Chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC), Prof Itse Sagay, has said the position of Northern governors and leaders, which described power rotation as unconstitutional, as an insult to the South, warning that the region was taing a risky gamble.
In an interview with VINCENT KALU, the legal luminary, also called on the Federal Government to prosecute those than have been identified as financing the Boko Haram insurgency.
He also spoke on other issues.
From your comments and opinions, you have always harped on rotation of the presidency as a way of ensuring peaceful and harmonious relationship in the country. However, the North is opposed to this, What is your view?
Their position is unfair and inequitable; it is, in a way, an insult to the South and a risky gamble because we have to think of the stability of the federation; something that can cause not just chaos but such level of disenchantment in an already unstable situation in the country.
Some have been wondering, what is the North afraid of? They are averse to restructuring, they oppose the proposed collection of the value-added tax (TAX) by the states, and they also don’t want to hear of rotation of power. What do they really want?
There is a great irony in the position they are taking now. In the early years of pre and post independence; in other words, talking from 1950 to 1966, the Northerners were extreme advocates of federalism. They didn’t want any association that would bring various parts of the federation too close. They wanted everybody to be almost independent and they jealously guarded it. One of the reasons Aguiyi Ironsi was overthrown was that he issued Decree no 24 of 1966, virtually abolishing federalism. That was the main reason they gave for overthrowing him. So, it is a big irony now when we see that the Northern elites have gone to the extreme opposite of this, and I try to ex- amine what could have been responsible. The two major things I see are – oil and resources controllable by the Federal Government, plus the probability that the federal government is usually controlled by the North. If you control a strong centre which they have greater ac- cess to than any other part of the country, you also control all the resources of the country. If you look at the constitution of 1979 and 1999, they totally overthrew the legacy of federalism and created a situation in which the resources of the country have been mixed together and then created a federal owner of these resources and a federal distributor of these resources in a rather one-sided manner, favouring those who contribute least to those resources that have been gathered by the Federal Government. It is purely based on materialism; the benefits of enjoying those resource allocations which in strict federalism would not have been possible.
Before it was agitation for Biafra, but now, there is also clamour for Oduduwa Republic. There are also agitations from Ijaw leaders that they were fed up with Nigeria and want to opt out. Could this be the reasons for the agitations from the South and parts of Middle Belt?
Various Nigerian nationalities want a return to true federalism as it was before January 1966. If you look at the history of this country, the first conference of Nigerians on the future of the country was in January 1950, when the North, the East and the West came together first time in Ibadan. The major outcome of that meeting was that they would only agree to be together if there would be very strict central constitution in which everybody controlled his own part of the country, with a few matters going to the centre. This was affirmed in the Macpherson Constitution in 1951 and in the Littleton Constitution of 1954 and in the final constitution which all the parties agreed upon in 1960. The formula was very simple with regards to your resources, particularly mineral.
You take 50 per cent of proceeds of all your mineral resources; 20 per cent for the Federal Government and 30 percent to the Distribution Fund for the whole country. Every region, whether poor or rich, contributed 30 per cent to the Distribution Fund. The outcome was that those who were richer, their 30 per cent was much more than the less endowed ones, but you contributed 30 per cent. What they did was that, they examined the level of wealth of each of the regions and from that 30 per cent they gave more to the least endowed and least to the most contributors. The Northern Region was getting about 47 per cent from the Distribution Fund. If you look at it, it was very well crafted, and which took care of federalism and at the same time ensured that you didn’t ignore your neighbour’s plight. You took your 50 per cent, sent 20 per cent to the Federal Government to run itself, and then 30 per cent that was left, everybody got something, but the needy got the most. It was a fair situation and it worked very well and there was no complaint about it.
I keep on saying that we have to go back to the 1963 Constitution. The 1960 Constitution was repeated in 1963. All they did was to change the royal to republican; instead of king, we had president and things like that. It’s the same thing. All we need to do is to go back there and there will be peace in this country. We will still be contributing to the least endowed. Like Gombe State governor quiet rightly cried out that if you insist on keeping everything you get from VAT, we would suffer; I could understand the anguish of that governor, but under the 1963 Constitution, he would not suffer because the 30 per cent which everybody contributes, they would take a lot from it to go to Gombe to help them cover their shortages. So that is the ideal constitution. What is happening now is that the Federal Government collects everything and decides who to give and it is done in an unfair manner that those who are well endowed and who would have been glad to be of help feel outraged because it is not clear. This is the reason there is dis- satisfaction in the country. It has been building over a long period of time.
Many states, mainly in the South, but not only in the South, have been saying, let us go back to true federalism, where all the re- sources will be managed by the states and let them contribute what they used to contribute then and everybody would be satisfied. But those in power now, particularly those coming from the North, simply see what some people are calling feeding bottle federalism, so convenient that they are not ready to bulge even though they were the ones who advocated federalism at its extreme.
In 1953 when Tony Enahoro moved a motion that independence should be in 1956, there was a roar that arose out of that and the North got so angry because they didn’t want to be swept with the western educated South; they felt that the Southerners would provide the civil servants and be in powerful positions in the Northern region. They didn’t want that; they wanted their people to be educated enough to be able to hold on to top places. They refused and the motion was defeated.
Arising out of that, they went so extreme in their anxiety about Southern demand for independence that they produced an eight-point release, in which they said, no, let us have a confederation; that they didn’t even want federalism. There should be no central government; there should be a confederation of in- dependence states; there would be no capital, each region would have its own capital. We would have central airways, central post office and a few central things, but no central government. That was in 1953, so you can see they are now the advocates of a suffocating unitary system that is really killing initiatives, killing the tendency of competition which would now result in everybody doing his best and leap- frogging in development achievements, but all that changed. It is incredible for those of us who live through this period. It is baffling.
Nobody is talking about going back to regions. We should update it with the creation of states. The states will be there. We cannot go back to regions. Instead of talking of regions, we talk of states and give them the powers of regions. Bring down 1963 Constitution to the states. You will be shocked about the peace that will be returned in this country. At this stage, senators will be part time; they will come for a month or two, pass the bills and go back to their professions. They will be paid sit- ting allowance for the period they were there. That’s the way it used to be. We have to do this for this country to finally find peace and move to progress.
One particular reason for this is just the comfort of apparently enjoying the resources which you didn’t work for and fearing that if a strict system of federal system is introduced, you have to work harder for what you get. This is the mentality. However, what they don’t seem to take into consideration is that oil is the main resource of the South. Remove oil, we are almost at the same level, and it is also a vanishing asset. If you look at the North, the cattle they have are renewable commodity that will never come to an end. If they agreed to ranch and forget about Southern resources, from the cows alone, they will be able to produce milk, cheese, and frozen beef for sale, even outside the country. They can produce leather, and corn beef. These people have a gold mine under their noses which they are ignoring and they are carried away by oil re- sources, which have a terminal date. Instead, they want to use all the profits from oil operations to develop oil in their own zone. But, by the time the oil will be discovered, everybody will be drinking his own oil because nobody will want oil again. They are making a mis- take. They should develop what they have, as there is great future in it.
Talking about insecurity, the UAE recently named some Nigerians who were funding Boko Haram. Nigerians had expected that these people would be prosecuted, but nothing of such is happening.
I cannot understand this because if you name and prosecute these people who have plunged this country into so much crisis, uncertainty and fear, it is the government that would be the greatest beneficiary because their reputation as a government would be restored. As an APC member, my worry is that security has become such a huge problem in this country that by the time this government ends without it being resolved, nobody will remember all the infrastructure, social developments and all the great things this government has done. It is in the interest of this government to deal with those behind this insecurity, reveal the names of the people, prosecute them and pursue vigorously those who are still engaged in banditry and Boko Haram activities. I don’t understand this reluctance.
Security is going to be a campaign issue in 2023?
Yes, nobody will remember the railways, the Second Niger Bridge, the Lagos-Ibadan road and social developments. All these things would be forgotten; everybody will be harping on insecurity.
PDP is accusing this government of sup- porting terrorism since it has refused to prosecute these Boko Haram sponsors.
Definitely, it is to the disadvantage of government to keep quiet over such a critical issue. We need to see them being charged or brought to court and being dealt with as an exemplary measure and punishment to deter anybody who thinks he can wreck this country the way these people had. Nigeria is so unsafe now and people are leaving the country in droves; it doesn’t make sense keeping quiet about these people. The government should have no interest in protecting these people because doing so is against government’s interest, against its reputation and against the future of the party of the government.
Another issue that is generating controversy is the proposed Naval Base in Kano. What is your take on this?
I’m bit reticent about that because I don’t know too much about the navy. The question I ask myself is, what is the meaning of naval base on dry land? Is it a technical thing in na- val profession? Does it exist in other countries or we are copying something that maybe is the developed countries’ concept, which they have adopted in running their naval organisations? I want to know more, leaving it at that without further information looks absurd because where you cannot put a boat down in my view as layman can not be anaval base. A sailor who is not on a boat cannot be a naval officer because a naval officer is a security seaman as against the civil seaman who is in merchant ship and all those operate in seas. It is odd. I don’t want to condemn it outright because of my ignorance, but from a layman’s point of view, it is extremely odd. The government needs to come out to give a full statement to explain the basis of that decision.
You are a fan of President Buhari; people accuse him of mismanaging the diversity of Nigeria, and this they say gave rise to agitations across the country. What advise do you give him in this direction?
Is it in terms of appointment?
Generally. There are certain things that you say that would be overlooked, but when an- other person from another part of the country says the same, he would be attacked by the presidency. Bishop Kukah made a statement and the presidency came heavily on him, but Sheikh Gumi has been making similar or even more grievous statements, but the same presidency looks the other way. Does it not suggest that you have a senior Nigerian and a junior Nigerian?
What I see is the reluctance of this government to promote pluralism, restructuring to federalism. If you look at all these agitations, basically what they complain about is that the areas they represent do not have enough autonomy. I hope IPOB with its very belligerent portfolio would accept that if the states of the South-East and all the other states are given sufficient autonomy or control over their resources and more power in control over their people, leaving the Federal Government to a more limited role, maybe they may decide that their own position is untenable. Most of the people who are complaining are because they don’t have enough local control over the governance of their people in a federating unit.
You are under attack by armed robbers or herdsmen and you don’t have policemen. South-West set up Amotekun; they say it can- not be armed. The herdsman is free to carry AK 47, and you are supposed to face him with bare hands, which is wrong. Every state needs to have its own police that would be fully armed to confront these people. Look at the local government. Local government is a state affair; the states decide to create local governments, where it wants. The number and locations are determined by the states. The states pay the cost of running local governments. What we have now is that the Federal Government through the constitution has created local governments.
Local government are creatures of the states, and you have a situation where local governments are listed in the constitution, creating a situation where the states cannot alter the number of local governments without going to the Federal Government or where the local governments are paid directly from the federal for running their local governments with the resources that have been contributed by the states. Why don’t you let the states determine the number of local governments they want? It doesn’t make sense. It is totally anti-federal.