Restructuring will create little monarchies beyond control, says Ede Dafinone
The agitation for the restructuring of the country has continued to gather momentum in the polity. It has also received backing and support by prominent Nigerians in most parts of the country. Consensus is being built with many stakeholders expressing the need to tinker with the polity in a manner that will ensure equity, justice and fair play among the various ethnic nationalities in the country. This, according to stakeholders, will in turn facilitate the acceleration of socio-economic and political developments. However, a Chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Chief Ede Dafinone in this interview with TERHEMBA DAKA in Abuja warns that restructuring could create little monarchies beyond control. He also spoke on other sundry agitations and blames successive governments for the dilapidation in the Niger Delta region.
Many Nigerians have described your party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) as a huge disappointment. However, what do you think of the calls in some quarters to give the party another chance in 2019?
The statement you made that the pulse of Nigerians is leaning towards the feeling that things are not going too well is very true. From the private sector the economy has been underperforming compared with the position we were in 4 or 5 years ago.
The feeling of Nigerians was that with the coming of the President Buhari-led government there would be an immediate change and of course this is not possible. Change does take time it is not immediate. Moreso, with two overriding factors; one the economy was in a bad place by the crash in oil prices from highs of $120 per barrel. The first few months of this administration saw oil at the level of 30-40% per barrel and with your revenue cut by 60 or 70%, every government will have a hard time.
The second key factor is the past administration with the ample resources at their disposal with the high oil prices was not able to put the country on a right footing and I hear you say here is another APC person blaming the PDP government. But really, it is a wider issue than that because the whole world went into recession at that same time not just Nigeria; so it takes a bit of time to restructure the economy.
This administration has taken bold steps to restructure, I expect the dividends of that to show through in the 3rd and 4th years in time for the Nigerian people to see that the APC led government can perform and will perform in the next term also.
The unity of Nigeria appears to be threatened, with hate speeches and agitations here and there. Nobody is sure of what will happen tomorrow. What do you think is responsible for all these agitations in the country?
I hold a rather different view on that issue. For me I believe significantly a lot of these agitations is driven by underground politics. It may sound cliché but there are different groups who are trying to reposition or position themselves against elections in 2019. And I think that what you will find when you dig a bit deeper into the source of these agitations is that they are being driven or pushed by such groups. Where it is not political, then it is financial and I strongly suspect that one, two or more of these groups have been founded by people who wished to make personal financial gains. It is a business.
So, by creating a nuisance factor, they believe they will be rewarded and unfortunately there is precedent with that, where some people that disrupted the economy have benefited personally from such disruption.
Recently there was this ultimatum given by the Arewa youths, following which IPOB, Niger Delta, Middle belt forum among others have also issued ultimatums for people to relocate. As a major stakeholder in this country what would be your take on this?
I would like the security agencies to look into where the source of these threats are coming from and uncover or expose the underlying issues that gave rise to the threats or gave rise to funding that created these threats.
If you extend the threats; so we have the Arewa making their threats, the IPOB making their own threats, middle belt are saying we too we are part of this business; what stops me going to my village and saying we are going to drive out every Igbo man in my village.
By the time I spend some money, maybe having 1,000 people camped outside my house for a month, press conference, I swear one yellow bandana or something to signify that I am different, government recognises me, security agents recognizes me, people are giving me money to continue the work, it is a business. Nigeria has more to gain being together than being separate.
Yes, today the oil comes from this region and not that region; tomorrow the groundnut will come from one region and not from another region. We should see ourselves as a brotherhood that is the way Nigeria started and know that we need to work to support our brothers in different parts of the country when we had the resources and they don’t because the position can easily be reversed tomorrow.
October 1 is just by the corner and nothing seems to have been done sufficiently by the authority, what can we do to prevent this situation bearing in mind what happens in 1967?
If you say nothing appears to have been done, I fully agree. I said that there are underlying forces that the security agents should look into, and expose and let Nigerians know that this is noise because people are generally afraid and in other to allay these fears government must be seen to take a position. When IPOB started it was one week, two weeks there was no response from government and it took the Arewa coming up with their own statement for there to be a reaction, we have let that go too far.
On the issue of IPOB, is it out of place for a people to make agitation for self determination even without carrying arms?
You know we are in a democratically elected system and I am not a constitutional lawyer. But in 2015 we all elected representatives to represent us at the National assembly, State assembly and those representatives should carry our message to the central government in order to argue it and come out with an agreeable resolution for all.
But if we for example, are to go back to our villages and say I want to create a Sapele state there were some oil wells were found in my backyard. Then very soon Nigeria will split into a thousand countries defined by everybody having ownership of the little bit of wealth that is in their backyard.So, what you will find is that this drive for more states, this drive for independent states is all about sharing of resources. Yes there are some wealth under the ground in my grand grandfather’s land but we should all go to school and learn how to create wealth and not just dig up the ones that are under the ground.
Are you in support of restructuring as it is being clamoured for, if yes, why and if no, why?
I believe the cost of governance is too high and I have had some little experience with local, state and federal government. There is a significant amount of administration cost that could be reduced significantly if government was restructured. So, that argument leans towards administrations of my region. Having said that to dissolve states and move them to regions, the practicality is a little bit difficult.
The main arguments for restructuring are on the way resources are shared and the way central government powers are reduced leaning again towards the America model of independent states. There are some pluses for that, but at this stage of our development my feeling is that we still need a strong central government that can have overall policy direction.
I give you a small example; in all the states the local government elections are managed by state electoral commissioners and in times past, I cannot speak of today, when you have local government elections, the party seating at state government wins all seats automatically while in some cases there were never any elections. So, results were just written and published.
So much so that in the last elections in Delta state for local government, the opposition parties did not believe there would be any elections so they didn’t bother to campaign and there actually was an election.
Giving control of the police, giving control of the electoral commissioners etc to state government where essentially the governor controls the state house of assembly as an absolute power, will create little monarchies that are beyond control, I don’t think we are ready for this.
If you travel to the Niger Delta region all the infrastructures are dilapidated and this is the area that produces the major chunk of the wealth of the country. What do you think is responsible? Don’t you think it is the reason for the agitations in the region and what should be done to tackle the problem?
The reason for the agitations looking backward is the sharing of wealth. But with the whole dilapidated infrastructures within the Niger Delta, you have to blame successive governments. And when I say governments I want to include federal, states and local governments because very often we from the Niger Delta are heard to complain that the federal government has deprived us of our resources.
But you do not hear the same Niger Deltans say that our state government did not develop our area with all the resources given to it or our local government did not do any development but we are quick to blame the federal government because they are not Niger Deltans largely. But the local government chairman is from the local government and he did nothing, the state governor is from the region and he did little.
So, our primary complains should be with those individuals and if they have performed then we can go up to the federal government to say look you have not given us a fair share. So, we need to have more responsible governments at the local and state level in order to ensure better infrastructure development.
You followed The Federal Government and the Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF) meetings and the agreements reached. What do you make of it, and do you see this taking the region out of the woods in terms of development?
I think PANDEF have what they call 16points agenda and looking through the agenda there are some points raised that will not be possible for the government to agree to.
They called for restructuring for example, restructuring is not something that Niger Delta on its own can call for and the federal government will agree to it. It takes the whole country to sit down and agree to that. I think of 5 or 6 of the 16points are not possible to achieve. Then again, I hear that there is some credibility issues within PANDEF. So, the representations are getting weakened because the stakeholders have started to argue among themselves.
It is in the government interest to discuss and negotiate with one body rather than a multitude of different organisations. But at the same time there must be an organisation that is credible and can carry everybody along in order to get to a situation of peace that can lead to development.
The agenda must be practical. I am not trying to say that those that put it together did not do enough work but they have put in their best shopping list but the best shopping list may not allow a peaceful agreement reached within a short possible time. So maybe they should have phased out what they want over time and maybe have some low hanging fruits that can show that government is working towards development. The agenda within the time frame, I think it is 1st of November or something of such; it is going to be very hard to meet.
What is the best the federal government can handle in the Niger Delta situation bearing in mind that any problem in the area has the capacity to affect the economy of the country and do you think both previous and present administrations have been fair to the Niger Delta region?
I think the presidential amnesty programme was a credible programme. It brought out a large number of militants from the creeks; it reduced the level of agitation. Solving the problem is to provide better infrastructure to the region, to provide better education and health care for the people of that region. And I think that the drive to succeed that the Niger Deltans have will take care of the rest.
You are from Delta state, how has it been in the last twoyears?
We started by talking about the federal government and I think I said two years is too soon but there are signs that things would be better before the end of the first four years of this administration.
For Okowa’s government the signs are less visible, projects and policies he has embarked on that shows that there will be a change, he is not demonstrating that at all and he has to remember that the four years goes quickly and he needs to put something on ground so that people will know that in his four years he achieved A, B, C, D. He is running out of time but he still has some time to leave a lasting legacy.
What are those areas you are concerned about?
I would like to see better interconnecting roads. A lot of trades at that level is so dependent on goods moving from one end of the state to the other and even within local government from the markets to the village. The way goods are priced in the market is dependent significantly on the transportation cost. If you can reduce that cost then you are creating opportunity for wealth.
I know that it is not his full responsibility but security is such a significant problem in Delta. We have an increased level of kidnapping over the last 6 months. When we talk of kidnapping we cannot appreciate how it is in the smaller rural areas where children have been kidnapped of their way from school and I am not talking about children of rich people, I am talking of children of normal people and ransom is N5,000 or N10,000. Then, you are scared to let your children go to school, to church. It creates an environment of fear and it is important that government addresses that quickly.
In the Niger Delta region, there is this agitation that the people that have the oil wells do not control, and it was expected that a government that promised change when it comes will change those things that are causing panic in the system. What do you advice the federal government especially when it comes to oil well and sharing of political positions?
The oil wells you talked about are those that have been allocated to individuals or private companies without a transparent process, and through the last 20-30years most of the oil wells held by the private individuals or private companies, multinationals have been shared on that non transparent basis.
To reverse that, government needs to set another policy where future allocations will be done skewed towards people from the Niger Delta. Having said that, most of the allocations are done in a transparent manner and they are done through open bidding, so you must pay for the oil bloc or oil well in order to acquire it. So, it is no longer a simple allocation. Government should set up a mechanism to bring it back into balance.
There was a time you were interested of going into the Senate, do you still have that ambition come 2019 or do you want to go for governorship of your state so that you can help your people?
I have argued that any politician that says that he is in politics to help his people should also be open enough to say that if I don’t become the president, the governor, the senator, the representative for my people, that does not mean that I still cannot help them.
So, if your mission is truly to help your people whether in your village, state or country, then as a skilled person you should find other ways to give back. You can do it through charitable contributions, through foundations, through accepting NGO position. So many other ways aside from becoming the DG of NNPC, you can give back without government appointments that are the way I look at it.
In 2015 I didn’t contest; I contested in 2013 in the bye elections. I would like to say that in 2019 I would look at the options and where I feel that I stand a good chance of winning then I will look at it seriously.
Nigerians have witnessed more poverty, more hardship than before while your party promised El Dorado before they took over power in 2015. What is the problem?
I had a conversation with a high ranking official of the PDP in December 2014 and I said to him that the future of Nigeria is looking bleak and he said why, and I said we had oil at $120 per barrel and at that price government is telling that 75% of our government revenue was going into payment of salaries and recurrent expenditures and that there was only 25% left for capital projects and we needed to increase that.
So, when oil dropped to $40 a barrel that is one quarter of where it was. We don’t have monies to pay salaries anymore and if we don’t have money to pay salaries where are we going to make cuts in order for us to still have a government that functions and then still do capital projects and he shook his heads and he said I haven’t seen it like that.
So, the point I am making is that you said we have had the worst poverty we have had in a while and that my government promised change but change on the back of the collapse revenue structure of the country; our revenues are at least 60% down on what they were 3 0r 4 years ago and our cost haven’t changed and there are many more projects to be done.
We still haven’t build bridges and roads and we still have power problems, health problems, education problems and the money is not there and government cannot go out again and create a fresh national debt that President Obasanjo succeeded in eliminating.So, the government is restructuring in order to address these problems. Yes, there is significant poverty, private sector is also having a hard time but we will get through it. We are Nigerians, we know how to tighten our belts and get through hardship.
You come from a large family, will Nigerians be right to say that the name Dafinone has opened doors for you?
I would have to say yes. My father Senator David Edafenone has a reputation of being an upright Nigerian, honest Nigerian, somebody who built an accounting practice from scratch. He was a representative of his people at the Senate, he won two elections but the second term was cut short and that reputation precedes me everywhere I go.
They say a good name is worth more than money and indeed it is true. By introduction I have already said that I have these good qualities that my father has and I have to also protect that name for my children. So yes it has helped open doors.