Saturday, 12 November 2011

Jonathan’s all motion, no movement…I regret voting for him –Agbaje

Sunday Interview
Sunday, November 13, 2011

Not many people who voted for President Goodluck Jonathan in last April’s general election are happy with his achievements so far. For such people, he has failed to meet the expectations of majority of Nigerians who enthusiastically supported him in the exercise. One of those in this school of thought is constitutional lawyer and human rights activist, Fred Agbaje. In this interview, he bares his mind on various national issues. Excerpts…

With the year gradually coming to an end, how do you feel with the state of the nation especially with regards to insinuations that some states are bankrupt?
You must look at the factors threatening Nigeria’s political economy first. Do not forget that the constitution in section 3 has described Nigeria as a federation. If the nation is a federation, it means that the states that constitute the federating units must continue to remain as a federation. I keep saying it that the problem of this great country is not the constitution. There is no constitution that is perfect.

Our problem has to do with our leaders and the implementers of our constitution. A good man in the saddle of political administrative affairs will turn around a bad constitution to achieve good for the people. When I was growing up, my grandfather told me that if you give a bad hoe to a good farmer, he could still turn it around to achieve success. The implication of this should not be lost to us. Can we amend Nigeria’s constitution today to abolish those we think are economically and financially unviable states? Apart from the constitutional hurdle such an exercise would entail, what about the money required to carry out such an exercise? What about the political socio-cultural pressure that would be associated with it?

In any case, why did government not consider those factors like economic viability of such states; in order words, what we call the financial sustainability of such states before creating them. Because the government of that time just wanted to score cheap political point, it started turning local governments to states and hamlets to local governments and states where they are supposed to create more local governments, they refused. The same principle was applied to state creation. Areas that are supposed to have more states, they refused to give them. I come from Akoko edo, the oldest local government in Nigeria today. It was created out of the old western region as far back as 1957.

It is the largest and the oldest local government in Nigeria today. Akoko edo is almost three local governments merged in one. Etsako that is nearest to us has been split into three but because the people of Akoko edo local government do not have anybody in government to speak for them, we lost that opportunity. What I am trying to establish is that there were no clear cut criteria; otherwise if there were such criteria, why was Akoko edo not created into two or three local governments like its neighbour, Etsako or Owan local government which has also gone into two or three?

I am not going to mention states and I agree with your question that there are states in this country that are only called states for the purposes of collection of federal revenue. In practical terms of their viability, they are not better than local governments. There is no other source of money that goes to such state apart from the federal allocation. In such states, Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) is nill. You can imagine such a situation where you create such states and even give them more local governments. In other words, you are creating more local governments for the states as well as the innocent Nigerians at large.

This is because we are going to use part of my tax to develop such states. I am not from there. To make matters worse, some of these states said drinking of alcohol is bad and prohibited but they partake in sharing from the tax paid on alcohol produced in other states. They enact unworkable laws to retard their states and yet revenue coming from other states that have liberalized their economy, that have allowed brewery to be established in their states, and for people to consume alcohol and for people to pay tax, those who do not want such a liberal economy would come and share in the tax.

Where are the equity, morality and fairness? That is why I said when you see such things particularly when it comes to going to Abuja to collect federal allocation, they remember their states. Ask them, what other thing do they do to generate money other than waiting for the federal allocation. Like in the Anglican Communion where I come from because my father died as an Arch Bishop of the Anglican Communion, one of the things he told me was that when people begin to ask for diocese in the Anglican community, in those days, they created them but these days, we ask them do you have the resources to back the diocese you are asking for? Can you pay the Bishop’s salary? Can you pay the staff of the Bishop? Can you pay the staff of the Cathedral? I am only giving you a background to my argument.

What is preventing the Federal Government from doing the same thing? Oh! If you want Anioma State, the question is do you have the resources to sustain the state or you think you would be sharing the resources of the other states to sustain it. Like a state that has 57 local government areas sharing the resources of 20, how does that work? That is why there is no development anywhere in the local governments of Lagos States. This is because it is just logical that you do not give food meant for two people to five. How will it work out? Some people would go hungry. But like I told you, it is all for political reasons. Those who are clamouring that the states should be merged, yes, let us merge them but it would be easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for such a merger to succeed.

This is because they have tasted what is referred to as statehood. They have worn the garb being called a state. I was not surprised when in a seminar I attended recently, somebody was calling for the country to go back to the three regions. His argument was that the states developed better under the old three regions. This splinter look you call states has become the sword of Damocles that would mar the nation’s political and socio-economic growth. It has retarded Nigeria. Three states that would have been one and harnessing their resources together and ensuring their growth, you have split them so that one out of the three viable states is sustaining others. The law of osmosis does not work that way.

Osmosis would tell you that there is always a movement of water from the weaker to the stronger. That should not happen to state creation. We are practicing federalism and the Federal Government is controlling all the resources and the constitution disallowed the states from reaping the benefits of their natural endowments. Constitutionally, the Federal Government is in control of all the resources. That is thievery; your are robbing Peter to pay Paul. How does that work? The constitution sanctions the Federal Government to give oil producing states 13 per cent under the principle of derivation. If you give 13 per cent to the states that produce oil, what happens to the remaining 87 per cent? That is why there is do-or-die for federal appointments, the Federal Government and the control of Abuja.

Everybody wants to be relevant in Abuja because they know there is so much there in a country that calls itself a federation. I want to say that instead of 13 per cent to the oil-producing states, it should be the other way round. Give the Federal Government 13 per cent and the states 87 per cent. When this happens, let us see whether the states would not develop. The implication would be far reaching. The issue of do-or-die for Abuja would reduce. The clamour for the control of Aso Rock would reduce. The state would now be able to develop. A state like Rivers and others in the Niger Delta area would now be able to develop at their own pace. I can assure you that such states would even have their own Central Banks because they would have excess and other states can now borrow and pay interest.

Those who have abandoned the production of groundnut and cocoa would go back to them immediately. The groundnut pyramid, where are they? The cocoa industry, where are they today? We have abandoned our natural endowments. How can a country grow like that? That is why I say that unless there is a restructuring of our federal pattern in favour of more resources to the states, Nigeria is not likely to move forward.

When you look at the exclusive legislative list, it does not even help matters. This is because matters that are ordinarily supposed to be for the states are all lumped under that exclusive legislative list. How can a country develop when in areas that a state could effectively legislate on for their growth, you take it off them and give them to the Federal Government. That is why I laugh at some of our constitutional drafters. As far as I am concerned, they have overburdened the Federal Government and made the principle of federalism to stand on its head.

What is your opinion on the intended removal of oil subsidy?
To answer your question, I want to be guided by the constitution so that Nigerians would know who is at fault. On the removal of fuel subsidy, I can only justify my position constitutionally. Of course, as a constitutional lawyer, I must be backed by my constitution. Section 14(1)(B) of the constitution says the federal republic of Nigeria shall be a state based on the principle of democracy and social justice and that the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government. It did not just stop there. Section 17(1&2) of the same constitution says that the state’s social order shall be founded on the ideals of freedom, equality and justice. It went further to say that governmental actions shall be humaned.

The same constitution went further to say that sovereignty belongs to the people of Nigeria. In other words, sovereignty does not belong to the government or to some people in government. It belongs to everybody whether you are in government or on Ikorodu road as a peasant work. If sovereignty belongs to the people of Nigeria and the constitution says the security and welfare of Nigeria shall be the primary purpose of government, and that constitutionally the actions of government must be humaned, why will the government start talking of oil subsidy removal when the people of Nigeria to whom sovereignty lies say we do not want it? I do not know whether you are following my argument.

Various organizations including Non Governmental Organisation, the labour and the rest of them say they do not want it because it would further aggravate our poverty level. It would lead to increase in inflation. If you remove subsidy, prices of commodity would skyrocket. Even those who are flying would also incur the wrath of this economic mindlessness on the part of the government. Everybody is united in saying no to oil subsidy removal. But because the Federal Government and the state governments are intellectually lazy and economically arid, they believe that the only way they can pay the N18,000 minimum wage is to adopt hook, line and sinker the proposal that have been forced down the government throat by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) through the office of the Finance Minister, Mrs Ngozi Okonjo Iweala.

One of the things the Finance Minister has told them when she was coming to serve is that she must implement the IMF policy which is the removal of the oil subsidy. That is what the government is doing. She said if you are not going to do it, I am not going to serve in your government and the Federal Government foolishly and sheepishly acceded. Let them go ahead and they would see the wrath of Nigerians. They would actually know that constitutionally, the concept of sovereignty can be effectualised and realized by the people of this country. What I am saying in effect is that by the time the government begins to say they want to remove the oil subsidy, is the policy not contrary to section 17(1) C of the constitution which enjoins governmental action to be humane. We are not talking about foreigners here who will benefit from this mad economic policy.

People say they do not want it and you say government must go ahead; let us see who has the sovereignty. But let me say this; President Goodluck Jonathan has every opportunity to make a name for himself and not allow his economically backward policies that are being forced down his throat to ruin his government. There is no sense in the so-called oil subsidy removal. In fact, Professor Tam David West who was former minister of petroleum has told the whole world that there is nothing like that. There is no subsidy anywhere in the first instance not to talk of removal. Do you remove what does not exist?

Even we lawyers say you do not give what you do not have. It is just a fraud on Nigeria when you begin to talk about subsidy. If there is any subsidy, what happened to the ones that had been removed in the past? Who swallowed and pocketed it? Are they not the same people in government? Those who are responsible for the decay in our refineries, have you arrested them? Have you prosecuted them under the economic mismanagement policy particularly under the Economic and Financial Crimes Commisson(EFCC)? Economic saboteurs who are always smiling to the banks at the detriment of Nigerians are advising the government to remove the oil subsidy. They are not doing the government any good.

The cartel in the oil sector believes that it is their birthright to continue to import oil and be smiling to the banks at the expense of the people. They do not care a hoot whether you and I survive or not. It is unfortunate that government has allowed what I would call the economic vampires that have held the oil sector in the jugular. And ironically, because the government is weak, these are the same caliber of Nigerians who will be taking the President and other Aso Rock members on retreat so that at the end, the government would be handicapped and powerless to challenge their activities frontally.

The purpose of government is not to make anti-people socio-economic policies. These are policies that would further pauperise the people. It is the duty of government to ensure that the political economy operates in a manner that an ordinary man can survive. But unfortunately, instead of embarking on poverty alleviation programme, what the government is doing is embarking on policies that would consolidate poverty in the land.

You do not seem to sound optimistic about President Jonathan’s administration. What’s your impression about his government?
Incidentally, I am one of the people that voted for him because I felt that he was a better candidate and that he would move this country forward. But the man has been there since April and it is like the same old song. It is like if you ask me to go back to cast my vote again, I would have withdrawn my vote for Jonathan. I am sure most Nigerians would regret it because right now, what we are seeing is all motion, no movement. They said they have improved power supply to 4,000 and there is no light anywhere. Look at the state of roads everywhere particularly the federal roads not to talk of state roads.

The people in the East have almost been eroded out of their land space by the uncompromising position of erosion in the area and the Federal Government is not even bothered. Look at Lagos/Ibadan road, Lagos/Benin, Lagos/Ilorin, these are all death traps and yet we have Federal Government that is pocketing 87 per cent of the nation’s economic resources. Ask them what are they doing exactly with the resources? That is why I keep clamouring that they should reverse it.

The truth of the matter is that one would have expected that as President Jonathan has been in power since April and as somebody who has been there and completed Late Umaru Yar’Adua’s term, he has no reason not to perform. Instead of belabouring himself with economically retrogressive policies, he should embark on progressive policies that would enhance job creation, address the question of inflation and above all infrastructural decay must be addressed. This is what we need and not the minister of power talking about generating 4,000 megawatts of electricity. Where is it? And incidentally, they are the same people talking about economic sabotage. Who is sabotaging who? Are you telling me that those economic saboteurs are more equipped than the government? Then why are you called a government.

You cannot address the question of insecurity, not to talk of welfare. You have forgotten that one feeds the other one. When you address welfare, you are indirectly attacking the issue of insecurity because they are siamese twins. You must marry the two of them, other wise, you would be a political joker if you think you can address one and leave the other one. If somebody is economically handicapped, the next thing to think is to resort to criminality and unleash terror on the society. Which of the governments, whether federal or state, has any plans on how to tackle the dangerous level of unemployment in the country.

I am an employer of labour and I know how many applications I get here everyday even with our small practice here as if we have become an extension of ministry of justice. This is because the government has not provided the right atmosphere.

Okorocha floors Ohakim again

•We’ll appeal – PDP
From VAL OKARA, Owerri
Sunday, November 13, 2011

There was jubilation in Owerri, Imo State capital, yesterday as the election petition tribunal upheld the election of Governor Rochas Okorocha.
Supporters of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), his party, took to the streets immediately after news of the judgment upholding election of the governor filtered into town.
Okorocha was elected governor of the state on May 6, 2011, supplementary election after the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) declared the April 26 governorship polls inconclusive.

The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) had filed a petition challenging Okorocha’s emergence in the May 6, 2011, election and urged the tribunal to uphold the aborted April 26 governorship polls and declare its candidate, Chief Ikedi Ohakim, winner as he scored majority of the lawful votes cast. It also urged the tribunal to declare the May 6 supplementary election illegal, unconstitutional, null and void.

The three-man panel headed by Justice E.N. Kpojime upheld the results of April 26 polls and declared that the May 6 supplementary election that produced Okorocha as governor of the state was a continuation of the April 26 inconclusive polls.
In the three-hour painstaking judgment, Justice Kpojime said since the April 26 poll was inconclusive and no winner emerged, the May 6 supplementary election organized by INEC was legitimate and constitutional.
She said that INEC had constitutional power to cancel poll and pick a new date for such election if it has cogent reason to call off an election. The tribunal said there was glaring evidence of pockets of violence in four local government areas where the polls were cancelled.
Justice Kpojime, who relied on submissions of both parties involved, submitted that the April 26 poll results remained legal and unchallenged.

According to her, the total number of eligible voters disfranchised in the four affected councils, Oguta, Ohaji/ Egbema, Ngo Okpala and Mbaitoli as well as Orji in Owerri North LGA during April 26 election would have been much to ignore and such may have led to serious breach of peace in the state.
“The May 6, 2011 supplementary election was a continuation of the April 26, 2011 election and this tribunal is convinced of the evidence of violence in the four local government councils as given by the petitioner’s witness”, she said.
She added that the petitioner failed to prove that election took place in the four affected areas and a ward in Owerri North and equally observed that the petitioner failed to prove that its candidate, Chief Ohakim scored the majority of lawful votes cast on April 26.

According to her, she stated that the supplementary election was in compliance with 1999 constitution as amended and 2010 Electoral Act as amended.
She pointed out that the petitioner only succeeded in dumping a worthless evidence before the tribunal and therefore, declared that the petition lacked merit and dismissed it accordingly.
Chief Awa Kalu (SAN), one of the lead counsel of the PDP, said that the next line of action would be determined by the petitioner.
But, the legal adviser to the PDP, Chief C.O.C Akaolisa, told reporters that the party would appeal against the judgment.

This govt is wasteful, lacks management skills – Chief Olu Falae

“What reasons were given for the destruction of toll gates by Obasanjo in the first place? Obasanjo did not give any reson for destroying them and the media did not challenge him at that time. So, to me it is a restoration of what used to be. But let me say that in conjuction with the removal of the so-called fuel subsidy, even if it is economically justifiable, the timing is wrong and the government does not exercise political judgement in introducing such measures.”

Chief Olu Falae
The government argument for the policy is that revenue that will accrue from the tolling will be ploughed back into road maintenance and rehabilitation. Chief Falae dismissed that with a wave of hand saying “the question that we should ask is that what have they done with the trillions of naira budget for the past 12 years? I live in Akure and yet I don’t see any sign here that there is a federal government here.

So, if the trillions of naira budget have no impact on my life, why should the toll gate revenue have any impact in my life.” This government is extremely wasteful, they over paid themselves, they waste public funds, the additional harship this will inflict is not going to be justified by any additional services the government is going to render. I don’t have confidence in this government’s ability to manage the economy for the good of the masses. I don’t like that argument at all,” he said.

Most argument being put forward by the pro government toll policy advocates is that government has no funding capacity to put the roads in good shape and to further sustain the needed maintainance culture required.

Chief Falae immediately countered the argument saying: “What has this government got any capacity for? He queried. “Is it security, so much that the President cannot go to Eagle Square and some other places? Security operatives now determine what he does and what he doesn’t do. Is it to provide employment for Nigerians?

What has this government got the capacity to do? that is the question. I don’t think the government has the capacity to do very much in any area.”

Suggesting the way forward, he said it is not just having better roads in Nigeria but a better economy. “The roads are just a part of the economy, it is a part of the transportaion sector.

In that sector, there are other means like rail, air and water. All these are in a shambles. So, the transport sector is in a mess. Trasnport system is the very life wire of every economy because whatever you produced has to be transported and not just road but the entire transport sector.

“We have been advocating the articulation of National Development Plan Programme on each sector. What does this government want to do in the sector for the next four years and why?

What do they want to do in education that we can see and feel in the next four years? Ditto for health, Agriculture and others. They don’t tell us. They only tell us 20-2020, ‘we want to catch up with the rest of the world without power’.

It is a joke. Power is the key to economic development, to the survival of our people. We don’t have 3000 mega watts. In 1975-78, we advocated 6000 mega watts by 1980. This is 35 years later. What kind of government is that and what kind of economy is that? ”

The septugenerian noted: “The present situation is bad enough. I don’t see any ray of hope really and I don’t see any light at the end of that tunnel of indecisiveness, of lack of any programme. A lot of money is stolen and lots are wasted. I am sorry, I am in a very depressed mood about the Nigerian economy and government.”

Falae argued that though it is true that the practice all over the world is that tolls are collected and revenue ploughed back into road maintenance, he said that is a theory but do we do it here? “With what we are getting from oil (over a $100), yet, we can’t make any impact and why is the removal of subsidy that will bring a marginal revenue be the one that will make a difference.

If you can’t manage the bulk of the revenue, why should we expect you to be able to manage the additional revenue that we’ve got today. This government has no confidence and managment skills. Nothing drives it that you can recognise. Bringing in Okonjo-Iweala, she is a technocract, economist and all that, but one thing is particular about political leadership.

The leadership indicates the direction We are to go and the technicians follow. It appears everything has been left for Okonjo-Iweala and she is not the one we voted for. It is unfair to her for government to virtually abandon leadership roles and ask her to just carry on doing the role of both a leader and technocrat. It is not right and it is unfair,” he stated.

Sunday, 6 November 2011


BY James Ngozi Okere (Author)

Publishers: Alphabet Nigeria Publishers, Owerri, 109 pages. Price:$20

A book entitled “You Too Can Be Great (Core Value Self-Re-Orientation)” which is motivational and inspirational will restore hope and confidence to any reader who is desirous of creating impact in the society.

The book captures nuggets or words of wisdom of great men which form the base of human growth and achievements through igniting one’s innate ability to break through barriers thereby imparting on the people positive values towards advancing humanity and society. The book further chronicled some great men who rose to stardom applying those words of wisdom in spite of difficulties of their time.
These includes: Rt. Hon. Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe(Statesman), Alhaji Ahmadu Bello (Statesman), Chief Obafemi Awolowo (Statesman), Chief Anthony Enahoro (Activist), Dr. Alex Ekwueme (Politician), Chief Gani Fawehinmi(Social Crusader), Mr. Frank Nneji(Business Man) and Joachim Ezeji(Social Entrepreneur) all Nigerians. Also some other non-Nigerians who rose to stardom crossing various hurdles of live captured by the author in the book are: Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Carnegie, Barrack Obama, Benjamin Franklyn, Charles Allen Ward, Edwin C. Barns, Henry Ford, John Foppe, Martin Luther King Jr., Napoleon Hill, Dr. Nelson Mandela, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Thomas Edison and the Mastermind Team - John Hancock, Richard Henry Lee, Samuel Adams and Thomas Jefferson.
The book is divided into twenty six chapters. In chapter one, the author places God above every other thing else, and further opined that greatness must be anchored on positive self values and talents discovery leading to accomplishments recognized and attested to by individual and society. He further stated clearly on what constitutes greatness including identifying the salient values which propel greatness in a person.
Chapters 2-23 chronicled inspirational epigram of great men bordering on: ideas rule the world, be a news maker, concentration is the secret of strength, power yourself into action, create the will- the door must open, success is in your hand, desire leads to greatness, determination is the key to success, thought is the engine of wealth, in trying lies upliftment, create your own world, be focused- the world is yours, in your vision lies great opportunities, be creative to succeed, dream into riches, your ability is gold, etc.
In chapter 24, the author identified practically on how men worked assiduously and achieved greatness attested to by the society. He maintained that these men achieved greatness by being positive in their chosen career in spite of difficulties, challenges and unfavourable environment witnessed by them.
In chapter 25, the author who is a Political Scientist and promising researcher made reference and illustrated on how some Nigerians and non Nigerians applied these epigrams with zeal, determination, focus, applied faith, patience and rose to stardom and prominence in a unique style in spite of their family and poor academic background, unfavourable challenges, difficulties etc.
According to the author – Mr. James Okere, the aim of the book is to challenge all through recreating self value re-orientation to achieve success and at the same time employing all in leadership, governance, and entrepreneurship to embrace positive values like enthusiasm, determination, perseverance, patience, courage as a way to advancing society.
The author ended up with a message of hope for all including workers, youths, professionals, policy makers, students, unemployed, etc to imbibing positive values like determination, discipline, focus, and remaining positive mentally towards developing core value for self-re-orientation as a way to re-write history for the betterment of humanity and society.
NOEL KAJI Reviewer
October 28, 2011