The Ijaw National Leader and elder statesman, Chief Edwin Clark, in a recent interview explains his concept of restructuring and what the South-South hopes to take out of a restructured Nigeria.
The clamour for restructuring, what is it all about? Some claim they do not know what those agitating for it mean.
Those saying they don’t know what restructuring is all about are mischievous. Before they went to London in 1953, the North wanted confederation in their 8 point agenda, the Western Nigeria wanted a federal system of government; Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe wanted a unitary form of government. They harmonised these in England and agreed on having a federal system of government. That’s restructuring and that system went on from 1953 till our independence, when the three regions had a constitution of their own, apart from the federal constitution. They had representatives in London, called Agent-General; I think Omololu was the one for the West, somebody was the one for the East and Abdul-Malik was the one for the North.
I remember that in 1963, when the Mid-West region was created, I moved from the West to the Mid-West. These were all restructuring. Then in 1963, we changed our constitution again to a Republican Constitution. It was also a restructuring. Anytime we want to change something awkward in our constitutions; that is restructuring. Same way during the military, there was restructuring; at the Constituent Assembly. The last one was headed by Justice Karibi-Whyte, with Justice Mamman Nasir as the deputy. That was restructuring.
What we are saying is that in 2005, there was restructuring; Obasanjo convened the Political Reforms Conference, even though it was thrown out, but it was meant for restructuring. In 2014, 492 of us met; different types of people, including the physically challenged, to the topmost persons in Nigeria. We met for four months and we came out with a recommendation, the government should look at them. As far as I’m concerned, what we are asking is that the present constitution is lopsided, it’s not a federal constitution, we are saying let’s go back to 1963.
There are a lot of items recommended in the 2014 recommendation; let the office of the Attorney General be separate from that of the Minister of Justice; let’s have a situation where the federal government will devolve more powers to the states. Let’s see that the fiscal position of the country is restructured; the states and the council areas should have 58 percent while the federal government takes 42 percent. Let’s have state police, a situation where you call the governor the Chief Security Officer and he has no power over the police is not good enough. This is what we mean by restructuring. We are not asking for the country to be broken up; we are not asking for secession, we are not asking for people to give quit notice to anybody. This is the position.
How do you advise the federal government to handle calls for secession?
Call them for discussion, they should be educated. For instance, those talking about Biafra are talking rubbish. Nigeria fought a war from 1967 to 1970, at the end of which Gowon declared “no victor, no vanquished”, for anybody now to say he wants to lead another war because he wants to break away, question is ‘why’. The Igbo have been part of this country’s progress and you see their people on the television every day, foremost politicians who have contributed a lot during the first and second republics, it was only during the military that they suffered and if they are now suffering in Buhari’s time because they didn’t support him during the election and are now being marginalised, they should wait, their time will come, they don’t have to go for the extreme; this country belongs to all of us.
In essence, I’m saying that being marginalised by Buhari’s government is not enough reason to ask for the breaking up of this country, their time will come. I’m thinking that it will be Igbo people’s time in the 2020s, they will produce the president. They should be thinking of dialogue, they should be thinking of education. I am happy that today, the northerners have also joined in the clamour for restructuring. They’ve set up the Tambuwal Committee, the governor of Sokoto State, including a number of governors and eminent traditional rulers. They’ve said they will visit all the documents about restructuring and I’ve advised that they should visit the 2014 National Conference, as His Eminence, the Sultan of Sokoto, and many other people had suggested. They should not be viewed from a partisan point of view; it should not be seen as either an APC or PDP agenda, no. The APC had restructuring as part of its manifesto.
Once there is restructuring, all that have made the country not to develop will be treated and the country will be developed. Every state will have its own resources. I think they should go by that. It’s been recommended that 5 percent of the national revenue should be devoted to developing the solid mineral resources and agriculture, so that everybody will go back and not be dependent on oil. Oil will fade out tomorrow. There was no oil in 1956, did Nigeria not exist? The regions were dependent on what was produced in their area. Even when the Mid-West was created in 1963, we survived.
As leader of the South-South region, what do you think should be on the restructuring plan for the region?
What we are asking for is true federalism, meaning there should be fiscal federalism; the states should be allowed to retain part of what they have in their own region. We also recommend that the state should be paying tax to the federal government, even if it’s the federal government that is collecting the revenues, certain amount should go to the states and certain amount should be retained by the federal government for other states.
Like what was done in the past, 50 percent of what you produce in your area should go to the state, 30 percent to the federal government and the remaining 20 percent should be shared amongst the regions; at that rate, every state can develop at its own pace. Every Nigerian should be equal, and then the federal character can work. But a situation where there’s one lopsided constitution, a situation where Kano has 44 council areas and Lagos, which has the largest population, has just 20 is irregular. Why should Bayelsa have only 8 council areas, when it is oil producing? Why should oil be costlier in Bayelsa than in Sokoto because of the Equalization Fund? Why are the host communities not receiving equity shares from the oil production activities in their area?
Those of us from the South-South believe that a restructured Nigeria should provide for fiscal federalism, a situation where the area bearing the brunt of environmental degradation…
Our ecosystem is destroyed; we no longer have fish, we no longer have water to drink. Nigerians should understand that if this country is restructured, certain amount of money will go to these people for them to develop their area. The situation where we have to come to Abuja to beg for money is unreasonable. The problems of pipelines vandalism, of oil theft will stop because the people will have a say in whatever is produced in their area, they’ll have a sense of belonging.