It has been alleged by Senator Smart Adeyemi that the Governors’ Forum is frustrating the constitution review. Also, Prof. Jubril Aminu has said that the forum is oppressive and that it should be scrapped.
Who is the forum oppressing? To the best of my knowledge, the Nigerian Governors’ Forum is not written in any constitution. It is a voluntary body; funded voluntarily, attended voluntarily by members. Its decisions are not binding on the country. Its resolutions are shared with the press from time to time. It is always driven, not by politics. If it is driven by politics, I will not be saying this. I am not a member of the political party that is the majority in the Governors’ Forum. It is only things that we agree that we push collectively. There are lot of things that governors do that they don’t do together. So, I don’t know how anyone will come by the conclusion that we are frustrating the country, oppressing the President and not allowing the constitution review process to progress.
This is a federation, and in a federation, as a political scientist now, and not as a governor, we have two federating units. When you have two federating units, they are not subordinate units. They are coordinate units. That is the language we use in political science. It means that they are sovereign, and if you are a sovereign, this notion that the federal government is the one protecting the nation against the excesses of rascals, criminals at the state level, who Nigeria must be protected from, is feeding bottle federalism. It is totally absurd and nonsensical because I don’t know of any federation in the world that operates that way. In the United States, the President cannot relate to the governor of California or the governor of Massachusetts, who is from his own political party that way. If he crosses the line, they will tell him that, ‘Mr. President, are you really sure of what you are doing?’ You cannot hijack the powers of a coordinate federal unit. But that is what happens here, and because governors are not the most popular public office holders, people confuse logic with logicality.
On the issue we have raised fundamental questions, what people refer to as state police, our argument has not be about state police. The media describe it as state police. It is about multi-level police. We have never been against the federal police. We have said that the federal police has its own role in a federation. State police has its own role. Local police has its own role. Even, the university campus police has its role in that multi-level approach to security, particularly law enforcement. But everybody refuse to take our line. They insist on federal police. I don’t know any governor that has ever said that the federal police is unacceptable and unwanted. We have always asked for a multi-level police force to tackle our security challenge. The other issue is our interpretation of the Section 162 of the constitution. We have a religious interpretation of it in the Governors’ Forum, which is why we are in court on about four cases. Sectionn162 of the constitution makes it very clear. Every penny that comes to the coffers of the Nigerian state goes into only one account, the Federation Account. Not JP Morgan, not Citibank. Because we run this federalism as a unitary state; of course, our authoritarian military past is affecting us; people do not pay fidelity to this critical issue. Monies are collected by NNPC. We don’t even know the amount. No governor in this country can tell you how much this country earns in a daily basis. I am part of an entity. There should be accountability and transparency, and nobody gives me a full picture of what we earn. Governors have raised these issues at every forum. We have four cases in the Supreme Court. The federal government has been requesting for an out of court settlements in the cases. Do someone who oppresses you go to the court to seek reprieve? We are the ones being oppressed and nobody is coming to our aid. May be, we have not sufficiently made it clear that the states are the ones being oppressed by the federal government. That is actually what is happening. Some people are used to collecting money in an unaccountable manner. Let us render it to the Nigerian people. We like what Ngozi, the Coordinating Minister of the Economy, has been doing by publishing what goes to us. That is fine. Our people should know what we get so that they can monitor us. We too want to know the actual money earned by the Nigerian state to which we belong, so that we can also challenge it with our own independent analysis. People should support us, instead of haranguing us.
What is your reaction to the clamour for local government autonomy.
Now, you talk about local government autonomy. The argument of states has been validated by those who were architects of local government reforms in this country. Two of them have spoken recently. I find it very insightful and interesting. Alhaji Dasuki and Prof. Mabogunje talked about the scrapping of the local government to the view to let each state decide how they want to run their local government structure. Local government has been smuggled in through various subterfuge to what they call a tier of government. In my own political science book, a tier of government is not a federating unit. This country has two federating units and it is not the business of Abuja to be listing the number and names of local governments in the constitution. The American constitution that I have seen is 34 pages, plus the amendment. When you fix a federal road in America, the state can toll it and get a contribution of up to 80 percent from the federal government, and the state decides which road to toll and which not to toll. There are federal government roads that I am fixing. In the first instance, why should there be roads called federal government roads? Adjoining roads, yes, because the federal government is responsible for inter-boundary issues. But when it gets to my state, it should be my road.
How far about the Southwest regional integration agenda? Is the outcome of the governorship poll in Ondo State not going to slow it down?
It is about development, it is not about politics. Governance and development are different from partisan politics. There is nothing in the book that says that we must all belong to one party for integration to thrive. And I have never said that. What I have always said is that it is, of course, easier, if we all belong to the same party and we respect the ideology and manifesto of our party to work together. The people of Ondo also belong to this same region. The feel the pains Ekiti people feel. They have the same issues that we have. Even if the political leadership there is reluctant about integration on account of not belonging to a particular political party, the people may not necessarily share that view. To the best of my knowledge, I don’t think the governor, in all fairness to him, is averse to regional integration. The meetings of Oodua, he has been present there. When we held integration meeting, he was here with us. We also over-play this political difference. At the end of the day, it is about improving the lot of our people. I have had cause to pray Ondo programme on Abiye. Ekiti runs a unique social security programme that Osun has sent people to understudy. Ondo is interested in all these because they have elderly people in the state too and they have them in their own party who will be saying to them, ‘how much is the allocation to Ekiti that they can give money to the old people?’ Why can’t be do the same here too. So, the pressure is both from below and above. That is the nature of integration.
The other point I will like to make is that integration does not necessarily fail because one leg of its membership is reluctant. If you look at the integration experience in Europe, for a long time, it was driven by France and Germany. Britain was always reluctant. In referendum after referendum, they refused until Churchill became the Prime Minister of Britain. That was when they joined the EU. An EU of two became an EU of six, and nine, and now it is an EU of 27 states because the benefits far outweigh the losses to those who are members. Greece is being bailed out of its crisis now because it is a member of EU. That is on a country wide situation. But in our own case, regionalism is not to take power from anybody.
What we have argued is that we should have a mechanism that can stand between states and the federal and have a commission to which we all belong, a secretariat that brings out this comparative advantages and also where we can pull our resources together to do things. If I do roads, how much do I have in Ekiti? But imagine a situation where we need an alternative road to Lagos because Lagos is a big market for us and we are discussing it and we don’t want to go through this road block of federal government road. Is there no way that we can build a road that goes through all of our states that we can put a rail to Lagos, which is one of our large markets? The rudiments of that are beginning to happen.
There is a road the governments of Ogun and Osun are working on now that will bye-pass Ibadan, straight to Ago-Owu, and come out in Ijebu, and they find their way to Lagos, if Lagos is the destination. We can also take the advantage of Ondo’s link to the sea because the gas pipeline is easier in Ogun/Ondo border, to help us achieve faster development because energy is a key problem for us. Even, those of us ACN governors are committed to integration, but there is a degree also. Without a doubt, we want it to work, but there always drivers in every agenda of that nature. As you have drivers, you also have people who want to be part of it and ensure that we derive maximum benefit from our cooperation. It is a challenge, but I don’t think it is fair to say that the government of Ondo under our brother, Dr. Mimiko, is not interested in the integration. It will not be a fair assessment.
What is your reaction to your endorsement for a second term by some leaders and groups in Ekiti State?
It is a humbling experience. I was not a party to what they were doing. I have not announced to anyone that I am running for a second term. I think I just have to take it as a fact of political life. It does not play much on my approach to politics. I think we are only mid way into the tenure. Some politicians may intend to do that kind of thing, mid way into their tenures. But for me, I still have a long way to go to fulfill the promises I made to people. Many of the promises are being fulfilled. Some are not fulfilled to the level I would have loved to see by mid term. But essentially, we still have a lot of work to do. Politics will happen. It is a fact of life. But governance should not be sacrificed on the altar of politics. Party men will always do what they want to do. It is within their right to decide on how they will pursue their own political agenda. But I don’t want to be distracted by that.
In running Ekiti State, what have been your major constraints?
One of the first things I learned in graduate school and also read in one of Chief Awolowo’s books is that educated people are easy to govern, but very difficult to manage. The reason is simple. Everybody knows what is going on. We are 2.5 people working in this state and you can almost reach a conclusion that those 2.5 people are up to the task of assessing you as governors themselves. They all have opinions on what the governor is doing well and not doing well, how he should handle a particular issue and he is not doing that. I don’t want to jump into the conclusion that that does not occur in other places too. But I think there are few places that are challenging to run than Ekiti State. Because the resourses are also very limited, you are bound to have difficulties.
I have just met with the Council of Obas and taken a very tough decision that most governors avoided before now. You can call it a folly on my part or courage, depending on which side of the pendulum you belong to. There were communities that have been agitating for autonomy in this state for so long. Past governors have avoided it because of the political implications in communities that did not want them to be independent and in communities that are becoming independent. But we discovered that every process that ought to have been followed had been followed. Some of these communities went as far as the Supreme Court and judgment had been given. Yet, previous governments had been reluctant to do anything about it. I granted those communities autonomy. Of course, within those communities, there were joys and gratitude. Interestingly, the communities they were leaving are, politically speaking, larger communities; more populated and more damaging, if I don’t manage that situation properly. It is not about bread and butter issue. It is not about putting structures in schools or tarring roads. Within a period of one month, they started calling me ‘Governor Autonomy’. I have been taken to the court by one of the communities.
When you have people who are well informed, probably wrongly informed in some cases, they tend to create a lot of distractions for the government. I think that is the greatest challenge that I face here. But what has also helped me is that educated people are easy to govern. We made pledges to the people. They never believed that any governor could come and fulfill them, especially paying benefits to elderly people. The elderly people would say ‘he doesn’t know me and he gave me money, I don’t understand it”. Having done that for one year now, they know that we are serious.
A laptop per child initiative in secondary school is unprecedented. Akwa Ibom is not even doing it. Delta and Rivers are not doing it. This is the only state in Nigeria that gives computers to secondary school students. You will see a lot of computer laboratories in other states, but not one laptop per child that we do here. As people have come to believe that government can be trusted, I think it is a critical components of reclaiming governance in Nigeria. A damage has been done to the social contract between the governed and the government. The governors have failed to fulfill the pledges made to the people. The people have deserted the government. When you desert government, charlatans take over and they cannot be controlled and you all have yourselves to blame for disconnecting from affairs that should concern you. I really think that is the greatest challenge. It was last week that I described my state as the most prolific rumour mill in the country.
This article was first published in The Nation.
Last modified: February 1, 2013