Power rotation injurious to nigeria’s unity – Ango Abdullahi

As the debate on which zone will produce the next president in 2023 rages, spokesman of the Northern Elders Forum (NEF), Prof Ango Abdullahi, has said that rotation of the nation’s number one political office is injurious to the nation’s unity. “Rotation will continue to generate more disunity in the country than ever before. Today, if I have a chance I will disband the 36 states structure, and collapse them in not more than four or five regions because what state creations have really created in Nigeria is all divisions.”

In this interview with VINCENT KALU, the former Ahmadu Bello University, ABU, vice chancellor, however chided those talking about 2023 election when the country is facing its worst economic and security challenges. 

What type of leadership do you expect in the Ninth National Assembly?

Those of us, who worry about the situation of the country today, want improvement in all facets of government in few years ahead, particularly in the next dispensation. You know our constitution, how it is structured. It has three branches of government for checks and balances – the Executive, Legislature and Judiciary.

What we saw in the current dispensation that is about to expire is that there has not been adequate working relationship between the Executive and the Legislature; not much of a rapport among the three arms of government. The reason there hasn’t been a cordial working relationship between the Executive and the Legislature in the current NASS is the party’s belief that because they have majority members, the party should decide the leadership of the NASS. This is a wrong approach because it is not what the law says.

What the law says is that in the case of Senate, its members will determine the leadership; and in the case of the House of Representatives, its members determine the leadership. It never says it should be determined by anybody outside the chamber.

That’s my understanding of the problem that the party has with the current legislature. The leadership of the legislature as it is now was not the wish of the ruling party, APC; they thought that Saraki shouldn’t have been the president of the Senate, likewise Dogara, the speaker of the House of Reps.

If the wishes of the APC were the determining factors, but it was shown to them clearly that it was not the choice of the party that determines the leadership of the chambers, but the members sitting in the chambers that decide who their leaders should be and this is what might have offended the ruling party. That also must have been the reason for the bad blood that has been generated over this last four years.

That is what I suspect must have been drawing us back in terms of smooth relationship between the two arms that are supposed to be complementary in terms of law making and execution of laws, which should be the responsibility of the executive arm. While the elections have been concluded, I read in the newspapers the decisions of the party that they have already anointed the senate president and the speaker of the House of Reps. This is taking us back to what happened in their last attempt when the party thought that they would sit outside and determine who the senate president should be, without considering the fundamental law, which says that the members in each chamber are responsible for determining who their principal officers should be.

This is where we were in 2015 and I will be surprised if we don’t go back to the situation we had then, because from the feelers, including from the public, there is no need for the party to duly interfere in determining who the principal officers should be.

In politics, they should be able to talk to themselves as party members, and also should be able to talk to other people who are outside their party, but who also have roles to play in determining who the principal officers should be. But, what we read in the papers is an order or a decree and threats attached to them that this is the decision of the party leadership. This is infuriating not only to those who are coming back to these chambers, but also to those who are coming in as fresh members, because they ought to have known that it is their responsibility to do what the law says in respect of how the NASS should be run. From what one sees, we are likely to go back to the situation of 2015.

Nigeria is buffeted on all sides, Boko Haram is ravaging the Northeast, in the Northwest, banditry and kidnapping holding sway, in the Middle Belt and the South, herdsmen/ farmers clashes, as well as militancy in the Niger Delta; with these frightening indices, is Nigeria not headed towards a failed state?

Nobody hopes that Nigeria will degenerate into a failed state; nobody will wish that, but then we have to work to avoid being one, because a wish is actually different from actually working to avoid something that is not going to be helpful. If you look at some of the clauses of our constitution, the primary responsibility of government is the welfare and security of citizens. If this is the primary responsibility of a government, and we are having this disaster in terms of insecurity everywhere, and what do you do?

This country has not prepared itself well to perform this primary responsibility. If you check out the army, it is still meant to be for external security, playing role to protect and defend the external security of the country.  The principal responsibility in terms of civil law etc, is the police. If you look at how Nigeria is policed today, let’s start with the numbers, before the structure. The Inspector General of Police, while defending the budget of the Police in the NASS some days ago, told them that the total number of the strength of the Nigeria Police is 300,000, in a country with a population of 200 million, there is nowhere you can say that this country is adequately policed in terms of numbers only, don’t talk about the equipment, the quality that the police require for effective policing.

Three hundred thousand is totally out of contest because if you look around the world, I try to compare populations and numbers of policemen in different countries, the minimal number of police required in this country is 1.6 million. So what we have is less than one sixth of what we actually require in terms of ratio of people and number of policemen. The IGP went on to say that out of these 300,000 policemen, some of them are doing non-police duties as they are attached to some big men. Instead of doing normal police works, they are doing some household duties to some politicians and other big men. This is a problem.

In his defence of the budget, he said that the approved 2018 budget for the police was N324 billion, but what was eventually disbursed to the police was N25 billion. This is less than one tenth. We have complications here; we have few policemen, and they have no budget to acquire the necessary equipment to police the country.

We talk about security or insecurity; we talk about what is needed either in terms of security operations, but if we are to be fair to them, the policies are wrong, the actual elements that ought to be incorporated and implemented with these polices are not being provided, they only talk about them when they are politicking.

When you add these security challenges to our debt profile and these damning reports –which rate Nigeria as the world’s sixth “most miserable” country; and as the poverty capital of the world, where do these take us?

This is the cumulative effect of what Nigeria has been going through over the years. This didn’t start today, yesterday, or three, or six years ago. It is a cumulative thing that has been going on. I was a commissioner for Economic Planning during Gowon’s administration, this country used to have a plan, it used to have five years development plans, even ten years development plans. These plans were intended to tell those who were responsible for administering this country that this is your revenue base and this is your responsibility and how you share this revenue vis-à-vis the priorities that are supposed to be the responsibilities of government.

This country is without plans; our only plan is how to spend money on daily basis or on ad hoc basis. I have just given you an example of allocation made to police and what was actually given to them. This is a reflection of non-planning at all. There is no country in the world that would move forward without sitting to seriously look at its problems and plan how to deal with them.

This country has no business being poor. I grew up going to primary school free, secondary school free, going to the only university in the country at the time, Ibadan, free; going to post graduate oversees free, all these came with the little resources that this country had, most of which came from agricultural products. Oil began to play a major role in the revenue of this country in 1974 during the terminal years of Gowon’s administration. If you look at nine years of Gowon’s administration, he prosecuted the civil war in this country, but he didn’t borrow a kobo, while you are talking about the debt profile of Nigeria. His commissioner for Finance was Chief Awolowo and other commissioners in government, people like Aminu Kano and others helped him.

The crises we have in Nigeria are not necessarily lack of resources to generate revenue for Nigeria to function properly, but lack of quality of leadership that will confront how to generate revenue for this country. Example, take solid minerals, this country is one of the richest in the world in terms of solid minerals, but all we have on ground are illegal miners and petty farmers working for some big men in cities and towns and some from outside the country.

Illegal mining, when we are supposed to have polices that will guide the establishment of corporate mining, public, private and jointly that can make our mineral resources to become a major source of revenue for us, especially, as you can see that petroleum products are becoming difficult to deal with, in the face of this policy on global warming; people moving to electric cars, etc, all these have to do with planning, good leadership, which is the basic secret that is failing this country today.

People are already talking about which zone should to produce the presidency in 2023; some say it should be the south, while others argue that it remains in the north. What is your view on this?

Should that be our priority now? Our priority should be what we just talked about; as the poverty capital of the world, we are the number one country in open defecating, we have 15 million children out of school. The talk should be on these challenges on ground and how to deal with them rather than talking about who will be president in 2023; who will be senate president today, who will be speaker of House of Reps, etc.

You can see that the Nigerian political class or the elites have no business worrying what the Nigeria’s problems are, but only governing this country to serve their interests.

We should be ashamed to discuss by this time the issue of where the president should come from in 2023; this is the outcome of leadership failure. The failure of leadership is everywhere. I’m one of those who believe that we should really come and sit and discuss Nigeria now and what Nigeria should be in the future.

We should be talking about how do we solve poverty problem now; how do we solve unemployment now, the insecurity everywhere. These are what should be our concerns now, not who would be president in 2023.

We are talking of equity, justice and fair play; do you believe in power shift or rotation of power?

I have been fortunate to attend three constitutional conferences in this country – 1987, what you called, Babangida conference; I also attended the Abacha conference, 1994 to 1995; I also attended the political conference organised by Obasanjo in 2005. The debates were always showing that this Nigeria where we profess oneness or wanting to be one; we want to be a united indissoluble country, this issue is not elegantly stated in our constitutions we have drafted and eventually adapted to what we have now from 1999.

The problem here is to admit that this country is made up of diverse people, this is the creation the British saw right from the beginning, and in their wisdom they started us as a federation, made up of three regions – the East, the North and the West. When we gained independence, we were left with the three regions as federating units and left with a parliamentary system of government, rather than what we have now, presidential. From the beginning, we cannot deny the fact that there has been the issue of who will be what, who will be assigned what, which offices will be occupied by who and where he is from.

As a young man, I saw this in the First Republic because I was a university student in 1960. What we thought that we should do in the 1994/1995 constitutional conference organised by General Abacha, as this matter continued to be the real issue on ground. There was a committee on power sharing, of which I was a member, the question was, how do we arrive at sharing power in a federation like ours with diverse ethnic groups? When we started, we had three regions, but before we knew it and for various reasons we had 12 states created by the military arising from our diversity and our lack of still referring to ourselves as one nation. This continued, from three federating units and today we have 36 states.

When you are talking about power rotation, it was almost written in the 1994, but many people counseled that if we put it, it is difficult to change the constitution; again that if we put it, it means that we have agreed that there will be no day when somebody from Calabar will be trusted by somebody from Sokoto, Maiduguri or Lagos to be the president of this country clearly based on his merit, on his competence, on his acceptance, not based on the fact that he comes from Calabar.

If you take it there, it will be difficult to change the constitution, and it will continue to haunt this country and make it really difficult for this country to act together on the basis of one united Nigeria.

So, it was avoided as being part of the constitution, it was agreed that for a political party to gain acceptance across the nation, perhaps they can use it in their manifestos that will make it possible for different parts of the country from time to time produce the leadership of the country. So, the PDP, of which I was a founding father, adopted it in our manifestos and in our constitution.

It was used to canvass for support and to give the party a broad base in the country. This is how this party came out overwhelmingly defeating all other parties in the country. In principle, one will say, yes, it is a good thing to rotate because at anytime you can find good people anywhere in any part of the country. So, we can decide, yes, this party should produce the best material for us. This shouldn’t bother me at all, so long as the rotation will ensure that it is the best that comes out from wherever it is that has the turn to lead the country.

But, this is not what is happening, it is not the best we see, but the political manoeuvring that eventually turns out who it is, and by the time you realised that this is not the material you want, it is too late. This is what really my fears still remain.

Is it possible in adopting power rotation that you make sure that the best comes out to serve the interest of the entire country?

Look at India, it is on election now, about 900 million people will vote through out the next four or five weeks, and they have more ethnic diversity than us, but why is our own not working?

Those people who create problems for Nigeria should come and honestly sit and say this is what we are doing wrong and this is the way to correct it.

It is not what we wrote in our constitution that has failed us, it is the operators of the constitution that have failed us and are still failing us now. Rotation will continue to generate more disunity in the country than ever before. Today, if I have a chance I will disband the 36 states structure, and collapse them in not more than four or five regions because what state creations have really created in Nigeria is all divisions.

I’m in support of finding an excellent person who is going to be the president of Nigeria; I’m going to work along this line. If any of these parties will continue to argue on the narrow lines of this and this, you will not find me supporting them.

I will be on the side of Nigerians who believe that the country requires new focus, which can only come from good leadership, and we have good people around this country in abundance, who cannot be in Nigeria’s politics today because there is no way they can fit in the way it is going today, and they are the people who have the kind of quality to run this country.

This is the kind of argument that we are going to advance later to make sure that Nigerians can no longer tolerate this crass politicking that is going on because it is not going to help Nigeria to move forward.


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