State Of the Nation: Nigeria has never been this bad — Obong Attah
Regarded as the father of modern day Akwa Ibom State, Obong Victor Attah was a two-term governor of the state. He was in the forefront of the fight for Resource Control and now a leader if the Pan Niger Delta Forum PANDEF.
Attah has continued to advocate for a solid federal structure anchored on a parliamentary system of government with either a return to the regions, use of geopolitical zones or the current 36-state structure as federating units. In this interview, he said irrespective of whoever emerges as Nigeria’s president, next year, he would still be limited by the unworkable structure of the Nigerian federation.
My take in one word is that the nation is dire. In two words, depressingly dire and I can say this because I am old enough to also say that I know when Nigeria was incomparably different from what it is today and nobody could have contemplated that the country could turn out to be what it is today. The situation today is very dire.Your friend, Prof. Ango Abdullahi was recently interviewed by Vanguard wherein he said; Politicians have failed, technocrats should take over; seven aspirants stepped down for Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu because of corruption; and Tinubu, Atiku can’t fix Nigeria. What is your reaction to the three issues listed above?
Well, you know Prof. Ango Abdullahi is a close friend of mine and from time to time we meet to discuss some of the ideas he expressed in that interview. But let me remind you of what Charles de Gaulle, one-time President of France said; politics is too serious a matter to be left to the politicians. But what happens in Nigeria is that if you bring a politician, they say no, he is part of the problem and one of those who brought us to where we are now.
If you bring a technocrat, they say no he doesn’t know anything about administration that he cannot handle the situation. So, in Nigeria, we have a situation of heads, you lose, tails, you don’t win. For me, it is not a matter of politicians or technocrats but a system that works or does not work.
How he connected stepping down with corruption, I honestly don’t know, but I will like to ask: Tambuwal also stepped down for Atiku, would that also be considered as corruption? I don’t know. So, looking at Tinubu and Atiku, I would have put it differently. It is not a personality matter because I had once had occasion to say, without meaning to blaspheme, that even if you brought angels to operate the system we have today, they would fail. The system is so totally and completely wrong that whatever you try to do within it is just like patching a building that can never be patched properly. So, it can never work.
We must have a change but I find that people resist change because they focus so much more on the things they think they are going to lose than on the benefits they know that the change will bring. The kind of change we are talking about is not a new thing. We are suggesting that we should go back to the arrangement that our forefathers gave us and that arrangement was that we should have a federal structure with a parliamentary system of governance and that suggests that we have to have a new Constitution made by the people for the people of Nigeria and we can model it after the 1963 Republican Constitution that we had.
In the federal system, the federating units are coordinated and in no way subordinate to the Centre. They are largely independent and manage their own resources, and develop themselves through whatever means is available to them. You don’t have anything like a common wage, common this or that because the fingers of any hand are not equal.
I remember the Western Region was paying about Five Shillings, Eastern Region was paying Three Shillings and the North was paying Two Shillings to their workers and nobody complained because that was what was possible for them to pay and everybody was content because they managed their own resources. Resource Control is an essential part of this federal arrangement and you will develop entirely at your own pace but that does not mean that you cannot take advantage of the opportunities created in some other federating units.
I always give the example of when I was living in Kaduna and Cross River started this CALVENPLY, Calabar Veneer and Plywood Industry. Kaduna didn’t have forests but it invested heavily in the company and was reaping the benefits of the dividends and profits that was made by that company. So it doesn’t mean that when you have this independence, you just stay in your enclave and exclude everybody, no, we are still one country and you can take advantage or whatever that is available in the other federating units.
Federalism provides opportunity for the youths, women and for any capable person who is a Nigerian to participate in politics and it is the only thing that guarantees inclusiveness.
I will tell you this. It was because of this system that it became possible for the junior Ikoku who was in a different party from his father to defeat the father at an election. The junior Ikoku won the election against his father. Margaret Ekpo, somebody from what is now Akwa Ibom state was living in Aba but she was elected by the people of the area to represent what is largely Abia state now in the House because she was living there, and she was found capable, and it could only have happened with a parliamentary system. Another very interesting one was Dr E.E Emezie, a very young doctor at the time, contested and defeated a man of “timbre and calibre”, Dr. K.O Mbadiwe in Orlu Senatorial constituency. It cannot happen now. It cannot happen with the system that we are operating today. So really, this inclusiveness is so critically important that I think everybody should just embrace it without any argument.
And if we had this inclusiveness, or the federal system that I am talking about, believe me, it will not have been necessary for Pat Utomi to step down for Peter Obi to become a presidential candidate because they are not from the same constituency. Obi would have won in his constituency; Utomi would have won in his constituency. Kwankwaso would not have needed to leave the PDP to win election. People like Osinbajo, Pastor Tunde Bakare, Dr Ogbonnaya Onu and Governor Dave Umahi, would have won elections in their various constituencies, and gone to the National Assembly. But now, because they cannot become president, we lose the benefits of their service to the country.
Can you imagine a Federal House, how vibrant it would be with people like Saraki, Wike, my own governor, Udom Emmanuel, Tambuwal all of them in the National Assembly from where you pick the Prime Minister who is merely the first among equals, or at the state level, you pick a Premier, again, first among equals, because you pick the commissioners or whatever you want to call them, at the state level from that house? It would be a very vibrant House full of ideas of people who had the ability in their own rights to be presidents or governors in this country.
You will get the benefit of such wealth and then the added advantage is that those who do not find themselves in government constitute a shadow cabinet. That shadow cabinet puts the government on its toes all the time because the government knows somebody is watching. If you fumble, you go. You just have to fumble and you go. Look at what happened in Britain recently.
We need a new federal arrangement, a new constitution and a parliamentary system to make this country work. That is my take.The LP Presidential Candidate, Peter Obi seems to be generating interests in certain quarters. How do you see his seeming rising profile?
Is he a politician or a technocrat? I am praying and hoping that the social media does not turn Peter Obi into a meteor.
The reason I am saying that is because meteors by their very nature, appear and dazzle the firmament with their brilliant lights, but sadly, they also disappear as suddenly as they appeared. I don’t even want to think of Peter Obi as a lone maverick because lone mavericks can make waves, but is it sustainable? Even if we forget Spartacus of the Roman Empire, we cannot forget our own Alhaji Balarabe Musa.
He came in as a Governor and the next minute, he was gone, he was impeached. What I want to hope for and I believe this is correct – I want to see Peter Obi as a metaphor for what Nigeria is today; an embodiment of a determination and a resolve to revolt against the decadence that has taken over our country.
That requires a movement, a complete and total national movement, much larger than the #EndSARS. You didn’t have any #EndSARS activity in the North. The movement I am talking about has to be a complete national movement for any and everybody in this country from any part of the country that loves this country, and wants to see a change for the better.
So, if we focus it on a person, Nigeria being what it is, we cannot run away from issues of ethnicity and religion. So I am focusing it on the people. Let us galvanize this movement and make it a national movement that says, to whoever comes as the president of this country, this is what must be, because this is what the people want.
Recently, angry citizens forced the Sri Lankan president to resign. I want Nigerians to be angry enough with what is going on and that for me is what Peter Obi represents. Let us be angry enough with what is going on, we go out and make sure that whatever happens, whether it is Obi as president or not president, but that that change must come. It has to be something bigger than what Pastor Tunde Bakare brought about in his Save Nigeria Movement. It has to be a national movement, larger, stronger, and much more capable of bringing down the ‘Walls of Jericho’, if that’s what we must do for that change to come.What is your take on preparations for 2023 polls and voters registration? How can we ensure that eligible persons are not disenfranchised?
I am very pleased with the enthusiasm with which people are going out to register and I want to hope that those people are not doing that because delegates got money so they think they can get money with their voters’ cards. I am hoping that they are actually going out there to vote. But I commend INEC for their preparations and I wish that hoodlums would stop destroying their offices and other property so that they can conduct elections.
However, I am worried about certain things, one of which is in fact, the Electoral Act. Admittedly, the Electoral Act sets out certain specific penalties for electoral offenses which is good, but beyond that, the two other ingredients to me, are just unnecessary and are already causing people to go to court.
A party is not an agency or parastatal of government. So why do we need an Electoral Act to tell a party how a candidate should emerge for goodness sake? Are the parties constitutions not enough to do that? And what finally came about is that a few 100 people decide for the entire country those from song whom we must chose as our president.
That is why you saw people leaving and going to various parties. It is wrong. Second, you create INEC, and we saw this at the last election where the Supreme Court – and thank God people are now beginning to agree that even the Supreme Court needs to be overhauled – the Court threw away a case because they said electronic register or what have you is not in the Electoral Act. But you created INEC, you said to INEC – do whatever is necessary to make sure that elections are properly conducted – and they introduced this electronic system.
Why do we need another Act to sanction what they have done? It is like if WAEC says we want to go from this type of exam to computer based exam, you will need another Act to go ahead, and otherwise, you cancel the WAEC results for that year. It is ridiculous. If INEC has the authority and the right, they should just go ahead and do those things that are important and necessary to make sure that elections are properly conducted.
There will always be complaints. We now have a situation which is the most ridiculous thing I have ever had; that, your opponent in court is the one you are relying on to give you the evidence to convict him, because of this dictum of whoever alleges must prove. So, if I say elections were not properly conducted, I am the one to prove that elections were not properly conducted. But what about INEC that pronounced results of an election, claiming that they had conduct election properly? Bring INEC to come and prove that those elections were conducted properly.
I believe the elections will hold because by law if you don’t hold elections and bring a new government in on the day when you should, then what are we going to do? Are we going to reconsider an amendment to extend that? Are we going to do what some people have suggested, interim government, which is not provided for? Let us hold elections, let us bring a new government in but a new government that comes with the understanding and determination that change must come.The Zamfara Governor has asked his people to acquire arms in self defence. How practicable is that?
He is not the first to have done so. I believe that General TY Danjuma had said something similar and another Governor around that area had also said something like that.
So, we are getting to a state of anarchy and the only thing that can prevent that anarchy is the kind of change that I am talking about. Let me move from even your direct question. Even a simple matter as doing something about this subsidy on petrol, which we know is a scam in trillions of Naira -when government wanted to bring about a systematic way of doing it, labour screamed and shouted and was ready to bring the government down, but not so long ago, the marketers decided to increase the pump price haphazardly on their own. Did labour go round shutting down the filling stations? So, why don’t we like things that happen in a proper and systematic manner? That is the change I am talking about.
If you have true federalism and you have state police, believe me, more than half of these security issues will disappear because the people you call security officers in their federating units will have the means with which to make sure that they control insecurity in their various domains because they have obligation to protect their citizens. As it is now, all we hear is that the President is disappointed in the intelligence setup, then after that what? So, I am not a security expert.
I am not an intelligence expert, but in my place, there is an adage that when the battle is too tough for the lion, he sends for the gorilla. So if it is a matter of seeking help, please let us seek help. I am not the best to advice on that but we must know that the situation cannot continue as it is today.
My advice to Nigerians is: use your PVC to do the best you can. Make sure that whoever you elect agrees with what we said in the beginning that they must bring about this change. People will stand up and say that the parliamentary system will remove the Senate, but there must first be a country before the Senate. Let us not be ridiculous. My advice to Nigerians is,join the movement to bring about a change so that whoever gets there as president knows that if he does not do what Nigerians want, he is the one to go, not the country because Nigeria must remain.