Judex Okoro, Calabar
Former Military Administrator of Rivers State and chairman, Cross River Northern Consultative Elders Forum (CRNCEF), Gen. Anthony Ukpo (retd), has called on all political parties in Cross River to zone the governorship slot to Northern part of the state for equity and fairness to reign.
He said zoning is in the spirit of brotherhood that would allow the northern senatorial zone to retain the governorship slot for another term of four years to be at par with the other senatorial zones which each held the governorship for eight year.
Nigeria’s current democratic experience is 19 so far. Are you satisfied with the level of growth of our democracy?
It is very difficult to measure the success of our democracy as long as we are going through elections and people are getting elected you can see that democracy is making some headway. In terms of what people tend to call dividends of democracy, I will say that I’m not particularly happy with the level of democracy dividends. Some of it is due to the structure, the structure of governance. It is such that it is very wasteful unlike during the military government where you have a few decision makers and a lot of money is saved. In a democratic administration that we have, a lot of money that should be channelled into capital projects is being used for recurrent expenditure, thereby delaying the infrastructure development of the country. But as long as it ensures the rule of law and peace, then I will say yes.
So how do you think the waste can be minimised and governance made more efficient?
The problem is that it is a constitutional issue. Unless we amend the constitution to give more powers to the president, governors or to all the executives to act promptly on governance issues then it is going to drag on like this. So we need to amend the constitution and I know that amending the constitution is an herculean task because of the various interests that we have in the country, but I believe that it can be done. Give more powers to the executive at various levels particularly local government. When we were in government during the Babangida’s administration, we created local government to be an autonomous level of governance that would have brought development down to the grassroots. But unfortunately, the governors have hijacked everything about them, hijacked their money so there is nothing much happening there. The local government headquarters where we are today was built
by local government, it was not built by state government. The Ogoja local government for instance was built by the Ogoja County Council. So if we can amend the constitution to ensure that the local government have their autonomy and get on with it, then we will find out that there will be quality representation at the local government level. Now, nobody knows who are councillors, they do not even meet. So that is the issue and amending the constitution is key.
Some sceptics argue that Nigeria is a federation and it is only states that are federating units and not local governments, what is your take on that?
That is the reason and that is why we are advocating that we amend the constitution. When the constitution is amended particularly the 1979 constitution that created definite autonomy for local government that is what we are advocating that we go back to. The governors are being selfish because they are taking the money of local governments and appropriating it along with that of the states. People in America whom we are trying to mimic, they have mayors who do a lot of work in the cities. Those mayors who are controlling various cities in America can do the job. So for us to say that it is not a relevant level of administration is wrong, because it is closer to the people.
Rotation seems to be at the front burner of political debate as we approach 2019 election. But there are arguments against rotation. The opponents of it argue that it is undemocratic and would exclude some people. What do you think?
For long, even when I was in the military, I have always championed the idea of rotation for peace because of the fact that Nigeria is a multi-ethnic, multi-religious society with a lot of minorities. So the only way minorities will get a chance is only when we have rotation like we have the federal character.
We’ve always used that to have appointment from all areas. One of the reasons is that we have our own peculiar way of choosing our leaders especially in a multi-ethnic and multi-religious society like ours.
Zoning accommodates all segments against the argument that it excludes some people and community. It is not true that it is undemocratic. It does not exclude anybody. The idea is that political offices are zoned among all communities to give people sense of belonging. At the federal level for instance, it moves from North to South. From the south it moves to several zones and states. Within the states, it moves across senatorial zones and local government areas. So everybody will know that he has a chance. That is the main thing.
A forum, Cross River Northern Consultative Elders Forum (CRNCEF) recently passed a resolution calling on other senatorial zones, especially South and Central, and other political parties not to field governorship candidates in 2019. What motivated the group into taking such action?
It is democratic and I say that without prejudice to the democratic norms. We are recommending and advising political parties to embrace this. When Liyel Imoke was taken to court, he was taken to court by another party and not his party. So it is the same thing now. Take the APC for instance, if they bring their own candidate and decide that their candidate must come from the central, excellent. But we are saying all parties just to make it easier, should zone the position to the north. That’s what we are saying. It’s not compulsory and cannot be done by fiat. I can tell you that the Elders Forum’s position is in line with the zoning policy that have been in place which the south and central zones have benefitted from as their sons, former governors, Donald Duke (1999-2007) and Liyel Imoke (2007-2015) respectively served two terms. We acknowledge the mutual understanding shown by all political parties in 2015 election in which all the political parties zoned the gubernatorial tickets to the northern senatorial district for the purpose of fairness and equity.
And in the spirit of brotherhood, we also appeal that all political parties in the state should maintain similar mutual understanding in the 2019 general election by retaining the zoning of governorship to the northern senatorial district of the state as well as picking their candidates for that office from the zone. This gesture will allow the northern senatorial zone to retain the governorship slot for another term of four years to be at par with the other senatorial zones which each held the governorship for eight year. It is our hope that after the next four years following the 2019 general election, the governorship of the state will commence with a new rotation.
Let’s look at security; the herdsmen crisis is threatening the foundation of the country, what is your take on this?
Well you know it starts now like herdsmen. Personally, I do not believe that all the killings and so on are carried out by the herdsmen. Some of them you can attribute to inter communal crisis, ethnic crisis hiding under the banner of herdsmen. But having said that, yes there is definitely a threat because the population has increased. The area available for grazing has been reduced. So there are bound to be conflicts. Now, if the federal government and in fact all the governors do not pay attention to it, it will degenerate from being a herdsmen thing to an ethnic and religious crisis and at that point in time it becomes very dangerous. So there is need for government and the security agencies to really police the issue of herdsmen and their cattle in the areas that they graze and so on.
In my own town of Okpoma, I had a meeting with them because the community said they must leave. I said it is a little difficult for the herdsmen to leave because some of them have been here for over 40 years; some were born here. They are part and parcel of our community. All we need to do is to make sure that we relocate them to the city areas where they can take their cattle to graze so that they do not destroy people’s farms and it has worked so far. And we warned them that no additional migrating elements will come and join them because once they do that, the number of cattle will increase and the issue of destroying farms will also arise. So in little communities, it can be contained.
Some people feel state police can help solve these herdsmen problems, do you subscribe to that notion?
You know there was a time during the administration of Babangida that this issue of state police came up and we said let us give it a trial. The first step that we took was to redeploy all senior officers to their state of origin as the first step, to see whether it will work. It did not work unfortunately. So our level of maturity in terms of governance has not reached the point. You can even see what is happening with our people where people are getting MOPOL to escort them. So you can imagine if that apparatus is under the control of a state governor or local government chairman, it will be abused. So I personally
do not subscribe to it now in the form people are asking. We can start gradually by having unarmed police that will be in charge of petty crimes and patrols in the villages and so on and then gradually when we see that people are getting more responsible then we can get on from there.