Elder statesman and South-South leader, Chief Edwin Clark, tells OVIE OKPARE that only restructuring before 2019 can guarantee peace in the oil-rich Niger Delta region
What does restructuring mean to you as a leader of the South-South geopolitical zone?
Restructuring really is nothing but a re-introduction of true federalism, which was practised in the First Republic (1964-1966) when there was devolution of powers to the regions. There were three regions then: we had the Eastern Region, Western Region and the Northern Region.
The late Chief Obafemi Awolowo was the leader of the West. The late Nnamdi Azikiwe was the leader of the East, while the late Ahmadu Bello was the leader of the Northern Region. There was a truly fiscal federalism guided by three principal guidelines.
The first guideline was that everybody in Nigeria is equal with equal opportunity. The second is that the states should develop at their own pace. That’s why the West was able to develop at its own pace by introducing free primary education, establishing a television station, building universities and industrial estates and magnificent structures like the Cocoa House with money realised from the importation of cocoa beans. The Northern Region did the same thing, but their leaders could not introduce free primary education. They also developed the region through groundnut pyramids. The Eastern Region did the same thing; that was how they were able to build the University of Nsukka. They also built Independent Hotel in Enugu and Port Harcourt (Rivers).
The three regions were moving at their own pace. There was no jealousy. There was no crisis. When we had independence in 1960, true federalism was introduced. It enabled each region to keep half of what they produced in their areas while 80 (per cent) of the remaining half was sent to the Federal Government. The rest was shared among the regions.
For my people in the South-South, restructuring does not mean a call for the division of Nigeria, or one group fighting against another group, or one group taking everything. What we are saying about restructuring is devolution of powers to the states, so that they would have more powers to address the challenges they are facing in sectors like education, agriculture, health, transportation and aviation. Some of the critical sectors, we believe, should be on the Concurrent List, so that the states would be able to manage their affairs using their own constitution. A situation where there are 44 local government councils in Kano State, while Lagos, which has the largest population, shares lesser revenue because allocation is being shared based on the number of local government councils per state, is unfair.
A situation whereby we don’t have state police and our constitution states that the governor is the chief security officer, when he has no power over the police, is unacceptable. The commissioner of police sometimes fights the governor as in the case of Benue State over the herdsmen menace. There should be state police as being practised in other parts of the world. Everything about restructuring is contained in the 2014 National Conference. We don’t need another confab. The Federal Government should implement some of the recommendations. Restructuring does not mean secession or the break-up of the country. We need a united Nigeria, but it must be based on fairness, equity and justice.
What are the specific areas in the nation’s social, economic and political development that need restructuring?
The first area that needs restructuring is the agricultural sector, which today is being mismanaged in the country. For instance, the Federal Government has no land, but it has the Ministry of Agriculture. Education should also be left for the states to handle. The University of Ife originally belonged to the Western Region. Ahmadu Bello University belonged to northern Nigeria, while University of Nsukka was also established by the Eastern Region. The Federal Government should therefore return education to the state. They already have their state universities across the country. However, if the Federal Government wants to retain some universities, fine, but no new ones should be established.
Teaching hospitals should be controlled by the Federal Government, but all other health facilities should be given to the states to manage. There should be no federal hospital or special hospitals that the Federal Government would be funding. If we agree that each state should be on its own, the economy of the country will improve. At the moment, not more than 14 per cent of the workforce pays tax in Nigeria. Countries without oil depend on taxation. With this process, they will look inward and improve on their internally generated revenue. Some of the oil companies sold some of their assets to individuals, even when the state government where the oil is being produced couldn’t get access because of so much corruption.
There is trouble in Gbaramatu area because the people are now saying they want five per cent of equity shares. In the past, those assets were sold to the expatriates, but nowadays, they sell them to people who are not indigenes of the region because management of the oil firms believes that our people do not have enough money to buy them. However, if power should devolve to the states, the assets would naturally revert to the host communities. There would be refineries in the area and this will improve the lots of the people because there will be more employment.
Do you think the states will be able to manage their resources, prudently?
I was a Commissioner for Education in the (now defunct) Mid-West State, which generated funds. I was also the Commissioner for Finance and I introduced the idea, which required every company to pay tax. They are also expected to show their statements of account at the end of the year to enable us to collect tax from them. The policy was successful. We didn’t care about oil revenue from the centre.
A situation whereby states cannot pay salaries now has never happened in this country before. Everybody now rushes to Abuja to look for money. Some states are being favoured, while others are not being favoured. Whose money? It belongs to Nigerians and the area that produces the oil is being neglected. Restructuring will now focus on this area where the oil is being produced.
Do you think that secession should be part of restructuring as being clamoured for by some agitators?
That’s criminal. That’s not allowed. Secession cannot be part of restructuring. What the easterners (Igbo) want is a stop to their marginalisation. They should be part of this country. They were among the three regions that controlled this country. Azikiwe was the first president of Nigeria. We have K.O (Kingsley Ozumba) Mbadiwe, Michael Okpara and many other Igbo nationalists who fought for the nation’s independence. Why will it be now that the Igbo would think that they can no longer be part of Nigeria unless they secede? An Igbo man (Prof. Kenneth Onwuka Dike) was the first indigenous Vice Chancellor of the University of Ibadan. An Igbo man had risen to the rank of the Inspector General of Police in this country in the past. In the First Republic, the Igbo were in the forefront until the Civil War. If, today, some people are talking about secession, how do you think it will be possible to get the Igbo all over the country to return to the East to form one country? I will like to correct an impression here. The claims by some people that the Ohanaeze has seven states are not true. Ohanaeze does not have seven states. The Igbo-speaking people in Delta State are Deltans. Port Harcourt belongs to Rivers State. The Ikwere, Ogoni, Idoni and others are not part of Igboland. If they are looking forward to Port Harcourt, Warri and other places, that cannot be. Their grievances are noticed by all of us. The Igbo have been marginalised, especially by this (Muhammadu Buhari) government. Everybody has been marginalised by this government, except for a section of the North. It is a temporary issue, which should not make the Igbo to secede from this country. Restructuring means, how do we build a new Nigeria?
What percentage do you think the people of the Niger Delta should negotiate for in case there is a resource control policy in the country?
When we went to the conference convened by the (Olusegun) Obasanjo government in 2005, we demanded for 50 per cent derivation. We argued until we reduced it to 25 per cent. Later, the conference decided that we should have 18 per cent and we walked out. That was why we walked out. We believed in 25 per cent. We are suffering from environmental degradation and our people are unhealthy. We are no longer fishermen. We are no longer farmers and we are no longer producing palm produce because the ecosystem is affecting our area. For instance, the clean-up exercise has not started in Ogoniland. What we are saying is that we should have part of this money (proceeds from the sale of oil) in our area (Niger Delta). Many people sit in their various areas thinking that we don’t deserve it. The 13 per cent should be increased to 25 per cent. That is all we want for now and Nigeria will still survive. In the First Republic, it was 50 per cent and it was enshrined in the constitution of 1960 and 1963. Let us revert to that system, but we don’t mind having 25 per cent at the moment.
Do you think that Nigeria is actually practicing true federalism?
What we are practicing is a unitary system of government. The 1999 constitution, even though it got a federal name, is unitary. A situation whereby the Federal Government is exercising 80 per cent of the powers is nothing but a unitary system of government. It is like having a military president who will declare that all the governors are under him. That is the same system that Generals Ibrahim Babangida and Ibrahim Abacha left behind. If we want to have true federalism, we must revert to the constitution of 1960 or 1963.
Do you think that Nigeria needs more states or some states should be scrapped?
In Nigeria at the moment, there are certain areas that deserve their states in order to have peace in this country. For instance, Southern Kaduna should have a state to protect the interest of the minority. Southern Borno needs a state. Some states need to be created for the country to have a balance. At the conference, we agreed that no matter how small, states should be created like the ones I mentioned earlier. If states are created, it doesn’t mean that every state has to be equal. They will look for a means to survive. At the conference, we recommended the creation of an additional 18 states in the minority areas. The idea of scrapping a state doesn’t arise. A state that cannot survive will naturally die or merge with another state.
If Nigeria breaks up, what region or geopolitical zone will your people accept to follow?
I don’t speculate. I am a believer of one Nigeria. Nobody can break Nigeria. We will all live together. I am looking forward to a restructured Nigeria where everybody will be equal and where ethnicity or religion will not play a leading role.
Acting President Yemi Osinbajo has been engaging in dialogue with sections of the country in a bid to quell tensions. Do you think the Federal Government is on the path to restructuring?
No, the present government is not working towards restructuring. But I am very happy that the All Progressives Congress governors have adopted restructuring as an agenda. The question is whether their own idea of restructuring is political and different from what we want.
The Acting President engaged in emergency meetings with different sections of the Igbo to quell any violence that could arise from the quit notice issued by the northern youths to the Biafran agitators.
The action of the Acting President looks very good, but it has nothing to do with restructuring. Now that governors from the two leading political parties have agreed to go for restructuring, if the Federal Government fails to yield to the people’s demands, the prevailing tension in the country will definitely continue.
Will you give any time frame for the government to restructuring of the country?
We should start now. We are not going to wait till 2019. There will be no proper election. What is going on now in Nigeria will continue. The Buhari-led Federal Government should listen to the voice of the people and do something now. For people like the National Chairman of APC, Chief John Oyegun, to say that restructuring is not in their list of priorities, but the economy: How do you grow the economy without stability? If you restructure Nigeria, everybody will get a job. There will be peace. Oil companies will operate and agriculture will be revived. So, restructuring should be the priority of the government.