Being Text of the Lecture Delivered by the Governor of Bayelsa State, the Honourable Henry Seriake Dickson on “Restructuring and the Search for a Productive Nigeria” at the Obafemi Awolowo Univuersity, Ile Ife, on July 12, 2018.
…President BUHARI’S DISMISSAL OF RESTRUCTURING A THREAT TO NIGERIA
… NIGERIA ONLY FEDERAL IN NAME
…SAYS RULE ON 13 PERCENT DERIVATION NOT IMPLEMENTED
I want to begin by thanking the Vice Chancellor for a very warm and kind reception given to me and members of my delegation. I want to thank the Dean and members of his faculty for extending this invitation to me. This is a rare honour and privilege that I will cherish forever.
My great and wonderful students of the Obafemi Awolowo University, I greet you all. I want to thank you for your patience. I am aware that you have been here for a very long time and I appreciate you all for coming and I thank you all for your understanding; I don’t take that for granted. And that is why I’m not going to read any long lecture as it were as I would have probably loved to do.
I will summarise my thoughts and perspectives on this great burning issue of our country that is going on now – perspectives that are not entirely new but which, I will like to restate for emphasis and also to provoke our thoughts and think of what we should do by way of contributing ideas as to how we can recreate a stable, prosperous and safe country.
I never had the opportunity of attending this great university as I would have loved to do when I was much younger and so I congratulate you all and appreciate the dreams of the founding fathers of the university. I appreciate the work of generations of school administrators who have by their sweat turned this university to be one of the foremost citadels of learning, not only in our country but in our continent and around the world. As a result of this visit and interaction, I believe that at the end of today, I should qualify somewhat and refer to myself as an alumnus of this great institution.
The subject matter of restructuring is no other than a call to re-examine the founding principles of our nation. It is a call to go back to the founding principles agreed upon by the founding fathers of our nation. You are all aware of the history of our country, and this being a Faculty of Arts, I assume you all know some of the basic facts about our nation.
First, this country started off as a body of separate and different kingdoms, clans, and city-states some of which were perpetually at war and for centuries, co-existed until the British and Portuguese came at different times. The colonial powers saw it fit for their own benefit, initially to bring these people of different kingdoms together. They did that by employing different means, most of the times, by conquests and sometimes, by subtle persuasion. So with the aid of the guns, maxims and the gospel, they traversed the nooks and crannies of what has become modern Nigeria. And kingdoms after kingdoms, started falling to the superior fire power and organizational competence of the foreign invaders and settlers.
This country was essentially, an economic enterprise. You will be surprised to note that at anytime, even when we transited from being a colony, Protectorate and then the United Nigeria in 1914, a number of you may not know that each time the Governor General of Nigeria travels, the head or chairman of UAC, the British Trading Conglomerate, acted as Governor General of Nigeria. And that will let you know the convergence between trade and commerce and colonial exploits that eventually laid the foundation of present day Nigeria.
You may have heard of one our revered nationalists and founding fathers whose name is immortalized in this university, Chief Obafemi Awolowo of blessed memory. In his book, Path to Nigeria’s Freedom which was published in 1947, he referred to our country as a geographical expression. He was not wrong. Every nation on the face of the earth is a geographical expression. And let me say this, the reason why Chief Awolowo was right all the time about Nigeria is that Nigeria is a work in progress. Our founding fathers never assumed the unity of this country but negotiated and discussed the terms of our union.
You may have also heard the statement credited to another founding father, the Prince of the Caliphate, Sir Ahmadu Bello, when he addressed his contemporaries, in their several meetings both in Nigeria and outside. He said the idea of Nigeria is good, we have all agreed on that, but let us start by noting and understanding our differences. That was the mind set with which, our founding fathers approached the issue of founding a new Nigeria as conceived not by them but by the British. And so began a series of constitutional conferences.
You will read in the textbooks about the various constitutional conferences in Nigeria and also in the colonial offices. But in addition to that, there were several other informal contacts and engagements to craft the foundation upon which, this new Nigeria was going to be built. And that was when the issue of federalism came in and our departed leader, Chief And basement Awolowo, was clearly a foremost Federalist at the time. In 1954, they all arrived at a consensus that the idea of Nigeria is reasonable but emphasized the need for understanding and recognizing our differences while being in a big entity with all the advantages that come with it. They devised a federal system of government and that was what they worked on.
This great institution is a standing timeless memorial to the potentials of a properly structured federal system. The three leading institutions that were built, which up till today, are foremost in our country, the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ahmadu Bello University and later the University of Niger, Nsukka were all regional efforts. And all the wonderful exploits that our leaders did in their various regions are attributable to proper management of regional resources as a result of the unleashed potentials of a Federal Nigeria.
You will realize that along the line, things went wrong in several ways when in 1966, the Military came in and discarded the federal structure, which was a fundamental founding principle of our nation. And they made decrees after decrees. Gen. Aguiyi Ironsi who led the military intervention announced a unification decree. Even those who did counter coups and pushed aside that government in a bloody counter coup, didn’t discard the unification principle that they themselves didn’t accept. And, of course, you all know how we went into a needless conflict thereafter.
The efforts at Aburi conference was not just not an attempt to avert a war but it was also another constitutional conference on its own because then at that time, Colonel Odumegwu Ojukwu, leader of the Eastern region and later Biafra, tabled the issue not of federalism but of Confederation and there disagreements and they went into a needless conflict that turned brothers against brothers, all because of the violation of the federal principle.
And military government after military government kept churning out decrees not accepted by our people, a number of the decrees not even known by our people except a few lawyers. They wrote constitutions after constitutions consolidating their centralized ideas about governance which were actually a reflection of military command and control. And all these went on up till 1978 or 1979, when the military handed us a constitution that was in every sense a decree. The military leadership at the time favoured a system of government that we have not experimented before. They threw away our parliamentary system that produced all of these developments. They brought again another centralized îdea as to how our country should be run, that is presidentialism. And that is where we are today.
Military government after military government came with decrees splitting our country into regions. We started with three regions. The only exercise that civilians midwifed in terms of reorganizing our country was the 1963 effort to establish the fourth region, the Midwestern region. All others were products of military dictatorship. And so from 12 states to 19 and then to 36 states yet all of these have still not addressed the federal question. And why federalism in a country as diverse as Nigeria? I have said that in this country, we are essentially, a collection of different tribes and kingdoms and clans that existed for centuries before the arrival of the Portuguese and British. And that was why Sardauna kept warning that we cannot gloss over our differences be they cultural, religious and social because these are what make us a people. If you remove the Yorubaness from a Yoruba man, he cannot be a good Nigerian. What we need to strive for is how we can be good Nigerians while being who we and that was what our founding fathers built on.
But the military people who came with different ideas introduced a system we are not used to. In addition to being in control, running a centralized chain of command and transporting that to governance, and making that a model in terms of the structure of our country, what they did was to ignore our basic and essential differences. Let me make it clear, that these differences are not inimical to the Nigerian idea. If you go to China, the most populous nation in the world, the largest tribe is the Han but they evolved a system of inclusivity and productivity and are progressively building on an idea of a Chinese nation. And so it is left for the people and leadership to craft a system that best suits them. When the Sardauna talked about understanding our differences, he didn’t discount the idea of a united strong and indissoluble Nigerian nation.
Every nation is an artificial creation. Look at the United States, a nation of immigrants which everybody called home until the era of Donald Trump when there is a definition as to who an American citizen is. But that’s a healthy conversation that is going on there. Before the British came, we hardly ever had monolithic tribes. There was nothing like a united Yoruba nation in the south west. It was a combination of different tribes and kingdoms, some understanding and sharing the same languages and dialects but also retaining some measure of autonomy and maintaining a federal idea in them.
My great grand mother was a Princess from Ijebu so I am a Yoruba man. She was a daughter of the Awujale at the time from the prominent Fidipote ruling House, making me a proud Yoruba man and Ijaw man and a proud Nigerian.
This also applies to the South East; there is no united Igbo nation. In my own area, the Niger Delta, we are made up of several littoral city states that have always been independent. And in the North, several tribes, chiefdoms in the Middle belt; there are kingdoms which were predominantly Hausa states ruled by Hausa Kings and Princes until another cataclysmic event – the Jihad of 1804 came to change the history of that part of the country.
What I am saying, essentially, is that our leaders were right when they agreed on federalism as the ideal system of government for our country.
A system that allowed them autonomy to organize themselves in view of our differences, which are legitimate and which should never be discountenanced. The system allowed them to propound and build a Nigerian dream, which remains desirable today. And every nation is like that. It is the same thing in Ghana. But I think one of the tragedies that have befallen us is that we have not been able to do what the Chinese and Americans have done; sinking these disparate identities to build a greater national identity.
It was very convenient for the military to throw away the federal foundation, with the discovery of crude oil in 1956 in Oloibiri, in my state of Bayelsa. That made it convenient as they saw resources there as money that could be used to develop everybody else and most times to the detriment of the people that produced it.
We moved from a Nigeria as conceived initially as a colonial British commercial enterprise, with the discovery of oil, to a military imposed federal system where the resources of some part of the country are seen as those of the whole country. The only difference was that legislations that bore the name of the Queen were replaced with an entity known as the Federal Republic of Nigeria. And what a contradiction as our name still remains the Federal Republic of Nigeria. We are not federal except in name.
And this is why there is so much rivalry and crisis at the federal level. I am aware that several people disagree about ideas and notions about what a restructured Nigeria should mean. There is nothing wrong with that because this is a healthy debate that we should have in this country. The only difference is that whereas the founding fathers who crafted the foundation of this country had the patience and skill to listen to one another to agree and disagree, that opportunity has been lost now.
And now people sit in their comfort zones and call others names, (stereotypes) and then without even interrogating the substance of what people are talking about, they dismiss it. They indulge in prevalent tendencies in the heydays of communism and the crisis of the world order, pointing accusing fingers at opponents and questioning their patriotism and commitment.
Recently, when everybody in this country was talking about the need to restructure our country, our President, Gen. Muhammadu Buhari made a statement that is not only wrong, but it is also faulty, a statement that cannot stand the test of time, a statement that is a threat to the continued stability and prosperity and development of our country, when he dismissed outrightly the notion of restructuring.
And he didn’t stop there, he went ahead to say that those who are in support of restructuring are doing so for a parochial agenda. Mr. President, you are wrong. In fact, the reverse is the case. The majority of Nigerians from the North, South, East, West and Middle Belt, who are making a case for restructuring are indeed the patriots of Nigeria.
We don’t want a Nigeria, which you think from your comfort zone, has conferred unfair advantages on people and you think that the best thing to do is to maintain those unfair advantages. We want a Nigeria that works with equal citizenship. We want a Nigeria for the many as well as for the few; a Nigeria that can protect its people, a Nigeria that we will be proud to call home any day with an equal stake, a Nigeria that we can proudly pledge allegiance to. No one is talking about the corporate existence of Nigeria. Let me make it clear again that the call for restructuring is not about dismemberment of our nation.
All of us want a big strong Nigeria but we must re-examine the foundations of that Nigeria. From the ashes of the old, create a new Nigeria for the future. In the next couple of years this country will be one of the most populous nations in the world and if we want a Nigeria that the black man can be proud of, a Nigeria that will be able to achieve and project its potentials, we should restructure.
I think we want a Nigeria that the black man can be proud of; a Nigeria that will be able to achieve and project its potentials and not a country with potentials that cannot be achieved. If we don’t want a Nigeria of perpetual division, rancour and agitation, then the way to go is restructuring. And I have always asked that Mr. President should lead this important national initiative. In the last couple of months, I have interacted with a lot of leaders, Nigerians from all walks of life, even across political divides. I believe we should engage and explain what we mean to one another. We don’t all have to agree. Whether we agree or disagree, let us engage and in so doing, break down the barriers of miscommunication and distrust.
And I can report to Nigerians that the outcome of my interaction across the length and breadth of our nation shows that Nigerians are overwhelmingly in support of restructuring. We are for a comprehensive reform of even our constitutional order.
I don’t believe, even though I am a key player in the Presidential system, that is what this country needs. It is too expensive, wasteful and easily lends itself to abuses and there are not enough checks and above all else, it is unproductive. We cannot have a productive Nigeria the way it is structured. A Nigeria where the Exclusive List is longer than the Concurrent, an Nigeria where the Federal Government is a Jack of all trades but a master of none; a Nigeria where the Federal Government maintains à ministry that deals with petty things like building toilets in communities. And by so doing dissipates itself in areas that it has no competence, no local knowledge to deliver productivity to the extent that it has abandoned its core areas of responsibility.
And these core areas of responsibility are defense and national security. Is there anyone in this hall that has no doubt as to whether the Federal Government has stood up to its primary responsibility of protecting Nigerians? So that is a failure of responsibility. Yes, security is the duty of all but then the constitutional structures and legal systems we have put in place in this country cannot deliver a safe and stable Nigeria. And that’s why we are dealing with it as a sub theme in this issue of restructuring, we talk about issues like devolution of powers and state police.
I am not here making a case for state police but there is need for us to devolve policing powers and duties closer to the people. What we need to do is to interact. We are not a nation of crooks as some people have made us to be. We have enough people of goodwill and should craft how this devolution of police powers should be. Take for example, the issue of our judicial system.
Why should a land dispute or chieftaincy matters in my community, Toru Orua, get to the Supreme Court of the Federal Republic of Nigeria? That is a recipe for unproductivity and disaster. And that is why your systems are clogged up. So as an essential element of the restructuring debate, we must look at how we should deliver justice in our courts.
I am a Lawyer of over 25 years. I have been an Attorney General, I went to the House of Representatives, chaired the Justice Committee for quite sometime, so I know a thing or two when it comes to access to justice. The systems we have cannot deliver justice. That’s why instead of the judiciary getting stronger, you see babalawos (fortune tellers) getting stronger because the human spirit is always yearning for justice. And now there is a frightening dimension, there is a higher number of assassinations. There are so many distortions; our systems have failed. This nation must move ahead, we must rise up and claim our destined glory and we can only do so when Nigeria is properly restructured.
Every state in this country has enough mineral resources and enough talents to build on. Nations are not wealthy because they have oil and gas. The most important resource is the human resource and that’s why you have nations doing so well and they don’t have oil and gas. For those who think in their comfort zones that this country will continue to live fat on the resources of the Niger Delta, I have bad news for you that very soon, the oil and gas that have built your cities, created billionaires overnight without being productive, that resource will dry up very soon.
In this country, people don’t pay tax. The only people who manage to pay tax are civil servants and those in the formal system. Countries run on taxes. That’s why you can’t have a legitimate economy. It’s black market economy everywhere. Fuel subsidy creating emergency billionaires overnight, monies that are not accounted for and a distortion of the system. That’s why we all need a restructured nation.
In the Niger Delta, the environment is gone. The environment is the collective heritage of all mankind. There is nothing like Bayelsa or Lagos environment. You may think it doesn’t get to you but the signs of global warming are no respecter of persons. We have provoked the environment, regulations and judicial systems are not working and yet, these are all federal responsibilities.
Standards are not obeyed; producing companies comply with standards in their countries but when they come to Nigeria, the country is a dumping ground. Its a country of everything goes. Shakespeare said, “Hell hath no fury comparable to a woman scorned.” Were Shakespeare to be alive, he probably would have said, Hell hath no fury than the environment provoked.
In my place, our traditional livelihood is fishing. There are no more fishes to be caught. This is a nation that has abandoned its oil producing states for close to 60 years. Up till now as I speak, there is no road to Brass. We are battling to get that road done. The cost of that road because of the terrain is close to N200 billion. And yet I don’t control the resources that come from there. As we speak, they are taking oil from there. There is no road to Forcados and Ogulagha which are all oil terminals and yet that’s where the nation’s weaplth is coming from. A number of you don’t understand the challenges of development and the root causes of social instability. Since I became governor, we have been confronting challenges and the best way to re-engineer a new society is by investing in education. That was what the great Obafemi Awolowo did.
There was not even a single boarding school in my state when I became governor in 2012. Our ranking in national examination was about 27 and I declared emergency in education. I want to commend my team, the people of Bayelsa for understanding the revolution that I came to introduce. I thank and appreciate Nigerians of goodwill who have encouraged and worked with me – Dr. Ogunbiyi, Chairman of the OAU Governing Council, Prof. Sole Soyinka, one of the great lights of this institution, J.P Clark and every other person who have supported me. Prof. Sole Soyinka serves as one of the Honorary Ambassadors of Education in Bayelsa and as a result of this concerted push, we have been able to build close to 40 boarding secondary schools. We have introduced free compulsory boarding schools with free uniforms and books and feed them three times a day.
I also had to enact the Right to Education Law prescribing punishment for any parent or guardian. I have also introduced the Education Trust Fund by law to make it mandatory for every person who earns a living in Bayelsa to contribute to it. From that fund we are able to finance this revolutionary programme of free education. And all the boarding schools are like tertiary institutions. The Ijaw National Academy is like a university with over 1,500 students. That’s the new Nigeria we are creating.
We have also built one of the most successful health insurance systems in the country. We didn’t have functional health system in all the local government areas but we now have 60 to 80 bed hospitals in our local government areas. We have world class medical facilities. In the last two months, former President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo was in Bayelsa to commission our diagnostic centre and called me two days ago to say he will be in Bayelsa for his medicals.
We are building gigantic infrastructure connecting our people with roads and bridges and an airport that is going to be equipped the longest runway in the southern Nigeria.
Our state has become more safer and stable and ready for development. am giving you snippets of these just to let you know how much I would have done if I had access to the revenues coming from my state. I am limited by whether a Federation Accounts Allocation Committee ,(FAAC ) meeting holds or not. FAAC meeting has not held for the past one week. I have to depend on an entity called, the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation, (NNPC), that is the most opaque institution in the world to dole out handouts to me who is producing the resources of this country, and someone sits down there to work out a percentage and remits it to me, saying its 13%. There is nothing like 13% derivation in Nigeria, its not working.
The 13% derivation principle as stipulated in the constitution is not applied. What we get monthly is what pleases the almighty NNPC and the others in the federal system to dole out to us.
So the way forward for this country is restructuring. We now live in interesting times, when the life of a human being does not have as much worth than that of a cow. In these days in the Niger Delta, we know that oil has always been thicker than our blood. Oil companies and the collaborating Nigeria state do not care whether we live or die; whether our people go to school or not. If you don’t want casualties arising from herdsmen/farmers clashes, and there are some things going on far more than that characterization, but that will be a story for another day. If you want security and stability, which only can be a foundation for development, then you need a restructured Nigeria.
We need a Nigeria where the people at your local government, state levels, and where you do have regional affinity as you do have in the south west, would talk on how we should consider some regional mechanisms.
We need that healthy debate to move our nation and our people forward. Our country has a lot of potentials and we believe that in a united strong Nigeria that we all cherish, this dream of restructuring is what will be the founding principle, just as our founding fathers envisioned it to be. I want to thank you all for being here and may God bless you all.