In the last few months, there have been increasing calls by interest groups across Nigeria for a review of the constitution with the aim of including new statutes that could help bring the country’s different ethnic groups closer together. In a panel discussion with Peter Obi, a former Governor of Anambra State; Bukar Kyari, chairman of the Nigeria Economic Summit Group and Khrushchev Ekwueme, a partner at Olaniwun Ajayi, CNBC Africa’s Wole Famurewa discussed the big issues raised by those calling for a restructuring of the country for lasting unity.
Governor Obi I want you to start by reflecting on the country today from your perspective as a former governor of Anambra state, what for you is the urgency for change?
OBI: I’m just thinking back to why there’s all this agitation for restructuring because whenever they talk about agitation it isn’t just from the South-East it is all over the country. Everybody is agitating for one thing or the other. For me, all this agitation is a cumulative consequence of leadership failure over the years. We the leaders have failed to deliver to the people. It is the absence of what we can call a focus and future planned leadership that has brought us to this point. Now we are talking about recession, but if you look at the past you will see that this collapse started several years ago and now we have reached a situation where we have millions of out of school children, millions of unemployed youths and that is what is driving this agitation. Is there a need for restructuring? Yes.
For you what does restructuring mean? What must we change in terms of the fabric of the country?
OBI: Well if we have a system that has not worked you should change it.
So what is wrong with the system?
OBI: For me restructuring will help to kickstart a quick change in terms of why we have to cut costs because today the cost of governance is excessive.
You have a lot of waste that needs to be scrapped. I’ll give you an example, one state in the U.S.A like Nebraska has 49 members in the House Assembly and each earns $10,000 and it’s their part time job. Nebraska’s budget is $9 billion which is about 3 times the entire budget of the South East and North East of Nigeria put together. Now between these regions you have 288 people as House members being maintained by almost ten times what we pay the people in Nebraska. People will say yes, we need it, even when we know that half of them are not viable. We need to look at these things and renegotiate. We shouldn’t forget that California is about half the size of Nigeria in terms of landmass and in population it is a quarter of Nigeria, and the GDP of California is $2.3 trillion while that of Nigeria is $400 billion and it’s a state and I can tell you that the cost of keeping a governor in California is lower than the cost of keeping a governor in Nigeria, so we need to assess whether or not we have to keep on carrying this weight.
Mr Kyari, he has mentioned the point about leadership failure over the years. There seems to be a lack of strategic vision for the country, especially economically. In your perspective, especially when you look at your region of the country, what are your thoughts on how the clamour for restructuring should impact the regional economy?
KYARI: I think what Governor Obi has mentioned is the genesis of the root of all these agitations. Whether it is the IPOB demanding for not just restructuring but whether or not there should be a referendum to see whether different parts of the country should go their separate ways or whether it is the South West or whether it is some people in the North, and the same has been seen in the Niger Delta recently. The root of all of these things is the failure of leadership and we all say that. It is very quick in Nigeria for us to change something or to want to change something when we see that it is not working. When something is not working I often blame myself. I don’t blame others. I don’t blame the environment. I don’t become a victim. Now, citizens voted for the people that are our leaders, now if the leaders are failing us, citizens also have a recourse that they can take.
Unfortunately they are not well informed. One case is the one that is playing out in Kogi State where there is a recall for Dino Melaye in the pipeline, now that can actually be one of those triggers in the body politic of Nigeria that the voters actually have power. It is just that they have failed to exercise those powers because they either do not understand the mechanism or hunger and poverty and ignorance can make people give away their rights for a few thousand Naira. Those are the fundamental things before I even talk about other matters. Is it restructuring that is going to solve Nigeria’s problems? Some people would even say that the construct of Nigeria was imposed on us. Nations all over the world no matter what history you go through, nations were impositions. They were either as a result of wars being won by one side or the other. They were either a conquering by a bunch of raiders that conquered and settled a nation. There has not been a nation that was formed out of democratic principles per say. There has always been a history. Ours happened to be colonial and we have to live by it. The United States also happened to be colonial and see where they are. There examples of countries in Africa that you might say are homogenous, for example Somalia. They have one ethnic group, one religion, one tribe, one political affiliation when they formed, but has Somalia seen peace in the last 20 or 25 years? No. So just becoming a nation of only Ibo, or only Kanuri will not necessarily mean that it is going to be a peaceful nation, so there are a number of things and it is about leadership.
Dr. Ekwueme what’s your perspective on the constitution that has been inherited by this government and the government over the last decade or so. It’s something that many suggest was imposed on us by the military. What are your thoughts about what fundamentally needs to be changed to ensure that each part of the country is well catered for economically?
EKWUEME: I think we need to look at our political structure, and if you look at section 4 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria of 1999, you will see that the power of the Federal Government as expressed in relation to the Legislative Powers of the National Houses of Assembly is so wide, because the legislative powers of the National Assembly is tied exclusively to the items on the legislative list and you have about 68 items on that list. If you look at the concurrent legislative list you’ll see that you have 30 items on that list. Now on the exclusive legislative list, state houses of assembly are not allowed to legislate on those items. Now, the National House of Assembly is allowed to legislate on the items of the concurrent legislative list and in respect of those items, when there is an inconsistency between an Act passed by the National Assembly and the law passed by any of the State Houses of Assembly, the act of the National Assembly will drop. What this means is that the Federalism that we practice can be characterised as centralised federalism. There are two types of Federalism. Centralised federalism and decentralised federalism and Centralised Federalism is where you have a union where the centre has more powers that its constituent states. In decentralised federalism you have a system where the constituent states have more powers than the federal government. A good example of that would be the United States, Canada, Germany and what is remarkable is that those countries that practice decentralised federalism have gone ahead to do far better than countries that practice centralised federalism.