Nigeria's political elite, mainly from the opposition camp, yesterday used the LEADERSHIP Conference/Awards ceremony held in Abuja to challenge leaders of opposition political parties to put their house in order so as to create an alternative platform for socio-political and economic development in the country.
Those who spoke included former vice president Atiku Abubakar, former Lagos State governor and leader of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, Professor Pat Utomi, and Governor Ibrahim Shettima of Borno State.
Atiku supports restructuring of Nigeria
Atiku threw his weight behind the current clamour for restructuring of Nigeria in a way that would strengthen its federating units. The restructuring, he said, could be along the already practised six geopolitical lines, just as he supported the creation of state police.
Atiku also called for an amendment to the constitution by the National Assembly to provide for a two-party system, in a speech he delivered as the chairman of the LEADERSHIP Conference and Awards ceremony.
He dismissed fears that decentralization of power could threaten unity or lead to disintegration of the country. The former vice president said the merits of restructuring in the light of changing realities of Nigeria should be carefully considered.
According to him, the excessive concentration of power at the centre, which was created by the military, had led Nigeria into producing the most powerful president in the world.
With such excessive powers, he argued, the president could unleash security agencies on individuals or organisations, or turn the National Assembly into a stooge in his hand.
Atiku said he was now in support of restructuring because rapidly changing realities make it inevitable.
Too much concentration of power and resources at the centre undermines the ability of other federating units to deliver social services effectively, he noted.
He stated: "I want to recall that during the 1994-95 constitutional conference, Dr Alex Ekwueme, GCON, the Second Republic vice president of this federation, introduced and canvassed the concept of geopolitical zones. I was among those who opposed it because I thought that Ekwueme, coming from the defunct Republic of Biafra, wanted to break up the country again. Now I realize that I should have supported him because our current federal structure is clearly not working.
"Dr Ekwueme obviously saw what some of us, with our civil war mindset, could not see at the time. There is indeed too much concentration of power and resources at the centre. And it is stifling our march to true greatness as a nation and threatening our unity because of all the abuses, inefficiencies, corruption and reactive tensions that it has been generating.
There is need, therefore, to review the structure of the Nigerian federation, preferably along the basis of the current six geopolitical zones as regions and the states as provinces. The existing state structure may not suffice, as the states are too weak materially and politically to provide what is needed for good governance."
On state police, the Turakin Adamawa said there was nothing wrong with the idea as long as it is not be abused by state or regional governments.
Rather than abolish institutions because of abuses or corruption, he argued, the best approach is to entrench constitutional safeguards to prevent such abuses. He said: "In the same vein, I see nothing wrong with the establishment of state police by the states that want it, as long as it can be insulated from, and is independent of, the state or regional government. The argument that governors will abuse state police is rather specious. Should we abolish the Nigeria Police because it is often abused by those in power at the federal level? Should we abolish the state treasuries because governors abuse them? And should we also abolish local governments for the same reason? No. We should, as a people, struggle for and put in place institutional safeguards against abuse of power by those in power at all levels. We have a chance now to put many of those safeguards in a new constitution.
"And, as is typical with working federations around the world, state flag or anthem should not get us overly excited. Local identities and symbols are not antithetical to and do not preclude national identities. I, for one, am a proud son of Adamawa, a proud northerner and I am a proud citizen of Nigeria. American states all have flags and anthems; yet I do not know of many countries that are more stable and united than the United States of America."
The former vice president also called for an independent and efficient judiciary that could deliver justice faster like what obtains in the United States.
On party structure, Atiku called for an amendment to the constitution by the National Assembly to provide for a two-party system in the country because too many parties bring out ethnic, religious and regional fault lines of the country.
Governors too powerful, dictatorial - TY Danjuma
Former minister of defence and elder statesman Gen. Theophilus Yakubu Danjuma described state governors in the country as sole administrators and also the most powerful political bloc in Nigeria today. Until their influence is whittled down, he said, the country is going nowhere.
Gen. Danjuma made the declaration at the conference themed "Is the opposition a serious alternative in Nigeria?"
While responding to the position of the former vice president and chairman of the occasion, Atiku Abubakar, he said the state governors are the real sole administrators whose powers in the political calculus has become overbearing and burdensome
According to him, the governors are powerful to the point that they decide what happens in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), nominate ministers to the centre and appoint sole administrators as local government chairmen.
He noted that the country will not make any appreciable progress unless the excessive powers of the governors are contained.
"There is nobody including you (Atiku) that can emerge as PDP presidential candidate unless the governors want you. The governors are the most powerful group of people in the political system. Until you phase out that fact and find a solution to it, we are going nowhere," said Danjuma who received the "LEADERSHIP Person of the Year 2011" award on the occasion.
2015: ACN open to partnership to wrestle power from PDP - Tinubu
Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, for his part, called for the scrapping of the Senate arm of the National Assembly, a move the former Senator said would go a long way in reducing the huge cost of government in the country.
The ACN stalwart stated that the leading opposition party was open to partnership talks with other opposition parties in a bid to wrestle power from the ruling PDP via the 2015 general elections.
"We are complaining about the cost of governance but we have never considered the structure of the federation. Why do we need two houses of assembly?" Tinubu asked, adding that the House of Representatives is adequate as a single legislative arm by virtue of its wide membership and closeness to the people.
Tinubu faulted the present structure which prevents the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) from appointing state resident electoral commissioners (RECs). It's a clear conflict of interest, he said, since the executive is presently saddled with the responsibility.
Utomi: Political parties lack ideology
Frontline political economist Patrick Utomi described Nigerian political parties as simply "electoral machines" that lack ideology. He urged parties to canvass and pursue strong institutions that will drive national growth.
Also, the former presidential candidate faulted the current spat between Nigerian state governors on crude oil earnings. States, he said, should look to other areas to drive economic growth.
Utomi, who presented the lead paper at the conference, said the oil rush was misplaced as oil resource would be irrelevant in 30 years due to dwindling reserves.
As a prelude to the 2015 general elections, progressive-minded Nigerians should build a movement that will push for social engineering, he said.
On the country's electoral system, Utomi called on Nigeria's electoral management body, INEC, to increase political participation to a point were votes translate to barometer used to gauge "regime legitimacy".
Poverty working against opposition - Governor Shettima
Borno State governor Alhaji Kashim Shettima has identified poverty as the major challenge hindering the advancement of opposition parties in the country.
In a keynote address at the conference, Governor Kashim described poverty as "the number one threat to any opposition becoming a serious challenger because it replaces ideologies with cash and places price tags".
The governor, who was represented by the secretary to the Borno State government, Amb. Ahmed Baba Jidda, said the situation has made votes become objects for the highest bidders, forcing some otherwise patriotic election umpires to act against their conscience to enthrone leaderships at different levels of government whether at the local, state or federal strata.
The Borno governor further identified lack of internal democracy as another reason why political parties have continued to face challenges in Nigeria: it has only resulted in discontentment amongst members, thereby brewing crisis and failures as signified by loss of members and factionalisation of parties.
Said the governor: "In the build-up to the 2007 and 2011 elections, virtually all the key political parties were guilty of failures on internal democracy. My party, the ANPP, was accused of either imposing or wrongly substituting candidates, the result being a long pre-election and post-election litigation on the governorship tickets of Yobe, Kaduna, Kano, etcetera; the CPC which is about two or three years old was accused of wrongly substituting governorship candidates in Kano, Katsina, Bauchi and Taraba; the ACN was also accused of imposing candidates especially in the southwestern states; and the PDP, as the biggest party, was accused of committing the most crime against internal democracy by allegedly imposing or wrongly substituting governorship candidates in Rivers, Taraba, Bauchi, Anambra and a host of others.
"These crimes were known because they involved governorship seats on which those affected ran to the media; one can therefore imagine those that may have been silenced not by persuasion and political negotiation but by the instrumentality of power.
"Though all the parties seem to be guilty at different degrees, most of the feeling of discontent brewing in the country has largely and rightly, I must say, been directed at the ruling PDP at the centre, largely because of the size of the party, the number of seats it controls in parliament as well as the number of states under its control, for the obvious reasons that there is lethal hunger, brutal insecurity, fatal unemployment, crippled education, substandard health care and what have you. The list is long and successive leaders share the blame."
Values critical to societal transformation - Gov Fayemi
Ekiti state governor Dr John Kayode Fayemi has said that values are critical to societal transformation and no country succeeds without them.
Fayemi made the remark in his acceptance speech as the LEADERSHIP Governor of the Year 2011.
He said "paying significant attention to ethics and value, honours are used in most countries to reinforce the values that are cherished by a people".
According to him, the core loss of faith in leadership is a loss of values and ethics, and most Nigerians believe that the problem in our country today is a leadership challenge. The honourees see the awards as a call to duty in various spheres of endeavour, he said.
It is important that awards are credible, consistent, predictable, and independently verifiable in addition to underscoring the values of leadership in service," Governor Fayemi said.
Opposition must come together or risk irrelevance - Nda-Isaiah
All over the world, there is no democracy that has done well without a strong opposition, chairman of LEADERSHIP Group Mr Sam Nda-Isaiah has said.
Delivering a welcome address at the LEADERSHIP Conference and Awards ceremony held at the Sheraton Hotel, Abuja, yesterday, Mr Nda-Isaiah warned that if the current opposition godfathers in Nigeria failed to get together before the end of the year to give Nigerians an alternative platform to hope for, they too would lose relevance with the people.
The LEADERSHIP chairman lamented that Nigeria had had one party in power since 1999 and that the party's record in the last 13 years was there for everyone to see and judge.
"If you think the party has performed excellently, then, we probably do not need a stronger opposition and should simply leave things the way they are. But if you are among the majority of Nigerians who think the nation is adrift and has been badly managed, then, the topic is worth discussing," he added.
Nda-Isaiah said it was not enough for the opposition in Nigeria to continue to complain of being rigged out, adding that the major problem of the opposition was lack of unity. No interest group ever achieved anything anywhere without unity, he said.
He noted that the concept behind the LEADERSHIP Awards was to recognise and fete service, selflessness, courage, innovation, excellence and an idea greater than self, saying the nomination and selection process involved the LEADERSHIP Board of Editors and other members of the top management.
The chairman observed that, in the developed democracies of the world, power often changed hands between two major parties, saying the opposition in Nigeria could not behave the same way as the ruling party and expect to be considered an alternative.
He said he was glad that the LEADERSHIP Awards was one of the most credible in the country today, adding: "We deliberately strive to make it so because we are aware of the high esteem the discerning public worldwide accords us. The response of the people to our list this year, as in previous years, assures us that we have chosen rightly."