By Chinelo Obogo
Anthony Sani is the immediate past National Publicity Secretary of the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) and the spokesman of the Northern delegates in the 2014 National Conference. In this interview, he says that despite the calls for restructuring, it would not be the way out of Nigeria’s problems. He also speaks on other issues.
Do you advocate for states to have more control of their natural resources as is being suggested by those who are pro-restructuring?
When people talk of restructuring and for states to control their resources, one begins to wonder if such agitators feign ignorance of the reasons which informed the founding fathers’ decision to put natural resources into the exclusive list in all our constitutions from 1950 to 1999.The reason is to promote national unity and social justice through balanced development.
The central government should be strong enough to hold the nation united under one roof, but not too strong as to tilt the country towards a unitary system.
At present, the revenue sharing formula gives the federal govt 52 percent and the other two tiers 48 percent. I do not see how that is disproportionate in favour of the centre, but, if Nigerians feel the sharing formula should be reviewed, so be it. Already, oil producing communities are hankering that their own share of derivation be given to them directly in order to avoid situations where state governments collect the money for derivation and build five-star hotels and airports in state capitals at the expense of host communities.
So when you talk of resource control or resource ownership, one wonders how far down it will be applicable.
We should not forget that Nigeria has tried confederal arrangement with regions as confederal units and a weak centre during the First Republic. General Ironsi abolished it and replaced it with unitary system which had stronger centre. This did not go down well with the North and the West, hence the introduction of federalism by creation of 12 states as the federating units. This system was a compromise between confederation and unitary system.
This explains why some of us do not put the problems of Nigeria at the door mats of the structure of the country or form of government. We believe the problems are due to collapse of national ideals and moral values -we all share-as a result of failure of leadership.
Once Nigerians get their values and leadership right and change their ways of doing things, good things will follow.
Why do you think that this government is opposed to considering the outcome of the 2014 national conference?
I am not aware that this administration is staunchly opposed to it, but what can be done is for political parties to study the recommendations and pick those agreeable to them and include in their manifestos for purpose of seeking electoral mandate needed for implementations. Also, the reports can serve as resources for NASS as they seek to amend the constitution.
The President has said that the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) did not leave anything to be inherited by his administration from 1999 till date. Is there any truth in this?
I believe when this administration says it inherited an empty treasury when it took over, it is because it met a situation where the government borrowed to pay salaries of workers and some state government owed salaries for up to twelve months.
Is Nigeria better or worse off than the All Progressives Congress met it?
Nigeria could not possibly be worse off, considering the progress this administration has made in the fight against terrorism and corruption based on the President’s campaign promises.
Since the promises cannot be executed concurrently because no economy can thrive under atmosphere of insecurity and corruption, it is reasonable to face insecurity and corruption as first priority, after which economy can follow.
Would you say in good conscience that the government has not done creditably well in its fight against Boko Haram which was almost overrunning the North before this regime?
Is the release of 21 Chibok girls not a good effort? Is atmosphere of fear in the North the same?
I believe there have been efforts at the economic front. For example, the removal of oil subsidy and deregulation of the downstream sector can attract private refineries in order to do away with importation of oil and save forex when they become operational. The introduction of flexible forex is expected to do away with sharp practices.
The restriction of imports, especially of Agric produce, is capable of attracting people to farms which will result in increase in produce. This will not only save forex but lower the prices through fair competition.
I think the problems of Nigerians have been that they have been used to consumption without a productive base, and now that the sources of funds which have provided such facile success is no more, they are finding it hard to adjust to the reality. But if animals can hibernate in order to survive through winter, and if plants can defoliate in order to survive drought, Nigerians should be able to adjust in order to survive adversity by letting go part of their comfort of today for the good of tomorrow. This is very necessary because diversification of the economy away from dependence on oil wealth, which is not a result of hard work, cannot be a day’s job. We better come to terms with reality and learn to be distant runners.
How would you evaluate the anti corruption fight?
The anti corruption campaign is on course except that the government seems to be biting more than it can chew, given the tendency of corruption to fight back ferociously. When people accuse the President of selective fight, I begin to wonder if they want quota system to be applied in the fight against corruption. I believe those arraigned for corruption should defend themselves instead of saying they are not the only ones who are corrupt. The campaign against corruption is a continuous process and should outlive the regime.
The previous administration has been criticized for being wasteful, would you say that this administration has shown prudence in the management of its resources?
I do not have the facts, so, I cannot give informed comments. If you take me to confidence on which areas the govt is wasteful, then I may be able to comment.
Do you support the ban on the Shiite group by the Plateau State government?
I hear the Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN) which the Shiites uses is not registered with the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC), and I also hear that the movement constitutes security problems. Since the government has the responsibility to secure the state, it has to take necessary actions, but if the movement thinks otherwise, it can go to court and seek redress.
On the issue of recession, do you think the president’s economic team should be sacked, as is being proposed in some quarters?
When some people suggest that the economic team be sacked, I begin to wonder the wisdom in it. Economics is not a rocket science beyond the understanding of majority of Nigerians and only few can understand it. We all know the recession showed sign before this administration. We also know oil price which used to support healthy economy for the past 40 years has slumped, and as a result, there is no more sufficient foreign reserve to support importation to satisfy our insatiable appetite. Since diversification of the economy cannot be a day’s job, I wonder what they expect the economic team to do. When some people advocated reflation of the economy by massive spending on infrastructure and the need for increase in forex, I wonder where the sources of funds would come from amid low oil price and weak productive base.
I believe the problem of those who call for sack of the economic team is lack of realistic appreciation of the situation and lack of patience on the part of some Nigerians.