Godwin Tsa Abuja
Chief Solo Akuma, Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), is a former Attorney General of Abia State. In this interview, he submitted that only a president of Igbo extraction will solve the problems of Nigeria. He also bared his mind on Fiscal Federalism, the controversial Water Resources Bill at the National Assembly, among other national issues.
The permutations for the 2023 presidency has started in earnest with various geo-political zones indicating interest. Do you support the clamour for an Igbo president?
You know I am from the Southeast and it is the region that has not produced president of this country, whether in a military uniform or civilian dress. The Southwest has produced both as military head of state and civilian president; the North-central has produced, General Ibrahim Babangida and Abdulsalami Abubakar; the Northwest has produced the late Generals Sani Abacha; Musa Yar’Adua and the incumbent president, Muhammadu Buhari. But the Southeast has not produced and they are qualified. As a matter of fact, the Southeast is even the most qualified region to produce the president because only people from that region go to other regions to develop their regions. They have stakes in all the regions in the country. There are no people from other regions that have investments in regions other than their own, none, you won’t get it. So, because they have stakes in Nigeria, notwithstanding the way they were treated in 1966/1970 civil war, people from the Southeast have their investments scattered all over the country. So, when they clamour to be allowed to produce a president in 2023, it is a right thing to do, and they are qualified to do so. When a president comes the Southeast, that is when the solution to Nigeria’s problems will come out, because, we have more stakes in Nigeria more than any region. Go to Lagos State, who are those that have investments, it’s the people of the Southeast; go to Port Harcourt and come back to Abuja, all major investments are owned by the Southeast. The same in Kano and every part of the country. We are professional businessmen and because of that, we invest wherever we settle to practice our profession. So, we have more stake in Nigeria more than any part of the country.
But people say the Igbo are so divided that they cannot unite to clinch the presidency?
There is nothing like disunity among the Southeast. All people are saying is that, the frontline political parties should make it clear that those vying for the presidency in 2023 should come from the Southeast. Remember in 1999, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), zoned the presidency to the Southwest. That’s why Dr. Alex Ekwueme did not win the presidential election. AD then, fielded Olu Falaye while the PDP candidate was former President Olusegun Obasanjo. Now, there are several political parties, and every Igbo man should join and contest for the presidency. At the end, it will be one Igboman that will eventually emerged as president.
Nigeria recently celebrated her 60 years of independence. Even at this age, the country is still grappling with leadership problems. What do you think is wrong?
We have not been truthful to ourselves and that’s why things are not going the right way. What I mean by been truthful is that are those in leadership obeying the constitution in which they swore to oath? Are those in leadership distributing the common wealth of the nation equitably, are they distributing positions created by the constitution and the law equitably, carrying everybody along? Implementing proper economic policies? The greatest problem we have is lack of Fiscal Federalism because that is what will make the components states develop and grow faster that the situation we have at hand. So, when people call for devolution of power or restructuring, what they are asking for is that since we have agreed we are a federation, then, all these principles of a few should come into play. And the most important aspect of them is for us to have fiscal federalism. That is why we have been having problems. The power at the centre is too much. Everybody comes to the centre to take pocket money and returns to the state, disbursed it, when it finishes, he will come back again. But if we reverse that situation and allow the states to generate what they will use, that is where every state will take advantage of what it has to develop the state and it’s environment. And if we do so, then, we are going to move faster, move better than we are now. And I hope now that we are talking about constitutional amendment, the National Assembly should take a critical look at that.
Talking about constitutional amendment, which area of the constitution do you think needs an amendment?
The area I think the National Assembly should consider is the area of devolution of powers. It has to be looked into critically to see how more power should be given to the states. And when you devolve power, you give the states more responsibilities and it’s better that the revenue generating in a federating state comes from the state, and now the state would pay percentage to the Federal. That is what happened in the Republican Constitution of 1963. The regions were generating revenue and were paying agreed percentage to the centre. And if you looked at what happened at that time, you will discover that the regions were developing rapidly more than what is happening now.
This reminds me of the situation in Zamfara State where the gold it produces was sold by the state. Is this not a form of resource control?
Honestly, what we read about Zamfara is equivalent to resource control. So, if it is the method that they want, then the government of the day should allow every state to do it that way. That is the essence of fiscal federalism. Now, they have started from Zamfara, they should allow other states to copy Zamfara and do it. Because, if nothing happened to Zamfara, then, it’s now becomes selective treatment. Why other people, you control their resources and give them what you want, this other side, you allow them to take their resources and give you what they want, or what is agreed. So, it has to be uniform. If we adopted Zamfara formula, it has to be across board.
What’s your take on the controversial Water Resources Bill before the National Assembly?
The proposed Water Resources Bill will run contrary to the Land Use Act. That is the most critical thing. The Land Use Act is an existing law that has given a special status by the Nigerian Constitution. And the Act vested every land in the state on the governor, who would hold it in trust for the natives or the traditional owners of land in the state. That is why even when a state government needs a piece of land, they will approach the natives, give them notice of revocation, acquire the land and pay compensation for development or economic trees on that land. So, when you now want to bring Water Resources Bill, you are trying to expropriate the land vested on the people and state governors through the back door. So, before that bill can make any meaning, they must look at the Land Use Act. Without it, it is a legislation that will conflict with the Land Use Act. But I believe members of the National Assembly have seen the way people are opposed to it, so it has to be withdrawn and never allowed to be resurrected.