Seething with volcanic anger over the state of the nation, former Akwa Ibom State governor, Obong Victor Attah, said that Nigeria would die in the next four years, if true federalism is not enthroned.
In this interview, the elder statesman noted that the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) are the problems of the country, and so he prayed for their death.
What is your view on the state of the nation?
(Laughter) Do you know why I laughed? Everybody wants to feel despondent about the state of the nation, but I feel hopeful. I have reasons to feel hopeful because I see a new scene coming in Nigeria and you would be able to look back on this immediate past and say, ‘how did it happen. Thank God, we were able to overcome it.’
In other moment, the nation is not any place anybody will say he is proud of. That is a fact, but I don’t fear that it is the end. I feel it is a platform for a new beginning.
We have serious security challenges in the country. Boko Haram is still very active in Northeast, bandits are taking over some communities in Zamfara, Sokoto, Katsina, Kaduna, and you have kidnappers across the country, don’t all these put fear in you?
Only if you feel that there is no solution, but I feel there is solution. You have never seen such a large number of criminals being arrested in any one place day after day. It is not as if you arrest them you solve the problems; they are so many that even if you arrest as many as you like today, by tomorrow you have to go back and arrest as many because the truth of the matter is that it has now become the most lucrative engagement for most people, not just youths, those who don’t want to do it now commit suicide.
It is frightening, and this is why solution has to come very quickly. We can no longer delay bringing a solution to this matter. There is greed as well because some of these people they claim that they were brought in to protect territory for people who were doing one thing or other they should not be doing. Basically, it is just the fact that the devil is finding works for idle hands, and there are too many idle hands in Nigeria today. I can go on talking about this. Even though you say you want to solve the problem of almajiri, yes, we must send them to school, but what is the future for them, we have to create the future now before we begin to send them to school. These ones that have already gone to school we have to create opportunities for them to do something for themselves or gainfully employed, otherwise the number will just keep going. They are not deterred by whatever penalties imposed on them; to them it gets to a point where they say, ‘well, I’m dying anyway, let me go and die not as a poor person, let me make money before I die’. That is the way they begin to look at crime, which is enough to frighten anybody. Like I said, rather than become scared or what, I just feel that the authorities must make it possible for a new beginning to begin. I feel we have solution to the whole thing.
The Southern Leaders of Thought of which you are a member, before the last general election was insisting that if there was no restructuring, there won’t be election. Were you people blowing hot air or the authorities didn’t take you seriously because the election was held without restructuring?
The truth of the matter was that the time frame was impossible to say that you must restructure, that is for anybody who understands restructuring. I like to change that word, ‘restructuring’, because it seems to mean too many things to too many different people.
Let me use the word, true federalism. Too many meanings are given to the word, restructuring, so let me drop it. Anybody that understands it and the process it entails could not have insisted that it could be done between when we said it and the next election, I never subscribed to it because I knew it would be impossible; there has to be a long process.
So, those who said no restructuring, no election, yes, you can say they were blowing hot air, but those who were saying that restructuring must come otherwise Nigeria will die, yes, they meant it and they are very honest. For me, it is still the position. There must be a new beginning, otherwise, Nigeria as we know it today will die, well, it’s almost dead.
Nigeria, as we know it today cannot survive Buhari’s tenure. I say it, and I repeat it, there will be no Nigeria, if we do not give it a new birth before the end of this tenure of four years. For me, that new birth is true federalism. When the APC governors went to visit Buhari, which PDP found necessary to criticise for reasons I don’t know, Buhari said, at today’s level of development, Nigeria is ripe for true federalism. That is the issue and he has accepted. Those who were saying Buhari can’t do it, what is left for them now is to make him know that he has accepted the right thing to give Nigeria new life and begin to work on how it must be achieved. It must be achieved, if it is not, believe me, there will be no Nigeria.
Some people say they are skeptical about this true federalism statement by the president because he didn’t want to hear anything about restructuring before, and had labeled those clamouring for it as selfish.
Sometimes people just decide that Buhari is bad and so, whatever he does must be bad. If he does something good, they don’t believe it and if he does something bad, they will say that is Buhari. They are projecting their own negativism on the man. I’m hoping on the fact that he has acknowledged and accepted that true federalism is the only way to go. I have seen a copy of the CPC manifesto that he was heading, which is part of APC, it emphasised federalism. I can’t imagine somebody like Tinubu wanting to head any party that would not accept true federalism because I know what he and I went through on this issue of federalism when he was governor and I, a governor too.
The time has come now, let us just say, ok, Buhari, we believe you. If you truly want true federalism, this is how to go about it. If we follow through this route, I believe we will achieve a lot more than saying, no, he didn’t mean it; we are skeptical, then you are talking about you, not him. He said it; so, let us help him to achieve it.
How would the process go, because we have gone very far with the unitary system in the name of federalism? It is like changing from right hand to left at old age.
How did we change from right hand to left before? It was the coup. I do not accept federalism piecemeal. I do not accept the idea of let us have state and local government police today, then local government autonomy tomorrow. Let it not be piecemeal, let it be holistic.
To make it holistic means a new constitution for Nigeria. We had a constitution before it was changed. So, we must change the constitution to make it possible that is now a federal constitution of a secular state.
We are crying that the man went to OIC meeting, because never before did we have a constitution that said we were a multi-religious nation; it said we are a secular nation, religion was private and it must become private again. It is individual and it can’t be national. You have to state that it is a secular state and it must be a secular state. We all believe in God through whoever your own messiah is, that is your own. We have to have a proper federal arrangement and that is what I’m harping on, and that is why I say, drop the word, ‘restructuring’ because some people may give a different meaning to it. Let us agree that what we want is true federalism. Just open the 1960 constitution and the 1963 constitution, you know the tenets of true federalism.
What should be the federating units, the states or do we go back to the regions?
That is where they are causing confusion with this restructuring. The states have come to stay, and those are the federating units, as far as I’m concerned. It can’t be anything else. How do you create regions today? For some people, restructuring means going back to regions, how will you begin to create it?
Some opine that we use the six geo-political zones arrangement as we have today
How will you create them, and by what means will you create them? Look at your own zone, the Southeast, will all the five states agree to come together. What were the reasons where the states were split, have you removed those reasons that they will now agree to come back together? What will you do with all those civil servants from those other states when you make the states into one when you are crying over high level of unemployment? You just take off from where you are, the 36 states and form a federation of 36 states. If you go back to the regions, any of the regions is big enough to tear this country apart and begin to crave going on its own. I don’t want that. I want a situation in which there is one Nigeria, and the 36 states is what will guarantee that far better than forming regions where when any one of it says, it is going on its own, you can’t stop them.
You are talking about making a new constitution, but the National Assembly is there
Nobody elected anybody to go and make constitution. Yes, they can bring amendment to existing constitution. We are talking of new constitution, nobody elected them to do that.
How then do we go about this new constitution?
I have my ideas; I don’t want to lose focus. We are focusing on the need to establish a federal system. Let’s accept that and then we can talk about how. I have my own ideas, yours may be different. I can’t impose mine on yours, but if we accept this is the way we are going, we will find a way of going there. Even with the National Assembly in place, nobody elected them to go and write constitution.
We attribute part of Nigeria’s problem to overhead costs especially on political office holders, do you think that peace will be guaranteed with states as federating units?
I’m beginning to be seduced with the idea of going back to the parliamentary system. It is far less capable of being abused or manipulated the way the presidential system is being abused and manipulated.
I just took the presidential system for granted, now I can see all the evil things that can be done with it and how they can be done; I begin to believe that we will be better with the parliamentary system. I can give you several reasons. You have people campaigning in their much smaller communities, and the cost of that is infinitesimal compared to what they spend on even governorship. So, the cost of election comes down to rock bottom. Nobody can tell you and I coming from this community who should represent us. We know who is good enough to represent us. So, with this, the issues of rigging and manipulation are gone. Nobody can send a candidate from Abuja and say this is a candidate for you. Nothing of sort, we will elect our candidate.
Hopefully, the best available hands will go and represent their various communities, whether of the same party or of different party.
When you get there, there will be no one party that has overall majority, and you will come to a broad base arrangement on what is best for everybody rather than that narrow view that I have been elected governor, this is what I want and that is what my party wants. The party mostly wants the money. So the money is not spent to maintain the state, it is spent on running of the party. When elections come, billions of Naira comes out, where does it come from? Money that would have been used in developing the state, so the money all goes to the party, and the party will have the war chest. The thing is completely wrong; it stinks. I’m being seduced into the idea of a parliamentary system.
By this arrangement, the National Assembly has fewer things to discuss as some of the items in the Exclusive list would have been taken to the federating units?
At the national level, I always use the example of the Sardauna. He knew that the centre does not matter to his people. What mattered to his people was the head of the federating units, and the head of the federating units emerges from a group of people who will sit and say, ‘we think you can lead us’, the emphasis is ‘we think’ because the day they find out that he is no more capable, he goes, and another person takes over without going through a whole election. That is why many are beginning to like the parliamentary system.
The centre will only be concerned with citizenship, currency, military, and foreign affairs. With this, we can begin now to accept our common citizenship, because one of the greatest drawbacks to Nigeria’s development is that we do not accept our common citizenship. If you ask me, to be honest, I will tell you that, I’m an Ibibio before a Nigerian, while it should be a Nigerian of Ibibio extraction. You should be a Nigerian of Igbo extraction, but you are first an Igbo man before a Nigerian.
How did you get Atine elected, not appointed by Igbo people to be mayor of Enugu, twice. How did you get Mbonu Ojike to be elected deputy mayor in Lagos by Yoruba people because they were Nigerians? You live in Lagos and the people like you and they put you to lead them, and this man lives in Enugu they like him and they ask him to lead them. Can it happen today? So, let us go back to how that can happen by accepting our common citizenship?
When you started the campaign for resource control, the sentiment was high that some Northern leaders then said that you were doing that because you were well endowed with oil unlike other regions
Were they not better endowed in the days of true federalism? Can anyone claim that the West was better endowed when they developed their cocoa and they used it to build cocoa house, first stadium in West Africa, first television in West Africa, did anybody say that they were better endowed? If you thought they were better endowed, what did you do? You try to improve your own or develop it.
There is no part of this country that is not very well endowed. At the end of the day, you do not expect the five fingers to be of equal length. If they are better endowed, you go there and invest in their endowments and get the returns. If we are one country, nothing stops you from coming to develop the resources and make your money. Is Dangote confined to Kano, is he making money only from Kano? Take my endowment, use it and my people will be the one that will be employed and you make money.
The agitation started when your people went to Abuja and Lagos, saw how resources from their place were used to develop those cities. Now, oil is a vanishing asset, what will be the fate of Niger Delta when the oil finally goes?
There is some truth in that because we refused to develop any of those endowments. We just focused only and entirely on oil, which is wrong. Which country ever survived on one resource?
In a recent paper that I presented, we targeted two million barrels of oil a day, but we have not yet achieved it. This target was ten years ago. What was our population then, and we still have the same target to take care of a larger population that has increased so much. We are beginning to share poverty not riches. That is what’s happening to us. Now, we know, we have a wrong policy in targeting one endowment. Begin to target those other endowments and see how rich Nigeria is?
First of all, if Niger Delta is not cleaned up, they may stop the oil from flowing. You must clean up the Niger Delta at the same time that you are developing other endowments, so by the time the oil dries up, they will have the ability to stand. I blame the leaders of Niger Delta because now we should be looking at Niger Delta without oil and we are not. We, ourselves are behaving like we don’t know that one day the oil will vanish.
But the Federal Government set up agencies like OMPADEC, NDDC to tackle poverty and other issues arising from the Niger Delta
NDDC is claiming that over three trillion naira of their money has not been released to them. You set up a unit and you starve them, of what benefit is that? There is severe abuse of these bodies because the way they were set up and because of the intention of the people who set them up. Some of them were set up to provide money for the centre for elections.
How can NDDC be supplying benches to primary schools? For goodness sake, that’s the job of the local government. It is a regional body that should be developing the region. It should be giving us railways throughout that region, good roads and industries, build new towns. That is what NDDC should be doing; instead, they will dig boreholes, go and quarrel with Delta man who used to run hospital. It’s disheartening.
If you have a chance, what are those things you wish you could do better as a governor?
I have a chance, which is to make sure that this Nigeria is corrected. As a governor, I worked towards correcting it. You know certain things about me. I’m not talking about my achievements. Let me tell you that when the federal government brought out minimum wage, I added one naira because I insisted that in a federation, the federal government cannot tell me what I would pay to my people. I should not be subordinate to federal government. When federal government set working hours, I changed it; we didn’t have the same working hours as the federal people, because federal government can’t dictate to me when my people should go to work.
I ran a parliamentary system in our local governments. It doesn’t make sense for you to elect councilors and they will just sit there and share money. The councilors will elect their chairman, who is called, head of council. He was just elected just like any other councilor from a small council area and when they get together, they decide who is to head them and he becomes head of council, and they could change him any day they want to, so he had to work hard with the rest of the councilors, and it worked beautifully. I’m still doing it, and I still have a chance to tell Nigerians that this is the proper thing to do, I don’t need to go back to be governor.
If the states become the federating units, don’t you think that we may have national crises, as some of them can’t sustain themselves?
They should go back and develop their resources. That is what we are advocating. When you are talking about true feudalism, the North will say, we can do without you. Yes, begin to do without us, begin to be independent but within the same country. Don’t do without us by being a different country; do without us by generating enough to keep yourself going to the standard you are able to.
You were a founding member of G34, PDM and then PDP, people were surprised when a strong pillar like you was said to have moved to APC?
I never moved to APC, I just disagreed with the wrong thing that my party was doing. Obasanjo tore his card, but I don’t believe in that kind of public demonstration, I just disagreed and I said, I’m not belonging to this kind of group again and I left. Thank God that I was old enough to be considered an elder statesman at a time and that is what I have remained since then. I never left for APC.
Those things that made you to leave PDP have they been corrected now that you are back?
PDP set up a reconciliation committee headed by Ekweremadu; a pressman asked him, ‘when you people went to Akwa Ibom, did you discuss with Obong Attah, what did he say?’ Olisa Metu said, ‘isn’t it Obong Attah that has been making statements that made us lose election.’ So, they didn’t talk to me.
My answer was, Olisa Metu reminds me of a pastor that kept telling one of his parishioners, please change your way of life because if you die you will go to hell. The man died and went to hell. He said, it was his pastor’s pronouncements that brought him to hell, and not his behaviour. That is what I said to my party, I kept telling you, don’t do this thing, you would destroy yourself and you would even lose the 2015 election, but they lost the 2015 election and they blamed it on me, instead of trying to do the right thing. Look at what is happening to APC, Oshiomhole, Oyegun battle. I’m praying that these two parties die because they are the biggest problem of Nigeria. Let these parties die and let the new beginning come.
Is this not a dangerous prayer for members of these parties?
Maybe out of their death, something new will come to Nigeria that will not even look like them. Somebody will jump from here to there today and come back tomorrow because membership means nothing to them. We want parties that are parties that if you say you are a member; you believe in the philosophy and subscribe to that philosophy. None of them contributes one kobo, except those who are stakeholders, which largely comes down to the governors.
The governorship election in Akwa Ibom was a miracle because when Akpabio defected to APC, political pundits predicted that APC will takeover the state. How did Udom survive?
Did you believe the prediction? What was on ground was purely falsehood created by the press; that Akpabio was everywhere, you pressmen created that mirage; that illusion and the people came out to say, no, you were wrong.
Akwa Ibom people fully expected the outcome of the election. APC would have taken over Akwa Ibom so long as Akpabio remained in PDP; APC would have swept the whole state if Akpabio remained in PDP, quote me. The press just created the illusion that this man, whichever side he goes wins election to the extent that you fooled the vice president enough that he would come here and say that Akpabio cannot lose election.
Is there anybody who cannot lose election at some point or the other?
Udom knew that if Akpabio continues to hang on his back that he would lose the election, but God just blessed him that Jonah jumped out of his boat. – Culled from The Sun.