By Tunde Thomas
A lawyer Anthony Olatujoye believes that only restructuring can move the nation forward. He also spoke on various issues including the anti-corruption war.
What is your reaction to the recent clamour for restructuring of the country by some eminent Nigerians?
It is a call in the right direction. Restructuring is long overdue. Some of the challenges facing us today or agitations here and there would have been needless had we restructured long time ago. Restructuring is about effecting or bringing about changes that will help unify us together as a nation. For instance, we should have been implementing fiscal federalism long time ago. By doing this, the problems we are facing now as a result of global drop in oil price would not have had devastating effects on us as it is doing now. Our over-dependence on oil has made us to be lazy, and we are paying the price for it now.
Is Nigeria not already a federal state?
Yes, it is true we are a federal state. But in practice today, Nigeria has become more or less a unitary state, and that is why all the 36 states have to depend on the government at the centre, that is Abuja for monthly allocations. Under a true federal practice, states are supposed to enjoy some autonomy from the Federal Government , and not only that, states are also supposed to develop some mineral resources in their domains in order to generate revenue, but this has not been so. But now that oil price has crashed and many states can no longer pay their workers salaries, everybody is now talking about the need for fiscal federalism. The reality we must face today is that if we don’t restructure, we are only postponing the evil day.
But the impression some people are giving is that restructuring will lead to break –up of Nigeria….
Those saying that it will lead to the break-up of Nigeria are mis-informing the people and this is unfortunate. There is no Society that is perfect. Even America, the so-called God’s own country, there are still complaints an calls for reviews of their system from time to time as a way of unifying the people. Restructuring can never lead to Nigeria’s break-up. It will only help to strengthen the country. You have agitations all over the country. The Boko Haram insurgency is there, you also have the Biafra agitations in the South-East, so also you have the Niger-Delta Avengers wreaking havoc in the South-South geo political zone of the country bombing oil pipe-lines and you are saying we don’t need restructuring.
It is by restructuring that we can address these problems. I will advise President Buhari not only to listen to the agitations for restructuring but take steps towards restructuring of Nigeria.
How can Nigeria break up when you listen to grievances of people and you then take steps to address the issues they have raised? We should not pretend as if all is well. Our leaders should try to address some of these agitations. Today, what we are practicing in Nigeria is nothing but a caricature of federalism. Until we do the needful, long lasting peace may continue to elude us.
For those who are afraid that true practice of federalism will affect some states especially those that are not oil producing, I say they have nothing to fear. There is no state in Nigeria that doesn’t have one mineral resources or the other that can’t be harnessed and exploited for commercial gains. What about cash crops? In the first Republic when we were still practicing true Federalism, Nigeria was renown as a leading country for some cash crops. In Kano, you had popular groundnut pyramids and cotton, in the South East you had palm –oil and coal, for mid-West and South-West, you had palm-oil, rubber and Cocoa. At a point, Nigeria was the leading cocoa producing nation in the world. But what do you have today? Our over-dependence on oil has put us into trouble. Now we have to look beyond oil to survive.
Today about 27 out of 36 states are owing workers’ salary due to fall in oil revenue, what is your reaction?
That is very unfortunate. It is sad. A labourer as the saying goes deserves his wages. If the 36 states have not been over too dependent on the central government in Abuja, this ugly situation would have been averted. The states should have been inward looking instead of going cap in hand to Abuja every now and then to solicit for fund. States as autonomous structures within a federal structure should be less dependent on the Federal Government. They should have avenues for generating revenues.
So, what is the way out of the quagmire? Is bail-outs from the Federal government the answer?
It is very simple. States should look for ways to boost their Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) . Other states should emulate a state like Lagos which generates about N30 billion IGR monthly. There is no state that is empty but our over-dependence on oil over the years which made us to become lazy is now having a boomerang effect on us.
States should also go back to Agric. We should go back to farming. We should start mass production of cash crops like palm-oil, groundnut, rubber and cotton. If we do that, states will become financially buoyant. States should also endeavor to exploit for commercial purpose mineral resources within their domains.
Some people have accused some state governors of not being prudent in the management of monthly allocations they get to run their states, what is your view?
There is a need for monitoring of how issues relating to finance are being utilized by state governors. The anti-corruption agencies can be strengthened and empowered to monitor governors on their spending habit. Anyone found to be corrupt can then be put on trial after serving out his term. There is need for financial sanity in our system.
Another aspect I want us to address is the issue of local government autonomy. Autonomy of local government should be respected. Many state governors have tampered with LG’s autonomy. They divert funds meant for development in local government areas to other uses. This is not only illegal but also unconstitutional.
The issue of what should be done with recovered looted funds has also become subject of debate, in your own view, what do you think should be done with the money?
Part of the money should be used to fix the epileptic power sector. If the power sector stabilizes, a lot of other things would be okay. Companies and factories that have been moribund will bounce back to life, and job opportunities will be created. A lot of things that were dead before will come back alive. Part of the recovered looted fund can also be injected into the economy to help as part of efforts being made to pull the nation out of economic recession.
What is your assessment of the war against corruption by Buhari’s government?
It is a right step in the right direction. Looters are regarded as economic saboteurs. They should not be treated with kid gloves. Apart from recovering money they stole, they should also be sanctioned, at least to serve as a deterrent. There are penalties in our law for looters. However, the trial of suspects must be seen to be free and fair. They must be given fair trial.
One thing I however want to emphasize is that government needs to put measures in place to address problems of hunger, poverty, and unemployment. Nigeria is a blessed nation, we only need the right leaders to help us attain greatness.
How can Nigeria attain greatness?
We need a new crop of leaders who are selfless and dedicated. We need leaders who will no longer see public officer as an avenue to loot but just only to serve. Nigeria is destined to be great, we need men and women of honour who will henceforth see public office as an avenue to serve and not to loot public treasury.