Interview: Kano, Jigawa have more local govts than all Igbo States – Umeh

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SENATOR Victor Umeh, Anambra Central, is very passionate about the issue of restructuring Nigeria. As the National Chairman of All Progressive Grand Alliance, APGA, Umeh was nominated into the 492-member National Conference inaugurated by former President Goodluck Jonathan to take a holistic look at the nation and chart the way forward.  The issue of restructuring dominated discussions at the National Conference at the end of which several recommendations were made and the report handed to then-President Jonathan. The Jonathan administration could not implement the report and it was one of the documents he handed over to President Muhammadu Buhari who took over from him.

As the 2019 elections draw near, political parties have brought up the issue. In this interview, Umeh says only restructuring Nigeria could make the people happy. Excerpts:    Victor Umeh Why do you believe so much in restructuring? Restructuring Nigeria is a phenomenon that can no longer be wished away. Over the years, Nigerians have not been happy as a people and as a nation. So many things are responsible. There are too many agitations calling for attention in different parts of Nigeria. A number of people are asking for rearrangement of the political structure of Nigeria. Many people are asking for true fiscal federalism.

There is agitation for resource control; some people are asking for political restructuring and a rearrangement of the way we are constituted. In 2014, former President Goodluck Jonathan set up a National Conference made up 492 delegates. All the 36 states of the federation, the Federal Capital Territory, civil society groups, religious leaders, various stakeholders and many others were represented at the conference.

At the end of the exercise, far- reaching decisions were taken. I was privileged to be a delegate to the conference. We passed 600 resolutions, worked at things that had tended to divide Nigeria like power sharing between the North and the South, and within the geopolitical zones. With that arrangement, every zone will have the opportunity of producing the President of Nigeria. That was a very favourable resolution and it was unanimous. We also looked at fiscal federalism and agreed that revenue accruing to Nigeria through mineral deposits, including oil, should remain in the areas producing them. We also agreed to move derivation from 13 per cent to 18 per cent, even though the people of Niger Delta that produce oil were demanding 50 percent. The arrangement should be gradual with a view that, over time, we can attain full resource control. The idea is for the producers to be in charge of their resources and pay royalty to the Federal Government.

That was the situation before the civil war. At the conference, we also argued vehemently that all these things are happening because local governments were created through military fiat. There was no democratic process of creating states and local governments. As a result, some people were marginalized in the exercise. I, along with other South-East delegates, argued that we have only five states, while other zones have six and seven. The lopsidedness is such that two states in the North-West, Kano and Jigawa, have more local governments than the entire South-East put together and it is unfair for Nigeria to use this lopsided arrangement to share the resources of the country. Whichever way one looks at it, the South-East suffers in this structural imbalance. In the first instance, the South-East demands the creation of one additional state before more states are created on the basis of equality across the zones.

We also agreed that the existing 774 local governments shall be jettisoned so that the state should be the basis for the federating units. If that is done, those who were cheated in the creation of local governments will be satisfied. Matters about local governments will now be left to the states which can decide to create the number of local governments they deem fit. Monies meant for the local governments shall be shared to the states. It was a land mark decision but you can see that those things have not taken effect. Are you optimistic that the restructuring can happen so soon? Restructuring is the kernel of the nationhood and any party that does not commit to restructuring is not wishing Nigeria well. It is better to live in harmony and peace than to live in an environment of crisis, turmoil, mistrust, mutual suspicion, lack of confidence in the federation, cheating and marginalization. The federal character principle that looks at these things is not respected. I therefore believe that, for the country to be stronger, it has to restructure and the restructuring will enable the federating units to become competitive in their activities. They can engage in revenue generation activities without relying so much on the centre. Even this problem we have over minimum wage in which states are complaining that they don’t have money will be resolved in their favour.

If we restructure Nigeria, the economy of the various states will rebound, most people will become more hard-working and they will contribute more to grow the GDP. When every part of the country is producing one thing or the other, they will have comparative advantage. So, today, restructuring should be the cynosure of all eyes as we approach the 2019 elections. Are you satisfied with the way political parties are approaching the issue of restructuring ahead of the elections? The ruling APC has not been consistent on restructuring. They selected a few items and said they are agreeable to that. The PDP said they are in support of comprehensive restructuring. But I believe that anybody who thinks restructuring should be relegated to the background during this election is deceiving himself. People need to be liberated. We want unity and equity to prevail in our national life. Anything that suppresses equity and fairness in Nigeria will continue to throw up challenges.

So restructuring is very imperative. Restructuring has components and political leaders should be direct when speaking about it. Any leader that will be thrown up in 2019 after election must restructure the country. It is not enough to say ‘I will restructure’. He has to specify in concrete terms how he will do it. The National Conference that sat had 492 people and were among the best brains in the country. There is no alternative to it as the campaign goes on. Nigerians should ask the politicians how they intend to restructure Nigeria. We cannot run away from it. Some people have argued that the National Assembly should dust up the report and take it up from there. Don’t you agree? The two arms of government have to commit sincerely for restructuring to succeed.

The President has a lot of influence on the system and the lawmakers also have influence in their states and it is only when they agree to support restructuring that it can work. The parliament has to push it. Jonathan handed over the report of the confab to President Buhari and it will be a way to immortalize the Chairman of the conference, Justice Kutigi, if it is implemented. By not implementing it, we are only postponing the evil day when the country will go in pieces. So the leader of the country should be the driving force to restructure Nigeria. The good thing is that all the various ethnic groups – the Afenifere, the South-West, the South-South, the South-East, the Middle-Belt, Ohaneze, Niger Delta groups – have held summits and supported their leaders at the confab. They are still fighting for restructuring. I want to say that restructuring Nigeria is landmine and it cannot be played with.    Vanguard

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