The immediate past Secretary General of Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), Mr. Anthony Sani has declared that rotation of the presidency between North and South does not exist in the nation’s politics because it is not constitutionally binding on the people and the political parties.
Sani’s position is coming on the heels of the fear expressed by former Minister of Agriculture and Chairman of ACF, Audu Ogbe in an interview with our sister publication, Sunday Sun last week that if zoning is dumped in 2023, Nigeria is dead.
However, in this interview with NOAH EBIJE in Kaduna, ex-ACF scribe said, “In my view, one cannot dump what does not exist. So a question of killing Nigeria through dumping of non-existing zoning cannot arise.” Sani also spoke on recent hikes in pump prices of fuel and electricity tariff, saying it came at a wrong time when COVID-19 has already put the people in hardship. He spoke on other national issues.
What is your reaction to the recent hikes in pump prices of fuel and electricity tariff?
It is very hard not to be worried about the effects of the hikes of the prices of these two essential items on the lives of Nigerians at a time of COVID-19, which has brought about more hardships and, thus, attracts stimulus to cushion the effects across the globe. Nigerians equally deserve some cushioning and not more hardships. I understand the government is equally sad. But the reality is that we must know that any stimulus for cushioning is a function of availability of resources, which are not available at this time. And since both fuel subsidy and the electricity generation, transmission as well as the distribution are now in private hands by way of privatization, it seems the only option left for the government is for the regime to let go the subsidy, which the government cannot sustain any longer not so much as matter of wish than of paucity of resources. To allow supply of these two essential products to be no more on account of government’s inability to sustain the subsidy cannot be an option. One can only hope the suppliers of these products would know that they exist to deliver services to consumers whose satisfaction with the services by way of volume, quality and prices are over and above any other consideration. I pray the marketers would be humane, moral and wise in their management practices.
The Northern Elders Forum (NEF) recently rejected the proposed 4th amendment of the 1999 constitution by the NASS, saying such would be a waste of time and resources of the nation like the previous exercise. Do you agree with NEF?
As a person, I do not believe the problems of Nigeria have to do with the constitution but in our distorted values, attitudes and the way we do things. America is 243 years old and its constitution, which is less than five pages has only about 30 amendments. Britain does not even operate a written constitution. Nigeria has a book called the constitution that is observed more in the breach. A constitution should derive from national ideals, values, natural justice and common decency, which most citizens share and hold dear that glue the country together. We cannot expect everything to be written in the constitution. And that may explain why some people do not have faith in the endless exercise of constitutional amendments that do not improve the quality of the politics and standard of living of the citizens.
Former Minister of Agriculture and Chairman of Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), Audu Ogbe has said that if zoning is dumped in the 2023 presidential election, Nigeria will die. Do you also entertain this fear as the immediate past Secretary General of ACF?
I do not have to be the immediate past Secretary General of ACF to be able to comment on issues of national importance. I have said it over and over again that there has been no national consensus on politics of identity symbolized by zoning that is binding on political parties which place in the order of our multiparty democracy is to field candidates for elective offices. I have cited instances to support my submissions in this regard. If there was national consensus on zoning of the post of President between the North and the South, General Muhammadu Buhari would not have contested against President Obasanjo from the South in 2003. If there was existing binding policies on the zoning or rotation, President Jonathan would not contest with General Buhari in 2011 and 2015.Were there existing and binding national consensus on zoning, political parties would not field about 70 presidential candidates from the South and about six from the North in 2019. So, in my view, one cannot dump what does not exist. So a question of killing Nigeria through dumping of non existing zoning cannot arise. I have never been a fan of politics of identity symbolized by zoning precisely because apart from supplanting itself on politics of real issues of real concerns to real people, hankering for politics of zoning seems to be an admission of failure of leadership to deliver on the promise of democracy by being just and fair to all in the constituencies which they represent. As result, they think zoning which implies access to national resources should be turn-by-turn is the panacea. That is to say, communities are being made to believe that unless one of their own is in the gravy train of government, they have no access to state resources by way of appointments, projects and major contracts. In situations like this, the options are either the nation develops a national consensus on rotation of political offices that is binding on political parties or interest groups design their winning game plans within the political parties of their choice and canvass for the needed electoral mandate. That is my understanding of the situation.
Federal Government through the Accountant General of the Federation, Mr. Ahmed Idris said it has spent over N30 billion to fight COVID-19 within four months. This has since generated reactions from some prominent Nigerians who called for provision of evidence of the expenditure. Do you see this as a justifiable expenditure?
The Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19 is still working to curb the spread of COVID-19 and briefs the nation occasionally on progress against plans. If there are misgivings about the amount spent so far, those prominent Nigerians should do so with fact checks instead of declaratory misgivings without supporting facts. The PTF and the frontline health workers are doing their best by putting their lives on the lines to save the rest of us. It would be morally preposterous to demoralize the PTF and frontline health workers out of mere mistrust and suspicions. I know public service can be a thankless job, but I think Nigerians need to appreciate and shower plaudits on them for their efforts.
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the federal government is planning to reopen schools in the country. What is your advice here?
If the government will put in place protective measures in the schools that are implementable and protective of the students, nobody would oppose the reopening of the schools. But in situations where the government is unable to put in place mechanism that can protect the students from spread of COVID-19, it should not put their lives at risk.
The Water Resources Bill has generated controversies among Nigerians. What is your take on it?
I find it difficult to understand the heat the Water Resources Bill is generating. This is because I believe water is a natural resource, its place should be where other natural resources like oil, gas and solid minerals are corralled. You know even land use act has entrusted land in the hands of state governments instead of leaving it in the hands of predators, hands of the capitalist panjandrum. And because there are rivers which pass through more than one state, I guess the letter and spirit of the Water Bill is to prevent situations where states can just use portions of such rivers without due regard to the effect of such usage on other states through which the rivers passes. Just consider what is happening in River Nile, which passes through several countries to Egypt. All the countries through, which the Nile passes benefit from the River Nile. But now that Ethiopia is building a Grand Reconnaissance Dam in one of its tributaries, that will affect the volume and flow of the River Nile up to Egypt. And that is why Egypt is protesting very ferociously. This has generated bad blood between Egypt and Ethiopia to the extent of attracting the attention and concern of UN and AU lest the situation degenerate into conflicts. That may be the situation where the letter and spirit of the Water Bill wants to avoid among states through which rivers flood in Nigeria.
For some people to suggest that the Water Bill is another way of helping herders many of whom are Fulanis is to allow fear, mistrust and suspicion go beyond the fiduciary mark. It is important for Nigerians to also look at the positive aspects of the Water Bill and not the dark side spurred by fears and mistrust.