Nigerians are agitating for restructuring, but little do they know what restructuring entails, since it means different things to different people. Senator Magnus Abe representing Rivers West in this interview with LeadingReporters throws light on the topic ‘Restructuring’ and other issues of national importance such as money politics and Governor’s inability to pay salaries. Here are excerpts for you.
Q: Distinguished Senator, What in your view of restructuring?
Restructuring to some Nigerians means that there are some things that we can do better or that people are not happy with the way the country is. It could still being viewed from the perspective that some people are not happy with the structure of the country or the direction the current structure is leading to. That’s what people are saying and they are insisting that these issues need to be looked at.
What we should ask the people simply is “What will they like to see that they think will make Nigeria better’’.
As many as those ideas can be, let us put them on the table; the one that the majority will agree that needs to be done, ok. We do it. To me, it’s not an event. It is a process.
Like it or not, Nigeria has been re-structured severally and is still being restructured every day, so it is not a new thing.
From independence we had a structure that had its own problems. People felt the centre was too weak and the regions were too strong and the minority felt they were unprotected in those strong regions and so it was restructured. That was how we came by States. So, we now have a stronger centre and people are saying the centre is too strong, the States are too weak; they cannot deliver on the expectations of the people. It is a ‘convoluted’ system. A lot of people feel that it bestows too much power and privileges on those who control the centre and too little on those who don’t, so they want another review of the system.
I don’t see what is happening as a totally academic exercise, where we go around and say…. Ooh restructuring, what do you understand by restructuring, making the word ‘‘restructuring’’ become the issue rather than the country. The issue is how we make Nigeria better.
Restructuring is not a new thing and it will continue until we arrive at a country that delivers the most to the most number. As it is now, we have a country that delivers a lot to very few people and does not deliver enough to the majority. That is why people are clamouring for restructuring. People are not satisfied. The jobs are not coming. Prosperity is not spreading the way they want it and they think that if the structure was better organised, more people will be made more efficient.
My own issue is the efficiency of the structure. I feel that the structure is inefficient. We pay too much for too little. We can pay less for more, which is how efficient organisations are managed.
We have a structure that is too expensive and is not delivering enough. As a child I grew up in Calabar, Cross River state. I was from Rivers state, I didn’t have to lie that I was from Cross River State for me to get free education from the then South Eastern State Government. When I fell sick in Calabar, my parents were living in Port Harcourt. I was taken in the school bus of St. Patrick’s College Ikot-Ansa to Mary Slessor Hospital in Calabar. I was treated and was eating three times a day. In fact the day the school bus returned to convey me back to school, I was hiding because the hospital was too sweet and I was not from South Eastern State.
Today South Eastern state has become Akwa Ibom and Cross River states, Rivers State has become Rivers and Bayelsa. The question is, is any child in Cross River enjoying in Cross River what I enjoyed as a Rivers son in South Eastern State? The answer is no. So why is it that we have all these resources and yet the people are getting less and less and less from the government? That is the question that needs answering. So, whatever suggestions they can make the system more efficient for the people, that’s restructuring.
Question: The current Local Government structure where Governors have Joint accounts with local government. What will you suggest for a more efficient system?
I am not even complaining about the number of States. What I am saying is that there must be some change in terms of the quality of life of the citizens. As a student, during holidays, people were getting vacation jobs and getting paid; there was money in the pockets of students. Now, half the year is vacation, no one is getting money, ASUU is on strike. This and that one are on strike. All these problems are money-based; There is no money in the system. How do we make the country more efficient, so that people can get more and even have more opportunity to produce and contribute?
Whatever suggestions that you can provide that could help the process, that is the restructuring that you are looking for. I am not here to guide anybody on what we should do. I am here to focus the attention of Nigerians on what we need to do, because what I understand that the people are talking about is that people are dissatisfied.
On the structure of the local government, we should ask ourselves what is the local government is designed to achieve? What can it do? What was it set up to do? We should have a broad conversation where people can speak their minds.
Here in the Senate, we have asked for the Confab report so that we can look at it. If we look at it and find there is nothing good in it fine, but at least we have looked at it. Let us take ideas from everywhere. Let’s not muscle people. Let’s not say what you have said is the most stupid therefore do not say it. No, let’s not go that way but feel free to collate all opinions. The one that we reject today we may take tomorrow. It’s all about the quest for a better Nigeria and I think one thing that everybody has agreed on is that we can make this republic better.
Q: States can no longer pay salaries. Is it that Governors are not thinking outside the box?
But when the President gave monies to offset salaries, how many paid, where is the money?
Q: How can intervention fund be better monitored?
This is a democracy. What people need to understand is that in a democracy the ultimate power belongs to the people. The problem we have in Nigeria is that…(drifts to a different line of thought), the most important change we need is how do we make the electoral system work in such a way that nobody will even argue over an election result. Let Nigerians decide who they want in a manner that is unambiguous; clear and transparent. It is achievable; once we achieve that, all these other things that we worry over will sort themselves out.
If you ask me my most important item, that it, ‘electoral reform’. How do we make our electoral process free of manipulation; free of intimidation; free of violence; free of fraud?, Once we are able to get that, you don’t have to worry again. A Governor knows once you give him money to take care of something and he fails, the electorates will wait for him at the poll and vote him out.
A real politician likes the support and approval of people more than money. The reason why politicians are stealing money in this country is because without money you cannot even play politics in Nigeria. There is pressure on you to perpetually bring money, but if we have a system that delivers based on service, you don’t have to have money to win. That way, everybody will now concentrate on service, you know because nobody has enough money to bribe everybody.