Any Party That Is Not Committed To Restructuring Does Not Wish Nigeria Well —Umeh

Victor Umeh

ABUJA (PUNCH)--Senator Victor Umeh, representing Anambra Central in the Senate, is seeking re-election. Umeh, in this interview with TONY OKAFOR, says restructuring will determine the February 16 presidential poll to a large extent in the South-East

Why do you talk much about restructuring?
Restructuring Nigeria is a phenomenon that can no longer be wished away. We have shown clearly that we are not happy as a people and as a nation. So many things have been responsible for this. There are too many agitations in all parts of Nigeria. A number of people are asking for a rearrangement of the political structure in Nigeria. Many people are asking for true fiscal federalism. There is agitation for resource control. Some are seeking political restructuring and rearrangement of the way we are presently constituted.

In 2014, former President Goodluck Jonathan constituted a national conference made up 492 delegates. All the 36 states of the federation, the Federal Capital Territory, as well as civil society groups, religious leaders, various stakeholders and many others, were part of 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, things like power sharing between the North and the South and across 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, where we agreed that revenue that accrued to Nigeria through mineral deposits, including oil, should be the responsibility of the areas producing them. We agreed to move it from 13 per cent derivation to 18 per cent, even though the people of Niger Delta that produce the oil, demanded 50 per cent. The arrangement should be gradual processes 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 were happening because local governments were created through a military fiat. There was no democratic process of creating states and local governments. As a result of the process that was adopted, some people were marginalised 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 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 would be dispensed with, so that the state should be the basis for federating units.

Are you optimistic that the restructuring can happen soon?

Restructuring is the kernel of the nationhood and any party that is not committed 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, and lack of confidence in the federation, resulting in agitations, cheating and marginalisation. 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 made to favour them and the problem will be solved. If we restructure Nigeria, the economy of the various states will rebound, most people will become more hardworking and they will contribute more to grow the GDP. When every part of the country is producing one thing, it will have comparative advantage.

Are you satisfied with the way political parties are approaching the issue of restructuring ahead of 2019 elections?
The ruling APC has made an epileptic mention of restructuring. They selected few items and said they are agreeable to that. The PDP said they were in support of comprehensive restructuring. But I believe that anybody who thinks restructuring should be put behind during this election is deceiving himself. People need to be liberated. We want unity and equity to prevail in our national life. Anything that will suppress 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 restructuring. Any leader that will be thrown up in 2019 after the elections must restructure the country. It is not enough to merely say I will restructure. He has to specify in concrete terms how he will do it. Restructuring will determine the pattern of voting in next week presidential poll, especially in the South-East.

Copyright PUNCH.