‘Why we advocated part-time legislature, restructuring’
Olorogun Moses Taiga, the president general of Urhobo Progress Union (UPU), in this interview cries out that the ethnic nationality is not adequately represented in the House of Representatives like other areas in Delta State. While urging President Muhammadu Buhari to intervene, the UPU president said Nigeria would achieve little or no development unless it was properly restructured. He lamented that the military coup of 1996 did a lot of damage to the country. SEYE OLUMIDE reports.
•16-point agenda of PANDEF is outside National Assembly, says Taiga
Would you say Nigeria’s democracy is under threat based on recent gale of defections by elected representatives and siege to the National Assembly complex?
I don’t think our democracy is under threat. We are in a learning curve and also experiencing the ups and downs of democratic rule. The world has changed and every nation is adopting democratic rule. With this trend, there is no way our democracy would go under. It is the same politicians that were scheming to re-circle themselves that were changing parties. We are not going to get to a situation where anybody, in his right senses would operate outside the military spectrum.
Where does Urhobo nation stand in the present realities?
The issues that are of concern to the Urhobo nation are outside the immediate political spectrum. I believe every four years, when election approaches there is always a rise in temperature, which is happening now. We should only learn to be patient with one another.
The present political heat is normal at every election time. Most politicians due to the fear of losing out or failing to retain their position, tend to make moves similar to what we are witnessing. What we are going through today is not different from what we witnessed in the past. I will only urge political actors to be cautious.
Some observers say unless Nigeria is restructured the polity will continue to have issues, yet President Buhari said those calling for restructuring have hidden agenda. Where do you stand on this?
I don’t think the President said that when the South South leaders and traditional leaders visited him on June 25 this year. In my address to him, we thanked him and the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) for appointing Governor Nasir El-Rufai to chair the committee set up to look at the possibility of restructuring. We also urged him to speed up the process of El-Rufai’s committee’s work on restructuring.
We also appealed to the president to consider implementing the 16 points agenda, which was sent to him by the Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF) through his vice, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo. The agenda called for the old parliamentary system of government and in addition to it we also called for the economic system of every region to produce and retain larger proportion of whatever they produced and contribute a portion to the centre.
This is what we agitated for and what the president replied was that yes to him restructuring means different things to different people. He didn’t reject our demands or suggestions. We told him that we are ready to support any party and government that would do what the Urhobo Nation wants. That is we have our requirements that are well articulated. Once any government aligned with us on what we want, such would get our support.
Can you suggest the best approach to handle restructuring?
There is no difference between devolution of power and proper restructuring they are same. When we say proper restructuring one of the things we want is devolution of power. That is there should be proper federal system where the powers of the federal and the regional governments are appropriately defined.
In our presentation on restructuring we even suggested a part-time legislature because that was what we had during the First Republic. Full time legislature is a waste of money and resources. And our position was that devolution of power should accord each of the regions the power to retain their economic products.
In the First Republic the Western Region controls cocoa, rubber and palm kernel. The Eastern Region owns palm kernel and oil. The north produced groundnuts and that was what kept every region going. The fundamental thing is that you retain what you produced and contribute some potion for the upkeep of the centre. This was the situation until the military took over and they collapsed everything first as a unitary government and when Gen Yakubu Gowon (rtd) took over after the counter coup of 1966 he reversed the unitary government but did not reverse the rights of each region, which are now devolved into states while the economy is still centralized.
The challenge of restructuring is that while it is popular in the South, especially among the minority groups, north remains skeptical…?
I don’t think you are right, the Yoruba and Ibos are major tribes and all of them including the Middle Belt are calling for restructuring. I am a member of the South-South movement and we are in link with the Yoruba, Ibo and the Middle Belt. It is therefore not correct to say it is only the big boys who are saying no to restructuring. In fact, nobody is saying Nigeria should not be restructured.
But the core north is not in support of restructuring?
I don’t know that. The president said his only concern is restructuring means different things to different people. But it is the same ruling APC headed by the president that appointed a governor, El-Rufai to look into the issue of restructuring.
Advocates of restructuring argue that if the ruling party were sincere, it would not have appointed someone like El-Rufai that doesn’t believe in it and has never hid his disdain for it?
I am hearing it from you for the first time that El-Rufai is against restructuring. What Buhari said when we met him was that restructuring mean different things to different people. I sat next to him the day we met.
What is the best time to restructure, before or after the 2019 election?
My response will neither be here or there. It is the start of the process that is important. If our leaders are sincere and would also implement the 16-points agenda PANDEF submitted to the president on December 2016 whether there is an overlap before the election or is concluded before does not mater. I will urge you to get the agenda and read. We met with other groups across the country and they all adopted the 16-point agenda.
If there is sincerity of purpose and they start implementing the agenda now whether it is completed before the election or not, it will overtake whoever wins the 2019 election.
I urge the government to implement what was considered useful for this nation. What I will not agree with is the argument that the present National Assembly has constitutional ability to redefine restructuring.
Restructuring as contained in that 16-point agenda is outside the National Assembly. I am using this opportunity to appeal to the media to join us in urging the federal government to start implementing the 16-point agenda of PANDEF.
If we start doing it today we may finish it before the election otherwise the bandwagon would have started and it cannot be stopped irrespective of the party that wins the election in 2019.
All the pressure groups have come to a consensus to support any candidate and party that has restructuring in its manifesto. From all indications, the presidency is going to the north, peradventure none of the two major parties, APC and PDP puts the issue in their manifesto, does that suggest the groups would reject them?
No sir. We try to differentiate what we want in restructuring according to the 16-point agenda to what any political party might want. For instance, a party like the APC can put restructuring in its manifesto and fail to implement it after the election. It is not whether two parties from the north want it or not and therefore if they don’t do it they would have cheated us. But if you look at the manifesto of APC, it contains restructuring in the last election but the question is has it implemented it? The issue is not about what the parties put in their manifesto or where the candidate comes from. In fact, I will put it that if one party knows that another party did not has restructuring in its manifesto; it will rush to add it to its own to ensure that they join the bandwagon. So it is not the question of having it in the manifesto it is we people and our determination to ensure it is done.
You raised the issue of imbalance of representation of the Urhobo nation in the House, how do you want the government to intervene?
I am calling on President Buhari, putting the population and the geographical size of the Urhobo nation into consideration; we should be entitled to more than three representatives at the federal level. There was a time we had more. For example my own House of Assembly used to have two and my area Udu Ugheli North and South used to have two members at the federal house before until it was reorganised by the military rulers. Our representation was reduced but we are reenacting the concept that we are too big in size to have only three representatives. We are over 53 per cent of Delta State population and yet we are getting 30 per cent of the 19 members of House of Representatives.
Recently the Federal Government proposed to spend N170 billion to build ranches for herdsmen, what do you make of that?
I am not interested in the amount of money government wants to spend on whatever it wants once the parliament approved it, the issue is not the allocation of funds but that my people are farmers and the herdsmen have come to drive them from their lands with guns. There is a market we have at Ugheli, the herdsmen moved in there and people have been calling me that if we don’t drive them away the market will not operate. There is a town called Uweru, the headsmen have eventually driven all the people out of farming there is no way hunger will not come. So if government acquires land and they decide to spend money for grazing that is their decision but what my people are saying is that we don’t have land for grazing. We have land for farming and we should be allowed and protected to farm.
But one of the spokesmen in presidency once said it is either you provide lands for grazing or people would continue to be killed…
No government can say that.
Without putting sentiment, the issues of grazing have come to stay with us what is the solution if everybody is saying they don’t have land for grazing?
The solution is that we can do forestation. In other parts of Africa, particularly in Rwanda, the number of trees they were planting is enormous. If the government has a deliberate policy, every individual should plant a tree a year then deforestation will not continue.
I remember when we were in higher institution, the cows used to move from Mauritania in the west in a band across central Africa. These people used to come before and bring their cattle without causing problems why are they causing problem now?
Secondly, the west did a study, in 2015 there were 50 settlements of herdsmen in the entire west in 2016 but it has increased to 157 the question is are they truly here for cattle ranching? We don’t know and we cannot just say the problem is here with us. They cannot just come and drive my own grandmother and my people from farming with a gun. Where do I get her food to eat? We don’t have land for grazing but for farming. We are calling on the government to appeal to the Myetti Allah to leave our people alone. Let our people not drift and become refuges in their state.
Comment on the perception that the Southern/Middle Belt Forum are mere noisemakers without the political machinery to achieve their demands…?
I don’t think so because they have kept the issue on the front burner over the years. Nigerians have spent more time discussing restructuring meaning it means a lot to them. The ability of these elders to sustain discussion on the topic must have been bothering government. So I don’t see them as toothless bulldogs. If the representatives in the National Assembly are doing nothing it is because of type of nation we are.
For instance when the Niger Delta militants issued a threat and these groups supported them was the vice president not running here are there to talk? They don’t have to talk to their elected representatives. I will task the media to do more on the issue.
Recently the Urhobo nation travelled to Abuja to meet the president on resource control, what did you achieve?
We don’t have a fix percentage to assuage the feelings of our people. What we are driving at is the fundamental principles of restructuring. We produce the product and we are entitled to retain it and contribute some percentage to he centre. Whether it is five, 15 or 50 per cent derivation it doesn’t matter. The restructuring we are advocating is to enable us keep what we produce and contribute some percentage for the upkeep of he centre. This is what a federal constitution should stipulate. It is not the issue of the review or what we get. For instance, no single Urhobo man has oil field but all those that are coming from different parts of the country are being giving oil blocks. Are they better than us but yet we have qualified people working for various oil companies who have the knowledge and they don’t get anything.
The issue is not about derivation but the treatment of the people that produce the oil. Derivation is part of restructuring.
How best can the lockdown of Lagos by fuel tankers, particularly the Apapa axis be addressed?
There was a deliberate plan or policy to make Lagos the big commercial town in the country. They expanded Lagos but what we are saying is there are other ports in Nigeria. We have Warrior, Sapele, Koko, Escavo and other ports across the nation. If all the ports were rehabilitated many ships would not necessarily come to Lagos and create crisis. We need to expand and rehabilitate other ports.
Would you agree that the problem of Nigeria is a generational failure?
No generation is at fault. For instance, Dr. Christopher Kolade taught me in Government College. When he was ambassador we were traveling and he called my full name Moses Taiga and said I am not doing enough in politics. I want you to go and organise your group and run for election.
The 1966 military coup was too early and that was the problem the country is still facing today. We became independence in 1960 and in 1966 when the khaki boys struck our democracy were not up to 10 years. Who enrolled into the army those days, it was those who doesn’t have good certificate. But they became Generals in the army and staged coup and destroyed the country. Even when they say they were going away, nobody believed them. Unfortunately almost 20 years of democratic rule the same people are still recycling themselves in power.
The problem cannot be blamed on any body but the military that destroyed this nation. And there is no solution until tomorrow.