By Vincent Kalu
Kurtis Adigba, is a Lagos-based lawyer. In this interview, he said that, though the resolutions of the 2014 Confab were fantastic to addressing some of the national questions, the conference lacks legitimacy, and so the outcome would be hard to implement.
What is your view on the state of the nation?
We can’t say that things are perfect and there is no indication that things are going to change fundamentally, but there is hope and we can get it right by change of attitude especially the political class, and members of the opposition. If we all agree to work together in the interest of the nation, we can make a success out of this country.
In the past three months, Nigerians seem to have been on the edge, especially over separatists’ agitations, quit notices from one ethnic group to another. Some are talking about restructuring, referendum and the implementation of the 2014 Confab report as the way out. What is your view?
We have always had agitations in this country. So long as the questions of nationality or what is due to certain group of people is not getting to them, we will continue to have agitation. However, in the last three months, it has been very vocal with Biafran agitators saying they want to go their separate way, but some have said, no, we want to be part of Nigeria that is equitable, that is fair to them. In fact, restructuring is the key words now. Some are saying, it is not about restructuring but devolution of powers from the centre to the states and states to the local governments. Others are saying it is true federalism. What is true federalism? The way we understand it in this part of the world is that, it is a system of government that consists of two or three levels of government – the federal government, the state government and the local governments.
What we have at the moment is the Federal Government, states and local governments that exist only in name. Local governments are now appendages of states; they don’t have independence in terms of administration, in terms of funding. I understand when people say we should devolve power, meaning that there is too much power concentrated at the centre, which is the Federal Government. In a democracy, states are its laboratories. You experiment policies at the states and if they work, you take them to the centre.
For those who are talking of true federalism, what they are just saying is that the Federal Government is too loaded and that makes for the system not to function very well and it is important that the Federal Government devolves some of its powers to the states. For instance, why should the federal government regulate education, why should it control the police force, why can’t it concentrate on the economy, foreign policy, and then allow the states to build and develop their police force and control security within their sphere?
In the United States, you have police at the Township, at the County level to the state. That works better. The federal will concentrate on few areas and do better. This is where they stopped.
This same group of people doesn’t believe that the states should devolve power to the local government because they argue that the local governments are parts of the states. This is across the board; even the progressive governors don’t want to lose the advantages of local government funds coming to them. That is not right. If you look at section 7 of the constitution, the duties and functions of the local governments are clearly listed out, and the details you can find in the first schedule of the constitution.
Some of these duties include, construction of roads, collecting tenement taxes. Take Lagos State for instance, no local government in the state collects tenement rate, which is a function of the local government.
The purpose of creating local government is to stimulate development from the grassroots, because they are closer to the people, but what we have today is local governments that basically exist for governors to collect money on their behalf to manage and use the money, and that is the part of the reasons why we are having problems. Many communities are feeling that they have been left behind and forgotten, and nobody is thinking about them. That is leading to another agitation.
The other problem is that there is no fairness on the part of the majority to the minority. It is at the centre and at the local levels. Look at some of the states for instance, where political power has remained in one particular part of the state because of the population they have. It can’t be only about number in democracy, because democracy also talks about the rights of the minorities. So, you introduce justice and that justice means that you have to give them a sense of belonging, by letting them play a part in the government that govern them.
So what’s your take on the 2014 confab?
Talking about the 2014 National Conference, it lacks legitimacy. One, there was no law to set up the conference. Then president, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, said he was going to send a bill to the National Assembly to ensure that the conference has a legal backing, but he didn’t. So, as wonderful and as fantastic as those resolutions were, nobody elected them, they were selected by people in the government of Jonathan alone. The basis for the selection we don’t know.
If the same people, who are now telling us that the resolution of the conference should be seen as a standard for resolving our national questions, are the same people saying that the 1999 Constitution lacks legitimacy because the military enacted that constitution and imposed it on us, then it is sheer hypocrisy. I believe that we should do it right by getting those who represent Nigerians to draw up a new constitution or whatever we want to do; members should be elected by Nigerians.