There is urgent need for devolution of power in Nigeria – Ebigwei

President Emeritus, Aka-Ikenga, Igbo intellectual Think-tank, Dr Sylvan Ebigwei, in this exclusive chat with The Niche speaks on critical national issues, including the fight against corruption, political cross-carpeting, state of the economy, and the security challenge among others.

Excerpt       

What do you make of the crisscrossing from one party to another by the Nigeria politicians?

I see it as a very shameful thing to do. It portrays that many of our politicians are still primitive minded. Primitive in the sense that you equate a primitive man with one of the major attributes to self…which is me and I alone, no other person. A primitive man wants it all alone and that is why we say that many animals are primitive because in the animal kingdom, it is the survival of the fittest. Any politician who leaves his own political party after being duly elected on a party platform and crosses to another party either because his party is in opposition has no value. His own value borders on self-preservation, self-aggrandizement, and personal interest, all joined together. One may ask: Why is the politician crossing?  The politician is crossing because of the fear of losing his position either as an opposition member of the party that is not in government, therefore the pecks of office are not getting to him/her, so they prefer to join those that have the yam and the knife. To me they have no scruples, no shame, no values, no interest for the common man except personal interest. For me, such action is condemnable.

You said in some of your interviews that unless the pecks of office of public servants like the politicians are reduced that the country’s problem would continue. Throw more light on it?

The emoluments, take-home pay for an average Nigerian politician is so attractive and because of that huge attraction many politicians are ready to kill, maim, cheat, lie and commit any atrocity to be there.

  They will lose their sense of value if they feel that they are losing. So, all they need to do is to cross to the winning group where they feel they will continue with political relevance in terms of getting their financial largesse.

  There is no country in the world where the legislative duties or legislators take home what the Nigerian legislators are taking for doing nothing.

The politicians themselves know that they are doing nothing, they know that they are on part-time. They are not working throughout the year like other civil or public servants, many of them do not attend up to even 70 times in a year but look at their take home pay? To me, it’s nothing but fraud.               

  And because of this very attractive high pay, nobody wants to lose such money. Therefore they want to maintain themselves at all costs and some will prefer to die in the office than contemplate losing election. If they sense that they are losing in any party the next thing is to cross to another party where they will continue to maintain their stand and status quo in the office. Unless this country does something, I mean if this country wants to move forward, if Nigeria wants to produce good politicians, the right type of politicians, those with the love of the country at heart then we have to drastically do something about the emoluments and incentives given to the politicians. It is often stated in this country that the two easiest ways to become rich in Nigeria is no more working with the banks, being a medical doctor, engineer, or lawyer but to become a politician or a pastor. This is not good for our nation, especially in politics. I have said it at different fora that political officeholders, particularly, the legislators should be on part time duty and because it is part-time, they should be given allowances. If they are on allowances nobody will want to die to be there except those who have the love of this nation at heart. if they are on allowances, all these cheatings, killings, snatching of ballot boxes, the entire do-or-die politics will come to an end because nobody will leave his duty post if gainfully employed to start looking for crumbs in terms of allowances as a political office holder. So, it is this money, I mean this cut-throat payment that is causing division, making politicians to lose their sense of reason. It is why till date, we are yet to become a nation because the interest of the people does not matter rather individual acquisitive interest first. We are not a nation but a mere geographical entity and the way we are going we seem to be missing it. At my age, I want to see a nation and not just a country called Nigeria. If we continue the way we are going, I am afraid. I have put in more than 49 years as a Doctor and still scratching but if I am a politician now, I can afford to pay more than 1000 doctors from my own take-home pay every year.

More than a thousand doctors can be paid from a politician’s salary in this country and you think such is normal?

When you reflect back, what positive changes have you noticed since 2015?

I must confess that when the present administration under President Buhari came on board, most people were happy because of his stance on corruption but as you know, when you fight corruption, corruption will fight back. At the beginning there seemed to be a change but at the moment I think this government is being subsumed by the spate of corruption they are fighting. So, I can say that in terms of corruption index there is no change because people are still stealing as usual and it is reflecting on the society because the society is becoming poorer and poorer, while the rich are getting richer and richer. Those who are supposed to be punished or prosecuted for having ruined this country are left free, as they are moving about freely enjoying their loot. What we have now is that those that are supposed to be in jail are now running to the ruling party, APC, and once they are there, their sins are forgiven. It appears the APC is now a safe haven for these looters. It is common knowledge that corruption is no more being fought. We were happy initially that these corrupt people were going to be taken care of but not now any longer. Many Nigerians no longer believe that this administration has the capacity to fight corruption. It appears corruption battle has been won by the corrupt people. So, we are back to square one, even worse than it was. But I think the present government can still do something, do self-cleansing and save their image. Those politicians that formed the bulk of those in EFCC list for investigation have all ran to the APC and they are welcomed and their sins exonerated. It appears that those that have remained in the PDP are those that felt that they did not steal. The bad ones are now running to APC. Those people that we felt polluted the nation now forms the bulk of the APC. In all, we have not gained any ground in terms of corruption crusade. There is no motion whatsoever that shows that government is on right track.

What of the progress made on the economy?

Is it reflecting on the people?  When it comes to the economy the economic index is simply what your money can buy. If you are receiving N1000, you ask yourself what can N1000 buy during the past administration and what it can buy now. It is a simple way to measure if there is any change in the economy. The economy may be booming for some few people but not for the larger population. Everything has spiraled upwards in terms of cost and salary has been static. It is the common people that suffer. Government is trying in a way, but they have to get the right people into cabinet to re-direct the economy.

What is your take on security?

 In terms of security, again you ask yourself: are we more secured now than before this government came into power? The Boko Haram that we were told has been degraded is now something else, the upsurge in their activities is very worrisome. You then ask yourself: who is fooling who? We have not been having this problem of Fulani herdsmen getting escalated as we have it today, at the moment, they have become another source of intense worry for the nation. Not much is being done about it and we have not seen any one prosecuted. Some of us are of the opinion that vigilante groups should be encouraged in all the communities of this country as well as regional or state police. The military should do more to contend the activities of Boko Haram. A lot of blood is being spilled today and this is not good for the nation. Security outfit should not be exclusive reserve of one region, the heads of various security outfits should have a national spread because that national spread will help to bring ideas and techniques through which most of these crimes are busted and even stopped before the deal is initiated.   

You said Nigeria needs restructuring ?

Yes. There is no more time to waste on the issue. I can tell you that most Nigerians will have sympathy for those with sincere drive for restructuring in the manifestoes. We need devolution of power.

  For me restructuring is in phases. They are in three phases: fiscal federalism, geographical restructuring and devolution of power will bring enormous credit to the federating units. This is because they will start to evolve on their own with their own resources. There is the saying that necessity is the mother of invention. If you don’t have resources you will start looking for money through taxation, through putting fiscal policies that will generate income for your zone. Such income cannot be wasted by one person because government is now nearer to the people and the people will start asking questions on how their money is being used. If you cannot explain how you use their money, they take you out of power when elections come.  There will be healthy competition among the federating units. Recall what Pa. Obafemi Awolowo and Sir. Michael Okpara did in their regions. There was development, healthy competition among the regions.           

  In terms of manpower development and capacity building it will increase because there will be no favoritism as we have it today. So, you will look out for the best hands to drive your economy, politics, technology, tourism etc. what we are having now is, just put anybody in power, put anybody in any position and we can’t move the country forward that way.   

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