Elder statesman, Chief Ralph Obioha has called for the implementation of 2014 Confab report, as panacea for agitations across the country. In an interview with VINCENT KALU, the chieftain of the defunct National Democratic Coalition (NADECO), said the issue of 2023 presidency going to the Southeast shouldn’t be debatable if equity, fairness and justice apply in Nigeria.
Before the issue of Covid-19 came up, the National Assembly had constituted a committee on review of the constitution, what do you expect to be in the new constitution?
A vast section of the Nigerian polity is agitating for a complete overall of our constitution, laying a very valid case that the current constitution was a military constitution and not a peoples’ constitution.
After so many years we have been on that constitution, a lot of fault lines have been manifested, and the NASS should do an overall of the constitution that is hindering so many things and it is drawing us back.
The problem in Nigeria is that every section believes that it has an advantage and they want to maintain that advantage, it is a human tendency, but with this coronavirus, it should dawn on everybody that we can be wiped out from the face of this earth.
A non-living organism, called coronavirus has put the whole world on its feet, and I believe that it is bit of a big lesson for all of us on what is happening to the whole world. Anybody who is not apprehensive, anybody who is not afraid is not a human being.
The essence of passing through life is that we are not going to live forever, and as much as possible that should humble us to really try to be fair to all. The present Nigeria constitution is not fair to all the constituent parts of the country; if we are pretending that it is, it means, not being honest with ourselves.
Talking about the constitution not being fair to all, at the peak of agitation for restructuring, President Buhari, last year, said the Nigeria constitution was fair to all. He cited the case of Bayelsa, a small state having the same senatorial seats with Kano, a very large state, how do you draw the line when you said the constitution isn’t fair to all?
It is not the representation of senators that is the issue. How then can you also explain that just Kano and Jigawa that used to be one state before they were divided into two have more local governments than the entire Southeast that used to be half of a region before?
All those semantics about who is having what and who is not having what, the essence of having equal representation in the senate is what was copied from the United States of America constitution, which made all 50 states to have two senators each. Going by that, I know that Montana has two senators and only one House of Representatives.
We cannot continue to pretend that the present constitution as it is constituted is fair. When we get into the nitty-gritty of the polices and what we have been practising in Nigeria, where two citizens from Nigeria, one from another state and the other from another state and both of them are not equal in right. A typical example is the admission system in the university where a cut off mark for a certain state is put at 150 and in another state it is put at 50.
All these anomalies can be reduced by just organising the federation in way where it is truly fiscal and a federation, where the state like Ekiti can define its own cut off mark for their own state system to even 300, and Jigawa State says its own is 40. Yes, that applies to Ekiti and the other to Jigawa, and there will be no complaints about that, but to put it as a national policy is what people are agitating that it is not practical and it is threatening a lot of schisms in what should naturally be a unified nation.
You said what we have is a constitution foisted on the nation by the military, some opine that what is required is a peoples constitution drawn through a sovereign national conference, how will this be constituted?
A lot of people have advocated that and it is the right way to go. You are asking how it should be constituted. We have 36 states and each brings their representatives to the constituent assembly, and we have about 360 members made up of people with legal and constitutional minds, and they try and a produce a peoples constitution.
You are talking about one of ten persons representing a state, but they are talking about constitution made by ethnic nationalities, and we have over 250 ethnic nationalities. You are talking about a state bringing representative(s); for instance, Enugu, a homogenous state can bring one, but if you go Adamawa, a local government, Gobi has over 15, or the state has over 30 ethnic groups, how do you draw the representatives from such a state?
If we really go for absolute purity about this representation, we will never probably find an answer, let us at least be practical because the other groups like the major tribes in Nigeria – Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba, if you say these ethnic groups will only produce three people, and I know that there are some ethnic groups in Nigeria that may not be more than 480 people; are you saying that these three ethnic groups that have more than 10 million people each should also produce one each likewise the one with 480 people.
There must be a reasonable way to make sure that we create a representation that reflect as much as possible some ethnic representation. Let us leave it at state representation.
Could the 2014 Confab report provide an answer to what you are talking about?
I believe that the papers that were produced at that confab could be the working paper for what we are looking for, and I have stated that so many times. One thing about Nigeria is that we are always looking for something new, and if you set up another committee of representatives of 36 states, all they may produce may not be far from what Jonathan conference produced. We are not going to invent the data from the moon; the data are here already in Nigeria.
But Northerners seem to oppose the Confab report, why?
I doubt if they do because they participated very vigorously. Some individuals who may not have participated might have voiced their opinion. I know that Junaid Mohammed was a member; I’m aware that Tanko Yakasai and Ango Abdullahi were members and these are the vocal voices from the North.
Junaid in his many interviews never hid his opposition to the report
It surprises me that he did because he was a very active member of that confab, and he was one of the spokespersons and was very enthusiastic about it.
Where do you stand on restructuring that some people have been yearning for?
If we want to move forward as a nation, what Nigeria should be looking at is to get the whole West Africa to be a common market. We should try to rise above these ethnicity limitations and look for a bigger participation, whether you are Igbo, Hausa or Yoruba, everybody wants a good school for the children; everybody wants a good hospital, everybody wants good infrastructures, these are what we should concentrate.
I believe the call for restructuring is driven out of the frustration that is being experienced by certain policies that are inexplicable. You cannot explain where a minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria said a section of the country is not entitled to the palliatives that the government is providing for the coronavirus. It is so mind boggling that nobody can give an explanation for that.
These are some of the things that generate all calls. A federal minister is saying that the Igbo want Biafra and as such should not be given anything coming out of things coming out to ease the pressures of coronavirus. I have never seen a thing like that.
But then, the most revealing part of the interview is that this thing has been going on for the past five years, coronavirus is only three months old, and people came out to say that they have been receiving money for the past four years, even one woman said she has two children in the university. A person with two children in the university cannot be a vulnerable recipient of such funding.
Is this why there have also been calls for breakup?
Ghana, Sierra Leone, Gambia have not divided, using examples nearer home. Going by that, just like people divided in other areas is not a good example for us to break up Nigeria. I believe that Nigeria can be corrected; corrected in the sense that if we can be equitable to all sections of the country, all this thinking of breakup will be a thing of the past.
One example is Nigerians love for sports and whenever a football game is on, you see all Nigerians applauding our players whether they are from Degema or from Sokoto.
Elder statesmen and patriots of Nigeria should find a way for us to really get together and sort out the grievances. I will never support the breakup of Nigeria on the basis that there are more to gain in a larger body than there is to gain in a smaller body.
Even Great Britain, Great Germany and Great France saw the need for a bigger body and created the EU, how can we look backward to go and become groups where just one warlord can take over, and people will be crying, ‘ let us go back to Nigeria’.
We have to be very careful by what we wish and what we call for, one day that thing will be given and we now see the bad side of it.
For 2023, which zone should produce the presidency?
A certain convention has been established in Nigeria; it is not written. There is no written constitution of Great Britain, but they have run that country over the years, it is a convention.
The convention in Nigeria is the shifting of the leadership of the country from region to the other.
Except for two regions, that is Southeast and the Northeast, all other regions have had a hold on the presidency. It is only fair that we move from North to South. Nigeria should ask them to produce a president that will look after their affairs in the next for years, if they don’t like the outcome of it, the constitution says there must be another election in four years time, where they have the power to vote that person out if they don’t like him.
In Nigeria, anything goes, as they say, but if fairness and equity should be applied, it should be the turn of the Southeast; it should be beyond debate.
If it doesn’t go this way, won’t it heighten agitations by separatist groups?
I agree with you. I know there is a group called, The Patriots, headed by some eminent personalities, and considering putting up position papers to convince the leaders of other areas, the masses are not the problem. If the leaders get together and say let us get this thing working, things will fall into places.