Again, agitations for resource control, fiscal federalism resonate in South-South
After a lull, the clamour for resource control and fiscal federalism has once again began to resonate in the South-South geopolitical zone as stakeholders renewed their agitation for a restructured Nigeria.
The call, which is gathering fresh momentum, is that the country must be restructured in line with the practice of true federalism where political and economic structures as well as governance system meet the yearnings, aspirations, interests and overall wellbeing of the ethnic nationalities that constitute the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Last weekend, key political and ethnic leaders from Akwa-Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross River, Delta, Edo and Rivers States held a summit on restructuring in Port Harcourt, to articulate a clear, compelling and propitious position on the raging debate for the political and economic restructuring of Nigeria in ways to ensure that the federating units enjoy the freedom to own, control, and develop their resources.
The summit was convened by former Akwa Ibom State governor, Obong Victor Attah, his Cross River State counterpart; Donald Duke, former President, Ijaw National Congress (INC), Professor Kimse Okoko, former President, Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Onueze Okocha (SAN), Mr Idu Amaidhe, Solomon Asemota (SAN), Senator Florence Ita-Giwa, Fred Obe and Amagbe Kentebe. The event was chaired by Chairman, Bayelsa State Council of Traditional Rulers, Amanyanabo of Twon Brass, Alfred Papapreye Diete-Spiff.
Rivers State governor, Nyesom Wike, who delivered the keynote address told more than 600 delegates, representing the six states in the geo-political zone, that the present political and economic structure was decreed and imposed on the country by a team of adventurists soldiers, who thought political centralization would smoothen existing cleavages and strengthen national unity in a multi-ethnic, multicultural and multi-religious country like Nigeria.
He pointed out that it is now clear to all perceptive minds that the military was damn wrong. On the contrary, he said the centralization of power and resources in the Federal Government in a supposed federal political structure has become a strong source rather than a solution for the multidimensional crisis plaguing the country.
The governor noted that while the South-South zone believe in the indivisibility of Nigeria and its diversity, the people of the region also believe in their right to self-determination within a united Nigeria as a free people who cherish their freedoms, social values and unique cultural and religious identities, which must be jealously guarded, preserved and passed on from generation to generations.
“We own every inch of our lands and the resources that it contains just as we concede the same to other sections of the Nigerian society. But we also believed in the obligations to share our resources with others on fair terms and contribute towards the unity and progress of our country.
“These are the fundamental building blocks for nation building in a pluralistic society like ours, and any political substructure that denies or negates their essence is doomed to create twists and turns that would upset the path to development rather than advance it.
“Sadly, there is nothing in the existing Nigerian federal structure that acceptably advances these fundamental principles of nation building. The result is the accentuating levels of distress, schism, and drumbeats of violence that has enveloped the polity and causing so many Nigerians to ask unsettling questions about the wisdom of continuing with a structural pattern that is not working for the best interest of the nation and its people,” he said.
Wike urged the stakeholders to join other interest groups across the country to sustain the recurrent demand for the remaking of the country in such a way that gives the constituent parts, regions or states, the political and financial autonomy that they need to function effectively and independent of the Federal Government and deliver on the most basic issues that affect the lives of the people, including security.
On his part, Attah explained that what the advocates of restructuring seek to change is “the current feeding bottle federalism” which has turned all sections of the country into incapacitated, non-productive babies waiting to suck the breast of a metaphorically abused and long suffering mother whose milk is fast losing value and running dry.
Attah stressed that the restructuring must not therefore be seen as a demand for a previously unknown Nigeria. He explained the advocates of restructuring are merely demanding a return to a Nigeria that had been before, a Nigeria that worked for human progress and development.
He said, “Today, Nigeria is not only stagnated, it is alarmingly retrogressing. When one commodity accounts for more than 80 percent of our entire foreign earnings; when we can no longer feed ourselves; contractors are not being paid; civil servants are being owed salaries and pensioners are a forgotten breed; are we not approaching the threshold of a failed state? How did this come about, because we exchanged a federal system that worked, a system that encouraged creativity, productivity and competitiveness, we exchanged it for a unitary system that changed us into drones.”
The former governor urged the National Assembly to make a law to convoke a national dialogue and that when the conference concludes its deliberation, its findings, without any alterations, must then be subjected to a national referendum the outcome of which will give Nigeria a new constitution made by Nigerians for a new Nigeria.
He further added that the National Assembly at that stage will be ready to repeal the decree that had brought the 1999 constitution into existence and make a new law that will promulgate a new constitution as the supreme law of the land.
The summit coordinator, Prof Kimse Okoko, said it was exhilarating to note that there has been overwhelming support for restructuring in the Southwest, Southeast, South-South, the Middle Belt and even in parts of the Northeast.
According to him, the tepid opposition that now exists in the other areas of the core North stems from the fact that they are the major beneficiaries of the present unfair, oppressive, and retrogressive unitary system masquerading in the name of federalism.
He stated that interestingly, however, “those opposed to restructuring have tried to hide the fact by claiming that their opposition was based on lack of clarity of what restructuring means. In so doing, they believe that they can manipulate the public discourse to create sufficient confusion to discredit the noble objectives of restructuring.
“And in furtherance of their misguided plans, they will rather promote and support devolution or better still, decentralization rather than restructuring which is the obvious choice and plausible platform that can solve the seemingly intractable problems confronting the country.
“We will argue that the lack of clarity bogey canvassed by its dying band of opponents, is simply a ruse to mislead and confuse the undiscerning public. Now, for those who still question the meaning of restructuring, we would like to clearly state for the records that restructuring for all intents and purposes simply means a return to true federalism as against the present unholy unitary system, operating in the guise of federalism and imposed on us by the military, through the instrumentality of the fraudulent 1999 constitution.”
Okoko argued that the current proposed amendments of the 1999 constitution by the National Assembly is tantamount to legitimizing the fraud that is inherent in the aforementioned constitution.
The first governor of old Rivers State, King Alfred Diete Spiff, noted that the problem of Nigeria started when the military modified the independent constitution of 1960 in 1979 before transmitting power to former President Shehu Shagari.
Spiff who was a member of the 2004 and 2014 political conferences, said it was time to overhaul the entire governance system of the nation especially when the political slogan of the incumbent regime is ‘change’.
In his presentation on behalf of the Ogba/Egbema/Ndoni people’s elders forum of Rivers State, Dr. Theophilus Osanakpo said it has become imperative to effect workable changes in the country’s political governance structure that guarantees fiscal federalism so as to properly and effectively address poverty, illiteracy, qualitative education among others.
According to him, the federal structure being practiced in Nigeria today is an odd hangover from the military administrations of the past and a deviant mutation of unitary principles on a clearly diverse environment. He suggested that more powers should be devolved to the federating units or states in Nigeria, with appropriate checks and balances devoid of primordial sentiments that would enable the country to put the bulk of its resources where the people’s needs are more required.
Senator Ewa Henshaw who spoke on behalf of the Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF) implored all stakeholders in the region to work assiduously for the restructuring of the country. According to him, if the restructuring succeeds, the South-South geopolitical zone will benefit immensely, but if it fails, it will be the greatest loser.
The convener, Niger Delta Self Determination Movement, Ms. Ann Kio-Briggs, said restructuring should be jettisoned for a call for referendum for the people of the Niger Delta to resolve what they want from the Nigerian project.
Having collectively agreed that the essential purpose of restructuring is to enable the component ethnic nationalities, bound by culture affinity, language and territorial contiguity, to govern themselves in matters of internal concern, leaving matters of common concern to be managed under a central government constituted in such a manner as to ensure that it is not dominated by any one group or a combination of them, and above all to ensure justice, fairness and equity, the stakeholders resolved that:
• There should be true federalism where there will be devolution of legislative powers of the Federal Republic of Nigeria between the Federal Government and states as the federating units, with clear demarcation between the responsibility to legislate and the execution of responsibilities in each sphere.
The Federal Government shall have exclusive power to legislate on and be responsible for Armed Forces and Defence, Federal Police, Foreign Affairs, Immigration and Emigration, Customs and Excise, Currency, Weights and Measures, and Nuclear Energy.
• There should be resource ownership and control where the right of the people of a federating unit to own and control their natural resources, especially mines and mineral resources, including oil fields, oil mining, geological surveys and natural gas shall be recognized in the new Constitution. This is without prejudice to the obligation of the Federal Government to support the development of mineral resources throughout Nigeria. The federating units shall pay appropriate taxes to the Federal Government.
• There should be State Police and the constitutional power of the federating units to establish their own separate Police Forces to exist side by side with the Federal Police.
• The National Assembly should, as a matter of priority enact an Act to convoke a National Constituent Assembly with the mandate to deliberate on and a new Constitution. The new Constitution shall be subject to a National Referendum to bring it into force.