“The North is apprehensive about who is talking about restructuring. It believes that there are politicians that can say anything in order to get votes”
Kenny Ashaka, Kaduna
Former Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Caretaker Committee Chairman, Alhaji Ahmed Mohammed Makarfi, has said that it is not enough to call for restructuring, but to also demand for institutional restructuring. This, he said, is the only solution to the numerous problems facing the country.
The PDP chieftain who spoke to Sunday Sun in Kaduna also revealed why the North is against restructuring, insisting that the Federal Government must restructure INEC and other institutions of government to get desired results in governance.
He also made far-reaching contributions on the ongoing negotiation for a new minimum wage for the Nigerian workers, among other national issues.
Are you not surprised that Iyiola Omisore would throw his weight behind the APC candidate in last week’s Osun State re-run election in spite of the pact between your party and the SDP? He was one of you until lately when he defected to the SDP.
Indeed, we were all shocked. As a matter of fact, I personally had spoken with him and he assured me that he would consider the intervention of friends. And as you mentioned SDP has a pact and if one is to ask within the context of political alliance it goes without saying that he ought to have aligned with the Peoples Democratic Party. It is unfortunate; one should always remember the issue of credibility and that there is tomorrow and not to look at the moment. Be that as it may, it has happened and the party, the Social Democratic Party (SDP) has come out to make a statement that his decision was personal and not based on political party position. I understand also that voters in the area have also expressed their views and that that was not a decision that was in tune with their interest in the state.
Now to the issue of restructuring which is the campaign hub of most politicians aspiring to be president of Nigeria. President Muhammadu Buhari has always held the view that restructuring is not the problem of the nation. In fact, the Vice President recently spoke his mind when he also said restructuring is not the nation’s problem, but the management of resources. Do you really agree with those views and would you say restructuring is the answer to Nigeria’s problems?
Not exclusively. Resource management is part of it, but there are other aspects of restructuring that are very key and important. Devolution of powers, institutional restructuring as I have been mentioning. If you don’t do that then you will see that power will still be over concentrated at the centre, which means that no matter how well you manage your resources the centre can still muzzle you using instruments of states when you have a different view from the one held by the centre as it is happening now.
The problem is that most of the candidates talking about restructuring are yet to explain to Nigerians how they intend to achieve the process or the way in which restructuring will be arranged. What are the series of actions you are going to direct towards this specific aim? You talked about institutional restructuring.
Restructuring Nigeria is not a personal issue. First of all, a leader should not be against restructuring. He should provide the enabling environment for Nigerians to sit down and discuss every aspect of restructuring and produce a report that the leader will without being selective implement to the letter. A leader can have his views, but not impose his views except if they are accepted by Nigerians. And why I have been talking about institutional restructuring is that if, for instance, you do not reform INEC to make it truly independent it would continue to align itself with the centre and the centre will use it. If you don’t restructure the anti-corruption institutions you will continue to have politically inclined so-called war against corruption; so does the military and paramilitary agencies. If you don’t restructure them they will continue to be instruments that the centre will use to subjugate everybody, especially the states and citizens once they disagree with government.
Are you by inference referring to state police?
It’s all part of it.
But there are arguments against state police. State police, according to those against it, can be used by governors against perceived enemies?
That is why you have to restructure them and not just devolve. But how do you remove them from political control of the president or governors. It is part of the restructuring; otherwise you will be transferring aggression from centre to state. That is why I am insisting that these institutions must be restructured so that they can be accountable to the people and not to serve political leaders at whatever level you find them. If you don’t do that it would continue to be the same thing or even worse because depriving citizens of their fundamental human rights and intimidation is not just at the centre it also happens at the state level. And it is because of the political control of these institutions. That is why I have been saying that they must be restructured in such a way that would make it extremely difficult or minimal for any political head to make use of these institutions as instruments of subjugation and intimidation of people.
I am dwelling on this issue of restructuring because the North from where you hail is yet to come to terms with this idea of restructuring. In fact, when I spoke with Prof Ango Abdullahi who is the Chairman of the Northern Elders Forum recently he said this country had been under restructuring from 1914 to date. Are you now going to impose it on them or…?
(Cuts in) I am coming. You see the North is apprehensive about who is talking about restructuring. It believes that there are politicians that can say anything in order to get votes and be elected. So to be able to provide leadership under which Nigeria can be restructured you must command a reasonable level of trust and respect whether you are from the North or South. If you do not have that level of trust and respect and you are only respected in one part and not the other, you can never provide the needed restructuring of this country because you will meet problems along the way. You cannot get the cooperation of most Nigerians and you cannot restructure Nigeria until you are able to command the respect of Nigerians across the divides to sit down to look at all the issues and understand them. As a leader you go where there are problems to resolve them until we get there. But you must be trusted enough. If you do not have this element of being trusted you will find it difficult to assemble Nigerians to discuss it. And that is why when as many as those aspiring to lead the country can talk about it, but not all of us have the capacity and ability to do it because we do not command the same level of trust and respect across the North and South. So, it depends on who is talking about restructuring in the North. Whether you like it or not there are people that as far as the North is concerned they are only talking about restructuring in order to get power.
There is also the saying that some of those aspiring to be Nigeria’s president are just making statements that are hypocritical about restructuring and that in any case some of you are later day converts of restructuring?
In 2003, I was Chairman of the Technical Committee that drew up the terms of reference and the modalities for the Political Reforms Conference under former President Obasanjo. That terms of reference was edited; fundamental issues of fiscal federalism, of state police, of whether we will go back to parliamentary or federal system of government or quasi-presidential federal system of government. All those key fundamental recommendations were taken from our recommendations. So, if in 2003, I chaired a committee that recommended things that could have led to substantial restructuring of this country that would have addressed these issues it cannot be that I am talking politics now. It can’t be.
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The issue is that we have also had other conferences, constitutional, national conferences, including the Political Reforms Conference which you chaired. Are we likely to have a fusion of these conference reports or we will go back to your report because it appears what your committee recommended is what you are likely to throw up. Are we returning to the 1963 constitution?
No, we can’t. Every document is important. If now you say you want to go back or look back it means you want to take decisions on behalf of the people. You are a leader if you are able to assemble the people and say let’s see how we want to go. Listen to what they are saying and believe in it. There is no more time to waste. Yes, we have had conferences, some things are still relevant, some may have become obsolete and new things may have arisen. So, instead of starting from day one, let these things be reviewed and remove obsolete things and put what is new into it. Let’s agree on a document that if we restructure Nigeria in terms of all the issues that we are talking about Nigeria will be a better place. As president and a leader you should not waste time and I will not waste time. What has been a problem is the lack-luster approach even when you have a report to implement. Why should Nigerians agree on something and you as president will sit on it? It is totally uncalled for.
Are you going to convene another conference or go through the National Assembly to institutionalize restructuring?
It will not be like the normal conference, but you must still assemble Nigerians to review the reports as I said in order to remove what is obsolete and bring in what is current. If you just go directly to the National Assembly what I suspect is that Nigerians will say they have not had an input.
Is that by way of Sovereign National Conference or what?
That is for them to discuss. Remember no one part of the country can impose its will on the people of Nigeria. Are we not talking about restructuring Nigeria in such a way that is fair and just to all of us?
Can you really bring Nigerians of diverse background together for this kind of assignment without some raising religious, regional and ethnic issues? That has been the problem all along. Would that not be an avenue for confusion like the one we are having over the 2014 National Conference?
You see it depend on the leader. There can be no confusion. Let me take you back to Kaduna State when we had our crisis when I assembled people from North and South to proffer solutions that would lead us out of the crisis. Before some of them were not talking to each other. Then they started talking to each other; they went for tea break and lunch together. But as governor then I was going in the night to make peace when I understood this person and that person cannot shake hands. I didn’t sit back and I was not in the committee, but I was monitoring to know what the areas of disagreements were and go in between to talk to both sides so that a meeting point is arrived at. That’s what a leader does. You don’t hands off and behave as if you are not concerned. You continue to monitor and see what the problem points are up till the time you get them to agree. Once they agree they give you a document. Then immediately start implementing what is contained in that document. You will have the trust and confidence of the people. As president you represent everybody.
What is your selling point on this whole issue of restructuring because it is an issue that remains key in the minds of Nigerians? Most regions are demanding for structuring?
Most regions have their views about restructuring. When you go to the South-south they see it more as resource based. When you go to the Southwest it is resource based and political in terms of geographical entity. When you go to the Southeast you may be faced with…
That is why I raised the issue of confusion within…
(Cuts in) I am coming. Remember no one part should superimpose their exclusive views on others. You have to find a meeting point. That is the responsibility of good leadership. You must never exclude any issue from being discussed. Whether you like it or not there is no unanimity as to one standard structure. It depends on where you go to. You have to aggregate these views and say okay with all these divergent views on restructuring how do we get this right? That is why I said a leader that would pull this through must be the one that is trusted and respected. If you are not trusted by one part or the other, Mr Kenny, you can only be talking about it, but will not be able to implement it.
Let’s talk about minimum wage because it is now becoming doubtful…
That is equally part of restructuring because there should be a national minimum wage for federal civil servants, national minimum wage for states. There might be a national minimum wage, which covers the whole federation, but stops at that and then states are left to take a queue from that. The thinking should be okay apart from the national minimum wage, how do they arrive at a wage package for the rest of their civil servants? Where there is a problem is where a comprehensive wage package is negotiated by the centre and applies across board. That goes beyond determining the issue of minimum wage. We have to be sincere to ourselves and look at it. Even if we say okay there is going to be a national minimum wage should it go beyond just determining the national minimum wage to the extent of coming out with salary structure across the federation knowing that especially with fiscal federalism this is absolutely impracticable because capacities to pay differs? All these issues are those that should be tabled. At the level of restructuring labour should also participate because they will see what will happen and their implications to make them reasonable as to their demands.
We have had elections in Katsina, Ekiti, Bauchi states and recently Osun State. What level of confidence do you have with the processes leading to the 2019 elections?
First of all, INEC should have announced the result of the Osun governorship election because it is no fault of anybody that election did not take place in the cancelled polling units.
Election took place but had to be cancelled owing to one form of malpractice or the other.
Okay, if you cancel, if election did not take place it is different, but if you cancel because of wrongdoing it remains cancelled because you cannot eat your cake and have it. If you want those votes to count then do not do things that will lead to cancellation. But if for any logistical reasons elections could not take place that is completely a different issue. So, you cannot disenfranchise voters and it is wrong for them to do something that would lead to cancellation of election. If you want your votes to count don’t do something that will lead to election being cancelled. And doing something wrong that would lead to cancellation of election in a particular polling unit is tantamount to electoral offence. You can’t come now and be given a second chance. To me, all went substantially well in Osun, the first election, but for the last minute biased position in order to have a re-run election. In Ekiti, it was complete mess up. Before the election their governor was intimidated, people were locked up and the result came up being juggled in order to arrive at a predetermined figure. That is the issue. So, this doesn’t give people the confidence. That is why I told you about the restructuring of institutions. If you don’t restructure and remove them from political influence Nigeria will continue to be drawn backwards. So, overall I am not satisfied with the electoral body and the security agents. Their level of performance leaves much to be desired.
Specifically, what is wrong with INEC?
How I wish I knew. But you can just say that they have taken sides and they are not independent.
How did you arrive at that decision because most of the observers of the Osun election thumped up for INEC?
You can spoil a good work by one small action like the action of declaring the election inconclusive. No matter how good you have performed at the tail end you spoil your good work.