Monday, 5 May 2014

National Conference far bigger than the National Assembly –an exclusive interview with Ezeife, Anambra's ex-governor and confab delegate

Dr. Ezife

Dr. Chukwuemeka Ezeife, [Okwadike] is an elder-statesman, a former Governor of old Anambra State and a delegate at the ongoing National Conference. In this interview with our correspondent, Ezeife bares his mind on developments at the conference, expressing optimism that the outcome of the deliberation would make Nigeria a better country. Excerpts:
 A committee in the ongoing National Conference has endorsed additional state for the south east region, do you foresee any obstacle against the gesture now that other zones are equally clamouring for more states and others are condemning the demand.
Nigeria is a consistent country. In 2005, the then leadership committee approved one extra state for the South east. It is not just an approval, but the method of the approval is important. The 2005 leaders committee comprised of forty two prominent Nigerians, and we tried to reach consensus through vote on the issue of one extra state for the South-east; 39 voted in favour, one person abstained and two people voted against. With 39 out of 42, that is what I mean by a consensus.
Then, the Belgore Committee in 2012, with a stronger language unanimously endorsed one extra state for the south-east. So, we were not surprised when the present conference took the same decision. Though, other zones want additional states, but that would be to the discretion of their delegates at the conference.
In Nigeria, one zone has seven, which is highest. Another zone has five, lowest; while other zones have six. Then there is a problem with the one that has the lowest. As you solve the problem about the area with the minimum, that problem is shifted to the one with the maximum. What we are saying here is, let there be parity of states among zones. So, those who are clamouring for states are fighting for equality and justice. Also, upon creating additional one state for others with six, if it will not be satisfactory that the North West is not getting anything, then let’s give every zone eight states, which means the south east will get extra three. That is what the discussion is all about.
But every zone agitated for return to regional government, how do you juxtapose that with the renewed call for state creation?
Notwithstanding, the country is best with zones as federating units making allowance for the economics of scale. The economics of scale means when you are producing larger quantity of an item, it is produced at a lower cost.
For instance, you will produce the quantity of a particular good for the entire south east at a lower cost, rather than when you produce it for one state; the cost of producing a unit of a book at the printing press is costlier than the cost of producing five hundred copies. So, that is what economy of scale is all about and it engenders many economic benefits.
Ecological problems such as desertification, erosion, landslide, desert encroachment are better fought the way they come and they all obey economics of scale. Others such as Transportation, Water supply, electricity and son; all obey economics of scale. So, it is best to have federating unit for the geopolitical zones.
The only zone that is very strong because of their rationality is the south-west. Even if others do not embark on federating unit based on zones the South west is going to have their region intact economically; then, they will develop, progress, grow and every part of Nigeria would be envious of the region. It is the decision they are taking now. Some people don’t understand it. At least they taught some of us, but it is the truth that I am saying now that the South west will grow exponentially when regional government is adopted.
In the case of the South east fair share, I made a proposal that let’s adopt a rotation and allow those who are afraid of rotation to be the first beneficiary.  It would be four years-two term or one term-six years. For example, in the South-east, Ebonyi is the state most fearful of rotation followed by Enugu. Then I said let Ebonyi take it first, followed by Enugu while others follow including my state Anambra coming last, and let us see if that will douse the fears. The same thing is applicable to all zones in the country; but they agree and disagree, while the conference finally disagreed. So, zones of the federating unit is one area we thought we were going to make some achievements, though it might not be easy as we taught, but if one thing goes bad, it will make-up with another.
On the system of government to be adopted, Richard Akinjide, also an elder statesman at the conference recently posited that the status quo of Presidential system should remain. He said other systems he lived to witness did not do Nigeria any good. Do you share his view?
Not juxtaposing regional government with the Presidential system, we can have both.
As it is in the presidential system, where one man is given absolute power to be in charge, but in the parliamentary system, the man is answerable to everybody. He can be removed instantly and some of those who went into election alongside with him would become minister. He cannot just wake up and sack a minister because the ministers belong to the parliament unlike in the presidential system.
Having said that, a committee just settled for scrapping of the third tiers of government, the local government, while some believed it should be strengthened rather than eradication. Do you consider the proposal a best option to reduce cost of governance?
The question is, are we running a federation? If we are running a federation, there are levels of government called the federating unit. If it were to be federation, the federating unit will have to be ‘one top-one bottom’. But Nigeria is a federation; the federating units can be zones of Nigeria or states of Nigeria. It cannot be the three at the same time, that is zones of Nigeria; state of Nigeria; and local government of Nigeria. No.
It is either state or the Federal Government; or federal and local government, meaning that you have two tiers in a federation. In fact, that is a unanimous decision. But what you discovered is that, after people have taken decisions unanimously, some will go home and get infiltrated and they will come back and begin to talk nonsense.
We decided it in the Belgore Committee, and that committee was full of experts. So, when it was again decided in the ongoing National Conference; that is why I said earlier that Nigeria has been consistent. The local government should report to the state. The state can then create as many local governments as they want, without recourse to the Federal Government. That is normal structure of a federation, but if they want the local governments to be very strong, let them scrap the state governments.
Another dominant issue at the National Conference is the cost of running government. If the recommendation of Orosanye report is anything to go by, will merging or scrapping some parastatals not become counter-productive, considering the labour force in those sectors?
If we are a developing country, we should be investing more on capital project. Capital projects are developing projects than recurrent expenditure. Recurrent used in paying workers’ salary over and over the years for carrying files and writing papers, do not make a nation grow. Therefore, it makes sense to reduce elements of recurrent expenditure, those are the elements of running costs of ministries and MDAs, including; salaries, maintenance and cost of training. In order to develop, we need to invest more of capital projects and less on recurrent. That does not mean that any level of unemployment is acceptable. As you are phasing out some institutions, you are creating employment in others areas like agriculture.
Can you expatiate on that?
For instance, today, the herdsmen and farmers are fighting irrelevant war. Meanwhile, what we need to do is to develop cattle ranches to match today’s technology as obtainable elsewhere in the world, which would be an alternate means of job creation for herdsmen, rather than allowing migration of cattle from Sokoto to Sagamu. Where else in the world do you see that?
 There is technology to produce better grass for cattle business to flourish, rather than looking for assiduous method of grazing cattle, causing rift between Fulanis and farmers, even the exhaustion from long distance trekking. It will be like a factory, where you don’t need a million hectares of land to do. The technology is fatal grazing, which produces tones of grass in six days interval; it is not planted on ground but the technology produces on plate.
You may have hit the nail on solution to the upsurge of Fulani violent in the land lately, but another thing is that, is government looking in that direction?
The government is yet to explore this new technology, which is inevitable and sacrosanct to the lingering crisis in the agricultural sector, especially between farmers and Fulani across the land.
What then is your opinion, as the Christian Association of Nigeria [CAN] rejects government plans to establish grazing reserves for Fulani herdsmen across the country?
The rejection is arrant nonsense and uncalled for. Though the government is yet to explore the new technology, they need to look in that direction to allay the fears in the imminent risk of allowing Fulanis take up settlement in people’s domain. Every local government can develop cattle ranches without allowing cattle to travel anywhere. It is simply technology.
What is your view on the speculation that the outcome of the ongoing conference might not be different from those before it, considering the body language of the NASS members and the legality of the National Conference?
Yes, it is a matter of the conference. When you look at the composition of this conference, can any of the election in Nigeria produce that assemblage of people? I agree that the National Assembly members were elected; they have their mandate on them. But the body language of Nigeria is approving the National Conference as the greatest assemblage of the Nigerian people.
Let us recall that for the making of the constitution, late Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, late Chief Obafemi Awolowo and late Sir. Ahmadu Bello selected all the people who could put the document together at Ibadan. Those are the people who wrote our constitution, which is what we are trying to emulate. There is no doubt that the NASS might be afraid. This is because it all depends on the members of the National Conference, which can decide by tomorrow that; ‘we’ the people of Nigeria, convert this National Conference to a Sovereign National Conference, that we dissolve the National Assembly. It can decide to set up a unicameral legislature.
Through what powers?
A referendum is the only way of final decision. This is because even the National Conference cannot say they are bigger than Nigeria, but the National Conference is far bigger than the National Assembly. They cannot be more legitimate than us at the National Conference where we have the strong; able, disabled, women of all types. The youth representatives are there; former governors, ex-this and ex-that are all there. And you find people like me who didn’t steal any kobo while in government also there.
Most of us are old men and women, and it is the best to develop a system to run a society by the people without any ambition for being there, because somebody like me has no future political agenda. It is the same with many of us at the conference. This will enable us deliver undiluted recommendation on the way forward for our great country, Nigeria. These are the best people to develop the system.
Are you optimistic that this government possessed the will; not allowing the NASS hijacked the outcome of the National Conference?
During his inaugural address, President Goodluck Jonathan praised the NASS for working on a referendum, saying that a law exists on referendum, but what we need is consensus. If all of us at the National Conference are agreeable to what we have decided, we would go to our people and they will lend their vote on it. It is a matter of whether we are right or selfish in the decision we have taken as being best for Nigeria.



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