned for ruling, they began to boast that the ruling would be delivered that day. And, of course, when the court announced the ruling would be delivered, within an hour and a half, all the PDP big guys had arrived at the court. The candidate ,who had never appeared in court until the judgment day, suddenly showed up with members of his family and PDP leaders, like Ben Obi, Olisa Metuh, who had never been in court, were all there. Some even saw Pastor Ize Iyamu,posing for photographs as if he had already been declared winner. I feel the good news is that the Supreme Court has delivered justice.
PDP’s boast for 2019
They are beating an empty drum. Who is left in the PDP? Their Chairman Markafi that is making noise lost his Senate seat, he did not resign from the Senate, he was voted out by the people of his senatorial district. So if his people rejected him in Kaduna, is it his party that the nation will accept? People think Nigerians have short memory. All the facts available now, when the 2019 electioneering starts, they will come to the fore. Where was Nigeria before the PDP took over government in 1999 and where was Nigeria by the time they were sacked from power in 2015. I also know that they still don’t have the skill to communicate with the people, the only tool they had at their disposal was cash which they always collected from the CBN and subsidy from the NNPC. Once they don’t have that cash anymore, they don’t have neither the goodwill nor the track record that will appeal to the electorate. No matter what anybody wants to say about the APC, you cannot accuse it of monumental corruption in the scale that is still being revealed about the PDP. I don’t think Nigerians will forget that in a hurry. But you know that empty vessels will always make noise. I can see the PDP working hard to see whether they can still hold on to any state government in the light of the fact that the only tool at their disposal is to procure vote. Don’t forget their philosophy is ‘PDP, share the money’. Now that they have no money to share, what will they use to communicate with the electorate?
So, I am confident that, though we have internal challenges in the APC, the challenges will be overcome and I believe that people are working hard to sort those issues out. And, again, it is not strange that when a party is truly democratic and you don’t have an overriding god father that imposes people here and there, you are bound to hear discordant voices. But those are not necessarily negative. Everything considered, there is no PDP on ground as we speak. Even the states where they are in power, their hold is shaky. Again you don’t expect Markafi to say we are dead. I always say charity begins at home. For instance, if we can’t retain Edo for APC, I cannot be boasting of the federal. So if Markafi cannot retain his Senate seat, which is 1/3 of a state after becoming governor, what is his basis for thinking that if his people rejected him and his party in his state, he will be welcomed at the national level? The current generation of Nigerians who are politically active and informed can never take PDP serious.
Secession tension and calls for restructuring
There is a huge level of under-employment at the level of the political elite and, once they are out of power, they come up with all kinds of agenda. Once they are in power, they shut up. People say restructuring but they never speak to the specifics. Restructure, how? This is one word that can mean everything and one dubious word that can mean nothing. To me, the only issue for Nigeria is devolution of power. The problem now is that the National Assembly members, once they get elected, rather than deal with the issue of devolution of power, they want to defend the status quo. Then some are talking about implementing the Confab report, which of the Confab reports now? Obasanjo did a Confab, the PDP did twice. Every PDP President except Yar Adua organized a Confab. What happened to the Obasanjo Confab report? What is the difference between the report of the Obasanjo Confab and that of Jonathan? And why did they not implement it or at least start the process of implementing it before they left office? It is a pity we do not sufficiently interrogate people such that our political elite will want to eat their cake and have it. It is the same people that persuaded, and many of them are still active now even at old age, that parliamentary system was not good for Nigeria, that Nigeria needed a strong presidency. That is how they got the late Chief Rotimi Williams constitution drafting committee to introduce the presidential system of government in 1979. They said we needed to have a strong center to keep the country together. The same people said we had imbalances in the regions, that the North was too big, that we had to create more states in order to bring government closer to the people. The same elites said so. And as I speak, if you check the archives of the National Assembly, you will find their signatures on petitions calling for the creation of more states. Now the same people, once they are out of power will tell you states are not viable. But they once agreed the states were viable and their signatures are still in those documents. I think the media needs to do more investigative journalism, ask the leadership of the Senate and the House of Reps to bring all the petitions that have been forwarded to them over the last five years, particularly since they kick started the process of creation of more states. They even wanted more states to be created out of Edo. Meanwhile what we need to restructure is the attitude to governance, the issue of character, the issue of corruption, the issue of creative application of the resources, ensuring that government is about delivering the greatest good to the greatest number of people, and ensuring that we reorder our industrial policies in a way that emphasizes job-led growth, rather than jobless growth so that poverty can be reduced to a tolerable level. We must begin to get the private sector to create jobs and grow the economy and give everybody the basis to be loyal to the nation. If I look at what is going on, states are not able to pay salaries; if a state is not paying salary, is the governor from a foreign country? He is part of the state. Some times when the elites are in trouble, they want to evade accountability. They play up primordial sentiments by either elevating religion to a ridiculous level or they elevate ethnicity and make it look as if it is the people who are our problem whereas they are the problem of the people.
I watched a video on internet made by an Igbo lady, who said if you go anywhere and don’t find an Igbo man there, then don’t stay there. It means there must be something terrible in that place. Because the Igbo man is an explorer, commerce is in his blood. The lady also said we should find out from the Igbo guys who have made it how much they have helped their people. That same question cuts across other geographical zones. I have been to Sokoto State where Shagari comes from. I have been to Ogun where Obasanjo hails from. I have been to Minna where IBB comes from. I have been to Katsina where Yar’Adua came from and Otuoke, Bayelsa State where Jonathan comes from. At the level of Vice President, I have been to areas where they came from. But there is no correlation between the level of poverty in any part of Nigeria in relation to the level of political office holders that come from that part, whether elective or appointive. And as we have seen from revelations on corruption issues, when it comes to ganging-up to pocket what belongs to all of us, ethnicity has no place. If the report of the happenings in the oil sector is anything to go by, you will find that an Ijaw lady has no difficulty in doing business with a Kwara or Yoruba man because the dollar does not speak to ethnic origin. If you are looking at how defence money was used for other purposes other than defence, you will find that there was no distinction between a Hausa-Fulani man and an Edo man who benefited from the money earmarked for military procurement that ended up in private pockets.
Even when criminals are identifying themselves, you also find that it cuts across the divide. So ethnicity is the least of our problems. When our leaders refuse to account they just use ethnicity and religion to cover up for accountability and our gullible youth cue in, that is a big problem., I was in a forum when Ambassador Keshi spoke about the terrible state of the road in Yenagoa and reminded us that the road had been like that for the past five six years and it was getting worse, I asked him who was the President then that appointed Ministers of Works. It happened to be the son of the soil of that state. When you look at the NDDC and the money allocated to it in relation to the contracts that NDDC executed over the years, in Edo state for example, you will find that the primary purpose was not to impact on the infrastructure or social development of the place but to enrich individuals. You created Ministry for Niger Delta, the people still remain in poverty. When you look at the allocation of some states and compare with others, you will ask where has all the money gone into. For example in the Niger Delta area, how can any state governor that benefits from huge allocations from derivation, even to the extent that they can maintain private jets, is unable to pay workers salaries as and when due, unable to pay teachers salaries as and when due, unable to pay pensioners as and when due but can service the state debts. And the people of the state are not encouraged to ask questions, everybody is looking at Abuja. If the regions do not function, how will the center work. If you look at it from the South – South, Edo receives the least allocation, and if Edo earns the least, I am proud that until I left office, whereas PDP governors were owing their workers, I was up to date. When they were lamenting that they could not pay their workers N18,000, I increased my state’s workers pay to N25,000. So when we blame the federal government, let us also look inwards about what we are doing.
So, those who are beating the drums of war, I hope they will bring their children in front as soldiers to lead the battle and not stay in the comfort of their rooms so that when war starts, since they have multiple passports, they can escape and begin to negotiate in London and Paris and leave their fellow brothers here to be killing one another. The other day I read one of our leaders and my very good friend, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, saying that during the SDP days, they said they were going to restructure the country and that he is shocked that any of those elites who raised it then will turn round to kick against restructuring. That was a good observation but the issue is that when my good friend became Vice President and his government was doing political conference, what was wrong in him raising it even if it did not hold water? The voice of a sitting Vice President is louder any day outside that of the President but I don’t think I heard him say anything about restructuring.
Challenge of leadership
The challenge of leadership is how to build strength in diversity. And when we talk of leadership, we should not restrict it to political leadership, we should also talk about corporate leadership. The lifestyle of an American CEO, the ethics, when you look at a section of the Nigerian private sector and you find that positions that have been Nigerianized in the early 80s, like the CEOs of Nigeria Breweries and Cadbury, they have all reverted back to expatriates. That is a statement about corporate governance under the Nigerian elite. The rich can protect their privileges by keeping the poor busy and put food on their table. We must interrogate the concept of leadership beyond political leadership. Leadership include corporate leadership. We have several issues about leadership but I believe that some of us who are relatively privileged must recognize that it is in our interest to put the proper issue on the agenda, namely, how to manage the Nigerian project in a way that it can deliver the greatest good to the greatest number rather than pushing the blame and resorting to some vocabularies that can mean everything but can mean nothing, debating on who is seeking what advantage over who.
As members of the Governors Forum, we were all unanimous about the need for devolution of power in favour of states. The Governors Forum, from 1999 to date, virtually at every meeting, had cause to speak to the need for devolution of power in favour of states and reduce the powers at the federal level. As governors then, we were questioning why the federal government is holding on the 52 per cent of the money accruing to the federation while states get 28 per cent and local governments 18 per cent. Now many of them are in the Senate and they tend to forget the issues. Which is why I was taken aback when the Senate, where we have former governors, overwhelmingly voted against devolution of power. The contradiction is that if you do not favour devolution of power, what will be the foundation for making the argument for the review of the revenue allocation formula? So we need devolution of power which will necessarily require the review of the revenue allocation formula in favour of states to deal with the additional responsibility arising from such devolution of power. So it is not helpful that the Senate can on one hand vote against devolution and yet lament non-eview of the Revenue Allocation Formula. And the effort being made now in reviewing the constitution could have well been used to extend the powers of reviewing the revenue allocation formula in a way that it does not rest at the discretion of RMAFC which is an agency under the Executive.
Another setback on the non-ceding of more powers to the states is this decision by the Senate that local government elections should now be conducted by INEC. That position borders on concentrating more powers at the center at a time everybody is asking for devolution. That is, to me, again, part of the Nigerian paradox. When our people are in a position to make changes, they tend to abandon them for other issues. In the US, they call local government authorities mayors or county councils, so why will it be Abuja’s business to conduct local government elections? We just need to remain consistent rather than beat about the bush, by ensuring that we give more resources to the states and less resources to the center. And challenge the states to take on board, additional responsibilities in line with the additional funds that are put at their disposal. And the way the regions were competing those days were healthy, even now we have some level of competition among state governors. To me that is the way to go.
President’s health and Gov Fayose’s attacks
I don’t like to discuss Fayose because when he makes his statements, it only reminds me of an Igbo proverb which says that if a responsible man is having his bath after a hard day’s work and he removes his dress in a local bathroom and a mad man carries the dress and the man bathing, seeing that the mad man has carried the dress, he runs out naked pursuing him, people will see two naked people running and they will say two mad men. So, sometimes, you just allow the mad man to carry your dress and go rather than joining him in his madness. One of my very good friends wrote something in the papers criticizing the pictures taken during some APC governors visit to the President, he said maybe a broadcast would have been better. But I ask, if the head of a family is sick and some people went to see him, first there is nothing unusual about that. I believe most Nigerians are praying for the quick recovery of the President; so if people went there and sat with the President and took a picture, it shows that, yes, ,the President is sick but it is not as bad as what people are saying. Some were carrying rumor that he was on life support but people have seen at least that, that is not true. And as at the time he wrote that piece, only APC governors had visited but now some PDP governors also went and I hope he will write another article. To me, the President has been conscious of the provisions of the constitution and had complied in full with the extant provisions by admitting to the fact that, for now, that he is ill, and he needs medication somewhere, he has asked his Vice to act on his behalf. I don’t see how the President can be much more transparent than that. And I am happy that some PDP governors have also gone to see him. But what many of us do not know is that there have been governors who have been absent from their states for three months, even on health grounds in the PDP that I know, and they came back to assume duties and today they are alive. So, as they say ,the sick is not necessarily the next to die and we should all continue in our honest prayers for the quick recovery of our President and not inhuman comments by some persons. We had a President under the PDP who clearly was unable to even recognize people and they were debating whether he signed a budget or he did not sign. But you know in this environment people have short memory. Those who were very active then, purporting that the President signed a budget which he was not in a position to sign, and mimicking a voice in BBC, they are also talking now. Now we have a President who sat with both PDP and APC governors and I think that closes the issue of the health of the President. We must continue to pray for the quick recovery of the President and also pray that those of us who are leaders at various levels, that we have the good heart not to be detained or consumed by bitter partisanship so that we can look at issues more objectively in the interest of the nation’s stability, peace and progress.