Nigeria held down by unpatriotic politicians, says Clark
National leader of Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF), Chief Edwin Kiagbodo Clark, told CHIDO OKAFOR that unless the country is restructured to address the imbalance and injustice, progress and development would continue to elude her and the future bleak. Excerpts:
Nigeria will be 59 years on October 1, 2019. Do you think the country has made great strides since Independence in 1960?
Thank you. I do not think that Nigeria has made great progress since Independence in 1960 compared to what we are facing now. I think when we had Independence in 1960, before and after Independence, Nigeria was on the right track because we were practicing true federalism. After negotiations in Britain in 1954, 1957 to 1960, we had true federalism. The three regions were on their own and the Federal Government had very few functions and we also had fiscal federalism which made it possible for the regions to have 50 per cent of whatever revenue that accrued to the nation from their own area, and 50 per cent was paid to the Federal Government where the Federal Government took about 20 per cent, and the balance was shared by the three regions and the Federal Government. With the 50 per cent in the hands of the regions, they were able to develop themselves at their own pace. They were almost independent of the Federal Government. It cannot be compared with confederation or unity form of government; it was true federalism. And each region had its own constitution which directed it in whatever it was doing. Not now that we have only one constitution which makes the states appendages of the Federal Government. Then each region had what was called Agent-General, a representative in London, and I remember, all the three of them had functions in Britain, and they were independent of the Federal Government in London.
I know people who were appointed to this position, like Chief Okorodudu from Warri, was appointed as the Agent-General. Not only that, because the regions were developing themselves at their own pace, so much progress was made. No one region was superior to the other. Take, for example, the Western Region where we belonged; Chief Obafemi Awolowo managed the resources very well. He was able to establish free primary education in the West in 1956. There was scholarship given to everybody; all those who were qualified had scholarship, because cocoa was very highly priced. Chief Awolowo engaged an Israeli company that constructed the roads, particularly in the Western part. Midwest, as usual, was not as developed as the other parts of the West. Then the Cocoa House which was the tallest house in Nigeria at the time was built in Ibadan. Industrial areas were built in Ikeja and Apapa. I know that part of the building that houses the Nigerian High Commission in London was owned by the Western Regional Government. So as far as I am concerned, he made so much progress. Awolowo established the University of Ife; he established a television station in Ibadan in 1959, the first in sub-Saharan Africa. So that is the situation we belonged to at the time.
Also, the groundnut pyramid gave so much money to the North. So, the Sarduana of Sokoto was able to use the proceeds to develop the North as much as he could, apart from primary education which he could not establish at the time. But I can assure you that he was able to develop Kano; he created the Kaduna Capital City. He established the Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria and Kaduna Stadium. They were doing so many things. Unfortunately, the only product that was available in the East was palm produce which was very low in price at the time. So the East could not move at the same pace with the other regions. Today, because of that condition, the Yoruba are very much educated and more sophisticated people in the country.
When the military stepped in, no doubt there was some progress made during the (Gen. Yakubu) Gowon regime. But unfortunately, there was the Nigeria Civil War in 1967, which made it difficult for our infrastructural development in the country. From that time, we have been having military regimes in the country until 1999 when we had a civilian regime. But the progress made since that time is not as much as that made in the First Republic.
Let me say this, too. States were created by the military regime without following the constitution. States were created in some areas not big enough to own a state just to satisfy some interests. Most of these states are not viable. Today, you are seeing a situation whereby the states cannot pay their workers even when they are given bail-out funds. Corruption is so much now that infrastructural development in the country can be regarded as a deficit, not enough.
So now we are going to 59 years, and that for 59 years most of the states cannot pay salaries. We owe so much money, internally and externally. Even the state governments owe money and you find out that corruption has eaten up everywhere. Those at the National Assembly are being accused; even the judiciary is perceived to be very corrupt.
So we have made no progress now. The governors have acquired so much wealth and behave like dictators. They are not developing enough of the states. And at the centre, what do we find today? We have a government which is not making any progress. If only we restructure we would have been out of it. We are still borrowing and borrowing. So I do not think there is anything to celebrate as we are going to be 59 years old as a country.
The country has experienced about 21 years of democracy. Has democracy worked and what is the way forward?
Democracy has not worked in Nigeria, though it worked in the First Republic. I was a Senator in the Second Republic. Elections were held even though they were not as free as expected, but it was not as bad as we have it today. Elections are being manipulated; governors are being imposed on the people, and members of the legislature at all levels are being picked and forced on the people.
There is no love lost between the Executive and the Legislative arms of government during the 8th Assembly at the centre, even though they (the 8th National Assembly) were more independent from the Executive than what we are likely going to have in this 9th Assembly, where the leadership has openly admitted to being a part of the Executive. Somebody was saying that the House of
Representatives was spending 5 billion in purchasing cars. What of the cars that were purchased earlier? A situation whereby every member takes whatever was available in his office and new furniture is bought, while the masses are suffering to me is insensitive of our legislators and unacceptable.
So, we are not practising democracy at all. What we have today is depicting more of a military administration than civilian administration. So democracy is not being practised in this country. If democracy is being practised, there will be free, fair and credible elections, and once that is not there, there is no democracy. Even the political parties, within their internal democracy, they are worst. Candidates are being imposed on the people.
So, the thing is that let us have restructuring in this country. Once the country is restructured, democracy will stay. Most of the states will have their semi-autonomy which they will practise and take care of themselves. Then democracy will strive. The Houses of Assembly in each state will perform thereafter. So let us pray that after 59 years, we are able to organise free education in the country, because if today you have 10 million children not in school, then there is no democracy. Most of our people are illiterate. So as far as I am concerned, if education is developed, democracy will start to thrive.
Do you think the Niger Delta has been fairly treated by the current administration, especially as the region’s resources are the main revenue earner for the country?
My immediate response is, No! The Niger Delta has not been fairly treated by this administration. Immediately it came to power, because the past president came from the Niger Delta, this government did everything to frustrate, molest, harass and put on trial most of the people who worked under the past regime from the Niger Delta. So, the attitude of the present regime was not in favour of the people of the Niger Delta until some of the youths, militants, who call themselves Niger Delta Avengers decided to blow up the pipelines, destroy platforms, with every attempt by the Federal Government to stop them from doing so failed. Operation Crocodile Smile was even sent, but they could not do anything. The elders and stakeholders of the Niger Delta region had to come together on August 19, 2016 at Petroleum Training Institute (PTI) Conference Centre, Warri, where we discussed that the economy of the country was going down, because oil production had gone down from over two million barrels per day to an abysmal 800 barrels per day. So we appealed to the youths, our boys, as we used to do, and they stopped. Then I led a 100-man delegation to see Mr President, as the leader and convener of the organization, to Aso Rock on Monday, November 1, 2016.
We presented a 16-point agenda to dialogue with Mr President. But up till today, nothing has been done, except when the vice president as Acting President visited the Niger Delta and we were very much involved in those visits. During the visits, he directed the oil companies to relocate their operational headquarters to the Niger Delta, and that
modular refineries will be established to replace the illegal refineries being operated by the youths. But till today, nothing has happened. The last meeting we held with him was on August 3, 2017. So the problem is that the Federal Government is not giving adequate attention to the development of the area. The proposed Calabar-Lagos Rail Line has been abandoned due to lack of funds. Yet the resources from the Niger Delta are being used to obtain loans to build rails from Kaduna to Kano, particularly from Lagos to Ibadan now, before Kano, and the one from Port Harcourt to Maiduguri is being proposed, yet the one from Calabar to Lagos via Warri has been put on hold due to lack of funds. The East-West Road started 10 years ago; this present government has not been able to complete it. But they are completing other projects left behind by the former administration. In another words, the resources are being produced at our backyard, but the produce is being enjoyed by people from other areas. This is very unfair, and that is why our people are agitating from time to time. How many times can we appeal to them, when the Federal Government is not doing anything for the people?
There has been relative peace in the Niger Delta, leading to significant improvement in oil and gas production. What is responsible for the calm in the region?
In 2016, there were problems in the Niger Delta when there was crisis between the security agencies and the militants, vandalizing of oil pipelines. So it was our efforts in PANDEF that we were able to appeal to the youths to cease-fire and they did. But as I said, the boys are still agitated because the Federal Government is not keeping to its side of the agreement, though we are still pleading with them to be patient and still maintain the peace. But the Federal Government should not take things for granted. You have employment of oil workers from other places at the expense of Niger Deltans. For instance, look at the Board of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), the engine house of the oil Industry. Today what has happened is six of the 9-member board are Northerners where no oil is produced, including Mr President’s Chief of Staff, then one from the Southwest and one from the South-South (Niger Delta) where the oil is being produced, none from the Southeast where oil is being produced. What type of arrangement is that? So we have been pleading with Mr President to revisit this appointment, but as usual, he has refused to do so. But we will continue to plead for peace in the Niger Delta while also appealing to Mr President to revisit these unfair appointments, and that they should no longer neglect the Niger Delta. What is your assessment of the National Assembly against the urgent yearning for national advancement?
Well, it seems to me that members of the National Assembly do not know the import of what they have been called to do. For instance, in amending the Constitution of 1999, the 8th Assembly made some progress, but what has happened? They did not move forward, not with this 9th Assembly openly stating that they will be a part of the Executive. Also, Nigerians have been asking members of the National Assembly: how much do you earn? Nobody has made that available until Senator Shehu Sani made it known the other day that each Senator goes home with 14 million every month, whereas the ordinary worker earns 18,000 per month, some even 15,000.00. Now that the minimum wage has been increased to 30,000, government is not able to pay.
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