Courtesy Punch Newspapers of 3rd May 2014
Rommy Mom, a legal practitioner is a civil rights activist and a delegate to the ongoing National Conference, representing the Civil Society Organisation.
He speaks with FRIDAY OLOKOR on some national issues. Excerpts
Some delegates have advocated the creation of a state for the minorities in the North, saying this is necessary to end killings and marginalisation. Do you share this view?
If creation of states were to guarantee security of lives and property, I guess by now, Nigeria would have been a very peaceful country because when we had three regions, 12 states, and later 19 states, there was more peace than even today that we have 36 states. So to me, that is turning the argument on its head. I do not think that the creation of states will automatically guarantee peace. What guarantees peace is citizens’ feeling that their government cares for them; citizens’ feelings that they are not cheated out of their deserved benefits and all that. People feel that they have to take the law into their hands because there is no rule of law. So it is about the structures and not about the creation of state. It is about the states living up to their responsibilities. If we have the rule of law, it translates to security. If the government loves its people, provides for them, funds the police then we can talk of security.
There have been several calls for devolution of powers to the constituent units of the federation, contrary to the existing structure of governance. What’s your opinion on this?
Yes, in a federal state like Nigeria, we don’t have any alternative than to devolve powers to the states so that the states could be stronger than the centre. Because as it is today, the centre is stronger and everybody is running to Abuja, saying they want to be ministers, president, senators etc not because they love the country but because they want to enrich themselves. They want to come and rip the country off. I feel if power is devolved to constituent units such as states and local government councils, where a community can hold its leaders responsible if something goes wrong, people will be more careful about how they spend public funds. If for example, in my village, I know that the village head is responsible for the provision of certain amenities and he doesn’t do that, he is right there for me and other villagers to hold accountable. But where you have Abuja that is so far and where all the money is concentrated, where you have even governors becoming nomadic; they come to Abuja and stay so long because they want to get the favour of the President, get the favour of ministers, so that things can go to their states, then you will begin to lack good governance.
What is your position about the agitation that the country should return to a parliamentary system of government?
For me, I think the presidential system is much more representative than the parliamentary system. I think what is wrong with us is the fact that we are not practising federalism the way it should be practised. And that is why people are thinking that the presidential system is too expensive. Give powers back to the regions, back to the states and you have less people running to Abuja to steal in the name of governance. People will like to stay back in their areas and see that they are developed. So, what is wrong with the presidential system is the way it is being run here and not that something is wrong with the concept. The presidential system is much more representative, it offers much more avenues for people to express themselves. So, I prefer the presidential system of government to the parliamentary system of government but if we are running a presidential system of government in a federal state, the state should be truly federal, that is to say that it should practise federalism in the true sense of the word and not what we have coined today as federalism.
Do you believe in rotational presidency?
Rotational presidency, they said, is for us to have inclusiveness; for us to have a sense of belonging and unity in the country. But I will say that what makes me feel to have a sense of belonging in my country is to secure my life, the lives of my children and the lives of my family. What will make me feel that I belong to a country is the fact that my property are secured. I want to have uninterrupted electricity, drive on good roads, go to good hospitals. It doesn’t matter where the President comes from. That is what we should be talking about. We should be clamouring for a good person who can provide all these things and not rotation. Don’t rotate presidency to my zone if at the end of it all, I have to die on a bad road, I sleep in mosquito-infested room because there is no light and hospitals are more like mortuaries; that for me, doesn’t make sense. So, rotational presidency is not the issue but good governance. It is about transparency, accountability and delivering the benefits of government to the people. That is what is important.
Should the outcome of the confab be subjected to National Assembly’s ratification or a referendum?
I would prefer a referendum. If the constitution can be amended to accommodate a referendum, it will be good. Already, there seems to be this battle, in quote, between federal legislators and the confab. The National Assembly seems to be thinking that the national confab is not really necessary; that it has no legal standing and they call it a waste of public funds. We already have a relationship that is not too cordial between the conference and the National Assembly. So, if you say the outcome of the conference should be ratified by the National Assembly, your guess is as good as mine where that report is going to end. For me, I think and pray that we will separately meet our various representatives in the national parliament and get them to approve or to put the issue of referendum in the constitution. Let it be passed and let the position of the confab be taken to the people to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to it.
You spoke during the debate on the President’s inaugural speech, what was your position?
My position on the President’s speech was that we shouldn’t discuss about the unity of the country. My take on that basically is that people don’t sit down in peace and discuss the breakup of a country. The breakup of a country happens because citizens are not happy about issues that bother on the citizenry. So for me, I see the conference as an opportunity to address these issues, so that the country does not continue to agitate for a breakup. As we don’t discuss those issues to the satisfaction of Nigerians, we are inevitably giving room for continuous agitation. For me, it is about settling these issues so that the country does not break up. I also looked at the issue of security as the President inadvertently left it out. Security for me is cardinal. You do not talk about government if the government cannot provide security of lives and property. The Boko Haram insurgency in the North-East is a very well known issue but what bothers me most as a civil society representative from the North-Central region is the issue of grazing routes that have caused loss of lives and property in Plateau, Benue, Nasarawa and other littoral states in the North-Central region. In Benue State for instance, this is happening everyday and so you ask a question, are grazing routes really necessary in this country today? These are colonial legacies dating back to when the country was not so much populated; when the colonial masters did not ascribe much dignity to the local areas. That was when you can take a cattle from Maiduguri and trek with the cattle to the other end of the country. Now, people have ranches where you keep cattle and feed them and they look better. By approving grazing routes, thereby making them move from one place to another, we are denying the Fulani man education, we are denying him good sanitary condition, we are denying him better health condition. So, Fulanis should learn to sit down in one place and look after their cows. And if you want to buy a cow, you go and meet them and buy the cow. If they have these cattle in one place, the cattle will not have to even expend energy by moving from one area to another. The world has moved beyond grazing routes and it is about time we stopped this issue of grazing routes, it hasn’t done anybody any good in this country.
You are representing the civil society organisations at the conference, what is the agenda of the body?
We are representing CSOs from various regions, that is, the six geopolitical zones but every region has its peculiar issues. For the North-Central, which I represent, what is more important to CSOs is the security of lives and property. We have lost our peace; our people are dying everyday – swimming in their own blood for no fault of theirs. People will just come to a village and spray bullets, killing people. So, there is no security of lives and property. It started in Plateau, it has gone to Nasarawa; it is taking place now in Benue. It is a shame. For us in the North-Central, what is topmost on our agenda is to see how peace and security can return to our region. What are those things responsible for the loss of lives and property? And that was why I talked about the grazing routes because that seems to be what everybody talks about. Grazing routes is a colonial legacy that is causing us loss of peace, peace in our homes and peace in our country.