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It is Crazy to Have 36 States — Maj. Gen. Momah

We must stop prophecy of doom on Nigeria.


It is Crazy to Have 36 States — Maj. Gen. Momah
Major-General Sam Momah


Major-General Sam Momah (retired) was Minister of Science and Technology. Besides being a civil engineer and the author of four books, the latest being Nigeria Beyond Divorce, Momah also has a doctorate degree in strategic studies. In this interview with Vanguard, he says Nigeria cannot afford to disintegrate and so, there is an urgent need to restructure the country. Excerpts:

There was this projection that by 2015, Nigeria will disintegrate. Going by events in recent times, do you think that might happen?

Well, I believe the National Conference came at the nick of time and it is for us to use the opportunity to ensure that the prophecy of doom does not come to pass. That forecast must not succeed. Nigeria is too precious to disintegrate. A country of 174 million people; I mean it’s not like Ghana that is 120 million.

If Nigeria disintegrates, the whole world will be in turmoil because refugee problem alone will shake the entire world not to talk of Africa. So I believe that it won’t be that easy for Nigeria to collapse; I believe too that the National Conference has come to kind of make sure that, that does not happen. I hope that it will come out with good recommendations that will look into restructuring Nigeria, revenue allocation etc.

When I talk of restructuring, we must look into how we started, with three regions in 1945, to four regions in 1966 and from there, we had 12 states by Gowon, to 19 by Murtala, then 21 and 30 by Babangida and 36 by Abacha. So we moved from three to 36, 33 extra states in 50 years – from 1945 to 1995. You can see that the foundation that was made for a three-storey building is now carrying 36 storeys, without making sure that the foundation was reinforced to carry extra 33 storeys; you can imagine! That is how crazy we are.

Now, there is need to restructure, to bring down those storeys. It may be very painful but unless we do that, the storeys will collapse…God forbid! So we must restructure and people are looking at six regions but I am saying that we should make it 12 regions; each of the zones will be divided into two again so that we don’t get too tight. I am also looking at the zones, I don’t want them to ever think of seceding because when you are too powerful, the tendency is to start challenging the centre one day.

But if you split them into two, you will be able to give and take; so I am looking at 12 states, back to what Gowon did but then, splitting the zones into two. I am not thinking of them becoming states, they could become states but I am looking at them becoming more or less like regions so that they will be self-sustaining and they will then decide to determine how many provinces or states they want to have within the region; that is their business because federal allocation will be given on equal basis; every region will get the same amount of money.

So you are not for resource control…

No. My own suggestion is that the federal revenue should be shared equally. Right now, the sharing is in the ratio of 58 (federal): 32 (states):10 (local governments). This should be reversed. It should be 20 per cent to federal, 60 per cent to the states, then the remaining 20 per cent should be for derivation, for the oil-producing areas; there will be no local government. The states or regions should determine the number of local governments they want to create and pay from their allocation. If you want to create 100 local governments, go ahead; you will pay them. That is my suggestion.

Government should hands-off religion

Then, of course, as part of the restructuring, the National Conference should also talk about religion. We must try and get government to hands off everything religion. There should be no question of sponsoring people to pilgrimages, that should be off the book.

System of government

On the system of government – should it be presidential or parliamentary? I think it should remain presidential. In 1952, Azikiwe won election to the Western House of Assembly and could have become the prime minister; he was the first head of government in the West but overnight, people crossed and he lost majority. That is what parliamentary democracy is all about.

Now that corruption is so rife, you find that people are just crossing from Party A to Party B, collect money from them and then move to the other party. So parliamentary system will bring confusion; we should remain presidential but we have to tackle corruption.

Tackling corruption

The Constitution should provide some deterrent, there should be no immunity. If a person commits an offence while in office, he should be tried and disgraced. Corruption should be tackled in a very serious way.

Infrastructure

When we are thinking of infrastructure, it has to be in the constitution that some percentage of our budget should go into infrastructure. For many years, our power stations were not repaired but if it is in the Constitution that 20 per cent of our revenue must be used for infrastructure, then that will be taken care of.

Power is the back bone of any economy. We need power, railway, waterways, refineries, etc., so that if any government comes, it will not neglect infrastructure. Today, government will rather spend money in paying salaries and on irrelevant things than on infrastructure. They leave our infrastructure to decay.

Security

The judiciary must be revamped, made autonomous, self-accounting and allowed to run their budget so that they don’t feel that Mr. President is the one to pay or promote them, so they have to do his bidding. I believe that the police, should be demobilized in phases. Then a new breed of Nigerians should be recruited. To be in the police force, you must have at least a first degree.

They will be few in number but effective and the police will now be well paid, well accommodated, well catered for so that they will be able to do their job. If the police are doing their job, then you and I will sit up because they can arrest and discipline us and if they are well paid, they will not be doing what they are doing. So I believe insecurity is one of our major problems.

Tenure of executive

I am suggesting that the national conference should think of a single six-year term for the executive and legislature. As Minister of Science and Technology for five years, it was only in the third year that I started knowing exactly what was happening in the ministry. When you come in the first year, the permanent secretary may not want to put you through because he wants to be in control, so, in the first one year, I was taking home so many files and reading, familiarizing myself with the ministry because nobody briefed me.

So, in the first year, I got to see all the work done and the unfinished projects. In the second year, I started making up my mind on what to really do and, by the third year, I started crystallizing those visions and, for a politician, that is the year campaigns will start because it is a four-year tenure and they will leave in the fourth year; so you find that four years is spent with nothing achieved. This is what we have been having.

That is why I was dismayed when the media was against Jonathan’s suggestion of six-year single term. To me, that was the greatest thing Jonathan has done, a wonderful idea because this is my personal conviction. When I was in cabinet, I wrote a memo on this to the executive council that we should have a single six-year term to give the executive time to achieve what they want to achieve.

Secondly, in the third world, it is difficult to beat an incumbent, so if you know that you cannot beat somebody- the result is already known – why waste money? You can’t beat an incumbent, in Africa because he will use government resources to control the electorate, INEC, etc. I mean he will always beat you and you will not do a thing about it; so let him do one single term and go with his conscience. So I hope they will do something about that.

Education

Government is spending less than three per cent of the budget now on education but the United Nations says 26 per cent. They made it clear that every nation must vote at least 26 per cent of its budget for education because they know that is the live wire of development. Even Britain, as educated as it is, is still spending money on education. US is doing the same as developed as it is because that is the live wire of development.

But here, we are politicizing it. So we must be serious by not just voting money, the money should be properly utilised. It’s not just voting money; meanwhile, the schools have no desks, no books, no equipment in the labs, nothing and then when you want to employ teachers, you bring Pakistanis when there are Nigerians who could teach.

And those foreigners could be exploitative.! They are here just for a time, and then they go away. They are not giving their best. When we talk of unity, we must practicalise that unity, we should not pay lip service because that is the core strength of a country. If we say we are united, we must be united. We must do things as one. I keep giving example of our football team.

The very first time we won the African Cup, I said they played like a team; if they did not play like a team, they could not have won. Keshi decided to pick local players and they stayed in Nigeria and practised over a long period; they did not go for foreign players because foreign players normally come late and, when they do, they do not have enough time to practise together. Team spirit is what is lacking in Nigeria.

Since we brought in all this mediocrity into the system, we always talk about sharing. We must realise that we are shooting ourselves in the foot and the earlier we realise that and allow everybody to express himself, be himself and be what God has made him to be, the better for us. They always say that the five fingers are not equal and God knows why.

So if someone is good in one area, someone else will be good in some other area, let us just recognise everyone’s talent and give him that recognition. Like I said, government should de-politicize education; do something about brain drain – bring back all our children who are abroad, let them come home and develop Nigeria; that is what Asians did.

But many of them do want to come back …

Yes, because the environment is not conducive. It is a gold mine we are not tapping. They can overnight give us the quantum leap we need to have in development. So I believe these are the main issues that the conference ought to handle. Restructuring is the main thing which will take a bit of argument.

Should corrupt officials be treated the way they are treated in China?

A corrupt official should not be killed but we should be able to give a minimum of between 10 years and life jail. Let it be life jail for official corruption and then a term for unofficial corruption. What I call official corruption is the one you sign and collect like tin security vote.

How can a governor collect up to one billion naira (minimum is half a billion) monthly? It is scandalous and they don’t account for it; that is why it is so convenient for them; you cannot probe them. That should be expunged from the Constitution. The police is there to protect them, I don’t know what security vote they need. I don’t know who put that thing in the Constitution and they are capitalizing on it and just scooping up the entire money and taking home.

And, of course, the legislature too, the money they are collecting is unbelievable. They should have sitting allowance as is done in the US. If you sit for two hours, you are paid for two hours. That is what we should do so that they will go and do other jobs. Everybody wants to be a politician because they are collecting so much. These should be enshrined in the law. When the police is there to arrest you and the judge is there to throw you into jail, and everything is done quickly, that will be the beginning of sanity, everyone will sit up.





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