From Romanus Ugwu, Abuja
A chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the Director-General, Voice of Nigeria (VON), Osita Okechukwu, has claimed that though he is not against constitutional amendment, he is however more bothered by the level of palpable hunger and gross unemployment across the country.
In this interview, Okechukwu delved extensively into myriad of burning issues in the country, including the activities of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), solutions to the challenges facing the country among others.
You tend to differ with others on agitation for restructuring of the federation, do you actually believe in restructuring?
In this season of amendment of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria, may I submit that I sincerely subscribe to the imperative of restructuring. The truism is that if we don’t restructure today, we must one day, sooner than later, restructure.
The good news is the near consensus by all for restructuring of our federation in one form or the other. As an ardent supporter of restructuring, the power devolution variant, may I appeal we embark on dual-restructuring.
What do you mean by dual-restructuring of power devolution variant?
My definition of dual-restructuring is constitutional amendment exercise embarked upon at the same time, where relevant items in the Exclusive Legislative List like mining rights are devolved to Concurrent Legislative List.
At the same time, our dear state governors are compelled with strict conditions for compliance to democratically unlock the local councils, state legislature and judiciary to make them truly independent.
That is dual-restructuring of devolution variant for good governance and renewal of faith in Nigeria. There are those who advocate for total new constitution; we shall come back to this later in this discussion.
What does renewal of faith in Nigeria get to do with restructuring?
Faith in our dear country is daily being eroded by mis-governance at various levels, especially at local government tier, hence creating uncertainty at the grassroots. Many people have lost faith in our dear country and even in the capacity of democracy to deliver good governance.
This is the premise of my submission that our governors ape Emperors, the outcome of which regrettably is the dangerous recession of democracy in Nigeria.
Do you think it is only in Nigeria that democracy is in recession?
No. I am aware that there is democratic recession in many climes of the world, but that of Africa is threatening, that’s why you have military coup in Chad and Mali. Indeed, pundits posit that there is clear relationship between democratic recession and ethno-religious bigotry, hopelessness, nepotism, gross unemployment, banditry and the fierce contest for resources in the land.
What is the way out of the problem?
Democracy should be truly consolidated at all tiers by obedience to democratic ethos, rule of law and cultivation of strong democratic institutions.
Is it not a paradox that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in Nigeria conducts better, and more credible elections than State Independent Electoral Commission in all states nationwide?
What is the practical solution?
The day visible signs of democracy start germinating at local, state and federal levels of governance, the people will acknowledge it and then faith will renew. Accordingly, if we devolve more powers and resources to state governors without checks and balances, our democracy will slide further into dangerous recession, with its attendance insecurity.
Methinks that the best way to restore human dignity, national loyalty, brotherhood and cushion ethno-religious bigotry is democratically elected local councilors, independent state legislatures and judiciary. A lot of people had forgotten that much resources are shared to states and local governments. All eyes and all scrutiny are devoted to the center.
What is your take that some pundits are of the view that a new brand constitution is the solution not the routine amendment or alteration of the 1999 Constitution?
The truth is that we are in a transition of a country that for over five decades depended solely on oil revenue, a product that we contribute little or no sweat in neither production nor sales.
Suddenly, the downside or the fall in oil revenue is, to us, like a mirage and near shock. This is the kernel of general insecurity, banditry, kidnapping and Boko Haram in the land.
We are bound to resort to all manner of blame games before we gather ourselves. The 1999 Constitution is not perfect nor was written by all of us, but no constitution was written by all. Even the USA Constitution we all eulogise was not written by all, but was most of the time implemented by patriots who mean well for their kindred.
Therefore, it will be a gross mistake to take the palpable general insecurity as the reason to rush issues like creation of State Police without democratic safety nets of independent State judiciary and robust state legislatures.
Let us not forget that as advanced as United States is, the recurring killings is unparalleled. Consequently, State Police may be jaundiced and human rights of the people trampled upon by Emperor Governors without these democratic safety valves.
Are you opposed to State police?
I am not, please get me clear. We should not because of the spur of the moment be guided by the general insecurity in the land, be reticent. Those who hurriedly hand over cup to the clever monkey find it difficult to recover it.
For example, the blatant refusal of governors of all the parties to implement the first leg of real restructuring embarked upon by President Buhari since 2018 had resulted in Mr President, two years down the line, signing Executive Order 10 to energise the amendment of Section 121(3) – financial autonomy of State legislatures and judiciary.
zThe outcome of governors phobia to independent judiciary and legislatures is that our state judiciary and legislatures have been paralysed by striking workers for months.
Or as cited above, can we hurriedly forget the mess called the State Independent Electoral Commission which never conducted any credible local councils election? Can its performance be compared with that of Independent National Electoral Commission(INEC)? Governors locked up the local governments and thus vehemently and violently continue to breach Section 7 of our Constitution.
Why are you among the minority who deliberately cling to the 1999 Constitution which even the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila has joined in pointing out its imperfections?
My second appeal to those who call for total consignment of the 1999 Constitution to the dustbin of history for all manner of reasons is to be cautious. Yes, they want fresh mint constitution; it’s their inalienable rights under democracy. Without debating the merits or otherwise of the agitation against the constitution, it must be born in mind that as the grundnorm, the whole structure of governance of today – Councillors, State and Federal legislators, governors and president are products of this much vilified document.
Do we dissolve all of them? What happens to the vacuum that will be created? Who will conduct the election to the so called Constituent Assembly, to elect the representatives of the more than 100 ethnic nationalities being canvassed? Caution and pragmatism is the answer; let us not commit suicide because of hunger.
Are you aware that most people have lost confidence in the 1999 Constitution because it is skewed in favour of the North, resulting in advocating for the return of 1963 Constitution?
As a social scientist, one acknowledges the stereotype and prejudice phobia which cloak our thoughts in multi-ethnic societies like ours. Therefore, it is pragmatic to come to terms that democracy is not a revolution and that all gains made in liberal democracy throughout history are incremental.
The USA democracy, we all eulogise after over 200 years of democracy has incrementally made only 18 amendments, in spite of strident agitations.
We must also not lose sight of the truism that the famous Magna Carta, the great charter which one of the best legal minds, Lord Denning defined as the greatest constitutional document of all times and the foundation of the freedom of individual rights against arbitrary authority of despots was also callously condemned in early years like the 1999 Constitution. And for the 1963 Constitution, if it was perfect, how come the first Republic it midwifed collapsed?
How do you convince those from South East geopolitical zone that with only 15 Senators from five States in a system where other zones have 18 and 21, that much will be in their favour?
I am aware of the imbalance in our situation, especially when issues like restructuring takes the front burner. Where I differ with some of my brothers like IPOB and their ilk is that of strategy. For me, I belong to the Zikist school of thought and believe in one Nigeria; that if all the nooks and crannies of Nigeria prosper, that the Igbo will be one of the foremost beneficiaries in the Nigeria project. We live and invest nationwide.
My worry is that we are all underdeveloped and that’s man made. If you are on the same page with us, then join our incremental and peaceful approach to the resolution of the fault lines.
How can your peaceful approach resolve the imbalance when by nature those who hold the stick from position of advantage never bulge?
Yes and no; I am aware of the marginalisation of Ndigbo, but I take solace in Thomas Paine’s famous admonition that whatever reason cannot resolve, time will resolve it.
How many of the non-Zikists have taken the time to explain to the North how they will fare if the oil revenue is yanked off their reach?
Instead of taking time to explain that the North will be the greatest beneficiary because they have more states and local councils and stands to benefit more in a restructured Nigeria, all they do is to paint horrid pictures of bad weather waiting for the North if Nigeria is restructured.
That’s not the best approach, we need to change strategy. We all benefit from a restructured Nigeria within the context of strict observation of rule of law, equity and good conscience, which dual-restructuring will guarantee.
Are you aware that some persons will not buy into your submission; in fact, some will be very angry with what you are canvassing?
Mine is like a preacher of the scriptures, all I do is to point at the pragmatic route to same destination. Take for example, my brethren of IPOB, they sometimes behave as if all Igbo are united.
They forget that in the Abacha’s Conference of 1995/6, Obasanjo’s Conference of 2005 and Jonathan’s Conference of 2014, that the issue of region failed woefully. Even my town Eke is highly fractured and more divided than Nigeria.
Assuming it is a Republic, there will be the same clamour. This is a town of about 100,000 persons, home and abroad, of the same parentage, same WAWA Igbo dialect and 99 per cent Catholics, yet the center cannot hold.
The irony is that the IPOB clan out of their delusion think that there are no hungry or unemployed hands in the North. The palpable hunger and gross unemployment across the country is what bothers me. And also worrisome is our bourgeoning population.