By Henry Okonkwo
President of Igboekulie, a pan-Igbo socio-cultural group, Prince Ben Onuora, has bared his mind on the clamour for the amendment of the 1999 Constitution.
In this interview, the renowned lawyer and
political analyst also spoke on the barrage of criticisms levelled at President Muhammadu Buhari’s government, what the president must do to silence his critics and other raging national issues. Excerpts:
There’s much tension, killings and insecurity in the country, and many opinion leaders have called for the impeachment or resignation of President Buhari. Do you think these critics are being too harsh on the president?
It is not harsh to call for the resignation or impeachment of the president. Let’s forget about resignation. A man who routinely goes to the hospital with his full presidential powers is unlikely to resign! I am convinced PMB has committed many impeachable offences as contemplated by Section 143 of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution. Even PMB’s most ardent supporters will readily concede that he has repeatedly committed acts of gross misconduct and breached the constitution. In 2018, he withdrew US$496,000 for the purchase of Super Tucano fighter jets without due appropriation by the National Assembly (NASS). He routinely ignores the Federal Character constitutional provision with his customary lopsided appointments. He has failed woefully to secure Nigeria, contrary to Section 14(2)(c) which makes security and welfare of Nigerians the primary purpose of government. Through a number of failed policies, the unemployment rate is now at 33.3 per cent while inflation and poverty are so high that Nigeria is the infamous poverty capital of the world. Despite these breaches, the political reality is that PMB may not be impeached because the present NASS is clearly an appendage, if not a puppet, of the Executive, the process of impeachment itself is rigorous and quite cumbersome, PMB’s APC has a majority in both Houses and with corruption cases hanging on the head of some NASS members, voting for impeachment could lead to a resuscitation of the forgotten cases in retaliation. So, a more realistic option is for Nigerians to use their PVC cards wisely in 2023.
You were among millions of Nigerians that supported and were excited at the emergence of Buhari as president. Do you still have that belief in him? If no, at what point did your faith begin to wane in this administration?
Yes, I voted for PMB in 2015. I was just tired of the rapacious stealing by the PDP. I, therefore, exercised my democratic right to seek an alternative, like many other Nigerians. Unfortunately, APC has failed in all its promises except in the provision of some infrastructure like rebuilding some critical federal highways, bridges and railways. I started losing faith in PMB’s government when quite early he started mismanaging the diversity of Nigerians by consciously excluding the people of the Southeast from key appointments because they did not vote for him! In doing so, he violated and continues to violate Section 14 of our constitution which stipulates the Federal Character principle to promote national unity and command national loyalty. IGBOEKULIE, a socio-cultural group which I am privileged to lead, has repeatedly called PMB’s attention to this unpresidential conduct that has since 2015 been steadily destroying national unity, to no avail. Honestly, I did not believe that a Nigerian president could embrace nepotism with so much pride and impunity. This grave error is substantially why there is neither love nor peace in Nigeria anymore. Quite unfortunate indeed.
What do you suggest PMB should do to ease the tensions, silence his critics and win back the trust?
With two years out of eight years left. It is probably late, but not too late for PMB to win back the trust of Nigerians. First, he should be a father to all Nigerians, not a section of it. Secondly, he should, as promised during the campaigns, do everything possible to win the war against terrorism, insurgency, banditry, murderous herdsmen, kidnappers, etc. He is not proactive and appears to lack any initiative or comprehensive strategy against these vices. The insecurity is so pervasively bad that with the thriving ransom payment to bandits and kidnappers of innocent children and students, Nigeria is surely sliding into a failed state. Thirdly, he should learn to communicate directly to Nigerians who voted for him. It is insulting to continually violate our dignity by sending Garba Shehu to us even when the nation is at war on multiple fronts. Fourthly, PMB should fight corruption in his government. Why has he not probed and punished those who stole and are perhaps, still stealing funds meant to equip our security forces with modern gadgets and ammunitions as recently confirmed by the National Security Adviser, Babagana Monguno? What happened to the culprits of the NDDC scandalous revelations at NASS? Why was Abdulrasheed Maina left off the hook initially? PMB’s war against corruption died when he condoned Babachir Lawal for months after the N200 million IDP contract scam revelations. Fifthly, PMB should urgently implement some of the good recommendations of the last national conference which do not require legislative input and work with NASS to legislate on others through executive bills. Some solutions to our current problems as a nation are in that report. There are many others, but let me pause here and hope that PMB listens!
There is a raging call for a constitutional amendment as the only solution to Nigeria’s problems. What new rules would want to see, and what aspects of our laws would you want to see expunged in an amended Constitution?
In addition to my comments on the 2014 national conference report, I would want the constitution amended to provide for the following:
a)State and Local Government Police.
b) Devolution of power and responsibilities from the Federal Government to states.
c) Unicameral Legislature. We certainly do not need two federal houses for legislation. It is wasteful.
d) Independent candidates in elections. For me, the difference between APC and PDP is like that between six and half dozen! With the flawed and monetized process of emergence as candidates in elections in Nigeria, people should be legally permitted to partake in governance without belonging to any political party. Despite the suggestions for a constitutional amendment, I believe that our problems as a nation have more to do with poor leadership than laws! Nigerians are very poor and impoverished because the leaders are selfish, insensitive, corrupt and largely incompetent. These negative attributes have nothing to do with the constitution. Bad leaders will always find a way to make a good constitution look bad and unworkable, while even with a bad constitution, good leaders will still run an orderly society and improve the living standard of the citizens. As Nigerians are daily dying of hunger and from insecurity, it has not reduced the appetite of profligate state governors for flying in expensive private jets, ridiculous appointment of countless commissioners, special advisers, senior and ordinary special assistants, outright theft of public funds, etc. For these governors, many of who have refused to pay the minimum wage of a mere N30,000 monthly, the issue is poor leadership, not the constitution. So, law alone cannot herald a positive change in Nigeria
The five governors of the Southeast have constantly come under a barrage of fierce criticisms too, because of the spate of insecurity and killings that have engulfed the region. Many accuse them of appearing timid and cowardly in the face of herdsmen invasion and attacks in many Igbo communities. What is your take on this notion?
What works in one state may not necessarily work in another. The most vociferous voice in Nigeria against Fulani herdsmen invasion is the courageous Governor Samuel Ortom. Before the recent spike in insecurity across the Southeast states, was Benue safer than any Southeast state? No. So, every state should devise a strategy that works. Almost all states are victims of herdsmen attacks while the Federal Government remains aloof with occasional presidential commiseration with the victims whom PMB once told to learn to accommodate their murderous neighbours! It is true that constitutionally, governors are the chief security officers of their states. This big-sounding post is meaningless in practical terms without the official power to control any of the security forces or legal right to purchase arms for local vigilante. So long as the Federal Government controls everything and everyone, all state governors are helpless. That is why Amotekun of the Southwest is not effective. Though, quite young, Ebubeagu may suffer the same fate.
Are there better ways the governors could have managed the situation?
The two things the governors can do to bring about a different narrative are: use their influence to persuade the NASS members from their states to amend the constitution to enable states to have state and local government police. Once this happens, they should stop further funding for the federal police and channel resources to train and equip their own state police and two, the governors should become more prudent and reduce poverty in their respective states. You cannot continue to churn out jobless, hungry and angry youths yearly and expect peace. It is a mirage.
Does it bother you that the Southeast region already has two regional security bodies in operation, ESN formed by Nnamdi Kanu and Ebubeagu formed by the governors?
Of course, it bothers me that the Southeast has Ebubeagu and Eastern Security Network (ESN) which appear to be determined to work against each other, going by recent utterances by some Southeast governors and Nnamdi Kanu. While the two bodies flex their muscles against each other, Alaigbo has suddenly become a killing field. Recent killings of policemen and women, burning down of police stations and courts as well as the release of inmates in correctional centres (prisons) in the Southeast coupled with the killing of Ikonso of ESN unequivocally confirm that there are monumental crises in Igboland. We at IGBOEKULIE are making moves to bring peace to Igboland through wide consultations and appeal to those involved. We believe that though it is difficult, ESN and Ebubeagu must find a way to work together in the interest of Alaigbo. We urge other groups and elders in Igboland to urgently intervene. We need to do everything to ensure that we do not invite war into Igboland. Our people are very peaceful and enterprising. They need a peaceful atmosphere to thrive, not fear, violence and indeed, war. We cannot wish away the reality of ESN being on ground, but Nnamdi Kanu must also learn to listen to elders in Igboland instead of abusing everybody, particularly the Ohanaeze leadership. IGBOEKULIE fervently calls for restraint and dialogue to douse the tension. Southeast is already lagging in Foreign Direct Investments inflow, critical federal infrastructure and appointments, employment, poverty rate, industrialisation, etc. Let us refrain from making it worse. Efforts should be directed at climbing out of this hole of depressing statistics, not digging the hole furthe