DO NOT PUT BUHARI UNDER PRESSURE – Barr. Onyemah-Iwe
Barrister Jah’sWill Onyemah-Iwe is a Warri-based legal practitioner and hails from Ndokwa East Local Government Area of Delta State. In this interview with our crew of TEJIRI EBIKEME/CHRISTOPHER ODAMAH, he spoke on varied issues where he called on Nigerians to be patient with President Muhammadu Buhari. He also spoke on the administration of former Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan. Excerpt:
Pls access the administration of President Buhari so far vis-à-vis the expectations of Nigerians?
You see, obviously the expectations of Nigerians are high because of the nature in which President Buhari was elected in his manifold of change programme that persuaded the entire country that this man has good agenda for the country.
Be that as it may, once you are faced with a society, you have a focus of transformation; not just transformation, but a transformation that express their lives in the turnaround vis-à-vis the economy system. They will rather agitate than you are too slow. Change is not automatic, change rolls and it must systematically move. Change must not come in a rush; all we need to do in order to embrace change is to stay alive and to see the crippling of change into the system. It is true that the system is dynamic; it is true that a lot of things have gone bad over the past years even right from the time when he was a military head of state; all these things cannot be done right in a stroke of time.
So you are of the view that President Buhari is not slow?
Yes to me, I don’t see the pace as a slow pace. I see him as somebody who is taking his time to do what he need to do because the same Nigerians that are crying that the man is slow today will be the same people to say the man didn’t get it right. The man has done this; has done that. We need to give him time to have a steady pace and need to think in order to put the round peg in a round hole because we are in a very critical moment in this country.
What do you expect from him in the months, years ahead?
Actually,I think the President has not started on a bad note. The first step being where he directed that all monies must go into the Federation Account; this is a welcome development. He needs to see to the plight of the governors. He must also beware of godfatherism. He must not play to the gallery because the destiny of Nigerians as we speak right now is in his hands. He cannot afford to fail Nigerians.
One of the major problems confronting the nation now is corruption, how do you think he should tackle this?
I have always said the issue of corruption in Nigeria is like a cankerworm; it has eaten deep into the fabrics of all Nigerians and it is as a result of greediness. It is not only Nigerian politicians. No, no, no, the common man on the street has the notion of corrupt practices. It has come to that so forget about the politicians right now. What happened to the civil servants? I would rather suggest that all civil servants from the level of Directors to permanent secretaries in a Ministry should have just one single account in one bank.
How do you monitor it?
It can be monitored; the bank and the anti-corruption agencies will be there. You see a civil servant earning a salary of about 200 – 300 thousand naira building mansions all over the places. Where do they get the money from? See them having fleet of cars, where does the money come from? It is not just the issue of corrupt politicians. Most often, it is the civil servants that show these politicians the way to loot our treasury. Not until these anomalies are checked, the issue of corruption can never be checkmated. So all hands must be on deck. People will have to have a re-think, re-consider themselves and turn anew leaf. This orientation that money rules the world should be totally eradicated from our system.
Let me take you back, you said Mr. President should see to the plights of these governors who cannot pay salaries in their various states and President Buhari told them to go back to their states and generate revenue to pay their workers. But now, you are now saying that he should look into the plight?
You see asking the Governors to go back to their states to find a means to pay will not solve the problem. You know globally, even in the most developed economies in the world, there are situations when they needed bailouts. Before president Barack Obama came into power, he inherited a lot of debts; there were a lot of cries. American economy was crumbling and was crashing. So the global economy system for a viable time needed to be bailed out. These governors raised a critical issue, okay fine, “we have done some federal projects in consonant with the developmental projects of the country, pay us so that we can now pay salaries,” these are laudable step that ought to be taken, if he cannot agree with the governors and say we are bailing you out, then pay them what the federal government owes them. These are issues being raised and must be looked into critically. The responsibility of the government is to see to the wellbeing of every Nigerian citizen. He will not perform very well if one part of the country is in disarray. He was not elected for only the federal parastatals alone, he was elected to represent the interest of every Nigerian citizen. The first bail out to the governors at the state level must not be swept under the carpet. It is a plight that he must look into critically.
You are also aware that local councils have been on strike for quite a while now?
The issue of council being on strike is another issue that one needs to be careful about. Over the years, the councils have been ran as if they are the governor’s company and not until the constitution is amended to reflect the autonomy of the local government, the councils will never be seen to be performing. If the physical and the structural are not going together, there will be nonperformance in the local government. The National Assembly on its part should look into the constitution in order to separate the local government account from the state account. These two must be separated. It must be separated and that is the only way I think the local government can function properly because it becomes a chain from the federal to state and from the state. In between the state and the local government, a lot of things would have happened. You know some governors are kicking against the autonomy of local government. Before the issue of some governors, we need to have competent Legislators – Legislators that know what they are doing. The recent happenings in the National Assembly shows that we are not matured and they don’t know what they are doing. Those elected are not matured enough to represent the interest of their people. For one to be called a Legislator, it means that he/she must have an impeccable character and must display such characters to the people. If these set of legislators are fighting, what caliber of law will you expect at the end of the day? That shows how naïve they are and how unconscious they are by displaying the level of indiscipline they have. It is what you have that you give out; it is a track principle of life. What they have is what they are giving back to us. Assessing them based on that is disappointing and the same time challenging to the entire country. The electoral system needs to be reformed critically to bring in those who actually have the interest of the people. The National Assembly should be made to be on part time for seasoned persons who are not there to acquire wealth and who mean well for the country should be elected in such position. That is the only way we can get the true value that will galvanise the country to the Eldorado of change that we envisage.
What is your assessment of the administration of former Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan?
In the first instance, former Governor Uduaghan came up with a three point agenda of human capital development, infrastructural development and peace &security. And later in his collaboration of human capital development, he introduced Delta Beyond Oil and what have you. These were good projects. It was like a mirage because when you want to tell the tales of the tortoise, you hold it at the head. In the infrastructural development we have today, look at Warri/Sapele road which has been bastardized. The Effurun Flyover Bridge was done in a hurry; the Asaba-Ughelli Dualization was never completed, it has been abandoned. Up till now, Asaba is not painting a picture of a State Capital. All the roads in the town are broken and so many ones we cannot actually count. I will not access his administration to be a performing government; meanwhile other people can see it from different perspective and described it as the best government. I read one of these papers that Delta State Is Indebted To About N638.01 Billion which means if the state has an average allocation of N15 Billion every month, throughout this dispensation, we would not be able to pay this debt so what are we talking about. What is the money meant for? You can see for yourself, where do all these allocations got? The fact speaks for itself. Go into the streets, there are no link roads. All the roads are in terrible situation. How many major projects? Is it the Asaba Airport project? You see we must come to a conclusion that the administration was marred by recklessness and misplacement of priorities. He had no master plan as he was coming in as a Governor in 2007. If I intend becoming a governor, the first thing that comes to my mind, what am I going to do as a governor? With that agenda on my mind, you will be focused, power is not just let me get the power, let me get the resources. You could recount the experience of Godswill Akpabio when I watched some video clips, I also visited the state and saw what was done by the former Akwa-Ibom State Governor, he had a vision and that made him to succeed. Many of our people who intend be coming this or that don’t have the plan to achieve and that is why they fail.
Please be specific, are you trying to say that former Governor Uduaghan was a monumental failure?
No,you see this word monumental failure is highly relative compared to what is on ground. To me, he has performed, to some others, he has not performed. You can see the relativity of the word monumental failure. In my own assessment in every cloud there is a silver lining. He may have not performed very well but we won’t say he is a monumental failure, if you say he is a total failure means the man practically did nothing. He did not perform much as Deltans expected of him.
He allegedly left a huge debt behind, hanging on our neck, are you calling for the probe of former Governor Uduaghan?
You see probing is another issue entirely. Probing context has never yielded a positive result so the best thing I would advise the current man is to collaborate with economic team, people that meant well to see how this debt will be paid and alongside, develop the state. There are two ways to it; one, I was discussing with a friend and he said they are so many ways to streamline expenditure of government. There is a concept of direct budgeting and financing. A lot of people have never eluded their mind to it. The concept of budgeting is to bring out the total numbers of projects intended for the year with regards to the sharing of these projects to all the constituencies that are involved. Thereafter look at it critically; what is our expectation at the end of the year, what is our budget? How much money are we actually expecting to realize these projects? It baffles me after two to three months; we are talking about supplementary budget. A good government work to meet a particular task. For example in Delta North we have twenty-one roads to be constructed in area of priority; in Delta South, twenty one roads to be constructed and Delta Central, twenty one roads to be constructed. You work according to the budget and when there is surplus, you can now divert the fund to other areas begging for development. Be sure within that budgeting year, if these projects are completed you don’t need to come back in order to review these projects or review the contracts. That is not the best practices in the international world. Resources must be allocated authoritatively to achieve its specific results. Where resources are not authoritatively allocated, you are getting it all wrong. Today, Delta Beyond Oil has come to stay. For example in my office we got a bill of tax of N1 Million annually. If we want to say, the ones we have been paying, can we see anything to show for it? These are the issues, you see one man in the ministry having fleets of cars, estates, and the question you ask is can he/she do it with the salary being earned? So not until we are focus, not until we dis-orient ourselves from sharp corrupt practices, we will not meet the Eldorado of change. Let me tell you, if you interact with people that are growing up, you will find out that in their consciousness of making money; I want to hammer whereas they are not working, so how do you hammer? That is the notion about life. Until that philosophy is eradicated from our minds, we won’t go anywhere; corruption will not depart from us.
What should be done to corrupt politicians? Should they be given capital punishments been suggested by some schools of thought?
The problem we have in Nigeria is the implementation of laws. All over the world the doctrine of execution is not sellable, most often, as student of criminal jurisdiction, USA first introduce the concept of plea bargaining. And to me the concept of plea bargaining is a propaganda concept that tends to blindfold the teeming populace that some bourgeoise can actually face the wrath of the law when you have stolen so much money. Today, you see this man had actually relinquished some of what he stole and this same man goes home with cool cash in his coffer. To me, I will rather suggest if any politician is found wanting, we should access the politicians by putting in place some instruments to checkmate how much he got, or how much allowances is he worth in a period of time. I know I am worth N50 Million in a year and for about two years I have about N200 Million in my coffer, what was my expenditure? We should have machinery/apparatus to measure all this, anything outside this should be confiscated by the state.
What do you want Governor Okowa to do about the deplorable state of Warri/Sapele road?
First thing he should do is to bring the road to its original state with immediate effect. If you recount the number of lives that have been lost in that road,the number of vehicles that have been destroyed. Travelling from Enerhen Junction to Jakpa Junction takes about three to four hours due to the deplorable state of the road. My advice to the Governor is that the road should be returned to its original state.
Some quarters are saying Nigeria had no constitution, a single document that bandits citizens and ways government is run because since 1999 the constitution is still under amendment which makes no progress in running the affairs of the country. What is your view considering you are a legal practitioner?
As I said earlier, we have a single document called constitution from which every law derives from its source/power. It is also a document from which every parastatal derives its power to operate. It is not correct to say Nigeria has no constitution. We have a constitution that defined the modul operandi on how the country is governed. The continuous amendment by the National Assembly is in order because law is dynamic; it ought to change in circumstance. Each day that comes into a man’s life, there are peculiar changes and laws will be made to meet such changes. In the years past, we never had these electronic gadgets and in the course of that there is no law binding to suite that issue. The case of piracy is not instituted in our constitution which is another reason why the constitution needs to be amended. The 1961 Convention of Law of the Sea defined piracy as an act that occurs outside the territorial waters of its sovereign country in section 103 thereabout. For example, from Nigeria 200 Nortical miles away into the sea, if the Army or Navy apprehended a pirate, it is a breach of the law. Of course, there is no law for that charges because it was not defined in the law outside the territorial boundary. Because of this contingency today,Legislators need to sit down; look at the area that the law have not actually covered in the constitution and make new laws to cover them. Some of the laws are obsolete. For example somebody who stole the sum of 2.1 Billion Naira is asked to pay about 750,000 Naira and we call it justice. Whats the need? The law ought to flow with the astringency that is while it is necessary for the legislators to follow the dynamism of the society to make law to govern the people just as the society grows, there are new laws to be made.
Finally,what advise do you have for the governments at the Federal and State as well as local government levels?
My advice to the governments is to do their duties diligently, to focus on developing the state, to focus on developing the country by appointing the right people in the right places. They should respect professionalism and not just listening to political leaders. With that I think we will get close to what we are talking about. Although the laws are not perfect but gradually we can work on that perfection.