In this interview with journalists, a former governor of Edo State, Adams Oshiomhole, agrees that Nigeria needs restructuring, but not the one everyone is clamouring for. Adibe Emenyonu was there and presents the excerpts:
Your view on the ongoing constitutional amendment?
As members of the Governor’s Forum, we were all unanimous on the need for devolution of powers in favour of the state. The Governor’s Forum from 1999 to date, virtually at every meeting had cause to speak to the need for devolution of powers, in favour of the states and reduce the powers at the federal level. As governors then, we were questioning why federal government is holding on to 52 per cent while states holding on to 28 per cent and local government 18 per cent. Now many of them are in the Senate and they tend to forget the issues. Which is why I was taken aback, when the Senate where we have former governors overwhelmingly voted against devolution of powers. The contradiction is that if you do not favour devolution of powers, what will be the foundation for making the argument for review of the revenue allocation formula? So we need both devolution of powers which will necessarily require the review of the revenue allocation formula in favour of the states to deal with the additional responsibility arising from such devolution of powers. It is not helpful that the Senate, can on one hand, vote against devolution and yet lament the none review of Revenue Allocation Formula. Another setback as regards more powers to the state is this decision by the Senate that local government elections should now be conducted by INEC. That position bothers on concentrating more powers on the centre at a time when everybody is asking for devolution. That for me, again, is part of the Nigeria paradox. When our people are in a position to make these changes they tend to abandon them for other issues. Why should it be Abuja’s business to conduct local government elections? We just need to remain consistent rather than beat about the bush, by ensuring that we give more resources to the states and less resources at the centre and challenge the states to take on board, additional responsibilities in line with the additional fund that will be put at their disposal.
What is your reaction to Governor Fayose’s criticism of the President’s health?
I don’t like to discuss Fayose because when he makes such statements, it reminds me of an Igbo proverb which says that if a responsible man is having his bath after a hard days work and he removes his cloth in a local bathroom and a mad man carries his cloth and the man bathing seeing that the mad man has carried your cloth and you run out naked pursuing him. The people will see two naked people running and they will say two mad men. So sometimes you just allow the mad man to carry your cloths and go rather than joining him in his madness. That is my comment on Fayose. One of my very good friends wrote something in the papers criticising the pictures taken by the president and the APC governors. He was saying that may be a broadcast would have been better. But I ask, if the head of a family is sick and some people went to see him, first there is nothing unusual about that to visit the sick in their sick bed or in their homes, to show that you care. I believe most Nigerians are praying for the quick recovery of the president, so if people go there and sat with the president and took a picture it shows that yes the president is sick but it is not as bad as what people are saying. Some were carrying rumours that he was on life support but people have seen that at least that is not true. As at the time he wrote that piece only APC governors visited but now some PDP governors also went and I hope he will write another article. For me, the president has been conscious of the provisions of the constitution and had complied in full with the extant provisions of the constitution by admitting to the fact that for now that he is ill, and he needs medication somewhere, that he has asked his deputy, in line with the provisions of the constitution to act on his behalf. I don’t see how the president can be much more transparent than that. I am happy that some PDP governors have also gone to see him. but what many of us do not know is that there have been governors who have been absent from their states for three months, even on health grounds in PDP that I know, and they came back from those long medical vacations to assume duties and today they are alive. So as they say the sick is not necessary next and for me we should all continue in our honest prayers and pray for the quick recovery of our president and not inhuman comments by some persons. We had a president under the PDP who clearly was unable to even recognise people and they were debating whether he signed a budget or he did not sign a budget. But you know in this environment people have short memory. Those who were very active then, purporting that the president signed a budget which he was not in a position to sign, and mimicking a voice in BBC, they are also talking now. Now we have a president who sat with both PDP and APC governors and I think that closes the issue of the health of the president.
Call for restructuring and secession agitation
There is a huge level of under employment at the level of the political elite and once they are out of power they come up with all kinds of agenda. Once they are in power then they shut up. People say restructuring but they never speak to the specifics. Restructure how? This is one word that can mean everything and one dubious word that can mean nothing. For me, the only issue for Nigeria is devolution of powers. The problem now is that the National Assembly members once they get elected in Abuja, rather than deal with the issue of devolution of power they tend to want to defend the status quo. For me these are the issues. Then some are talking about implementing confab report, which of the confab report now? Obasanjo did a confab, the PDP did twice. Every PDP president except Late Yar Adua organized a confab. Whatt happened to Obasanjo’s confab report? What is the difference between the report of Obasanjo’s confab and that of Jonathan? And why did they not implement it or at least start the process of implementing it before they left office? it is a pity we do not sufficiently interrogate people such that our political elite will want to eat their cake and have it. It is this same people that said, many of them are still active now even at old age, that parliamentary system is not good for Nigeria, that Nigeria needed a strong presidency. So that was how they empowered Rotimi Williams to introduce the presidential system of government. That we need to have a strong enter to keep the home together. This same people said: oh we have imbalances in the regions, Oh the north is big, we have to create more states in order to bring government closer to the people. These same elites. And as I speak if you check the archives of the National Assembly you will find their signatures on petitions to the National Assembly calling for creation of more states. Now this same people once they are out of power, they said these states are not viable. I think the media needs to do more investigative journalism, ask the leadership of the Senate and the House of Reps to bring all the petitions that have been forwarded to them over the last five years. Particularly when they kick-started the process of creation of more states. It is unfortunate. What we need to restructure is attitude to governance, the issue of character, the issue of corruption, the issue of creative application of the resources and ensuring that governance is about delivering the greatest good to the greatest number. Ensuring that we reorder our industrial policies in a way that emphasises job led the growth rather than jobless growth so that the level of poverty can be reduced to a tolerable level. We begin to get the private sector to create jobs and grow the economy and give everybody a basis to be loyal to the nation. If I look at what is going on, states are not able to pay salaries, if a state is not paying salary is the governor from a foreign area, he is part of the state. Some times when the elites are in trouble, they want to evade accountability. They play up these primordial sentiment, either they elevate religion to certain level or they elevate ethnicity to a level and they make it look as if it is these people who are our problem whereas you are the problem of your people. I have been to Sokoto state where Shagari comes from, I have been to Ogun state where Obasanjo comes from, I have been to Minna where IBB comes from, I have been to Katsina where Yar’Adua comes from, Otuoke, Bayelsa state where Jonathan comes from. At the level of vice presidents I have been to areas where they came from. But there is no correlation between the level of poverty in any part of Nigeria in relation to the level of political office holders that come rom that part, whether elective or appointive. And as we have seen from revelations, on corruption issues, when it comes to ganging up to pocket what belongs to all, ethnicity has no place. If the report of the oil sector is anything to go by, you will find that an Ijaw lady has no difficulty in doing business with a Kwara or Yoruba man because the dollar does not speak to ethnic origin. If you are looking at how defence money was used for other purposes other than defence you will find that there was no distinction between and Hausa -Fulani man or an Edo man who benefited from the internal transfers from money made for military procurement that ended up in private pockets.
Even when criminals are identifying themselves you also find that it cuts across the divides. So ethnicity is the least of our problem. When our leaders refused to account they just use ethnicity and religion to cover up for accountability and a gullible youth just queue in. I come from the South-south, I was in a forum when Ambassador Keshi spoke about the terrible state of the road in Yenagoa and reminded us that the road has been like that in the past five six years and it was getting worst. Then I asked him who was the president then that appointed ministers of works. It happened to be son of the soil. When you look at stories about NDDC and look at the money allocated to NDDC, in relation to the contract that NDDC executed over the years, in Edo state for example you will find that the primary purpose was not to impact on the infrastructure or social development of the place but to enrich individuals. You created Ministry for Niger Delta, the people still remain in poverty. When you look at the allocation of some states to compare with others you will ask what these monies have translated to. For example in the Niger Delta area, how can any state governor that benefits from huge derivation, even to the extent that they can maintain private jets, however these same states are not able to pay workers salaries as at when due, they cannot pay teachers salaries as at when due, they cannot pay pensioners as at when due but they can service their debts. And the people in those areas are not encouraged to ask question from their own governors, everybody is looking at Abuja. Okay we will look at Abuja but lets look where we are. If the regions do not function how will the centre work? If you look at it within the South’south, Edo state receives the least allocation, and if Edo earns the least, I am proud that until I left office, where PDP governors were owing their workers I was up to date. When they were lamenting that they could not pay the workers #18,000 I increased workers pay to #25,000. So when we blame the federal also look inwards about what we are doing.
Those who are beating the drums of war I hope that they will bring their children in front as soldiers to first lead the battle not in the comfort of their rooms and people who have multiple passports who can escape and begin to negotiate in London and Paris and leave their fellow brothers here to be killing each other. The other day I read one of our leaders and my very good friend, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar saying that during the SDP days they said that they were going to restructure the country and that he was shocked that any of those elites who raised it then would turn round to kick against restructuring. That was a good observation but the issue is that when my good friend became vice president and his government was doing political conference what was wrong in him raising it even if it did not hold water as a sitting vice president? The voice of a sitting vice president is louder any day outside that of the president but I don’t think I heard him say anything about restructuring.
What we need to restructure is attitude to governance, the issue of character, the issue of corruption, the issue of creative application of the resources and ensuring that governance is about delivering the greatest good to the greatest number.