Nigeria still centrist, not a federal government- Chekwas Okorie

Chief Chekwas Okorie

In this interview, Chekwas Okorie, founding National Chairman of All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), spoke, on state of the country and the urgent task before President Bola Tinubu, to fix Nigeria

Is Nigeria of today the reason for the struggle for independence 63 years ago?

For some of us who were old enough to witness that independence celebration, never! I was already seven years old when Nigeria gained independence in 1960. I was in primary school and it was so well celebrated. We thought that Eldorado had finally come, even though some of us at that age did not know what to expect but the teachers continued to impress on us that the future will be glorious and that we are lucky to have acquired independence. And of course, we also had a subject even at that primary level called Civic. Civic is a social science that teaches the citizens their rights and responsibilities. So, as early as primary school, we were being nurtured and groomed to have a high sense of responsibility and patriotism. As a matter of fact, three years after independence, the Federal Republic of Nigeria was declared. That was in 1963 and the same year, we had four regions and these regions had a reasonable level of autonomy. They were growing at their own pace. There was healthy competition. Revenue allocation by the federation was based on fifty per cent derivation. No region was envious of the other in the sense of envy and hatred.

I remember while growing up, public servants who were assigned to go to Lagos (which was the capital) to take up the quota of their region in the federal civil service, would see such appointments as punishment because there was not much difference between the remuneration they got in your state and federal ministry. So, sending them faraway to Lagos was like taking them away from their roots. It was not an attraction because of that healthy competition. The Western region was ahead of eastern region in terms of education and this was the kind of competition that existed. But eastern region was recorded by the Guinness World record as one of the fastest-growing third-world economy. Imagine where all of us would have been now if all the regions continued in that healthy competition, exploring and exploiting areas of comparative advantage, Nigeria would have been a great country. That is what it was and nobody can therefore say Nigeria is where we expected it to be. It’s unfortunate. Those days were the good old days. Things have gone haywire.

Are you saying the level of division we have today never existed 63 years ago?

The division now is wider; so visible that even a person in the primary school will tell you that Nigeria is not one country. It is worse than when Chief Obafemi Awolowo described it as ‘a geographical expression’ meaning it was a country of so many nation-states. Presently, the people in the West are talking about Oduduwa Republic; those in the Niger Delta are talking about Niger Delta Republic; those in the Southeast are talking about Biafra; those in the north are talking about the Caliphate Republic. These are things nobody talked about in the past.

What caused it?

It started with the military intervention we had in 1966 when coups and counter-coups put power in the hands of military officers from one part of the country, who felt that the best thing to do, to perpetuate themselves in power, was to put the country in their own hands and they began to come with policies that suited them. Because they carried guns, nobody could dare talk to them or voice out some words of dissent about what was going on. They sat down in one place in the early 70s and balkanised Nigeria into 774 local governments as they liked. Desert areas were converted to local governments even if people were not living there. They thought that a sense of conquest was what Nigeria needed to grow not knowing that what they did was to retrogress the country.

Now, if you look at the way our revenue is being shared, it tells you that Nigeria is a centrist government, not a federal government. Centrist in the sense that about 65 items on the exclusive list have no business being there. A federation should be more concerned with welfare policy, fiscal policy, foreign affairs, immigration, security, and Customs. These are some of the areas that a federal system should intervene but most of the things that should be on the concurrent list are all in the centre.

Ethnicity is now deeper in the country than religion in terms of division. People of the same religion now disagree vehemently when it comes to ethnic and loyalty considerations. So, these two things — religion and ethnicity – have worsened. That is where we are. In terms of national unity, the country is standing on a precarious balance. Any little thing now can ignite a major conflagration if care is not taken.

What do we do to get out of this situation?

What was handed over to us is such that no politician, no leader no matter the strategy he comes to office with, can succeed with the 1999 Constitution as the basis for governance. I keep saying to those of us who are Christians, that only Jesus Christ can govern Nigeria successfully because of the kind of constitution we have. For anybody to succeed, this country needs to be thoroughly restructured to allow the federating units or states as we have them at the moment the latitude to grow on their own. There should be a national conference where Nigerians can come together and chart the way forward and whatever they resolve should go through a referendum which the military couldn’t do over the 1999 Constitution and once a referendum has approved it, Nigeria will now experience exponential growth.

If you recommend another national conference, what happened to the recommendations of the 2014 Confab?

The 2014 conference was the best we have ever had. Most of the decisions were by consensus. We had looked up to the implementation of those recommendations that took care of most of the things I am saying here. I was not at that conference but that will not stop me from commending those who were there for the wonderful work done. But the president we had (Jonathan) lacked the liver to implement it and the next president (Buhari) who came after him in one of his earliest statements said that he would not touch the recommendations even with a long spoon. He never did. That is why when I am talking about constitutional conference this time, I am saying so based on my confidence that President Tinubu and some of us were in the trenches, fighting for true federalism and he is one person who believes that true federal structure for Nigeria will usher in exponential growth and unprecedented unity among the people.

So, I don’t think if he is able to initiate another national conference will be a waste of time because if we say let’s go back to 2014, a lot of things have changed. Technology has changed; so many things require review, so a national conference with current knowledge will help the country.

It requires government to fund it; the last one cost about seven billion naira and if you convert it to the current exchange rate, it is a lot; but it requires a president with courage and conviction to do it and if President Tinubu is unable to do it, it may be goodbye to Nigeria.

The only thing that can keep Nigeria growing together and reduce this agitation about separation and all that is a restructured country. They may go further to look at the Electoral Act. Since 2003, I have been championing the cause of the electronic voting system. But look at what is happening today. There was a time when people thought that Professor Maurice Iwu was the worst INEC chairman, but I can tell you that compared to Professor Mahmood Yakubu, Prof Iwu was actually a Saint.

It is like that because of the type of system we run, giving room to the people running the electoral system to do anything they like and leaving you (the contestant) the responsibility to prove that you won when they had already said you did not win. To show the level of malfeasance on the part of the electoral body, look at the number of electoral cases the tribunals are turning every day; to show you that they didn’t do a good job. If they make it electronic, so many benefits will accrue from it; all these arguments about transmission will be resolved. All the issues about locking down the economy on the day of the election will equally be taken care of and so many other things. Thugs will not see ballot boxes to carry. The citizens will be more consulted because the politicians will have realised that it is their votes that matter.

We were all there when the Presidential and National Assembly elections took place, unfortunately, INEC separated the Presidential election in making their returns and that is why we are in almost a crisis situation at the moment. So, electronic voting and a review of the structure of Nigeria are the two solutions to our progress and if it is not done, President Tinubu means well but I don’t see him performing magic with the type of constitution we are running.

What do you make of President Tinubu’s administration so far?

*Continue reading from the source: The Guardian