From Iheanacho Nwosu, Abuja
Dr Silva Opusunju is a former governorship aspirant in Rivers State. He contested on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party(PDP). In this interview, he spoke on the political situation in the country warning that, not allowing restructuring was tantamount to postponing the evil day.
The National Assembly recently came under a barrage of criticisms due to its decision on power devolution; do you think that these criticisms were justified?
It is not criticism of the National Assembly; let’s look at it as the desire of Nigerians. There is a need to devolve power. Everywhere in the world, it is happening. In the UK, in fact Brexit was seen as a form of devolution of power. There must be devolution of power to the local governments in this country.
The quest to expand the security council of the United Nations is also devolution of power. So it is an ongoing process and we must be able to restructure our system at this particular time in the history of this nation.
We have practiced this semi form of unitary federalism and it has not worked too well, why can’t we try something else? There is nothing wrong. So we must not see it as criticism of the National Assembly but see it as the yearning of Nigerians, after all, power belongs to the people.
Some Nigerians believe that what the National Assembly did was an indication that our representatives have become alienated from their constituents. Is that true?
The constitution itself spelt out the procedure of review of itself. If you look at the Nigerian constitution the review process is very tedious, it is not an easy process but as a nation we need to accommodate views. There is no doubt that the country is quaking. There are tensions and disturbances at this time. If you take from 1960 to now, there have been more than 100 incidents that one can describe in international law as tension and disturbances and in fact we have even gone beyond that, there are incidents of at least three internal arms struggles in this country. There was the Biafran War, the Niger Delta Militancy and the Boko Haram insurrection. We cannot continue like this.
Recently there was a report that the Nigeria Army is currently engaged in at least 12 theatres of war in this country. Is that acceptable? It only says that something is going on therefore, the National Assembly has a responsibility to listen to the people. It is a good thing they have started the amendment of the constitution. It may not be perfect but the message has been gotten by them.
Do you want the National Assembly to reverse itself on this particular issue of power devolution?
Of course, at the end of the day, it’s inescapable, there is no way we can continue like this. If you don’t devolve power you are inviting anarchy. You must devolve power to the people, after all, the power we are talking about belongs to the people. So you are not even devolving anything to them, you are just ensuring that the process is documented and legitimized.
Some Nigerians are saying that we should look beyond the National Assembly, because the lawmakers cannot undertake major constitutional reforms. Do you share such view?
There will always be a constitution whether it is written or unwritten; there must always be a set of law that guides the people. It needs not be perfect so you cannot throw away the entire constitution. It is not possible because what would you have in its place? So you must try as much as possible follow the amendment process. But it must be a transparent process; a process that wields confidence, a process that the people will accept that you have really done your best. Nigerians are not fools. If you ask the average Nigerian what the problems of this country are, they will tell you, and they will even tell you better than you know.
The issue of looking elsewhere, discarding the National Assembly or going for a national conference, have all been done before, the documentations are there in the chamber of the National Assembly, the Presidential Villa, state legislature as well as all Government Houses in the states of the country.
Now, the issue is, have we as Nigerians come to that point where we can say we want to do something genuinely for the advancement of this country? Even if you devolve power to the states or to the regions as the case might be, there will be argument for further devolution, so it’s an ongoing process, it’s also a process that is determined by time and circumstances. Sometime ago, America was acting on the principle of the American exceptionalism in world affairs. Today, America is on a retreat because it has seen that it had gone so far in the world that it is now beginning to damage its own national interest. But it doesn’t stop them from being the world power, what they are looking at how is how to restructure their relationship with the rest of the world to their own benefits. Nigerians are saying restructure for the benefit of all Nigerians, restructuring is not all about oil, restructuring is not even about infrastructure. It is also ideological.
What is your own view on how Nigeria should be restructured?
Nigeria should be restructured on several levels such as political and economical. The way we are now, we can’t carry the load. If we want to set up a university of agriculture or a university to carry out a specialization in certain areas of agriculture, Nigerians will ask you to do the same for the six geopolitical zones. This is a waste of money and it becomes very difficult for the nation to carry. You want to do a gas facility you begin to say there must be one in Kano, there must be one in Port Harcourt, you want one in Edo. We are not working according to the dictates of good governance in the running of government business. We are acting emotionally because basically, a Nigerian is more loyal to his tribe than the nation. In fact from a survey I did, the critical question in this country is the absence of national identity. Once we can forge a national identity and citizens are proud to be Nigerians first, then we have started crossing the bridge. It is the absence of a common national identity that is also responsible for most of the agitations you are seeing today, be it about Biafra, Niger Delta or Boko Haram.
If you go back to history, the first set of agitations after independence was from the Tiv land and the first or second military coup in this country was the Isaac Adams Boro coup in which Niger Deltans or Ijaw nationalists decided to break away from this country .We have not solved these problems. Restructuring has different levels, although it means different things to different people. Some people see it as regionalism or fiscal federalism and state police.
As a member of the committee on the review of the 1999 constitution, I argued seriously against state police because I believed that we haven’t reached that point. We are grappling with handling our national police and can’t even pay them well.
Are you saying the people who are clamoring for regionalism cannot control their security?
No. if we are not mature, if we have not experienced something and gained that maturity, we won’t be clamoring for restructuring or power devolution. Remember there was a time there was devolution of power in this country. We had the regionalism that is a form of devolution and something happened; the first military coup occurred and the center tightened. Can we in good conscience say we have arrived a point where we allow the states to have their police forces? Some of them may be capable of having better equipped forces than even the federal government. I am not saying it is a bad thing, I am only saying let’s critically think whether we have reached that stage of maturity at the state level.
The world is moving and advancing in various spheres but we can’t even agree on how we want to govern ourselves. What do you think is our challenge?
For me the greatest form of restructuring is industrialization and technical innovation. If you can restructure this country on the basis that you want to move science technology innovation forward, industrialization, then this country will develop. A country that does not produce bullets, does not produce arms, does not produce building materials, we don’t produce air conditions everything is imported. Other countries have submarines and all that, we don’t have nothing, we are not looking at the big picture, we are not thinking big.
You may accuse North Korea or Iran of having the potentials for international rascality but they have a national focus; they want to develop their own missile system. Before you get to that level of development, you would have been able to make microprocessors yourself, you would have been able to do metrology, architectural designs and so that focus alone, is helping to develop every other industry technologically. The same way India started and now India has some submarines. In fact they are boarding other vessels to space and we are still where we are because we don’t think big. We tried to manufacture cars only to end up assembling; now we don’t even assemble anymore. For me, what is sustainable is investment in technology in this country.
In the last election you attempted to be the governor of Rivers State. Would you say that what the government of your state is doing today is what you would have done?
My agenda for the state was different, I ran on the basis that I was going to industrialize the state. If you go to Rivers State there is where they call Trans-Amadi Industrial Estate. When I was growing up, Trans- Amadi was a hub for a lot of industries; they were making air conditioners, you will see tomato paste industry and you will see Coca Cola. Now people can’t find anything and when I looked at it, I came to the conclusion that it is as though the black man has surrendered the technological innovation to the white world. We are no longer there and we have taken to other adventures of life. What is happening today is that Governor Wike is running the state by his own agenda. My own plan for the state was to industrialise the state and through that process develop a better economy to ride on the environment and increase employment opportunities for our people.
You can’t tax people who are not working; you can’t also depend on oil forever. As a matter of fact, I did one of the first budget plans for the state that was zero oil a longtime ago during the Odili era. Governor Odili looked at the state and said, ‘where will we be in the next few years if oil dries up?’ He commissioned us to look at how the state could sustain a sizeable budget.