•JUNAID MOHAMMED SAYS AGITATORS HAVE LOST OUT
Second Republic lawmaker and convener, Coalition of Northern Politicians, Academics and Businessmen, Hon. Junaid Mohammed, speaks with ONYEDIKA AGBEDO on the rejection of the proposal for devolution of power from the federal level to the states by members of the National Assembly in the ongoing Constitution amendment exercise. Mohammed, who was former Joint House Leader of the defunct Peoples Redemption Party (PRP), urges those who have been championing the cause to be democrats and forget the idea now.
With the decision coming at a time Nigerians are agitating for the restructuring of the country, don’t you think it will heighten tensions and further add to the problems of the country?
First and foremost, I don’t believe that there is a singular bullet that can solve the problems of this country or any other country. Democracy and constitutional democracy in particular is an ongoing process; it is work in progress. You can never say that by taking one singular step all the problems of the country will be solved. Now, I have no problem with the National Assembly (NASS) moving or rejecting any proposal for constitution amendment. But I do reject any attempt by anybody to want to restructure the country or to amend the constitution through the back door. The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 as amended severally provides ways and means by which anybody, the NASS or the executive arm can amend the constitution. So, those who imagine that they can amend the constitution through agitations for restructuring or whatever they call it should realise that they are inviting anarchy and I am not an anarchist.
So, as far as I am concerned, if there has been a move to devolve powers and that move has been rejected, that means that everybody should go back to the drawing board and start all over again. That is what politics is all about.There is no criminality in politics; there is no final destination. You move on and on. So, anybody who is imagining that because he is not happy with what has been happening or with what has just taken place and feels he can now go round and start clamouring should go and clamour. Almost all the sections clamouring for restructuring have not told us specifically what they want. Those who volunteered information are so stupid in what they do and so they are not even ashamed of what they are saying.
For example, if as Atiku said we should restructure the country so that we return to a six-region structure, three in the North and three in the South, I want you to tell me, if you come to the north eastern states, which states would you collapse. And I want the Igbos who are also demanding for that kind of arrangement to tell us how they want to collapse all the five states in the South-east into one single region. And mark you, in the case of the South-east and South-south, you are talking about the two geo-political zones being collapsed into a single region. I want to know what shape it will take and the states that will be included in it, because both Edo and Delta states are South-south. Now, are you going to move them back to the Western region? These are questions those who are agitating or advocating for these reforms should please provide the answers. They should tell us precisely what they want. Everyday you hear restructure, restructure, restructure, but nothing. And they are not being sincere. They are political opportunists who want to get certain political concessions from the country and they don’t want to come out and tell us why. What makes them think that those concessions are due to them and that other parts of the country should not be agitating for those concessions? So, I believe that people have rights to agitate but when they lose the agitation they should go back to the drawing board and start all over again.
But there is a popular view among Nigerians that there are so much powers at the centre. Don’t you think that moving some items from the Exclusive List to the Concurrent List, like the issue of railway and education for instance, would have augured well for the country?
You have just told me that railway is on the Exclusive List and there was an attempt to take it to the Concurrent List. Listen to me very carefully. Even if I have never gone to school, I know that the railway in any country or any part of the world must traverse different political zones and different administrative units. Now, if you say that the railway must be in the Concurrent List, who controls the railway then? I want to know who will control it? Or are you telling me that you can have a railway, which will not be controlled by the Federal Government and which also traverses several zones and administrative units of the country? If you are not telling me that, I don’t want to waste my time.
Now, let me go back to history. I was involved with the problems of this country from way back in 1970. And I knew that in the original draft of the 1979 constitution, which has been now amended to look like the 1999 constitution, many of the areas you hinted were deemed to have been devolved to the lower tiers of government, that is, the states and local governments. I know for example that primary education and secondary education were deemed to have been devolved to the states and local councils. And when you devolve power, you also devolve your resources so that the inheritors can carry out those responsibilities. Now, when the Federal Government devolved these responsibilities, it devolved them with the money. The states and local councils took the money but they did not carry out the responsibilities. So, in fear of not allowing the education system to collapse entirely, the Federal Government had to come in and take over some of these functions and started to finance them. I don’t know how anybody can look at this situation and say, ‘o yes, the Federal Government has too much power and is taking too much money’.
I was involved in the issue of revenue allocation in the parliament in the Second Republic. I was a member of the National Assembly on the platform of the Peoples Redemption Party (PRP) and served in the Finance, Appropriation and Budget Committee. I was also the parliamentary leader of the party and, of course, I led the party on the floor during debates. Any time any issue came up for vote, the issue went the way the PRP wanted it because we were the swing vote. Neither of the ruling NPN/NPP nor the opposition block, the UPN/GNPP had enough votes to promote, pass or defeat any motion or major issue in the House. So, whichever way the PRP voted, that was the way the matter went. And during the debate on revenue allocation, it was the PRP vote both in the House and during conference committees that clinched the revenue allocation formula, which is substantially still at work till today. I personally championed the idea that the Federal Government can only hold responsibilities and duties and so on commensurate with what they are doing. And so far, the Federal Government’s share has since declined in resource allocation vis-à-vis the states and local councils from the beginning of the Second Republic on October 1, 1979.
Now, I would want to see those who are agitating for restructuring demanding for responsibility one, from the local governments; two, from the states and three, from those who are favoured by the current revenue allocation formula especially the oil producing states to tell us what they have been doing with the money. And because you people in the media are not asking them to deliver account of the money given to them, there is no need coming back to blame the Federal Government that it has been irresponsible. I believe the Federal Government has a functional House of Representatives and a functional Senate, and the role of these two institutions in standing and checking the Federal Government is clear; everybody sees it. How many states are rendering accounts of their revenue earnings and expenditure. I don’t know of any state that has done that.
So, I believe the Nigerian states, in whatever form they are, have been very, very irresponsible. And I will not support the idea of encouraging their irresponsibility by giving them more resources and more powers so that they will take the resources and leave the powers.
But in a situation where the Federal Government has not been effective in carrying out its responsibilities, don’t you think that sharing some of the responsibilities with the states or even handing it over to them entirely would improve the welfare of Nigerians?
You mentioned the railways for instance. The Nigerian Railways was destroyed as a result of the civil war and you cannot hold the Federal Government responsible, neither can you hold the states because none of the states was responsible for the civil war. Even the states in the South-east cannot be blamed or asked to take responsibility for the destructions of the civil war. Now, after the civil war, some people including one who was the Sultan of Sokoto and another person who was a minister (I can’t remember a number of other people) engaged what they call RITES (Rail India Technical and Engineering Services) to come here and rehabilitate the railway. Money was allocated for the project in billions; the money was stolen and the railways were not rehabilitated. Go and do your homework; find out what happened to RITES and the money they voted for those Indian companies. So, please let’s go back to history and find out what happened because you can’t just take one area, one budget, one revenue allocation or one agitation and you don’t know the history of what happened and you pretend that you are doing the country any good; no!
Now, I am also aware that at the beginning of the Obasanjo administration, the Federal Government brought in the Chinese who were to partner with it on the rehabilitation of the railways. That’s how the Kaduna-Abuja railway was started. But while the rail lines are there now, we moved to the standard gauge. The standard gauge of course requires rehabilitating, uprooting and re-establishing the entire railway system in accordance with the standard gauge. Now, how many people have gone round to ask how much money has the Chinese pumped, how much did they promise to pump and what is the state of re-building the railway system from Lagos State to Kano. Now, we are doing one thing, which we have not finished but we are now talking about establishing another railway line from Lagos to Calabar, even when the East-west road has not been completed. So, people just join the agitation without doing their homework.
So, what is your advice for proponents of devolution of power now that the NASS has rejected it?
They should be democrats; either they go and join politics and get elected or they accept what has happened. Period! I want them to be democrats. In a democracy, numbers is the ultimate mantra. If you try something and you don’t succeed, you go and try again; if not, then forget about it. Because there is no way you can restructure the country by bypassing the NASS. Now that the NASS has spoken, I hope that’s the end of the day. Alright?