‘Time for state police has come’
Former director general of Nigeria Institute of Advanced Legal Studies (NIALS), Prof. Epiphany Azinge (SAN) in this interview with Joseph Onyekwere discusses the issue of restructuring and other topical national issues.
The agitation for restructuring is gaining momentum currently. What in your view does this restructuring entails?
Metaphorically, restructuring basically entails the redefinition of our national architecture of our national architecture. It proceeds from the premise of comprehensive evaluation of our journey to nationhood, the fundamentals of our existence as a people from diverse background bound together by a constitution that espouses federalism as a creed. It is this structure of our federal cohabitation that is the central theme of discussion or conversation on restructuring. Should we maintain the status quo or do we have to redesign the structure in accordance with other parameters or variables that conduces to equity, justice and egalitarianism
What will be the nature of the restructuring? Will it flow from the report of the last national conference or executive proclamation?
The report of the 2014 National Conference addressed the issue substantially. But it is certainly not the first to do so. Scattered all over our historical excursion as a nation are documents that have addressed the subject matter. I see it as an act of maturity and statesmanship if government can draw from the resolution of the 2014 conference.
What can be done is possibly set up a small committee to distil from the report and submit to government for critical appraisal or assessment. Alternatively is for government to re-submit the report to the National Assembly for action.
Also, government in its wisdom may decide to set up a panel specifically on restructuring. The panel will be charged with the modalities of working out the logistics or bases for restructuring. A while paper flowing from this can they be handed over to government for onward transmission to the National Assembly.
What role will the National Assembly play in the restructuring process?
A study of the report of the 2014 National Conference shows that already matters that required constitutional amendment have been segmented and in other issues that require intervention of the National Assembly, draft bills are already provided. It is for the National Assembly to process these documents by subjecting them to the crucible of lawmaking. Of course, this will entail substantial debate and resolutions.
Certain sections of the North are opposed to restructuring. Why do you think this is so?
For any one to be opposed to restructuring means that the persons finds the present structure suitable, beneficial and manifestly protective of his interest. That is natural in human relationship. What can be done is to reassure everyone of the benefit of restructuring to the nation and not any part of the nation. Also, we must deepen the conversation and convince everyone of the need and significance of restructuring for the well being of our cooperate existence as a people.
Do you think Nigeria will be better under parliamentary system of government because we have had a stint of it before it was truncated?
These are part of the conversation that we must engage for purposes of restructuring. Yes, we have had a stint before, but it can be revisited. Personally, I think the problem is not parliamentary or presidential system of government. The issue is the type of Federation we want to tinker with. Many often talk of “True Federalism” a terminology, which to me is a complete misnomer. Yet, it is indicative of a perception of a structure that is not working. In this regard, we must make up our mind on issues of devolution of power, what constitutes the federating units e.g States, regions or geopolitical zones etc. Naturally, the issue of state creation, local government administration etc will be brought to the fore.
What do you think of state police, devolution of power and resource control?
I have never supported state policing simply because of my long held view that they can be turned to instruments of political witch hunting and manipulated for political gains. But with the advent of kidnapping, menace of herdsmen and total insecurity in different parts of the country, I am now convinced that the time for state police has come.
Will it be advisable to make a provision for referendum in the constitution in order to allow the people make their choices on critical national issues?
There is already a provision for referendum, in the aspect of the constitution on state creation. But, a generalized provision to cover issues like constitutional amendment, restructuring and allied matters will not be a bad idea. Even matters of self-determination can find expression in such a generalized clause.
Between legalising the six geopolitical zones or regional governments and creating more states, which would you advocate?
These are all options for consideration. I think geo-political zones have been so effectively utilized that they can now assume constitutional status and recognition. Even at that, I think the emphasis should be on federating states with group of state at liberty to cohabit as a region at a superficial level state police has come.
It does appear that the thrust of any conversation on restructuring is premised on devolution of powers (and “Resource Control” falls under this Classification”) and a review of the powers of the Federal government as contained in the exclusive legislative list contained in schedule 2 of the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) vis-viz the powers of the federating units. I am of the considered view that for the sake of equity and justice, powers ought to and should devolve more to the federating units. This will make the centre less attractive and the states stronger.
What in your view is the best way to handle the Biafran agitation?
Through dialogue persuasion and negotiation. Self-determination is a legitimate right of a people under international law, but our constitution proclaims the indivisibility and indissolubility of the Nigerian state. That presupposes that Nigeria cannot be balkanised through war or violence. It does not suggest that as part of exercise of freedom of expression, people cannot agitate (non violently) for self-determination.
I personally do not subscribe to the notion of “Biafran state” out of Nigeria. At least, it can be appreciated that the geographical entity Chief Odumegwu Ojukwu conceptualized in 1967 is not the same as the present South East as constituted. The challenges are enormous for the enthronement of a seamlessly viable and well-structured new entity in “Biafra”. Consequently, the authorities are hereby invited to dialogue with the proponents or agitators and find a way of assuaging their anger politically or administratively.