Monday Onyekachi Ubani, former chairman, Nigerian Bar Association, Ikeja Branch, bares his mind to Anayo Ezugwu, Realnews reporter, on the National Conference that has just ended abruptly without reaching decisions on some crucial national issues, the consequences of its failure and why the outcome should be subjected to a referendum, among other issues. Excerpts:
Realnews: What is your assessment of the national conference; will you say that it met the expectations of the people?
Ubani: Well the issue of meeting the expectations depends upon what will happen to the outcome of the decisions the delegates have reached. There are some issues they have agreed on that some of us feel it is very commendable. The issue of creation of local government areas and allowing the states to create local government areas provided they will be the ones to fund and manage them. That is the way it is supposed to be, not local governments running cap-in-hand like states to Abuja for allocations. And those allocations are not utilised for the purpose of development in other words, they do not get to the grassroots and the people. So, the issue of creation of local governments which now resides with the states is very commendable. The issue of state police is also very commendable. If you want state police, you can establish provided you fund it also. And then there will be a procedure to checkmate the state police authority to avoid the issue of abuse and all that. But if you don’t want state police, the federal police will be there for you; so it’s a question of choice now. If you can’t afford it, you can’t have it to guarantee a certain level of security and some policemen and women would not be transferred outside their states. This is looking into the problems of insecurity as a country and finding a way out so that we can have our lives and properties guaranteed. I think this is a more practical way to solve the issue of insecurity. They are looking at it, if we have state police and create community policing also at the local government level, these things will be tackled headlong.
Realnews: What do you think about the creation of more states, do you think Nigeria needs more states?
Ubani: It’s an unwise decision. We don’t even require half a state if you ask me. We must be very reasonable in whatever we do. What defines the world now are economy and economic imperatives. So, if you don’t have enough resources within a state to run that state efficiently, apart from looking for external allocations, then do you have any reason for additional states. We are even saying that some of the states that are not viable should be merged and acquired by those viable ones. And somebody is talking about creating of states to be up to 54 states. America is a continent and it has 50 states and you that is only a country are talking of about 54. It’s absolute madness; those states are not viable and that is the annoying thing. If the states are very viable and competent to generate enough revenue to run their affairs, then you can create. It is not as if they can’t be viable but their leaders are lazy; they don’t want to tap the resources in their states, they are waiting for oil money. So, that is one thing I disagree with the delegates. They are acceding to the request for additional states on political grounds. And you don’t do things on political grounds because you must consider the economics of state creation. If you don’t consider it and do it solely as a political issue, then you run into problems and that is why we have found ourselves with 36 states with so much bureaucracy. You know governors, first ladies, commissioners and you have to establish and service all the ministries of that state and at the end, the money that should have been used for the development of the people, you use to pay salaries. It doesn’t make economic sense and I disagree with them on that.
Realnews: The problems of resource control and revenue sharing have ended conferences like this in the past, and this conference is heading in the same direction. What do you think is the way out?
Ubani: Most of the people who were appointed or nominated as delegates at the conference are the problems of this nation. There are people who would have done a good job at the conference; there are independent-minded individuals who love this nation and if they were part of this conference, they would have reached a consensus on the contentious issues in the interest of the nation. But all those people they brought in are the problems of this nation. I see them compounding the problems of President Jonathan and the problems of this nation by extension. So they will not agree, they will hold on to their religious and ethnic agenda, which also led to a walkout at the conference convoked by former president Olusegun Obasanjo in 2005. That walkout abruptly ended the conference then. This one is even worse; we don’t even know where we are heading to, that is, about the outcome. Are you taking it back to the National Assembly? That is double wahala and dead on arrival. That justifies the initial scepticism of a few Nigerians who queried the motive and how the president did a turnaround after initially opposing it. The time and even the modalities were not well spelt out. So, they doubted the genuineness and honesty of the present government to constitute the conference. Now, they may be justified. If you are taking it to the National Assembly where members said they were already amending the constitution and on which they have wasted many billions in the process. And now you are telling them to approve the recommendations of the conference. They won’t because most of the recommendations affect them and you think they would agree with you? So, that is where we are no; we are in a quagmire and we are neither going forward nor going backward. We may likely see that the entire exercise has been a futility but God forbid because if we fail at the conference, we are heading to doom.
Realnews: You are one of those advocating that the outcome of the national conference be subjected to a referendum. Do you think that the National Assembly will have time to enact laws that will support the referendum?
Ubani: That is the point. It is not the issue of time, they will not even contemplate it because they know that most of the decisions that have been reached are very fundamental and they border on restructuring Nigeria, which they will not like. They will oppose it, some on sentiments and others on religious and ethnic grounds. They would not allow this country to be restructured for efficiency because they know that they are benefitting from the old order. So, any order that will affect them, they will not allow it. Their eyes are open by those fundamental issues agreed by the conference. They won’t agree to enact any law allowing those decisions to be subjected to a referendum. They will say bring it to us, the constitution empowers us to carry out the amendment; there is no law that empowers a referendum. But that would have been the thing we should have done if the president pushed for the law before the conference because he had the mandate of the National Assembly then to go for a conference. The president should have been patient enough to tidy up the loose ends and have agreement reached with the National Assembly to enact a law convoking the conference, specifying the modalities and then what will happen to the outcome. If all those things had been done before the conference, you would have put the horse before the cart. But when you put the cart before the horse, you run into problem. Now, the members of the National Assembly will be the ones to determine what will happen to the deliberations of the national conference. They will tell you that they are empowered by the constitution to look at its amendments. So, with this all those billions we budgeted for the conference would have gone down the drain in addition to the time wasted and the risk of all the delegates travelling to Abuja. You know every Monday they are on air travelling to Abuja and every Thursday and Friday they are back to their various states. You have risked the lives of these men and women, wasted their time and also wasted the nation’s resources. You find out that the whole thing would have ended up in a fiasco if it goes the way it is being speculated based on the realities on ground. It would mean that the whole exercise was programmed to fail. And as I said earlier, if this conference is allowed to fail, God forbid, it will have adverse consequences on the Nigerian state because the agitations will never stop. The annoyance, the anger of Nigerians against the Nigerian state and some of the injustices going on, will be aggravated. People will get angrier and there will be implosion and that will not be to the good health of the nation. Now, we are having Boko Haram insurgency in the north, kidnapping in the south and then the armed robbery incidents. A lot of people are angry with the state that do not, in any way, care for the or make provisions for their lives. You graduate from the university and thereafter go into many years of joblessness. There is a lot of injustice going on; few people are living in obscenity while many live in abject poverty. The agitation will increase, if you can’t restructure Nigeria for efficiency and allow governance to get to everywhere and for people to begin to feel the impact of governance; if they don’t feel it, they become more agitating, angrier and aggressive in criminality. And that is not healthy for the state. So, that is the only fear that I have if this conference fails.
Realnews: What do you think will be the solution if the conference fails to serve its purpose?
Ubani: The consequence is better imagined than said. I can’t say it because no one is safe if we don’t get it right. Part of my recommendations on this issue has always been: do we want to stay together as one indivisible entity? That agreement has to be reached but unfortunately the president said it’s a no-go area, that the unity of this country is not negotiable. That the nation’s unity is already guaranteed but you can’t guarantee what doesn’t exist. The issue of agreement proceeds from the people not the president promising unit; it is like a marriage. It takes a man and a woman to agree to live together as husband and wife no matter how benevolent the parents are. There is no way anybody can impose somebody on another person and use his position to make sure it works if the people do not agree. There must be an agreement despite the shortcoming of the lady or the man; they must be prepared to live the rest of their lives together. So, if Nigeria must work, the component units must agree to stay together and the terms under which they will stay together must be well defined and agreed on. This issue of tomorrow you are in the north and you are not safe, or somebody saying that you are disturbing them and then start killing you; or you are down, you are being deported and all manner of maltreatment against the citizens of the same country will stop. We must agree that we will stay together and tolerate one another despite our deficiencies. That should have been the first thing to be done but that was not placed for discussion and so the imposition and the amalgamation of 1914 continues even without mutual consent. There must be that honesty; we can’t be deceiving ourselves. The problem is that the country is being run on fraud; in fact the foundation of the country is laid on fraud; it will continue to be in fraud and the leaders will continue to run Nigeria fraudulently. There is no truth in any of us; if we must stay together, we must agree. If we agree, then we can move forward. Let me tell you that it is only Nigeria that has resources and unable to manage them for the betterment of the people. China is a world power now and everybody is afraid of it. China has a large population and has managed to harness it. Let me shock you further, if Nigeria is going to be a developed country, it will not go this way of western democracy. There have to be an emergence of an autocrat who has a national interest. He is not coming to say I’m Igbo, Hausa or Yoruba, he is coming as a Nigerian and that is what happened in all these Asian tigers. There must be somebody who will emerge and make everybody to fall in line for national sake, unity, cohesion and progress. That man will not look at any person’s face or where he comes from but will fall everybody in line and the country will start making progress. After we have built infrastructures and developed the country, we may now introduce democracy. So, with this democracy, we are going nowhere.
— Jul. 28, 2014 @ 01:00 GMT