Hon. Ben Nwankwo represents Orumba North/South Federal Constituency of Anambra State. In this interview with KAUTHAR ANUMBA-KHALEEL, he speaks on current national issues and Anambra Gubernatorial election
Anambra gubernatorial election is scheduled for November, in view of the supreme court judgment on the PDP crisis, what are the chances of the party?
Anambra is a PDP state, essentially speaking. That is the truth and the founding father of PDP is from Anambra State and still commands a lot of respect from the people. Unfortunately, the party was hijacked by political merchants who use instruments of power to convert same to economic power and that led to conflicts, and the emergence of political deities to the detriment of the members of the party. The aggrieved party men and women who couldn’t stomach it went to other parties. There were huge defections between the time the crisis started and today. That said, I would have told you without blinking an eye that PDP is going to win the governorship election in November but that will be dependent on hard work; ability to re-communicate the party to the people; build back confidence; put the party in order. If these conditions are met, PDP has a chance but if not, I am afraid my dear party will be in for trouble.
Have the people of Anambra gotten value for their votes under Gov. Obiano?
Anambra state has been governed in the past 10 years by APGA. I would like to look at that holistically being a continuum on the flagship of one political party. Peter Obi laid a solid foundation for accelerated development for Anambra State; I must give it to him and at the point in time when we were fighting his second tenure, I told the hierarchy of the party that to take power away from Peter Obi, they need to convince the people that they will do a better job than what he was doing but they neglected it and they failed. Now, Obiano is barely three years on the seat and about to face another election. Given the economic situation in the country, most states are owing salaries but Anambra State isn’t. I am happy and proud that my state is not classified amongst states that are unable to pay salaries because it is a sin; as a laborer is worthy of his wages. To the extent of his human development capabilities and pedigree, I give him a pass mark but there is room for a lot of improvement in terms of infrastructure, leveraging and easing himself off from where Peter Obi stopped; I have greater expectations from him in areas such as improvement on inter-community roads; better housing programme using the PPP platform. He is doing very well in security. Those days, if you are going to Anambra you have to be very prepared but now, you don’t even go with boy scout. I give him a pass mark. But he should look into some areas of development; health and education. I would like a governor, not necessarily Obiano that will single out education as an investment, to prepare the people for tomorrow. So, in answering your question, with every sense of responsibility and without considering whether we are in the same party or not, my professional judgement as a development analyst and planner, to the extent of the fiscal and industrial eco system under which he is operating, I give him a pass mark but that doesn’t mean that he can’t do better.
The leader of IPOB, Nnamdi Kanu has warned that should the federal government fail to give a date for referendum there will be no elections in the South-east beginning with Anambra state. What does this portend for the people of Anambra?
It is neither here nor there. What Nnamdi did was give a pre-condition for election to take place in Anambra State and to all intent and purpose and, without condemning his agitation, but when there is no election in the state, what will happen to the state? I am going beyond his condition; if the election doesn’t take place, is he helping the people to champion their cause? Maybe he didn’t avert his mind to it. And then the federal government comes out to say, who are you to give us such condition; elections will be conducted. That day, all security apparatus will be deployed to Anambra state to ensure that election holds; is that the kind of society that we want? Because federal government would not want its ego bruised, or give the impression that it is susceptible to certain threats; I see issues playing out along this line. My position here is, as much as possible, we have to strike a balance. Anambra people deserve an election to either endorse the incumbent or elect a new governor to move them forward and I’m sure that Nnamdi Kanu loves Anambra people. He would not want anarchy to be the outcome of the imbroglio that may ensue if federal government fails to meet the condition.
Speaking of agitations, there is clamor for restructuring as a panacea to agitations. Is restructuring the answer to the country’s problems?
The word restructure has become so radicalized to the extent that nobody knows for sure what the true meaning is. If I understand the word restructure, it is dimension of form or shape something takes. Yes, as a student of federalism, I can say out rightly that what Nigeria is practicing is an imbalanced federalist arrangement; it is just answering a federation; meaning there is a marriage between the center and subsidiary units. But then, you ask yourself, is it between the center and the 36 states or between the center, the states and the local governments? If you look closely at the constitution, there is a lacuna; at first, it looks like a marriage between the center and the states then, when you read the other section that says that “that the life of a democratically elected local government council is by the constitution guaranteed” it pre-supposes then that it is also a part of the federating units.
Today, the local government system is dead; it has been converted to parastatal under governors; it is no longer existing as a third tier of government and, that affects grass root development. Now, you come to the word restructuring; what sort of federalist structure are we looking at? Nigeria is practicing a presidential system of government copied from America. When you want to make a dress for someone but the measurement is not handy, you look for someone about the same size and use. Nigeria went into copying America’s system of government; a system which in itself is a complex one with some intricacies embedded in it. Compare it to the British system whereby the government comes from the parliament; there is no question of government having interlock with the parliament because the government itself is formed from the parliament and every Wednesday, the prime minister comes in and sits down to answer questions not as the prime minister but as one of them. We demand the National Assembly disclose its budget; that they earn too much but what do you expect when there are 360 members and 109 senators with each having an office to run? And then you compare that with the budget of one government department, it is far more than the budget of the National Assembly.
The question we should be asking ourselves is: do we need a presidential system of government whereby billions of naira are spent just to elect the president and vice president? To me, the first thing to be restructured is the electoral system. You come to the core of restructuring, Nigeria is about 57 years old as a country and has 36 states; America has 50 states; look at their land mass, from one state in America to another state is about six hours of flying; look at Nigeria, due to too much politics, we have pushed ourselves to 36 and needing more to have equity.
To that extent, yes we need restructuring and If you ask me to give you the kind of restructuring I have in mind, it is to have a federal government that will be responsible for issues such as foreign policy and defence, so that we ease Abuja off some burden. For me, we should have six regional governors and do away with the states and then return the local government system to the old division; have strong local government systems that are truly independent.
The governors of these regions will be dealing with local government chairmen who are mini-quasi governors in their respective jurisdictions; that way, there wouldn’t be these local governments that are more or less a collection of hamlets. Is Nigeria going to run the feeding bottle system in the next 20 years? Because what we run is feeding bottle state where at the end of every month the federal government put it (feeding bottle) in a microwave, and during FEC they ask states to open their mouth and they drop it round. We cannot develop on the basis of living from hand to mouth. When you have these six regional governments, they will look inwards, they will be more viable.
How many states are viable in Nigeria? Remove Lagos, Rivers possibly remove Delta, Anambra and Kano. How many other states are viable? Let me give this hypothesis: If allocations going to states are warehoused in an escrow account and are not to be accessed until after one year, just to see how they will function, those states are bound to collapse in three months.
That tells you whether we need restructuring or not; is that the kind of government institutions we want to hand over to the next generation of Nigerians? Does that mean well for Nigeria’s greatness; does that tell that we are getting it right. We should have been the most advanced country in Africa but the problem with Nigeria is we play too much politics and we don’t do any form of nation building.
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