Tanko Yakasai to Southern leaders: Lobby NASS on water resource bill or keep quiet

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As the National Assembly sets in motion the process of amending the nation’s constitution, elder statesman, Tanko Yakasai has advocated the return from presidential to parliamentary system of government.

Speaking with VINCENT KALU, he urged those opposed to the Water Resource Bill to tell their representatives to stop it on the floor of National Assembly or forever hold their peace. He described regional socio-cultural groups; Afenifere, Ohanaeze, Middle Belt Forum and PANDEF opposing the controversial bill as illegal bodies led by noisemakers seeking for relevance.

How would you describe the state of affairs across the country at the moment?

We are like everybody else in this world passing through the pandemic of COVID-19; that is what the whole world is suffering from, and it has affected our performance economically. Our economy is down like other economies in the world. We need to develop seriously with federal government, state government and local government and to share responsibility in our development efforts, so that at the end of every year we will be able to know what we were able to achieve. If you don’t have a target you will not be able to measure your success or failure.

The National Assembly is set to amend the constitution, what is your view as regards the effort?

The National Assembly set up a committee to look into the areas of the constitution that need to be amended and they invited Nigerians to give them their opinions and if we are interested we should write to them, they will go round the country and listen to them; where people did not write, they will not have the opportunity to be listened to, then they will have themselves to blame.

In our constitution, only members of the legislature, national and state assemblies have power to tamper with our constitution; the president and the governors have no power whatsoever. Now, those who have the power to amend the constitution have invited Nigerians to write and tell them what they want the constitution to look like and what changes they require, including the restructuring some people are talking about. When it is time, they should go there and present their cases and defend them.

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Northern elders kicked against the constitution amendment, and argued that it was waste of time and resources; do you share their position?

I’m not a member of that group, and it is their opinion. This is a democracy, so it depends on the number of people who agreed with their opinion. If majority of Nigerians want the constitution to be changed, it would be changed.

You have seen it all, right from the First Republic till now, what areas do you think should be amended?

First and foremost, we should go back to parliamentary system of government, but we can tinker with that by adopting what is known as French system, where you have elected president with a cabinet approved by the National Assembly, who should be subjected to vote of confidence or no confidence. Why I want return to parliamentary system or this French system is that it is almost impossible under the present arrangement for the ordinary man like you and me to get the constitution changed, but going back to the parliamentary system, every Nigerian has somebody representing him in the National Assembly, you can tell your member that you need the constitution to be changed this way or the government is not performing and that you want the government to resign. But you have to give him the reasons you think the government has failed. The representative takes the request and presents to the NASS, and it is up to them if they are satisfied with your reasons to move a vote of no confidence on the government. If majority of them have lost confidence in that government, the government will resign and a new government will be formed.

This is a very important check and balance of the government because once government is aware that citizens can bring it down, it will begin to perform. But where they know that they can do whatever they like and nobody can do anything to them then they would not have in mind of changing the way they are doing things.

Like you are proposing going back to parliamentary system, do you also support those proposing going back to the regional government we had at that time?

I know the former Eastern Nigeria is now made up of nine states, the Western Nigeria is now made up of six states, the former Northern Nigerian is now made up of 19 states and Abuja; now, it is not going to be easy to convince Nigerians that they should give up their states. If we can have that one, there is no problem, but I think it will be very difficult on how we should go back to three or four regions in Nigeria.

What they are saying is that we go by the present six geo-political zones, even though they are not yet constitutional

But they are talking of six, we didn’t have six regions before, if anybody wants that to go, then we go back to the three regions we had under that arrangement  and use them to create three zonal government structure. Today, we have 36 states, so, if the committee of the NASS now makes a recommendation that group of states in zone A, B, C, D to constitute a zone, then they should define how that zone can operate. Will it have legislature, will it have regulatory bodies, who will be the head of the government in the zones; are they going to be appointed or elected? Those are the questions, and if they are determined to take these recommendations, they can do it subject to going through the process of constitutional changes as provided in the 1999 constitution, as amended.

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Under former President Obasanjo, the same constitution amendment was carried out , but it didn’t see the light of the day because there was alleged Third Term agenda of the then president, do you see anything different this time around?

It is not possible for Buhari in his last term to get third term. So, the question of third term will not arise this time. If you read the newspapers, nobody is making agitation for third term for anybody.

The Water Resource Bill before the NASS is adding to the heat in the country. The same Executive bill was introduced in the 8th NASS, but was thrown out, but it has resurfaced again. What do you say to this?

When the president submits a bill, it is the exclusive responsibility of the NASS. If they pass it, then it remains for the president to sign it into law. While he may refuse to sign it into law, they can invoke the provision of two third and pass it into law.

But various groups, the Middle Belt Forum and Southern organisations are opposed to the bill; they argue that it is an attempt by the federal government to take what belongs to them, at a time there is clamour for power devolution

Everybody has a member in the NASS. This is not a constitutional amendment; it is only passing a bill, making legislation, making a law. He can tell his representative not to support the bill, and once he can convince majority of his colleagues, then they defeat the bill and that will be the end of it. Where majority of the members agree with the position of the government and pass it into law and the president agrees to sign into law that is the end of the matter, and there is nothing anybody can do about it again.

But the Middle Belt Forum is alleging that the federal government wants to give their land to Fulani herdsmen to graze

There is nothing like Middle Belt Forum.

But, it is an association comprising people of Benue, Plateau, Taraba states, etc

No, no, I have never seen anything like that. There is nothing like Middle Belt Forum; it is not registered, and in fact, those who are not registered do not require my comments.

Middle Belt Forum is in the same category with Arewa Consultative Forum, Ohanaeze, Afenifere, PANDEF, etc  

They are not registered, so members expressing opinions are as individuals, which is guaranteed by our constitution under the fundamental human rights for every Nigerian to express his opinion on any issue. So, expressing views on the pages of newspapers cannot be taken for a legal instrument.

Arewa Consultative Forum is a private organisation, which is not registered; Ohanaeze is not registered; Afenifere is not registered; they have no branches. Go to any town in Southeast and ask them to show you the office of Ohanaeze; the same with Arewa Consultative Forum, go to Sokoto, go to Benue or Kwara, and ask them to show you the office of ACF. There is none. It is the same with Afenifere; they not anywhere. These groups are not registered and so are not recognized by law. They are organisations of individuals seeking relevance.

If by having branches make these groups recognizable, I will tell you that Ohanaeze has branches in all the states and also in major towns of the federation

Are they registered?

Before an organisation operates a bank account, it must be registered; these organisations have bank accounts

That is a fact, but their bank account can be opened with member’s name, as they are not registered with the Corporate Affairs Commission.

Why is everywhere so charged in Nigeria; agitations, mutual suspicion, animosity, hatred?

Unemployment; when people have nothing to do they begin to talk rubbish. Most of these people are unemployed.

Talking about insecurity and how to address the challenges, the Southwest early in the year came up with Amotekun security outfit, also last July 27, Miyetti Allah unveiled its security that operates in 36 states and Abuja, and other regions are coming up with theirs. Are these not indices of a failing nation?

I don’t think so. The constitution of this country has guaranteed freedom of association; you can form any association. The only difference is that where the intention of the formation of the association is contrary to the provision of the constitution and the law of the land, you will not be allowed to do it and you will be disbanded automatically.

Even as such organisations bear arms when the police, military and other security agencies are there?

Where Nigerians decided to form groups or whatever name they decided to give it, the constitution has agreed and guaranteed to them the right to do that. I read recently that such organisations will only complement the work of Nigeria Police. The constitution of Nigeria vested power to maintain law and order on the police exclusively, and also power to protect the territorial integrity of Nigeria on the Nigeria Armed Forces.

Anybody who forms an organisation unless it is going to assist the military, the armed forces or the police to do their job, then they are free to do that, but they are not free to do what the police can do; they cannot arrest somebody and take him to court.

Almost 60 years of independence, we are still so divided. By now we were expected to have emerged as a nation state, whereby you identify yourself as a Nigerian first, before your ethnicity. Why is this so?

It is not true that we are divided. We are so many. Have you forgotten that this country has over 500 ethnic groups and God created them different from one another? Let us not close our eyes to this reality.

There is no nation with this kind of number of people coming together in a small area territory like Nigeria, and then we are operating democracy and there is freedom of expression and association and so on.  If they are outside the ambit of the law, the police will take action, but now that the police are not taking action, it means they are operating within the ambit of the law and they are entitled to it.

2023 presidency, how and where should it go?

It is not time yet. We have three more years from now. They say, idle mind is the devil’s workshop. If people are not doing anything, they are not engaged in any good vocation, they begin to think of all sorts of things. This is why I want the government of Nigeria, federal, state and local to initiate policies that will keep Nigerians busy; give employment to everybody and if they are busy, they will not talk rubbish.

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