Prof. ABC Nwosu was Special Adviser on Political Affairs to President Olusegun Obasanjo and later became the Minister of Health in the same administration. During the 2014 National Conference, he served as a member of the Committee on Devolution of Power and was very resourceful as he often provided the buffer between the radical agitations of the South and the vehement opposition of the North particularly on the issues of ownership of mineral resources, derivation principle and resource control. In this interview with ONWUKA NZESHI and ONYEKACHI EZE, he delves deeper into the raging controversies over restructuring and how it could address a lot of socio- economic and political maladies impeding Nigeria’s progress
Your party, Peoples Democratic Party, has been facing leadership crisis for some time now, there were talks of some party leaders trying to register a new party. Have you heard about this move and what is your reaction to it?
I have heard of the move, and my attitude is that it is the fundamental freedom and right of a citizen or citizens to go in any direction they please. But I am in the PDP and I will remain in PDP until it is clear to me that the PDP has ceased to be a vehicle to bring about credible governance in Nigeria.
I have heard of those who are making the moves, but you never know, they can make the moves, go in and come back. There were similar things done and the APC finally emerged. You heard somersault, you heard going forward, you heard going back in the parties that formed APC until finally APC emerged. So as far as I know in the PDP, I have heard of those who want to form a new party. I don’t know, it is when situations are unraveled that decisions can be taken.
Recently, there have been moves by the two factions of the party to come together to resolve their differences. But there were conditions given before by Sen. Ali Modu Sheriff on how to resolve the crisis. Do you agree with those conditions?
I’m aware of the reconciliation moves. I am happy for the reconciliation moves even though my stand on this matter is quite clear. It is the stand taken by former ministers that the process of having a chairman of the party should be transparent. But I am happy for the moves. In talking about conditions, the moves came after the conditions had been given.
I think the new moves supersede those conditions. I don’t think you can give conditions any more to people when you have gotten into a meeting, especially when this meeting is quite clear on setting up reconciliation (committee) and all that; you can’t have the conditions apply any more. There will be a new set of parameters to resolve the matter.
But are you aware of any demands in the recent negotiations?
I am aware of the meetings between His Excellency, Senator (Ahmed) Makarfi and His Excellency Ali Modu Sheriff. I am aware that the two met face-to-face; I am aware that it was brokered by some people. So when you agree to meet it means that you are dropping all the baggage you were carrying, both of you are dropping it because there is a need to give life again back to the party, and to make sure that the party provides credible opposition.
PDP governors have been accused of hijacking the party and imposing candidates on the party. How do you see the position of governors in the current crisis in your party?
Having given my view on reconciliation, you will please bear with me. I don’t want to go any further on the crisis. But since when has PDP governors not been accused? In 2010, I was suspended from the party. The reason was because I belong to PDP Reform Forum that accused the Governors’ Forum headed by (former) Governor Bukola Saraki of hijacking the party.
It was Governor Saraki and other state governors that gave us the PDP Chairman we had then in the person of Chief Vincent Ogbulafor. So it is not a new thing. Later, PDP said “okay, don’t suspend them anymore. Let there be peace.” Since then we have had Governor Okwesilieze Nwodo as Chairman; since then we had Haliru Bello as Acting Chairman; and since then we had Bamanga Tukur and then we had Adamu Mu’azu.
You can see the various influences that brought all these chairmen. My position is that we should keep to the principles of internal democracy which PDP affirmed at its formation. The more you say on this matter, the more you encroach on the job of reconciliation committee. So I wish the reconciliation committee very well.
Your party’s image has been battered so much in the last one year and many people are saying that the party might not have the strength to weather the storm in 2019. From your vantage position as one of the elders of the party, do you think that PDP will be able to face the APC in the 2019 general elections?
I have always maintained that a political party is made up of people. It is people who make up a party; it is not a party that makes people. If you have credible people in a party, it becomes a credible party. Situations are likely to change because before now, PDP had a monopoly of governance. So any time you felt any inconvenience, you blamed it on PDP. Right now, PDP is out of governance, and APC is in governance, and it has been in governance for more than 16 months.
So, you can take your own decision. PDP will then go back and look at what it did, and Nigerians will be able to evaluate. So I don’t think whether PDP can challenge for power or not challenge for power in 2019 has become the issue. The issue now is that APC shall govern; PDP shall be in opposition, strengthen itself, rebuild its structures and be in a position to provide an alternative should Nigerians say so. The ultimate choice is left to Nigerians.
Some of your party members have been arrested for corruption, and some people are saying that the image of PDP has been badly dented, and that you need to change the party’s name and rebrand it. Do you support such ideas?
The victor, sometimes, and many times, almost invariably tries to write history. But the truth will always prevail. The PDP for example, set up the two institutions the present government is using to fight corruption: nothing has been added or subtracted from the law that the PDP made for the ICPC and the EFCC.
So, if PDP was such a corrupt party, why did it set up these two institutions, and used them even to jail some of its own members? It is our law that nobody should be presumed guilty unless he has been found guilty. In other words, every Nigerian is presumed innocent until those accusations have been determined and proven to be right. The important thing for me is for PDP to keep its eyes on the ball and not lose track of the principles and vision of its founding fathers.
What exactly were those principles for which your party was founded?
I can tell you four. PDP was founded on an all inclusive polity because we’re convinced that you can only have good governance if you have good politics. If the majority ethnic groups, the minority ethnic groups, the professions are all included and buy into governance, progress is faster, development is easier to achieve.
You can have patriotism. So that was why PDP insisted on it before formation in 1998. It insisted that the next President in 1999 must come from the South and it was the North that prevailed on the sole candidate coming from the North to stop it. The second one was because the PDP believes that you must give the citizen something in return for that his loyalty to the nation.
For that patriotism you’re demanding you must give him something; it is not only the citizen that must give you. Therefore, the PDP coined the phrase, “democracy dividends,” and that was why one major democracy dividend PDP embarked upon was the deregulation of the telecommunications sector to provide the citizenry easy access to communication.
The third thing that PDP insisted on was that you have to mainstream women and mainstream the youth, into governance to release their creative energies, and release their enthusiasm, to accelerate development. Again, that was why you found an unprecedented number of women in PDP governments, and you also found young people.
It was a struggle, but as a Political Adviser I know one of the things I did was to tell the President: “Look at the average age of your cabinet.” For example, in Anambra State, that was why younger people like (Chukwuemeka) Chikelu and Oby Ezekwesili made it to the federal cabinet. In Enugu State, that’s why you had people like Frank Nweke (Jnr). So, there was a definite attempt at grooming younger people as leaders. The final one was that PDP believed that everything in Nigeria has to be sorted out by consensus, by agreement.
So whenever there was a disagreement or disequilibrium in the polity, you found that it was approached from a dialogue point of view rather than a coercive point of view. A classic case was even when President Obasanjo had left. There was a President Umaru Yar’Adua and there was serious restiveness in the Niger Delta.
What did he do? He resolved it peacefully using the Presidential Amnesty Programme and Nigeria again went back to high production of crude oil. So that’s why I have also said that the current issue requires a political solution not a coercive solution.
Are you referring to the current uprising in the Niger Delta?
That’s precisely what I have said. I have no problem about beefing up security anywhere there are conflicts because in almost every state, there is no place you don’t find a military brigade in Nigeria. You have a brigade in Imo, you have in Anambra; you have them in Onitsha, you have in Obinze, you have in Ohafia. Having the military dispersed in Nigeria is a completely different issue. What is a problem for me is resorting to coerciveness as a means of forcing people into your view rather than discussing with them, finding what the problem is and reaching agreement on how to solve it.
You can deploy troops; it helps in guaranteeing general security but it cannot resolve the agitations. You should ask yourself, why do agitations arise? It is because people are dissatisfied and they feel that government can no longer take care of them, and then they resort to self help. The right approach is for government to see them and say, “What is the problem? You don’t need self help. Why don’t we talk about this?” It is then you can get positive results.
But the Federal Government is saying that the current crisis in the Niger Delta is politically motivated because somebody from the region lost an election and the militants have launched a revenge mission. Is that not logical?
But there was insurgency in the North- East when a southern man was in Aso Rock. Was it being said that it was politically motivated? Is the one in the South-East, IPOB and MASSOB, are they politically motivated? Did it start with this regime? So I think going that direction is missing the point.
The direction to go is to say, when a person is disagreeing, he is disagreeing because he is discontented that the polity he belongs to cannot guarantee him all he is looking for now and in future, for his children. So he starts from now to make you realise that so that you can now talk to him.
What do you think the Buhari administration should do about groups like MASSOB, IPOB and other agitators who are crying of marginalisation or exclusion?
I was at the University of Ibadan in 1965. We fled the University of Ibadan because of the crisis. I was a commissioned officer in the Biafra Army, and fought actively in the front until the war ended in January 1970. I can understand it. When the president (Muhammadu Buhari) reminded me that he walked for 30 months most of the time.
I am likely to say: “Sir, you walked for 30 months with a full belly; I walked for the same period on an empty belly, not even having ammunition, and in tattered uniform. But I bear no bitterness, because, once the war ended in January, and I was guaranteed what it was that made me fight the war, that my security will not be violated. If I stayed in Ibadan or Lagos in 1966, my security could have been violated.
So when in 1970 I was assured that my security would not be violated, the only thing I did was instead of going back to the University of Ibadan I went to the University of Nigeria, and I graduated. I have since been minister in the Federal Republic of Nigeria. I can’t be talking with bitterness of that period. Emeka Ojukwu had no problem when he came back to the country.
What people are complaining about is that you have excluded them from the affairs of their own fatherland. I will not be happy if I am excluded from decision making in my fatherland and I will not be happy if I am discriminated against in employment. I will not be happy if I am discriminated against in the kind of bad roads, which we see, and infrastructure development, all simply because I belong to a particular zone or ethnic group.
It is these kinds of things that will lead to discontent and agitation. The degree of this exclusion, the degree of this marginalisation is responsible for the degree of discontent and insurgency that you’re getting. Address the problem and then the symptom you’re seeing will go. That is my attitude to it.
How would you rate the APC, as the ruling party in terms of their contributions to the development of democracy in the country?
I’m not in the business of assessing governments and administrations because whatever I say now will be taken as a staunch member’s PDP view. The people, who voted for an administration and particularly a set of people, are in the best position to assess them. The simple yardstick for the assessment is that: “Am I now better 16 months after than I was 16 months before?”
The only thing I can say now is that it is not a PDP view that we are in recession; it is not a PDP view that the dollar has moved well above N400; it is not a PDP view that foreign investors are moving out; it is not a PDP view that you have insurgency and discontentment in the North, in the East and in the Niger Delta.
But it is my strong conviction that all these problems are solvable via politics, if you run an all-inclusive politics. If you run good politics, your politics will give birth to good policies, and good policies will lead to development and the happiness of the citizens. Then most of these challenges will go.
Are you part of those who believe that political restructuring will do you a lot of good in solving the problems of Nigeria?
I am not just part of it, I believe in it body and soul and I pray that God will open the hearts of all those who see restructuring as the way to solve Nigeria’s problems. I also pray that God will give them the strength to continue the agitation until restructuring is achieved. I equally pray for all those believers in restructuring who have now backtracked because they are in government, that God will show them that nobody will go anywhere without restructuring.
Why do you think restructuring is the way to go?
If we have tried a structure and tried another structure, you can tell which is better. I can tell you that this present political structure did not exist at independence. The structure came with military intervention in our democracy and was solidified after the civil war in 1970. We’ve tried it in the 70s, tried it in the 80s and tried it in the 90s. It is now 50 years we’ve tried something and it is not working. We should see the need to change that structure that is not working.
But can you share with us your own view of this restructuring because people have various views about restructuring? When you say restructuring, what exactly do you mean?
I will tell you what I mean, and I will tell you what I don’t agree with on this matter. Restructuring, in the simplest language means change structure. What is the structure of Nigeria now? Federal Government, states as federating units. That was the structure that our founding fathers negotiated – central government, regions as federating units.
It was working. It wasn’t working without problems but it was working. Now, not only are we saying, federal government and the federating units as states, we then go somewhere and put local governments that belong to states, and transfer them to the Federal Government, enumerate the number and introduce injustice and inequity in it, thereby further complicating the structure.
At the last national conference, this was discussed and it was resolved that local governments should remain the responsibility of federating units; that we should just have states as federating units, and then central government. Second thing we must change, and perhaps, the most important thing, that we have an over bloated Federal Government. This year, we budgeted N6.07 trillion.
Of this money budgeted, over 70 per cent was recurrent, only N1.03 trillion is for capital projects. Why should we be spending over 70 per cent on recurrent? We should examine it. It is wrong by every standard. It cannot continue.
Without changing the structure, you can have one ‘body language’ or 10 ‘body languages’, the recurrent expenditure will still remain high. The way to change it is to have a change of structure, devolution of power and resources and leaving fewer responsibilities to Federal Government.
There is no reason, whatsoever, why Federal Government should be sinking boreholes in Gambru Ngala or in Ogbaru, or in Ekiti when there are state governments. The principle of subsidiarity, which is used, even in the church, is that you give responsibility to government nearest to the area to carry out what it can do.
You don’t get a bishop getting involved in what a parish priest can do very well. But once you keep everything at the centre, two things will happen. The struggle for the centre becomes a do-or-die affair and the waste at the centre becomes enormous. If you remember, recently, we had the General Mamman Kontagora report that listed about 8,000 uncompleted projects nationwide. Those projects that gulped trillions of naira are still there.
I know that the Federal Prison at Nnewi has been 90 per cent completed for the past 30 years but it has not been activated. These are some of the things that you will eliminate through greater devolution of power. The third issue for me on restructuring is the question of size of the federation and the federating units. The proposal from the South-East which I subscribe to is that when you are devolving large powers, it is like pouring water from an over flowing drum; you don’t pour it into a tea cup.
You must have large basins that can receive substantial powers, and that is why I subscribe to regions. I don’t just subscribe to regions, I subscribe to six regions. If it goes away from six regions, I will not subscribe to it. I am specific on the six regions because the six regions argument is good.
You have a balance in the North; you have a balance in the South; you also have a balance between North and South; you have a balance between majority and minority ethnic groups. When you start looking for it, you will get back to 12, then you will get back to 19; you will get back to 21, you will get back to 30 and you will get back to 36.
So it is either we agree on six or we don’t really get to open the Pandora’s Box by changing that number. Does the size matter? Yes. Is size everything in restructuring? No. Devolution of power, to me is everything. Look at the United States…. How many people know the 13 colonies that began the federation? Look at the size of Rhode Island where Brown University is situated. Look at Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maine and New Hampshire?
You also have states like Pennsylvania, Virginia, North and South Carolina and then you have the big states of Texas and California which came later. In America where we see democracy and federalism working, you have big states and you also have small states. So for me size is not everything. In Nigeria, getting the balance between the powers is important.
I mean the powers to control and influence the lives of the citizens for good or bad is the central issue. The fourth issue is how are revenues accruing to the federation collected and disbursed? How do we grow the wealth of the nation? So you begin to see that issues of resource control, revenue mobilisation and sharing are also critical in restructuring.
I will give an example of one- it is number 39 on the Exclusive Legislative List of the 1999 Constitution. It vests on the Federal Government all powers to deal with issues relating to petroleum, gas, coal, gold and anything that has to do with mines and minerals found anywhere in Nigeria. During the 2014 National Conference, every attempt to move it into the Concurrent Legislative List failed. We adjourned five times on this one issue. We only adjourned more on revenue derivation.
In the end, we retained it on the Exclusive List but recommended that states and local governments must be involved in all manners pertaining thereto. If you don’t change it in the constitution, changing the name of Ministry of Solid Minerals to Ministry of Mines and Solid Minerals Development is going nowhere. Asking the states to participate is going nowhere because states can only participate in matters that they can participate in their development and participate in the sharing.
We also agreed that there should a Solid Minerals Development Fund outside the Sovereign Wealth Fund. The Solid Minerals Development Fund is to be drawn from the national revenue and we said it should be operated as a venture, capital fund. It means that if you find diamond anywhere in Nigeria, it means that the money will be brought to a common purse, not shared to those states where they are found but they will be used to develop those mines, bring the minerals into the export basket and then get the taxes into the national revenue.
This will be added to the oil revenue and every state, including where the solid mineral are will also share from derivation. If you do that whatever you get from coal, gold, by rites or any other solid mineral, will be brought into our common purse and we won’t be dependent on oil only. At that time we won’t be talking about Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB), we would be talking about Minerals and Mines Industry Bill. Nigeria is the largest bitumen producing country in the world outside Canada and we have mapped these things out.
I know that at the National Conference we were given documents showing where all the minerals are and their values. So every geo- political zone has something and will bring something into the sharing basket. Once you diversify the sources of revenue, you diversify the contents of the sharing basket and you minimize conflicts. So you can see that restructuring is not regionalization; it is not revenue sharing and resource control but it is a whole basket if things which we have to negotiate and get the details right because once we get it right, we trigger development. Restructuring even goes as far as security.
I am happy to hear the Vice President talk of state police which gave us so much trouble at the National Conference. People said we should have the Nigeria Police and no more; that’s what the constitution says and people are looking at state police as if it is different from community policing. The same people are quoting America as our model where you have Los Angeles Police Department ( LAPD), Chicago Police Department ( CPD) and New York Police Department ( NYPD) and then the FBI. We are saying restructure our own system; if it is working for America, why can’t it work for us?
Why do you think that some people are against restructuring in spite of these many positive sides you have painted?
It is clear to me that if we are six people in a room and there are 10 pieces of meat to share , the ideal thing will be to make it 12 pieces so that it will go round fairly and equitable. But even the 10 pieces can be shared if each of us takes one piece while we share the remaining four based on a specific criteria.
We can say let the eldest take or the youngest take because they are growing and require more nutrients. We can also say get the woman among us should take additional piece because she is pregnant. It must be defined. But when you have a situation where I come in there because I am presiding, I take five and I dare you to do your worst. There are some people who are benefitting from this bad structure that we have and they are going to see if they can extend it as long as they live.
It cannot be; it is not the law of nature. God is a God of justice; it cannot be. That attitude is only prolonging the sufferings of the people and postponing the evil day. As soon as we die, the problem will be transferred to our children. Today, we have opposition against restructuring because some people are benefitting from the unjust and improper system.
You have this beautiful analogy about restructuring but of recent you came under attack from some under attack from some persons f that your views on the subject were anti- Igbo and the position of the Sout- East. How would you react to these attacks?
My attackers even did more than you are saying. They said that I have betrayed the Igbo nation again, implying that I had betrayed my people before. They said that if I go to my hometown, Nnewi, I will be lynched. I don’t respond to such things. I hold my views. I spoke to the principal person behind the attacks.
It wasn’t that my views were anti- Igbo, it was that my views were against the views of some of his principals especially my use of the words that some of their views were “nonsense and ignorant”. It is not in my nature or character to use abusive words on anybody. So I will not go further except to say that restructuring is a national conversation.
The Igbo view on this national conversation is six geo- political zones as regions. It is not saying we should return to the old region; it is not saying Eastern Region. This is wise because you can’t coerce somebody into being in the same region with you. It says six geo- political zones which we have all accepted, should be used as the regions.
The Igbo position also says that there must be drastic devolution of powers, resources and revenue from the centre to the federating units. It is exactly the same thing as I said, but maybe they didn’t quite understand me. All I said was that you can’t equate restructuring with regionalisation because it is more complex than that. It involves regionalisation, devolution of powers, resource control and revenue sharing formula. Having said that, I let the matter go and I have moved on.
I don’t want a matter that is a national conversation, a matter that we are almost achieving consensus on to be reduced and diverted into an Igbo controversy. It will be counter- productive. This will be my last take on that attack. I am prepared to answer any name anybody wants to call me. The summary is that until we restructure and begin to bring out those things that are held tightly by Federal Government and making them issues on the Concurrent List, we are not going anywhere.
Nigeria is in recession and the ruling party has blamed the economic situation on your party which was in power for 16 years. Do you agree with this allegation?
The simple answer is no. The additional answers are no, no and no. Two years ago, the dollar did not exchange at over N200. It did not at all. It hovered around $150 and $160 but it never got to N200 two year ago. The naira run is a major reason why we are having this recession… On the one hand they are blaming PDP and on another, they are blaming Niger Delta militants for the recession. If Niger Delta militants are the problem, you have been told by the international community that it will not take more than two weeks to broker peace with them.
Those who are intellectually lazy will tell you PDP caused it; we had a major drop in oil production because of Niger Delta militants; there has been an all time low in the price of crude oil and PDP did not save for the rainy day. These are all excuses. Look at the price of oil over the years, it is on the internet. It was not $110 per barrel when the PDP took over power. When PDP came to power, oil price was about $17per barrel. It was not $110 all through the 16 years.
When oil price shot up, PDP tried to set up the Sovereign Wealth Fund, the governors who are shouting now opposed it and went to court. They also went to court over Excess Crude Account ( ECA) and that became a problem. It just took a very strong President like Obasanjo to insist on it and right now they can point at Nigeria Sovereign Investment Authority. Is it their creation? The NLNG was powered and driven by the PDP administrations.
The dividends which they shared in giving their bailout fund was NLNG proceeds being preserved to power the Brass LNG; now the Brass LNG cannot go on. You said they PDP didn’t save but Nigeria had a major debt of about $30 million which they paid off and by so doing we got an $18 million reprieve. So it is intellectual laziness.
When I listen to the Minister of Information ( Lai Mohammed) saying some of these things they say, I look at him and I don’t know what to say because I don’t know whether he believes what he is saying. When PDP came into government and inherited less than $3 billion left by the military. It also got contractor debts. Did you hear President Obasanjo moan and complain about the military regime that preceded him? I think that the problem is intellectual laziness.
They should get over this campaign mode and fixation with PDP and get on with the job for which they were elected. The job is doable. They should better believe it, this job is doable. They can get out of recession but they cannot get out of recession if they spend all their energies and creativity in playing the blame game.