Chief Chris Adokeme is a prominent Niger Delta leader and National President of University of Port Harcourt Alumni Association. He speaks on agitations for restructuring and happenings in the Niger Delta.
In the last few months, the most topical issue has been the debate on restructuring. What is your idea of restructuring?
If you ask me, this question of restructuring is easier than a lot of people want us to believe. Nigeria is a federation of states. That is why it is called the Federal Republic of Nigeria. What we are saying is that let us implement the federal structure of government. The federal structure is already guaranteed in our constitution. And we know what a federation of states means. It means that there is great autonomy each state will enjoy. It means that the states are been given the opportunity to explore the resources that are natural to them. It means that the states have an obligation, because of the symbiotic relationship between the local government and the federal government to pay tax. And it is the federal government that will determine the degree on the amount of tax to be paid. That is what a federation means. The truth, if it must be told, in Nigeria, currently we are not even practicing a federal system of government. To me, when we say restructure, we are simply saying; let us adhere to the true tenets of a federation.
Recently, the former national chairman of APC, Bisi Akande called for the change of the 1999 constitution. What do you make of it?
Well, we have known Chief Akande to be an extremely patriotic elder statesman. And so it will be difficult to dismiss with the wave of the hand his opinion on international or domestic issues. But truth be told, I do not think going back to that regional system of government is a better alternative. It is not very realistic. It would mean you have to eliminate practically everything that currently exist. It is going to be more difficult to achieve than achieve restructuring on the basis of federal structure. What we are saying is just remain faithful to the spirit and letters of the federal government. It is easy. But if you talk about going back to the regional system of administration, you have to eliminate the states as currently known. I don’t think that is very good for us and easily realisable.
Some Nigerians have argued that the problem the nation has is leadership and not what so many people are canvassing. Do you agree?
I don’t I want to get involve in the politics of the APC. But let me make this clear that leadership is not a problem of a federal nation. We have a problem of leadership evading every strata of the Nigeria political space. In fact we also have leadership problem in our local governments. There are areas in this country that once you want to have a local government chairmanship election you will see that the whole community would go up in flames. And that is because politics is involved. You see, the way we reward leadership in Nigeria is faulty; faulty in the sense that we do not see leadership as a means of serving the people. The reward system for leadership outweighs the gains of it. So if we have a situation where rewarding leadership is made less attractive and you encourage people to realise that coming into leadership position, basically for the purpose of service, you will see that a lot of patriotic people, with ideas and who are ready to serve will emerge. But the current structure where you have members of the executive excessively rewarded makes leadership a problem in this country. So to that extent, it is true. But it is not restricted to the federal, state or local government. It is problem that permeates the entire political space of Nigeria.
Last week we saw some people from Bayelsa protesting that NDDC has not done anything for them. Is it really the true picture?
The politics of the NDDC is unfortunate. While not holding brief for the NDDC, I am in the position to know that the current leadership of the NDDC is a very responsive one. Unfortunately, we have found ourselves in a situation where the NDDC, as a body would give contracts to indigenous contractors and these persons will collect mobilisation fee and literally disappear into thin air. I think that our focus should be on how to make those who get contracts from the NDDC perform. The other day I read in the papers and I was alarmed at the number of NDDC projects that contractors have abandoned. I can assure you that many of these contracts were given to contractors, indigenous to these areas. So if we can get these contractors to execute jobs that they have been given by NDDC then we won’t have this cry about non-performance. Yes. In the past, the NDDC has been found wanting in several respects. But currently from what we have seen happening, the current leadership of the NDDC is proactive and determined to make a difference.
Being the national president of UNIPORT Alumni, what is your take on the institution’s policies especially as they affect students’ payment of fees?
The problem did not start today. It started last year when the senate of the university decided that fees must be paid on scheduled before students would be allowed to register for exams. I think it is logical. How do you register for your courses without paying your school fees? What is there to show that you are even a student of the university if you have not paid your school fees? So the university authority decided that fees must be paid before you are allowed to register and write exams. But because of pressure and protest, the university management now agreed that students can stagger the payment. In other words, students can pay in installment up to three times. That means if you pay N10, 000 a month you can complete the fees. And the school fee is N45, 000. But you know the way some of our students behave. They thought that the university does not have the political will to enforce it and if they make a lot of noise the authority would buckle. A few of them did not take up the offer. They wrote their exams, but the university refused to release their results. But after some pressure, the university now decided to release their results. That was last session. People then thought that it was enough lesson and that anybody resuming for the next session would be prepared to pay fees, if not at a-go, at least, in installment which the administration still agreed as a policy to adopt.
From our investigations, more than 90 per cent of the students have complied. But you have insignificant minority that would always want to dare the authority. Unfortunately, they are the vocal minority few. Don’t forget that to be awarded a university degree; the university would certify you to be fit both in character and in learning. And so we expect any product of UNIPORT and indeed any other institution to be disciplined. To be discipline means that you obey the rules and regulations of the authority, but some of them have refused to do that and the university senate met and advised the defaulting students to temporarily withdraw. I am not speaking for the Alumni because the NEC has not met on the matter. But this is my personal opinion.
Even if you say you are not speaking for the Alumni but you appear to have aligned with the university management?
The management of the university is very reasonable. We all bought JAMB form before we got into school and even at that level we already had a schedule from the deadline for the purchase of form to the deadline for submission. So how would you be a student of unique UNIPORT and you don’t want to adhere to schedules? It is not an animal kingdom but a community that is governed by rules and regulations. So if you refuse or neglect to do that then I think it is reasonable to assume that you are not ready to go to school. Are those who paid fees fools? These ones who have refused to pay, are their parents the poorest in that academic community?
Some youths besieged the National Assembly recently to ask for the amendment of the constitution for the abolishment of age differential for elected political offices. What do you make of it?
I don’t have any problem with that if you are 10 years old and you convince a 70-year old to vote for you. Or if you are 80 years old and you can convince an 18 years old to vote for you I don’t have issues with that. I don’t think age is one of the problems we have in this country. You can be a young man and be very mature. It is not correct to equate biological age to maturity. We have seen people of 60, 40, 70 years old who still behave like children. We have men of 18, 21 who behave way beyond their age to the extent that people doubt the authenticity of their declared age. Yes, I understand where these guys are coming from, but it is not the major problem that we have. As it is now, we have youth leaders in most of the political parties; we have special advisers responsible for youth matters in the states and at the local level. They have to show that they are ready to accept responsibility. After all, I come from a place where I have had a state governor who was 29. In this same country we had a military Head of State who was 31. But these people surrounded themselves with advisers who are deep and exposed and they listened to advice. So I have no problem with an 18 years old becoming governor of my state so long as the capacity to perform is not injured.
What do you make of the recent outcry over the removal of CRK and IRK from the curriculum and their sudden replacement?
Fortunately, the Federal Ministry of Education has finally rescinded that decision. We thank the ministry, NUC and also the Senate President, Dr Bukola Saraki because his intervention was also key. It is said that all is well that ends well. So it has ended well and we hope and pray that, it will not ever go that route again.