Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Ekwueme At 80: Jonathan, Lar, Fashola Debate Nigeria’s Structure

Alex Ekwueme and Yakubu Gowon.

The issue of Nigeria reverting to regionalism resonated again yesterday in Abuja, but President Goodluck Jonathan called on Nigerians to be committed to their country in the face of threats to its national integration.

Speaking at the 80th birthday celebration of former vice president Dr Alex Ekwueme, which also served as an international colloquium that touched on the theme “Nigerian Federalism: Building on the Ekwueme Legacy”, other notable speakers harped on the essence of restructuring the polity along the six geopolitical zones as propounded by Ekwueme. Yet some others insisted that what is required is good governance and not constitution amendment.

The president, who was represented by the Secretary to the government of the federation (SGF), Senator Anyim Pius Anyim, emphasised the importance of national integration for the survival of the country, describing it as “the foundation in which federalism can stand”.

According to him, “without national integration, there is mutual distrust and when there is mutual distrust, nothing will work”. He reiterated his determination to pursue policies which would focus on national integration and encouraged Nigerians to remain patriotic and renew their commitment to the unity and progress of Nigeria.

However, the governor of Lagos State, Babatunde Fashola, SAN, said constitution amendment is not necessary and instead advocated the need for Nigerians to restore their values and improve on the current structure of governance before taking on constitution amendment.

Fashola, who likened the current process of constitution amendment to “putting the cart before the horse”, said the need to salvage our diminishing value system and governance surpasses that of amending our constitution.

He pointed out, “If we were to continue at the rate that we are going, our constitution would be no better than the minutes of a village town hall meeting where every opinion and point of order is well documented in it.”

Fashola further argued that the efficacy of the constitution is not determined by the paper on which it is written or how long it is debated, adding that it is defined by the willingness of the parties to the agreement to adopt the agreement – “the people behind the agreement rather than the agreement in itself”.

“So our hope to ensure a better union will not be solved by changing any document; it will be solved by changing ourselves,” he said.

Also speaking on the occasion, former Plateau State governor Solomon Lar said the decision to adopt the federal system of government was born out of the enormous powers at the regions, but now it has been realized that too much power was concentrated at the centre.

“Why we decided to adopt federalism was because the regions had enormous powers, and we overdid it by giving too much powers to the federal government. That is why the states look like local governments. Nigerians should be patriotic, because we are sectional at the moment. We want the six geopolitical-zone structure to be strengthened and improved upon,” Lar said.

For Senator Ahmadu Ali, former national chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the need for the restoration of good governance in Nigeria remains paramount.

Ali, who was arguing on the same point as Governor Fashola, stressed the need for the country to amend itself rather than amend the constitution.

Nonetheless, the moderator of the event and chairman of ThisDay newspaper, Mr Nduka Obaigbena, immediately questioned Senator Ali’s statement: “The former chairman of PDP saying there is no good governance?” Ali responded in the affirmative, arguing that if there was good governance Boko Haram would not exist and the students of the University of Port Harcourt and College of Health Technology, Mubi, would not have been slain.

Governor Peter Obi of Anambra State, who also spoke at the birthday celebration, stressed the need for constitution amendment in order for every component entity in the country to be treated in fairness and equally. Governor Obi made reference to the current structure of the six geopolitical zones, where some zones have up to seven states while others have only five as an example of how the current constitution arrangement is in favour of some geopolitical zones and not others.

First Republic minister of information Chief Edwin Clark called for the abolition of the existing 36 states and their replacement with the six geopolitical-zone structure as the country gears up for another constitution amendment.

Clark said the states have failed to deliver the expected development and that has made governors solely depend on the federal government.

“Looking at our national anthem, which reads, ’The labours of our heroes past shall never be in vain’, I remember, in 1994, Dr Alex Ekwueme proposed at the constitutional conference six geopolitical zones for the country. A situation where one zone having seven states, the others five states; it is unacceptable. Let us restructure them based on experts’ advice, and not on land mass or population.

“A situation where governors will come to Abuja at the end of the month to collect what belongs to them according to the section that provides for federation account indicates that the states are too small, and some cannot generate revenue in their states. They think the federation account can solve their problems. The six geopolitical zones should be the federating units of this country, and let the 36 states be abolished. A federation where each region develops at its own pace -- if your region is weak you don’t trouble others.”

Clark also opposed the view of Gov. Fashola that there is no need for constitution amendment but good governance. He said every country needs a working document to develop based on the agreements reached by the people.

The elder statesman stressed the need for a constitutional conference where Nigerians would meet and discuss on how best to solve the problems on ground. On the issue of state police, Clark said it is too early for Nigeria to have it in place. He made this assertion when Governor Obi of Anambra State said that states in the south-east were working out ways to tackle insecurity -- having vigilante groups to address security challenges.

According to Clark, the governors will abuse it, as they are already operating in such a way that they do not have regard for the country, whereby they use their Governors’ Forum to intimidate policies of the government. He added that the governors in the present democratic system are worse than the military governors.

In attendance were former head of state General Yakubu Gowon, who was also the chairman of the event, PDP national chairman Bamanga Tukur, speaker of the House of Representatives Rt. Hon Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, deputy speaker Hon. Emeka Ihedioha, governor of Imo State Rochas Okorocha, deputy governor of Kano State Dr Abdullahi Umar Ganduje (who represented Kano State governor Engr Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso), deputy governor of Niger State Alhaji Ahmed Musa Ibeto, former PDP Board of Trustees chairman Chief Tony Anenih, former minister of transportation Alhaji Umaru Dikko, former minister of information Professor Jerry Gana, and PDP national publicity secretary Olisa Metu, among others.

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