■ Says, ‘SGF speaking the arrogance of the North’
Senator Femi Okurounmu served as the Chairman, Presidential Advisory Committee on National Conference in the 2014 confab organized by former President Goodluck Jonathan. In this interview, he tongue-lashed the Secretary to the Government of the Federation SGF, Babachir Lawal, for his derogatory reference to the delegate members as ‘boys’ in his recent statement. He also maintained that only restructuring of the existing federal arrangement could rescue the country from the brink.
As the chairman, presidential Advisory Committee on National Conference, how would you react to the statement made by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, describing delegates to the last national confab as ‘boys’?
I am glad that Prof Bolaji Akinyemi has already replied him. That was a fitting reply from Prof Akinyemi. When these people are in power, they are always arrogant. They behave impishly that you wonder where they are coming from. How can he call us ‘boys’? Do they call their elders ‘boys’? Will he like it, if they refer to him too as a boy? It is a derogatory and insulting way of addressing an assembly of most eminent Nigerians that came together to deliberate on the problems of the country. That was very arrogant of him. It shows he is a man who is not fit to hold that position of responsibility. Anybody who gets carried away like that by transient position is not fit to be in a position of responsibility at all.
Would you then say he is speaking the mindset of the authorities in the present administration?
Of course, anybody occupying that position has to try his best to speak the mindset of his employer who is the president. He is saying all that to please the president, to make the president happy that he is doing his job. That shows clearly how the president thinks. It is only Nigerians who do not consistently follow the news that would be surprised by these things. For me, I am not surprised. The president looks down on us who are not from the Northwest. Apart from the Fulani man or those from that part of the country, the rest of us are just boys to him. We are part of their conquered people. They told us in clear terms that they didn’t want the national conference. They don’t want it because we have a constitution that gives them power over us. They make sure that it is whatever they want that prevails in Nigeria.
What most Nigerians don’t understand is that some people are trying to make themselves first class citizens in this country and the rest of us permanently second class. And we see them doing it every day. Look at the appointments Buhari is doing, look at the whole security apparatus of Nigeria today, the entire security apparatus of the country is in the hands of the Fulani or at best in the hands of the North. What is the implication of that? Do we Southerners reflect on what that means? I don’t think enough of us think about it.
What exactly do you want the government to do with the result of the confab?
What I will want the government to do with the report of the confab is to subject it to a referendum. That is what I have always advocated and that is still what I advocate. Let all the recommendations of the confab be put to Nigerians in the form of a referendum. Do we accept a restructuring of the federation or not? Do we accept devolution of power or not? These are the issues contained in the recommendations.
And you think the recommendations are far-reaching enough to put an end to the renewed separatist agitations that have engulfed the nation?
They may not be far-reaching enough, but they are a convenient starting point. We cannot go far enough until we have regionalization. Let us go back to the old regional restructure. Right now, we have six zones. Let the six zones be the regions of the country with each of them having autonomy the way the old regions were autonomous. If we do that, we would have gone far in removing some of the problems causing agitations and issues of marginalization. Let each zone look after its affairs substantially.
One other issue the SGF raised was the money spent on the confab. And, of course, one would want to believe him because he has all the facts and figures of how much money was spent on each delegate which he put at N7 million. Was that actually what each member took?
I don’t remember those figures now, but members took allowances for the accommodation, transport, meals and so on, which any appointee of government will take. How much does the president take as allowance when he travels overseas? How much has he spent so far on his overseas journeys? I can’t remember now how much the government spent on the confab. That is not my own job. What the conference members got is even less than what board members of government’s parastatals take. Let him document what the government spent on the confab for the whole country to see whether the expenditures were outrageous or not. He cannot just be giving figures like that. Let him document those figures and publish them.
Why do you think Buhari is indisposed to implementing the confab?
Are you still in doubt as to why he is indisposed to implementing the report with all I have said? Right from the time the confab was going to take place, Buhari opposed it. The Hausa/Fulani North opposed it. Right from the 1990 after the annulment of June 12, 1993 presidential election, when NADECO was crying for national conference, they have been opposed to it. And until the conference took place under Jonathan, Hausa/Fulani North remained opposed to it.
What were their fears for opposing anything that has to do with restructuring?
The constitution we are operating now was given to us by Abacha. It was Abacha’s 1995 conference that produced the present constitution. Again, right from 1966, when the military took over, we have had this centralized power. Even when the civilians took over in 1979, the constitution still retained that centralized structure which we had under the military rule. All the subsequent military regimes did more and more of centralization. And by the time we got the 1995 Abacha constitution, we already had an over centralized constitution, which favoured the North in the sense that most of the provisions ensured that the North had advantage over the South.
Before the 1979 constitution, we had three regions: West, East and North. Later, it became four regions. Under the Gowon regime, we had 12 states. Six of those 12 states were in the North and six were in the South. Some kind of equity was still retained. But by the time we got to the Murtala/ Obasanjo constitution in 1979, we had 19 states, marking the beginning of imbalance in the number of states in the North and South. We then had 10 states to the North and nine to the South. That automatically put the North at an advantage position when it comes to the number of senators in the National Assembly because every state has the same number of senators.
So, if we are going to vote in the Senate, the North already has an advantage. All the subsequent constitutions increased that advantage in favour of the North. If you look at distribution of the seats in the National Assembly, the North has more seats than the South. The North has more seats in the House of Representatives and the Senate than the South has. And, of course, the Northern people are very good at voting for their own interests. When it comes to voting, all the Northerners will vote in one way. So, there is no way to beat them. If they say they don’t want something, they will always have their way.
In other words, the opposition to agitation for restructuring is to sustain dominance and dependency of the North on the South?
Yes, it is to sustain the dominance of the North over the South. It is to sustain what we call their hegemony over the South forever. That is why they want a centralized constitution so that they can continue to control the central power.
With the renewed separatist agitations going on everywhere, what will be the implication, if the government refuses to heed the call for a restructuring?
The implication is that everybody will ultimately go his own way. It is unfortunate to say that, but nothing is seditious about it. Where there is no equity and justice, where a section of the country feels marginalized, people have the right to go in their own way. Even where there is no direct obvious marginalization like in the case of Scotland and the UK, people have the right to go their own way.
There is no offence in that. There are sections of Spain that want to remain separate from the rest of Spain and they are agitating for it every day and even fighting for it. The recent referendum in the UK to get out of the EU is a lesson for Nigeria. The UK wants to control its own affairs, which is why the people voted to opt out of the EU. There is no nation that does not want to control its own affairs. In Nigeria, these ethnic nationalities are nations in their own right.
The Senate is proposing immunity and pension for the principal officers of the National Assembly. What is your take on this?
I have read about that. They are proposing immunity for principal officers of the National Assembly. Not only that, they also want to have pension for themselves. These are all ridiculous demands. They are taking the tolerance of Nigerians to a ridiculous extent. They are just taking advantage of Nigerians’ docility. We are a very docile people. And because politicians know that we are very docile, they try to get away with all sorts of murder, knowing full well that we will do nothing. This is something that demands that Nigerians march to the National Assembly and tell them that they are off their minds. And if they won’t come back to their senses, Nigerians should get them out of the National Assembly.
This is becoming ridiculous. They are not there to serve themselves; they are there to serve Nigerians. A principal officer who serves for just four years should earn pension for the rest of his life? Of course, all legislators have immunity for what they are doing in the house. They have freedom of speech; they cannot be arrested for any speech they make in the house. That is the extent of their immunity. But they don’t have immunity to commit all sorts of crime. They are like every other Nigerians. All this is motivated by self interest. They want to give Bukola Saraki immunity so that he will not account for his misdemeanours. That in itself is an act of corruption. You don’t make law to protect yourself or to gratify yourself. What they are trying to do is to gratify themselves. We have to make them know that they have lost touch with the people.
How appropriate is the Senate’s invitation issued to the AGF to appear before its Committee on Judiciary and Human Rights over the issue of forgery allegation leveled against Saraki and his deputy, Ike Ekweremadu?
That invitation is selfishly motivated. It is appropriate that the Attorney General should defy them and rebuff their invitation. The executive can be sure that the people will queue behind them. This is the way to tell off the senators in the National Assembly that they are have made themselves irrelevant to the circumstance of the nation. It appears they are living in the moon; they are no longer with us on this planet. I support the action of the attorney general. No matter what anybody says, the executive should pursue the matter to a logical conclusion. They have broken the law and they want to intimidate the AGF for them not to be prosecuted. The Senate president cannot be above the law. If there is evidence against him that he forged some documents, he should be prosecuted. And he cannot summon the attorney-general who is trying to charge him to court. That itself is an illegal action.
Do they have the power to sanction the AGF if he refuses to appear before them?
When it comes to everybody flexing his power, there is nothing they can do. The legislature does not control the police; the executive controls all the law enforcement agencies. It is within the power of the executive to say the police should not cooperate with them. They have gone outside the law. It is not in the law that they should have immunity.