From Oluseye Ojo, Ibadan
Former Minister of Petroleum, Prof Tam David-West, has taken a swipe at the agitators for restructuring of Nigeria, saying Nigerians are the ones that need a change of attitude.
In this interview, he advocated that people who have oil blocs should be mandated to use at least 25 per cent of their gross incomes to develop the area of their operations.
Nigeria came to existence in 1914 when the Northern and Southern protectorates were amalgamated. The country got her independence on October 1, 1960. This is 2016 and many people have been agitating for restructuring of the country with argument that Nigeria is poorly structured and that is why things are not working the way they should. What is your take on this?
First, I am happy that you started going down memory lane about our history. We have to know where we are coming from to know what we are talking about. By the grace of God and the goodwill of my country, I participated in drafting the 1979 Constitution of Nigeria. I was among the 50 that drafted it. The problem with Nigeria is not structure. Nigerians should restructure themselves. It’s like a bad carpenter quarrelling with his tools. I feel very annoyed about it. As a nation, we are hypocritical, very selfish and self-serving, even among the intellectuals.
Now, those people that are talking about restructuring, saying if we don’t restructure Nigeria the country would collapse and die are indirectly saying we should divide Nigeria. They are not bold enough to say, “Let’s forget Nigeria and disintegrate it.” They are so timid and so intellectually dishonest. They use the word as a euphemism for saying they don’t want Nigeria to exist. Why? In 1914, the North and South were amalgamated. In 1960, we had independence; between now and independence we have got four or so constitutions. The last one was 1979 Constitution, which every one praised as best, even the Chief Justice of Nigeria then said the same thing. However, I disagree with some things in the 1979
Constitution. For example, the constitution says that Nigeria is a federation. The Federal Republic of Nigeria with 36 states, and the Federal Capital Territory should be treated as a state in all considerations; that is the constitution in black and white. The FCT should be treated as a state.
Let me be personal. Prof. Ben Nwabueze, a constitutional lawyer, was one of us. Now, has he written to protest that the Federal Capital Territory is not treated as a state? We drafted the constitution, 50 of us. The drafting was done by the legal team. He was one of the people that drafted it. Now, the Federal Capital should be treated as a state, but Prof. Nwabueze has never criticised it. Now, we have 108 senators, that is, 3 senators per state. But the Federal Capital Territory has only one senator; by right they should have three senators. Has he ever written to criticise it?
Are you saying the FCT should also have a governor instead of a minister?
Has he (Prof Nwabueze) ever written to criticise it? All these people talking about restructuring have to be objective. We have to be objective in everything. We cannot be subjectively objective. I respect Prof. Nwabueze, not only because he is one of us, but also he is a senior, international, very outstanding lawyer. Has he ever written or protested that what we are practising is not in the constitution.
The FCT should have three senators; it should be treated like every other state. I am saying this to show you how we are not serious.
Now, we come to the restructuring palaver; those that are talking about restructuring, deep down in the utmost part of their minds, they are not bold enough to say let Nigeria not exist. As it is now, we started with three regions, then the Mid-West was created politically to break the back of the West. It was against Awolowo to cut down his empire. They carved them out and made (Sir Dennis) Osadebe, who is an Igbo, the leader there. I am tracing this to show that all along, what we have been doing is personal. When we begin to think about Nigeria as Nigeria, then everything will fall in place.
From the four regions, we came to 12 states by (Gen Yakubu) Gowon. Why did he carve it out? Gowon created states not necessarily because of restructuring Nigeria. He created states to break Ojukwu’s back. What he did was to take the oil producing non-Igbo speaking people away from (defunct) South Eastern Region. So, what Gowon did, I like it. I praise and commend him for it. He took the oil producing parts of the Eastern Region, which are non-Igbo and gave them Independence as states on their own, 24 hours before Ojukwu formally declared secession. By doing that, what has he achieved? It’s in the books. Whatever I am saying, I have documents to prove them. Why did he do that? By taking the non-speaking Igbos of that region to be independent on their own? As a state, he made them loyal to Federal Government and not Ojukwu. Immediately that was done, the oil was taken away. Without oil, Biafra couldn’t have been declared. What would they have used? Palm oil that doesn’t sell anymore? The crude oil was in these states that used to be South Eastern then. Then, Murtala Muhammed took us to 19 states. (Gen Ibrahim) Babangida started with 21 states, and 30. (Gen Sani) Abacha made it from 30 to 36 states. If you make every village a state, Nigerians will still have minority issues because they are using this argument of restructuring very loosely; that if there is no restructuring Nigeria will collapse, which is not true.
You said the agitators for restructuring of Nigeria are getting it wrong. Is there nothing good in restructuring Nigeria?
I am not saying they are having it wrong. I am saying that they are not intellectually honest and politically sincere. If you say that our problems are due to the fact that we are not restructured, then I say we are wrong. Some of them even suggested that we should scrap the states and go back to regions. When the government put infrastructure in place, the people would see that something is going on. Roads, schools, hospitals are being built and job opportunities are being opened; that is the only way to solve it and not by bribery.
Have you ever seen a country that has independence and wants to go back to being non-independent again? What type of political magic can you use to say Rivers State, Cross River should go back to Eastern Region? What kind of magic will you say that Ogun State, Oyo State will forget that they are no longer states, that they should go back to Western Region? So, it’s intellectually dishonest and it’s not possible.
It’s not restructuring that is the problem; it’s we Nigerians. There is no country in the world that is homogenous. We have come together as Nigeria. In fact, the name Nigeria was given to us by Sir Lord Lugard’s girlfriend, who later became his wife.
Nations are made by the people. Nations are not made by constitution that brought people together. In Nigeria, we have different backgrounds, and cultures. Does Nigeria wants to be one nation? If the answer is yes, let us find out how to be one nation and not accuse anybody. For Nigeria to be a nation, it requires the commitment of the people in the geographical space.
They will tell you that Chief Awolowo said that Nigeria is a geographical expression. They will quote this to support themselves and talk about restructuring. Which nation is not a geographical expression? It’s because the nation has committed themselves to be together as a nation, they will say. Chief Awolowo said Nigeria is not a nation but a geographical expression; but they forget to add also that the same Chief Awolowo, who served as Minister of Finance under Gowon, was the best Minister of Finance Nigeria had. Nigeria fought 30 months of civil war without borrowing one naira.
Somebody even mentioned Mongolia, saying Mongolia was restructured and how can Nigeria not be restructured? Stupid. When young men read it, they will say yes, that is the point. Whoever says that is ignorant. Mongolia was a communist state, where one party was allowed. The President was not elected; he was appointed. What is the capacity of Mongolia to Nigeria? Mongolia, before restructuring, was a one-party state. But people agitated and it was restructured to multi-party and the President was elected by popular vote. Some intellectuals brought out the example of Mongolia out in the newspapers. When you read it, you will say they have done well. It was very shallow.
Somebody came to Africa and said the problem the continent has is that we don’t build strong institutions but strong individuals. Somebody also replied him by saying that it is people that will build institution. So, What …(Cuts in)
It was (President of the United States, Barack) Obama that said what
Africa needs not strong leaders but strong institutions. But Buhari said that we need strong men to build strong institutions. The same people are saying Nigeria should be divided into ethnic groups that these regions or states are too many. Also, this is intellectually flawed. Why? Have they told you how many ethnic groups we have in Nigeria? We have 374 ethnic groups. If you say that Nigeria is divided into diffeºrent ethnic groups, to be independent, you are talking about at least 374 to 400 different units in this geographical area called Nigeria. It is not possible. The unity
of Nigeria is non-negotiable. The same people should decide if we are together or if we split it up. Nigerians should restructure themselves and not say we should restructure the country.
America has got presidential system for over 200 years and it’s still going on. We started the Nigerian system a few years ago. Our constitution has been amended over three times and they are even talking about amending it now. But Americans have used theirs for over 200 years.
Look at another aspect of it; we have 109 senators; our senators earn more than Obama. You will be surprise that a senator in Nigeria earns about N25million a month. I have phoned three people and they confirmed it. This is a country that cannot pay 18, 000 minimum
wage. So, they say we don’t need presidential system; that it’s too expensive. It is you Nigerians that are too expensive and extravagant and reckless. Nobody forced presidential system on us. They are campaigning how officers of the National Assembly should have life pension. It is crazy. In pension, workers contribute their own part to it.
There are agitators in different zones of the country, such as Niger Delta Avengers, pro-Biafra groups, Boko Haram and so on. Is it not possible that true federalism would put an end to the agitation?
The agitators will still be there because we have not addressed the fundamental problems. You don’t quell these agitations by force of arms or bribe, giving them money. I know some of the militants that were taken to Abuja. They put them in Nicon Hilton Hotel, all expenses paid for. That official bribery cannot stop it. Why do they agitate? They are agitating against injustice. I am from Niger Delta and I identify myself with their cause. Their cause is good. But how did Niger Delta start? Originally, politicians used Niger Delta militants and dumped them. Then, they became monsters. Boko Haram had political undertone. So, these groups will continue if we have true federalism, that is when states have more power than the centre. The problem will be solved if they have development goals in these areas. We have the case of Niger Delta aggravated because that area produces the bulk of Nigeria’s money, but it is the most neglected.
The states in the Niger Delta usually receive higher allocations from the federation account. But people from the region have been complaining that they seem not to see the meaningful impacts of such allocations as being expended by governors in the area. What is your take on this?
Before now, every state controls its resources. The derivation formula was brought by Chief Obafemi Awolowo. He said the oil belongs to the Federal Government and that is what the constitution says. Minerals belong to the Federal Government. So, the mineral producing areas should have a percentage they will get and the other goes to the Federal Government. They should look at the revenue and derivation formula. Before they are giving them per cent. Every money goes to the federation account from where they share. When I was a minister, I used to represent the President in the monthly allocation meeting.
The mineral producing states should increase the percentage of their derivation. They should look at how much money mineral producing area should have. I am saying this because we have other minerals than oil. That is the problem I have because I am from the Niger Delta. Oil is a waiting asset. It cannot stay forever. In the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), Saudi Arabia can roll 11 million barrels a day. They had to build a reserve. But oil is a wasting asset. It will finish one day, whether we like it or not.
So, we from Niger Delta should tread softly. We should press our rights and get if within the context of the federation. If we destroy all oil facilities, the foreign partners that are producing oil in Nigeria are producing oil all over the world. Nigerians cannot man the oil industry. If the foreign investors pull out of Nigeria, the oil industry in Nigeria will collapse. Who are going to suffer more? While other areas can go into agriculture, we cannot go to agriculture. We have no land. How much fish will you kill to be eaten?
Are the allocations received by governors in the Niger Delta being judiciously used?
No. The militants should have two targets – state governors and Federal Government, not only Federal Government. But what have the governors done with the allocations. The state governments are not doing well, almost all of them.
There is a stand-off between the Niger Delta Avengers and other groups. What would you proffer as a lasting solution?
You don’t win the war of insurrection by force. The agitators, whether in the North or South, why don’t you subtly approach them without noise and identify people you can talk to. You don’t have to negotiate. You can approach it by pure public relations – meeting these people through people that they respect. And they will state their grievances, which you know some of them. It can be done by dialogue, appeal to reasoning. They should say they agree with all or most of their grievances, but these are the implications of your approach. Tell them the consequences, if they continue to blow up oil pipes, if they continue to make the oil industry not workable. Tell them the consequences? While the Federal Government will lose money, the oil companies will pack out of Nigeria. Then, what happen to us?
The media was awash recently over allegation that majority of the oil blocs in the Niger Delta are owned by the northerners…(Cuts in)
It is a lie that northerners own 80 per cent of the oil blocs in the Niger Delta.
Can you shed more light on this?
When I saw the figure, I had to phone people. I have left oil for about 30 years, but I have a lot of connections with the oil industry. In fact, it is not even conceivable that northerners own 80 per cent of the oil blocs in the Niger Delta. I know that it cannot be true. But quite a few people from the North have oil blocs. Some of them are very extravagant and loud about it. Is there anybody from the oil producing area that applied for oil bloc and was denied for being underserved? I know at least one or two people from Kalabari in Rivers State that own oil blocs. So, the percentage cannot be true.
But if there is any indication that people from outside that area have more than equitable control of oil blocs, then they are calling for trouble. I know at least two persons from the north that have oil blocs, but they are too extravagant and pompous about it. If I am a minister, I will cancel some of the contracts.
You said it is incorrect that the 80 per cent of northern has oil blocs in the Niger Delta. What if the figure is correct?
If it is correct, there will be conflagration. If it is discovered that 80 per cent of oil blocs in the Niger Delta belongs to people outside Niger Delta, everything should be done to stop it until we have equity. The persons that have them should voluntarily return them to the federal pool so that we can re-share them equitably. In fact, the people that have oil blocs should be mandated to use at least 25 per cent of their gross incomes into the development of the area.
The agitators for restructuring of Nigeria have been calling on President Buhari to implement the recommendations of the 2014 National Conference? Do you see the recommendations as solution to the challenges facing the country and what advice do you have for President Buhari on the conference?
There is nothing in the 2014 national conference that is strange or so intellectually superior. All of them have been there. If you go to the archives, it is there. So, that document is not a magic wand to move us forward. Buhari will not implement it.
Are you saying Buhari should not implement the recommendations of the 2014 national conference?
I know he is looking at it. Just like I have been saying on the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB), that bill should not be implemented the way it is. If they take that bill as it is, you will create more problems for Nigeria. I said the government should set up a body to look at it. The bill gave too much power to the minister because they were doing it to please a former Minister of Petroleum. How can a minister award oil blocs without reference to the President? Is that the bill we ought to have? It is the same thing with the 2014 National Conference. Some of the recommendations from the conference are not really new; they are in the 1979 Constitution. Should we go back to regional system? People say the 2014 National Conference prefer federation; it is in the 1979 Constitution.
The reports of the conference also recommended state police. When you make states autonomous, the state police become agents of the government in power. We had the state police in the past. Why did we remove it? It was because the state government used the state police as a coercive organ to suppress opposition. There are a lot of things that we can do together if Nigeria remains one. I believe in true federalism. The centre is to powerful because some of the people that are complaining are secretly encouraging it. After all, they are gaining from it. I don’t want to buy the idea that it is ideal because many people are gaining from it. Also, some people are talking about northern domination of the country. When I was in primary school, the North it was southern domination. But why did the South leave its domination for subservience? For instance, after the second military coup in Nigeria, a Yoruba man, Brigadier Babatunde Ogundipe, was the most senior military officer and he was to succeed Major General Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi. He was to become Head of State. But do you know why he decided to be High Commissioner in Britain? He asked a very junior army officer to do something, but he defiled the order. What did the southern senior army officer do to discipline that junior officer that defiled him? He could not do anything. He chose to be High Commissioner, instead of becoming Head of State. The South allowed itself to be conquered.
What advice do you have for President Buhari on returning Nigeria to the path of true federalism?
Buhari will not bring Nigeria to true federalism. Nigerian will bring Nigeria to true federalism. If you expect Buhari to say, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, dear countrymen, today Nigeria is a true federation,’ don’t expect such to happen. Nobody can do it. Nigerians should assert that by the constitution, we are a federation.
How do you want Nigerians to go about bringing Nigeria to true federalism? Who will bell the cat?
Nobody will bell the cat. Everybody will bell the cat. We have a fundamental document of the state, which is the constitution. The constitution has said Nigeria is a federal republic. If a particular government in Abuja is not implementing that, people should stand up and force the government to respect the constitution. It has been done in many countries, where they have a change of government.
Here in Nigeria, every public office holder swore by the constitution, that they would obey the constitution. If the constitution says we are a federation, in which case the central government cannot be too powerful. If somebody is taking your rights, you have very right to protest.
President Buhari just returned from a medical trip from London. But many people have been criticising him for seeking medical care abroad, saying the action showed that the health care system in Nigeria is not okay. What is your take on this?
I am a very proud Nigerian and I love this country. But sometime some things happen that make me ashamed that I am a Nigerian. I am very close to Buhari and everybody knows. I wrote two books on him that I sold in millions. Part of the proceed was spent on Buhari Project for Nigeria. Before he left for the medical trip, some people rumoured that he had died. When I saw Femi Adesina (Buhari’s Special Adviser on Media and Publicity) thanking people that wished Buhari well, I know that many people did not wish him well. Now, why are we so negative? The President is sick, then he travelled out. You didn’t bother to find out what we’re the circumstances that made him to go.
One of the great economist, who I respect even made a fun of him, saying, ‘No wonder, he had ear problem and that is why when we are talking to him, he won’t hear. Is that good? Your President had a persistent chronic ear infection, and you an economist wrote to make a fun of him. Is it good? I phoned one of the editors and told him this is obscene. On the health care system, how did he go abroad for treatment? Did Buhari say he wanted to be treated in London or he was recommended to be treated in London? My investigation showed that the doctor that was treating him in Nigeria found that the infection was persistently not yielding to treatment. It is not because the doctor is not qualified; he had done everything he could. He then recommended him to a consultant in London to examine him – ear, nose and throat. Buhari never said he has ear infection and he wanted to go to London for treatment. He was being treated in Nigeria for a long time.
There is the question that they have better medical facilities abroad. We have brilliant doctors. But if brilliant doctors don’t have facilities to work with, what would they do? If the medical facility in Nigeria is low, is it the fault of Buhari or the successive governments? If the standard of education is low would you blame Buhari or the successive government? We have killed everything. The only thing that matters in Nigeria is getting cheap money, build houses, marry wives, go to musicians and they play song for you. So, it is shameful.
It is shameful that Number One citizen had to be flown abroad to see a consultant. But other heads of states do the same thing. What about former President of Russia, Boris Yeltsin? Did he not go to America for attention?
The last time you granted The Sun an exclusive interview, you said it was possible to sell petrol from N40 against the current N145 pump price, if hidden charges were removed. Things have not changed since then. Do you still maintain your position or it has changed?
I am expecting Buhari to do something about it. In the interview, I mentioned things being added to the pump price of petrol. What I did not put there is insurance. The marketers put insurance on the pump price of fuel. Why should NNPC buy petrol in dollars to refine for you? The oil belongs to the country. NNPC is not a trading organisation. There are two major things government should consider; one, government is not a trading organisation of invest, profit and loss. Two, government exists for the people. The constitution is clear; sovereignty belongs to the people of Nigeria. The government is relevant to the extent that it is satisfying the people. Government exists to answer the needs of the people. The happiness the government should give to people as a welfare all depend on the economy.
Oil is now the mainstay of the economy. NNPC is an organisation to service the people. It has been in partnership with other companies to drill oil. Then, they kept their own share, part of which they refine and sell to you. So, why should they buy that oil at dollar rate.? The government should first accept that they are there to serve the people and should not deny the people everything that they should give to them as welfare programmes.
There is no reason NNPC should buy oil in dollar and refined it for you to be sold; that is why the price is high. Let us find out how much it costs to drill a barrel of oil. It used to be $2, but it has changed. It has gone up to between $20 and $30. NNPC should not pay for the crude oil they refined for the country more than the price of producing it. Crude oil is here. Refineries are here in the country. NNPC is here. Fuel stations are here. But they are selling oil to NNPC at international price. Government has to sit down and look at a lot of fundamental things that should be changed. The interest of the people should be paramount, and to make the people comfortable should be paramount; that is the role of the government, not profit and loss or investment and profit. I will not respect any government that does not have this as the centerpiece of its administration. Any government that does not put the interest of the people first, does not ensure that people are happy, I don’t belong there.
I have said it many times that Buhari did not accept there is subsidy. Subsidy is fraud. Something is wrong with the system and it should be looked into carefully. They would bring oil from Port Harcourt to Lagos and they would say it is from overseas? The most important thing is that government should sit down and reconcile itself to the fact that government is not trading organisation and government exists for the people. They should change the modus. Nigeria is a great nation; we can be greater still if we love Nigeria. We have many politicians and a few statesmen. When Nigeria gets more statesmen that politicians we will fly like kites. What is the difference between a politician and a statesman? A politician thinks about next election, but a statesman thinks of next generation. A politician only needs the election; he is not interested in the country. But a statesman thinks of what he can do so that the next generation will be happy.
Then, public office should be made very unattractive. I don’t see any reason a senator should earn more than a professor; a professor does more work. I met a senator in Port Harcourt, who has not read the constitution. What is the senator doing in the lawmaking arm of government? It is obscene and nobody has queried it. Senators that cannot approve N18, 000 minimum wage for workers per month are going to approve N25million for themselves. It is obscene. They are also talking about pension; it is obscene.