Recently, the National Publicity Secretary of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), Alhaji Lai Mohammed had an interactive session with the media on the state of the nation. The occasion provided an opportunity for him to articulate his party’s position on some salient national issues. OLAOLU OLADIPO was there.
How well has the country progressed since the incumbent government came on board seven months ago?
Well, I don’t think there is any government that has been so troubled in Nigerian leadership history of democratically elected government like this one. If you look at the first seven months of Obasanjo for instance, his ratings was at the highest level for a combination of many factors; coming from 13 years of military rule, Obasanjo was seen as championing democracy and rule of law. He was also lucky because there was huge enthusiasm to welcome a new civilian order. Militants were not a menace in the first year of his administration.
Generally, a sense of hope was imagined by Nigerians.? If you compare the first year of Late (President Umaru Musa) Yar’adua, there was a form of direction and focus in the first year as he tackled all important issues. He set up the Justice (Mohammed) Uwais panel; he initiated the Amnesty Programme that quelled the unrest till today. If you compare all this with the seven months of this administration, you will find out that aside the fact that there is no peace at all; the Boko Haram phenomenon has put our country’s name in the infamous book of terrorism. There is general insecurity everywhere.?
On the issue of security, there has been no time in the history of the country that the nation has been so threatened as now. The economy unfortunately is not faring better, infrastructures are in shambles. This government has totally failed in terms of infrastructure.
Don’t you think the security situation in the country may probably be distracting the government to fulfil its obligations in some other sectors?
That couldn’t have been true. The state of roads has existed prior to the Boko Haram phenomenon. The Apapa-Oshodi Expressway has been in shambles since the time of Obasanjo. How many times have they sent former Minister of Transports, Diezani Allison-Madueke to inspect the road? What is the threat to security in Lagos that you cannot repair these roads? It’s all flimsy excuses.
But the Federal Government has said they will be putting infrastructures in place from next year after the removal oil subsidy?
See, our party run government in some states and I can tell you that this present government lacks creative imagination and they have no clue about governance. They are not seeing as an enduring entity or project. They are not seeing Nigeria in 40 to 50 years’ time. FG can enter into a pact with a reputable construction company or financier to embark on projects that will outlast its tenure. If they need to construct a road worth N50 billion, they can go to the construction company and reach an arrangement that would mean spreading the money over a period of time. Would you say as the head of a family that you can feed your children or provide security for them until you get an increase in salary? This government simply lacks imagination. We can do things better in this country. That argument is neither here nor there.
What is the relationship between your party as the leading opposition and the ruling party?
We must first understand what the concept of federalism is all about. Federalism is a union of federating states. There can’t be a federal government without the states. In a federation, there are only two tiers of government. The states that are federated have all agreed that they have given up some of their power to the federal. No power, ab initio belongs to the federal. The states have surrendered voluntarily part of their sovereignty and right to the federal to keep. In the proper federal set-up, the states own more power than the central. The only power the central have are those powers that if duplicated on the state level would work against the union. But what we have in Nigeria today is the greed at the central level usurping enough power that naturally belongs to the state.
For example, the revenue allocation today gives about 54 percent to the centre and gives only 26 percent to the state. They only award contract for fertilizer, dam construction and without any responsibility to the states. See, you can’t know the problem of my state than I do. Under the First Republic, there was no minister for agriculture and this was the era that we thrived most in agriculture. The first thing to do is that we must right the imbalance in the federal system.
Is that not the imbalance the various constitutional amendment committees are dealing with?
They have not, because already they are muddling the waters. For instance, they are talking today about giving independence to local governments through direct allocation. You see, our position is that it’s wrong; it’s an aberration to federalism. There are only two federating units in the federal system, the states and the center. Local government is a purely administrative convenience. It’s like when a man says my wife is adulterous, do you kill the woman?
The major complain has been that money meant for local governments are either being usurped by the state under the guise of joint project or people are not feeling the impact of local governance. What they should do is to look for how to improve and ensure that without running afoul of the concept of federalism that funds meant for local governments are not taken over by the state government. But this government is not ready for any serious, resourceful thinking; they are only looking for shortcuts.
What is the implication of such amendment if undertaken?
The dangers are numerous. Apart from making mockery of the concept of federalism, we are going to have a situation where funds are released to council chairmen directly, the governors not only lose control and the day the chairman receives his money, a local politician is already waiting to collect half of it and he will have no buffer that can stop them. The other thing is that some states are not viable talk less of local government. Do you think a local government like Apapa/Iganmu which is a slum, with its N20 million monthly take care of its refuse, provide drainage, pay teachers salary and others? No, they are not viable and that’s why the state government takes initiative of joint project.
Which local government has the capacity to deal with flooding without the intervention of the state? Let us find solution to this issue without creating a breach in the constitution; if there is concern about funds being withheld, there is nothing that stops that local government from going to court. Again, the acceptable way of amending the constitution is by convoking a national conference which does not necessarily mean that they are revoking the existing structure and this has happened in other countries of the world. It’s only when the conference is done that a new constitution will emerge with a new order. So limiting the process to few people in the House or some ad-hoc committee will still give us the same result we have always had. Let everyone come out and air his reaction then this committees can now sit down and add everything up.
The last local government elections in Lagos generated controversy especially from members of the PDP who believe that elections were rigged against them in some areas?
Just the same way we believed elections in Benue, AkwaIbom, Kwara and Jigawa were rigged against us by the PDP using the Police and INEC against us. But we’ve never taken laws into our hands. We went to court to challenge it. We never said because the courts were set up by the Federal Government we will not go there. If anyone believes elections were conducted not to favour them let them go to court and challenge it. This is how democracy grows. Even INEC said that 2011 elections were not perfect. I’m not saying that we are infallible but if you feel aggrieved go through the right process.
Recently, nomination of Mrs.RoliAdeniyi-George into the board of NPC generated negative reaction from your party. What is your grouse with the appointment?
There are certain commissions that are like no other. The constitution says that nomination into these commissions must first of all be tabled and considered by the National Council of State.? When the matter came up Governor BabatundeFashola and Edo State Governor,? Adams Oshiomhole had reservations about the people chosen from their states. The President asked them to put their views into writing.
Unfortunately, FG went ahead without recourse to the objection. Our opposition is not based on whether she is from Lagos or not. However, the law is quite specific; the 4th part of the 3rd schedule of the constitution lists federal institutions that appointments must meet federal character requirements and the NPC is item 43 on the list. The Federal Character Act defines who is an indigene of a state. Specifically, for the purpose of federal appointment and federal character; a married woman shall claim her own state of origin. It says that for these special institutions, you cannot claim the state of origin of your husband or wife.
This Act affects four categories of officers, namely: Ministers; Ministers of State; non-career ambassadors and federal commissioners. Even the National Assembly created another set of rule on this issue by ignoring Senators from Lagos who objected when precedence had already been set when lawmakers from Taraba rejected a ministerial nominee from their state. Our position in ACN has always being guided by rule of law and not necessarily by sentiment.
How is the party taking the arraignment of some of its chieftains by some government agencies?
For us in ACN, we know that there is a grand design to destabilise the party and that is why they are going for the jugular by first arraigning Senator Bola Tinubu believing that if they get him then the party will be destabilised. We know their ploy and we followed due process of law. His eventual acquittal has made the party stronger and focused for the task ahead. It has also given the party a clean bill of health.
What does the OPC protest against Boko Haram portend for the nation?
Our advice to all ethnic nationalities is that they should not try to exercise the Boko Haram phenomenon because it is neither ethnic nor religious. It’s purely a political affair. It’s actually a reaction to some perceived wrong in the North-East of Nigeria. We are worried whether there is not somebody who is bent on destabilizing this country because we will rather encourage mature reaction and engagement from ethnic nationalities.
The government is playing dumb with the issue because Boko Haram is a local issue that we allowed to be hijacked by international hawks because we failed to address their grievances. These guys are Nigerians, they are angry and we should engage them meaningfully. They might have given some conditions which looked unreasonable, it is part of negotiation. Those that are against constructive dialogue with them are only being mischievous. Even the USA engages Taliban in Afghanistan.
Ethnic nationality groups should not add fuel to matter but make conciliatory gestures and overtures. Our party completely distance itself from any ethnic group which wants to engage in any hostile manner with the Boko Haram.