by Leke Baiyewu
Former National Publicity Secretary of the Arewa Consultative Forum and spokesperson for the Northern Delegates’ Forum at the National Conference, Mr. Anthony Sani, in this interview with LEKE BAIYEWU, explains the region’s stance on some proposals at the confab
What do you think could have been responsible for the sharp division between the North and the South at the confab, especially on issues bordering on resource control?
I believe the sharp division between the northern delegates and their counterparts in the south on resource control borders on their different concepts of how Nigeria should be. For example, while the northern delegates believe the concept of nationhood presupposes that the people who are brought together to be one nation should be enabled to unleash their synergistic potential by promoting balanced development, the southern delegates think differently.
The North believes resource control or ownership by constituent parts of the country would make the centre weak and tilt the country towards a confederal arrangement — a harbinger for split —whereas the South is not bothered by such a notion, preferring, instead, the federating units be allowed to develop at their own pace; without minding whether some sections live on the cutting edge, while others live on the knife edge of survival. That is to say, it does not matter to such a school of thought if Nigerians live as if they are in different continents.
I do not believe the framer of the 1963, 1979, 1999 Constitutions were ignorant of the concept of nationhood or true federalism — whatever that means — when they put solid mineral, oil and gas on the Exclusive List. That is why when the northern delegates agree to some forms of devolution of power, (they insist that) it must be done in such a manner that the Federal Government is left with enough power to keep the country one and strong, but not too strong as to make the country a unitary system.
The perception in some quarters is that the North has always been more firm on issues bordering on the control of Nigeria’s resources than any other issue, even at the confab. Is this true?
It is not correct to submit that the North is firmer on resource control than any other issue. The loud voice about resource control is not from the North but from the South. I tell you, the North never came to this conference with an agenda, precisely because the region did not consider the problems of Nigeria to be in the structure, form of government or in the constitution, but in the failure of leadership at all levels due largely to collapse of national ideals, moral values, as well as in the way we do things. The North had even thought the conference was not necessary, considering reports of other conferences have yet to be implemented. But since there appeared to be a national consensus that it is better to come together and discuss, the North pandered in the hope that real issues of real concern to real Nigerians would be discussed.
Happily enough, many issues of national importance have been discussed. For example, northern delegates did not see the wisdom of removing the Land Use Act from the Constitution because land is a commonwealth that should be managed for Nigerians by government and not by private individuals. Managerial imperfections that come with failure of leadership should not be confused with lack of soundness of the law.
Also, the North was clear that corruption is the bane of our effort at socio-economic and political development. Corruption has distorted societal values and judgment to the extent that our sense of what is right and what is evil is blurred. It is corruption that has outsourced employment. Just convert the money pillaged into the numbers of schools and hospitals and you would hardly avoid the conclusion that corruption has stolen empowerment, stolen our opportunities and has stolen the future to the extent that some of those who feel highly cheated have lost the will to live; they have chosen to die but not to die alone. That was why we advocated capital punishment for corrupt people.
What were the other issues northern delegates were particular about at the confab?
As regards the security challenges, northern delegates canvassed for most Nigerians, irrespective of faiths, to come together and confront the menace posed by insurgency instead of associating terrorism with religion, ethnicity and region. This is because such generalisation is capable of undermining campaigns against terrorism. I would not be tired to say it was not a foolish act to give the 2009 Nobel Prize to President Barack Obama for making a clear distinction between Islam and Al-Qaeda inspired terrorism.
Nigerians must not lose sight of the fact that there are insurgencies in countries which are predominantly Islamic. It is all because terrorism transcends national, ethnic and religious boundaries. Insurgents use religion for strategic reason and not necessarily for God. Nigerians of all faiths should come together and confront this menace collectively and avoid generalisation, which enables criminals to hide under groups and also promotes cleavages of the nation along ethnic, religious and regional lines.
What were the proposals the North was opposed to?
Northern delegates did not support the scrapping of local government as a third tier of government because that is the closest to the people of Nigeria. It is the importance of local government that has been responsible for the outcry against the manner governors do not allow them to deliver on the promise of democracy. And if that is the case, there is no wisdom in the suggestion that the creation of local government should be the exclusive preserve of state governments. Let the local governments remain, but with the provision of joint account removed from the constitution.
Somehow, the North does not believe the problem of the country has to do with the form of government nor with the structure of the country. This is because the presidential system works in America, the parliamentary system is doing well in Britain, while the combination of the two is successfully practised in France. Nigerians are not inferior physically and mentally to these nations. All that matters is the way we do things.
Take the matter of cost of governance: America has about twenty-five ministers; France has about fifteen, while Nigeria has a crowd who earn over and above their counterparts in those countries. What is more, the Vice-President in America is the Senate President, while in Nigeria, the post is separate with all the concomitant costs. Would you attribute that to the system? No. We are the cause in the way we do things, which must change, given purposeful leadership and the best in all of us.
States as federating units are good for the country because, apart from allaying the fear of minorities against domination and marginalisation, states are not strong enough to undermine the centre. I can go on and on. For anybody to submit that northern delegates were preoccupied with resource control at the expense of other equally important issues of national importance is to suggest that that person is new in Jerusalem.
Out of all the mineral resources, why the brouhaha over oil?
You may wish to note that northern delegates believed that oil and security challenges should not be allowed to redefine our national agenda, precisely because they will come to pass and leave the country. Most of all, over the long history of nations and long lives of individuals — the powerful and the powerless, the rich and the poor — often change places. Our challenges are not beyond redemption and no nation thrives on victory of its faction but through ultimate reconciliation.
We believe it is possible to make the most of our God-given diversity by working hard to overcome what divides Nigerians and in favour of core values of humanity that unite us. It is possible to make Nigeria feel young again with the promise of the glory days ahead. All we need to do is appreciate the fact that the good things of life are not the natural order of things; we have to ceaselessly work hard and bring them about.
What are the specific recommendations on resource control that members of the Northern Delegates’ Forum were aggrieved at?
Any recommendation which hypes the gap of income among constituent parts of the country are not good politics or good economics. This is because the nation is strong only with balanced development. Wide disparity of incomes among groups and among individuals is counterproductive.
With the look of events at the confab, did you see any sign of a plot against the North on resource control?
It would appear so, considering the manner the whole shebang had been handled. At the level of Committee on Devolution of Power, after days of deliberation, the committee resolved that the status quo should remain, since any tampering could trigger some rounds of agitations and divert the nation’s attention from security challenges posed by insurgents. Some of us thought this country should not allow threats and intimidation to determine public policies. But since that was the majority view, we all pandered in the interest of peace and national harmony.
Only one delegate refused to sign and wrote a lone minority report. I can reveal to you that it was a highly respected delegate who moved the motion and was seconded by a delegate from the North-Central. For that lone minority report to find its way to the table and to dominate the discussion to the extent of prevailing, lends credence to the suspicion that there might be a hidden agenda against the North for what reason I cannot tell.