By Richard Akinjide
I will score the Yar'Adua administration with a pass. I will not say it has done extra-ordinarily well, nor would I say it has failed.
He has just done half of his first term, halving regards to what he met on the ground you cannot say he has not tried his best. The President has started to make some efforts. The electoral reform by the panel chaired by former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Mohammed Uwais, has produced a very important document. What is left is for the Federal Government to implement. I will therefore waste no time in urging President Yar'Adua to commence its immediate implementation without any further delay.
The report is no doubt commendable, but it would have even gone further to make some far reaching recommendations. For instance he recommended that election petition should be completed within six months, before swearing-in, I would have recommended that it should be completed within three months. We did that when we were in government, why can't they do that now. If there is need to amend the Electoral Act, why not. There is no justification for this in-ordinate delay of election petition. You would recall that election petition was not concluded until the eve of former President Olusegun Obasanjpo'' departure from office. I am talking about Alhaji M. D. Ysusuf's presidential election petition. This is un-acceptable we should find a way out. The United States has 50 states, yet all their elections are concluded before winners are sworn-in. You would recall the Bush-Al-Gore case over the problem in Florida, it went to the Supreme Court three times, within 33 days and it was resolved before the swearing-in date. So what is the problem here that could not be tackled, if there is the need to reform our judiciary, why not reform it, if there is need to amend the electoral Act, amend it, and make things quicker and simpler and not make a mockery of democracy.
Our judiciary has displayed excellent courage, internationally, our judiciary has repution. Our courts enjoy a very good reputation, abroad, and we should be very careful the way we are running our judiciary down. I accept that even the legal profession needs reform, I accept that the judiciary also needs a lot of reform. My view is that both for the legal profession and the judiciary there should be two powerful commissions of enquiry to look into the legal profession and the judiciary in this country. It over due, all the two are over due. The quality of lawyers, our universities are turning out demands that we reform our legal system including legal education.
The Nigerian Constitution is very unique. We call it a Federal Constitution, but that is a gross abuse of words. What we are operating is a unitary constitution, masquerading as a federal constitution. You see what is critical in any constitution is the way you allocate powers between the centre and the units, not the name you call it. Up till the time the military seized power in 1966, what was operating was a Confederal system. Each region had its own judiciary, its own flag, its own Civil Service, each region also had its own office in London. They could have had their own office in Washington if they wanted. But since the military intervention, we have been operating a unitary system masquerading as a federal constitution. The reason it has been difficult to return to this pre-1966 arrangement is that some people still have the fear that another secessionist could emerge tomorrow.
The dominance of the centre is total and burdensome in legislative powers, financial matters and I don't see any state government or any local government in this country which can operate without financial support from the centre. That is not a federal system of government. I won't give name, but I would advocate that we should reform and get something that is suitable for us, not copying the U.S., France or Germany. The fault lies with the Nigerian elites. Nigerian elites, avoid going into politics, they avoid conducting elections. You could be a university teacher and still be a good councillor in your area, you can go to the National Assembly, could contest for the office of the governor. It is only in a few states that you see responsible people coming out to contest for the office of the government. If you take a census of the governors we have in this country, you would be horrified, if you look at their history and their qualifications. Take a look at the few states that are doing well, you will notice that they have governors with very good qualifications and sound track record.
We must assume that the Federal Government has the right intelligence report, otherwise, it won't be doing what it is doing. We must be very careful in making comments on matters we don't have adequate information or sufficient facts. We must realise that the Niger Delta harbours the oil and gas in the country, we must also realise that the oil and gas of Niger Delta is of public interest it is no global interest. Although the oil is in Nigeria, all the nations of the world have interest in that oil, that is the nature of oil and gas. No government will accept or condone lawlessness. I am not saying that the people of Niger Delta don't have legitimate complainants or grievances, but you cannot do the right thing in a wrong way or do the right thing in a lawless way. Let them make their complaints, let them express their grievances within the law and I am a lot of people in Nigeria would have sympathy for them that their complaints be remedied. But when you take up arms, if what we see in the television is correct then there is virtually insurrection, these militants are carrying arms, which at times is more sophisticated than that of security agencies, that is a step to anarchy, the government therefore has a duty and responsibility to put an end to that state of affairs. Also it is my view that governors in those states that make up the Niger Delta, would accept the existence of other states within their states, or another counter-force with their jurisdiction competing with the Nigerian Police or the Nigerian Army.
Therefore we have a duty to support the Federal government to make sure that the rule of law prevails and that lawlessness does not succeed. If lawlessness succeeds, it becomes infectious and others too might take that route to achieve their grievances. You know that a minister has been appointed for the Niger Delta. Isn't it sensible to give that minister a chance to operate and find a solution for the problem of the area, in co-operation with the government in that region. Never before was there a minister for the Niger Delta, this is the first time and there is precedence for that. When Lagos was Federal Territory, there was a minister for Lagos Affairs, who incidentally was the father of the present President.
He must have learnt some lessons from his late father in solving the problem of the Niger Delta and appointing a minister for the area. We should at least allow the minister to operate for some years and see how far he could go in solving the problem. When Musa Yar'Adua was the minister of Lagos affairs, the people of Lagos, did not take up arms to start to fight the Federal Government. And because the people of Lagos were law abiding, they got a lot of benefits. It was during that time the Victoria Island was created that Eko bridge was built, it was at that time that South-West, Ikoyi was developed. It was during that time that the Independence Building in Tafawa Balewa Square was built. So lagos made its complainants within the rule of law and Lagos benefited immensely.
At the moment you have about 13 per cent from the Federation Account going into the pocket of the Niger Delta. You also have a lot of money from the oil firms going into the various local and state governments, apart from this 13 per cent. If all these funds are properly used and that is very critical. The people of Niger Delta cannot also claim not to know how the oil and gas money is spent because their sons and daughters are at the upper-most echelon of all firms and government institutions that engage in oil and gas business, including the NNPC and the Ministry of Petroleum.
The issue of what percentage that goes to this region has always been contentions. In your view is the 13 per cent enough? The issue of whether it is well spent is a different one. In my view what has been allocated to them is enormous I know as a fact that the oil companies vote a lot of money from their revenue for the development of the area. The oil firms give money to the local government regularly. I also know as a fact that the oil companies give money to the state government in the oil producing area. All these are apart from the 13 per cent. The question is, how have this enormous money that runs into several billions, been used.
Why couldn't the notion of derivation as it applied in the First Republic not allowed now? This would have solved this problem.
That argument as canvassed is utter nonsense. It has no juridical basis, it has no basis in fact, it has no basis in constitutional law. People are just throwing this emotion, where there should be none. First of all, you talk of derivation and the history of this country. Yes it is true before oil, the doctrine of derivation applied. The cocoa from the West, the rubber from the Delta, the groundnut from north, the palm oil and palm kernel from the various parts of the South, yes it was true doctrine of derivation applied to them. But don't forget that those agricultural products were planted and produced by the people of the various region. The ground nut from the north for instance was not as a result of the investment of the Federal Government, it was from the investment of the people of the north, the farmers same goes for other farm produce, it was the sweat of the farmers and the various marketing boards established by the governments on those regious.
I challenge anybody in Nigeria to tell me that the oil has arisen as a result of the sweat of their people or the investment of their people, it has not. The oil was created there by nature and by God.
Furthermore, what many people don't know is that oil has been discovered in Nigeria, since 1896, don't believe anybody who tells you oil was discovered in 1956, it is not true. In fact that was one of the reasons why the British government revoked the Royal Niger Company Charter.
The moment Britain discovered there was oil, although it hide it from us, it revoked the charter and assume full responsibility for the running of the country, because with oil it was too important to be left in the land of private capital. After the 1914 amalgamation of Nigeria, the first ordinance (law) to be enacted by the British Colonialist in Nigeria was the mineral ordinance, which rested all the oil in the central government in Lagos. Never in the history of this country, has the oil and gas being vested in any region or any state.
It has always been the property of the Federal Government. As the British government enacted the mineral ordinance it followed it up by enacting the arbitration ordinance the same year to settle whatever dispute may arise from the oil ordinance. That ordinance of 1914 was not amended until 1958, with that amendment all the mineral in Nigeria were now vested in the Federal government. That has be the basis till today. There is no way you can vest the oil and gas in the state, it is not possible. I know that people are quick to point to the United State, where states control the oil and gas.
The history of the United States is quite different from the evolution of Nigeria. The evolution of the United States is the exact opposite of how Nigeria evolved. Nigeria was a unitary country broken into various units where as the US is made up of autonomous States, starting with the 13 American than later on after driven away Britain in a bloody war, they decided to form the United States of America. Yes people do say that in the US oil belongs to the states, they are right, but what they fail to add, which is very crucial is that, it is in the history and evolution of the United States. It is un-thinkable that the Federal Governmental would rest the oil and gas in any area in either the state or the local government or in the individuals in that area. By so doing, you are asking for anarchy, you are asking for the collapse of the country.
Already, with their oil and gas money by people fighting in the Niger Delta, this money is what is being used now to acquire sophisticated arms and have almost established a Republic, with on the Nigerian Republic.
There is no question of middle way, there is only one way and that is the way of law and order. No self-respected government would tolerate a government within a government or would allow a parallel force, which is what we have now in the Niger Delta.
But former President Olusegun Obasanjo managed the crisis without this resort to outright declaration of war. Why should it take Yar'Adua, a supposedly harmless man to declare war on the people? I don't have access to the intelligence report, you must know that Yar'Adua as the President of Nigeria, has primary responsibility for law and order, also he would have access to intelligence report. I was a former Attorney General of this country and by virtue of that office I was a member of Council of State, also by virtue of that office. I was in the Security Council. From that experience, I am 100 per cent certain that what Yar'Adua is doing now is warranted and is in best interest of all.