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Let’s stop creating states for ethnic lords – Adetunmbi

•Photo: Adetunmbi

Senator Olubunmi Adetunmbi, who represents Ekiti North in the Senate, is the Vice Chairman of the Senate Committee on Interior. In this interview with Snr. Correspondent, Sola Shittu, in Abuja, Adetunmbi faults creation of more states on the basis of ethnicity. He also speaks on the new merger of opposition parties, saying Nigerians should give it a chance. Excerpts: One of the worries in the polity today is that there is no virile opposition, particularly in the parliament. What is really happening? I will want to say that there are misconceptions about the question of opposition or the party in government in a presidential democracy of this nature. Unfortunately we are not running a parliamentary democracy where you have a formal opposition desk that has its own shadow cabinet so that when the Minister of Labour comes, there is a shadow cabinet of Labour that talks from both sides of the ideological divides. That is not the kind of constitution we run. Yes, the Senate is a whole one family; we are not supposed to be boxing each other. But it does not stop people who disagree on issues from raising them. I can attest to the fact that when I have strong views to express and I have the benefits to express them, I don’t shy away from doing so. The nature of our party is such that it has a defined manifesto, a defined programme, and a defined ideology – that informs the choices we make on the floor. Don’t forget that whether you are opposition or not, you cannot speak unless you are called; it is not a market square where you can just shout, like they do in the House of Commons. The culture of a parliamentary democracy is different from the presidential system. So, things are done by rules and the rules say you will indicate and you are called and when you are called, you express yourself. If you watch the House of Commons, you don’t wait till when you are called to shout and boo people and actually behave like an opposition. If you do that here, you are not working in the spirit of the tradition of the chamber. I am here disagreeing with state creation; the PDP senator just said he doesn’t believe that the economy should be the basis of state creation. I violently disagreed that I will not support the creation of state on the basis of ethnicity and on the basis of minority rule. We have had enough of that; let us shift our paradigm from creating states for ethnic lords and minority kingpins and make states effective organ of service delivery for government. How else would I oppose? Is it by boxing? The answer is no. There have been some attempts at merger in the past by some political parties. Do you think that the latest efforts by the ACN, CPC and ANPP will work? First and foremost, failure is not a destination, but just a pass through. So, if a merger had been attempted in the past and it didn’t work, it is not enough reason it should not be explored again, until it is gotten right. I was at a book launch recently, and all the leaders of the political parties there said that the fragmentation of opposition parties in Nigeria is not healthy for our democracy because it is not providing a strong alternative to a behemoth like the PDP. The parties realised that in their small bits and pieces, with different jurisdictions and different scales of influences, they are not strong enough to take on the PDP. The only wise thing to do is to come together and let there be a meeting of minds and that is what is going on. I can tell you that the reason why this debate is going on now is because what ACN and CPC are doing is making some people having sleepless nights and it will continue to be until that merger is consummated and what Nigerians thought is undoable will be done in 2015. Mark my words, it will happen. What is your view on the opinion that economic viability should not be the yardstick for creating more states? I am one of the people that believe that the future development of our country lies squarely in the proper functioning of states and the best the Federal government can do is to be the promoter and facilitator of good governance and service delivery. But the actual theatre of development is in the local government and the state. This is because this is where the population of Nigerians resides; this is where service delivery is demanded and this is the point of interface between the people and the government. So, in every practical sense that is exactly where you know whether government is functioning or not. Therefore, the nature of those states – the way they are created and the way they function-should be of importance because of the reasons I have just enumerated. My views here are well known; I am not a believer in the proliferation of states that are not viable in the art of service delivery to the people. Therefore, economic viability and the sustainability of states as unit of governance responsible for service delivery should, in my view, be the basis for bringing more states to existence. What we have in Nigeria is probably an over-politicisation of state creation to the exclusion of states as agent of governance and agents of service delivery to the people. That is why I don’t agree with those who are clamouring for states because the same argument that brought state creation from what we used to have in the days of regions to 12 states, to 19 states and to what we have now has always been, ‘let us bring governance closer to the people.’ But you and I know that the quality of life in Nigeria in the days of regional administration, which gave lot of autonomy to the regions to be self-determining, was much better than what we have now. You all know that the state of poverty in Nigeria is worsening despite greater number of states than it was when we had fewer states. I think the number of states that we have is responsible for the growing cost of governance because you are basically replicating what existed in the old Northern Region when Sir Ahmadu Bello was managing the entire region from Kwara to Katsina. On corruption and rent economy – would there be a safe place in the country in the near future? On the question of social uprising as a result of growing poverty, I think it is almost predictable. There was a motion I raised about the inequality that is taking place in the country. Nigerian economy has been growing in the last five years at an average rate of about six to seven per cent. The problem of this economy is not the absence of growth; it is a situation of growth that is not inclusive, that does not create jobs and does not improve livelihood for the people. It only means that our economy is growing where people are not active; like agriculture, like manufacturing, like food processing. The absorptive capacity of the oil sector for employment is very limited; it will not deliver employment. What will deliver employment is agriculture and small-scale processing. Unfortunately, this is an area where our economy is not growing? Why? Because of infrastructure deficits; we don’t have roads, we don’t have energy. Until we fix infrastructure deficit that is able to allow the economy to grow in the direction where majority of the people would be having economic activities, we are not going to have jobs. The reason why there is pressure on our urban areas like Lagos, Abuja, Kano and Port Harcourt is because the provinces are not livable. I came to Abuja about 10 years ago from Lagos but the situation in Abuja now is almost approximating what Lagos was. This is because everybody is coming to the honey pot and there are no centres of economic prosperity outside the major cities and that is the problem that we are faced with. Why do we have infrastructure deficit? The structure of our fiscal policies, in terms of appropriation between the recurrent and capital, does not suggest that Nigeria is a developing country. It suggests a country that is maintaining a bureaucracy that is serving all-ready developed infrastructure and economic conditions. The windfall that we are getting from oil, which is a non-renewable resource, is not been put to productive use to develop agriculture; to stimulate manufacturing and small-scale businesses. The bulk of the money is been used to service a bureaucracy and that is why I am disagreeing with those clamouring for state creation because we are going to have a new set of states whose budget line is going to be heavy on the side of recurrent which is where the bane of this economy is. What is your reaction to the adoption of Governor Kayode Fayemi by some ACN leaders for the 2014 election in Ekiti State, vis-à-vis his performance and the criticism of the adoption by Mr. Opeyemi Bamidele who is said to be eyeing the same seat? First and foremost, let us accept that we are running a popular democracy where one of the freedom guaranteed is the right of expression and choice and aspirations. To that extent, I think anybody is free to aspire under the Nigerian Constitution and the constitution of our party. By the same token, it is the right of the other people with different persuasions to say this is the person we want. So, what I see here is an exercise of rights which is not a breach of any law. At the end of the day, the people will make their choice, both within the party and in the general election. I really don’t see any serious disagreement here and there are no breaches of any type. The first leg of the question is the performance of Governor Kayode Fayemi. For those of you who are here; I don’t how many of you have been to Ekiti before his coming to office and now and for you to be able to say, ‘is there any difference?’ The people of Ekiti are saying they are noticing quite a lot of difference in terms of service delivery. You need to visit Ado-Ekiti and tell me what you see. What we are celebrating in Dr. Kayode Fayemi is not politics for its own sake; it is a continuity that is evidence-based and performance-driven and it is easily measurable. It is a product that has advertised itself by virtue of attributes and not because of propaganda. Some people say he is completing Segun Oni’s projects; should he have abandoned them and flush the commonwealth of Ekiti down the drain in the name of partisanship? Is that the kind of governors we are looking for? We are looking for governors that recognize issues and the interests of the people; a governor that is able to lay aside partisan divides and work in the interest of the people. You said states are going to the market to take loans because they don’t have enough. Then you cited Lagos as a state that is doing well because it can generate its own revenue without depending on the Federal Government. Is this not contradictory because Lagos has the highest debt profile? It has the highest debt profile and the highest capacity to pay. It has the highest revenue profile; it has the highest potential for internally generated revenue. The argument is not about not borrowing at all, but borrowing to fit your capacity. Just like businesses take debt to match equity, the same way nations take debt to manage internal resources to push development. So the question about states or not borrowing at all is not the issue per se; but about it becoming the only and dominant source for development funding. When substantial part of what they receive from federal resource is spent on overheads and bureaucracy that is not delivering services. In Lagos State, the IGR per civil servant is over a quarter of a million; in some states, it is less than N3, 000 and those states are compelled to pay N18, 000 minimum wage. The cost structure of Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt and Kano is different from that of Jigawa and Ekiti. The consumer price index in all of all these places are different and that brings me to the issue that it is not fair for the Federal Government to be legislating for labour and wages uniformly across jurisdiction of totally disparate and extreme economic conditions. It is not done in any federation except Nigeria, where labour law is done unitarily in federalism. What’s your view on local government autonomy? On Local Government autonomy, the truth of the matter is that it is the state that makes up the local government. The state is the geographical entity in which the local government is the sub component. Now, when you take local government out of that political structure and you give them a by pass to the federal government by eroding the powers of state government over their jurisdiction. What we want to solve is making sure the resources go to the local government direct. We should concentrate only on how to do that.