Obong Victor Attah was the governor of Akwa Ibom State from 1999 to 2007 on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). He left the PDP to join the All Progressives Congress (APC) but retired from politics shortly after. He has been at the forefront of pushing for the restructuring of the country and in this interview; he says the country may not survive after President Muhammadu Buhari’s second tenure in 2023 unless the restructuring process is set in motion.
What is your assessment of the presidential election and do you think that President Buhari’s second tenure will be better than his first?
Buhari won the concluded presidential election not as an elite and certainly not because he was the APC candidate but because he is Buhari. Without a doubt, it is a personal victory, but what effect will that have on his party, the APC?Throughout his first tenure, nobody can say that he was truly a party man in the conventional sense. Because of this, there were rumblings within his party. Some very big wigs were said to be considering leaving the party, in fact, some even thought that by the time we get to the elections, the party would suffer an implosion. As it happened, that was averted.
In his second coming, it is my conviction that he is going to pay even less attention to the party. With some serving governors being suspended from the party by the National Working Committee for anti party activities, with the earlier schisms that had gone to spawn new parties or swell the ranks of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP); with the evident shift in the support calculus, it is clear to me that in no distant future, we will be singing its dirge. APC is going to be scattered – dead.
If Atiku Abubakar, the presidential candidate of the PDP had won, I had the fear that this country would be plunged into an orgy of intolerable excesses. With what has happened now, it is obvious that the fortunes of the PDP are also most likely going to change.
Goodluck Jonathan on leaving office as the president on that party’s platform could not establish himself as the rallying point for the party after Makarfi had so ably wrested it out of Sheriff’s clutches. It took Atiku Abubakar as its presidential candidate to provide that focus. Given his age and history of past attempts, this surely was for him a last ditch. With him off the scene, PDP is completely rudderless and with no anchor. It is safe to say that PDP too, which had also splintered in the past will soon be scattered – dead.
There was yet a third group, the military block. They did not hide their support for Atiku and the PDP. They openly showed their hand and have been spanked. Their influence therefore is bound to wane. It is my prediction that from now on, we are going to witness less and less of those pilgrimages to Abeokuta and Minna. With this loss of influence, it is also safe to say that the military oligarchy is dead.
An opportunity has now been created for fresh hands, an opportunity for new leadership to take over. Nigeria can now look forward to a new birth.
What should be the agenda for Buhari’s government?
I have a few suggestions. First, he must see to it that we re-enact and reinstate the terms and conditions of the agreement that caused all the various peoples of this country at independence to agree to come together and form one country –federalism. Anything short of this is to court disaster of unimaginable magnitude. The popular word that describes this today is restructuring. My prediction is that unless this is done, by the end of his tenure in the next four years, there may not be a country called Nigeria as we know it today. There can be no Nigeria without a restructured country. What is going to happen is that if there is no restructuring, agitations will get more violent and the country will scatter and Buhari is the type of President who will not allow that to happen. If his disposition is against restructuring when he knows that it is what has to be done so that there would be a Nigeria for him to govern, he would see to it that the country is restructured.
All within the next four years, is that possible?
He must begin now by laying the groundwork and do all that has to be done to show sincere evidence that he wants to restructure. To achieve restructuring, it takes a lot of negotiating. See how long it took us to agree that we wanted federating units. Some sections of the country said they were not ready while other sections said they were ready and it caused the delay of independence. If we start the restructuring process, it is not going to be any different. But we must all agree that restructuring is what we have to do to ensure that there is still a country called Nigeria.
Have elder statesmen like you who are still alive come together to present these restructuring demands to the president?
I was the interim chairman of PANDEF and an effort was made to do that and we sent a 16-point agenda to the president and our focus was essentially on the Niger Delta and restructuring. The Ohanaeze which represents the Igbo and the Afenifere also insist on restructuring. So we had the Southern leaders’ forum which was joined by the Middle Belt and at the end of the day, personalities like Ango Abdulahi and Junaid joined us. But along the line, we made mistakes when we decided to align with a presidential candidate and for me that is where we derailed because we were now seen as a party without being a party. If we had just remained neutral and stuck to restructuring, we would have been in a better place today. That is why I am saying that there has to be a new national movement whose focus would only be on restructuring and nothing else. Some Christians in Lagos started a movement insisting that the state has to produce a Christian governor. They pushed their agenda and that was what made the two main parties to present Christian candidates for the governorship election in 2015. So, we need a movement to push restructuring and they have to stay on course without showing partisanship to ensure that the aim is achieved.
Are you implying that Buhari’s presidency is like a transition?
How is it a transition? It is a proper presidency but it has to begin the process of changing Nigeria. Every time restructuring is discussed, every part of this country insists it can survive on its own without the other. Indeed that is what will have to happen in the event of a break up. What I am advocating is that we put that into practice; as federating units, we learn to survive each on its own while staying together as a country. That is what federalism is all about and that is what restructuring means.
Other points in my agenda for Buhari are that his government must work relentlessly to improve power and also fight corruption. Next, he must put a stop to all the killings whether by Fulani herdsmen or Libyan mercenaries, marauders, cattle rustlers or whoever. He must also seek for the release of Leah Sharibu and the total annihilation of Boko Haram.
Some people will wonder why I did not include issues like the broken economy, falling standard of education, poor health care, decaying infrastructure etc in my agenda. For me, these are mere symptoms of a major debilitating ailment. Once we restructure so that the federating units become coordinate with, rather than subordinate to the center, all these associated ills will begin a process of auto correction. Restructuring has served us well in the past and it is an idea whose time has come and cannot be resisted or delayed.
President Buhari had the opportunity to sign the amended Electoral Act into law but he declined and his critics accused him of declining because he was afraid of losing the election. Do you think someone who didn’t seem interested in electoral reforms will be disposed to setting the restructuring process in motion?
There were certain clauses in the Electoral Act that no one should accept if the person is sincere about electoral reforms. Also why didn’t the previous governments insist that Justice Mohammed Uwais recommendations on the Electoral Act be implemented? We now want to put the blame on Buhari. We are still debating on the Electoral Act because we are operating a unitary system. Where in the world does a federal government conduct elections for the state? The problem is that we are running a dysfunctional system and we think we can panel beat it, we cannot. I am saying it again that unless we restructure, there may be no Nigeria.
Being that you were a member of the APC until recently, what is your take on the outcome of the governorship election in your state?
In October last year, I said openly that Nsime Ekere of APC had an 80 percent chance of winning the election but that with Akpabio jumping out from PDP to join Ekere’s camp, he would destroy the chances of the young man from winning. I was very graphic and that was my position. Akpabio was an uncommon governor who has suffered an uncommon defeat and rejection by the common people of Akwa Ibom. His rejection affected Nsime and APC. At one time, no one thought Udom Emmanuel could win but he won the election cleanly; don’t mind what anyone will tell you about Mike Igini, he is one of the finest INEC commissioners in the country by far. APC was totally rejected by the people of Akwa Ibom such that they could not even win one seat either in the House of Assembly or the National Assembly.