STATES WERE CREATED ON MILITARY WHIMS -ASIODU
On Wednesday April 12, 2012, we ran an interview on Chief Philip C. Asiodu, a technocrat, and foremost permanent secretary in the immediate post-independence and civil war era. Today, we bring the concluding part.
You talk nostalgically about the early days of independence, especiallly on corrruption but the arrow struck in 1966 because of corruption. In fact, in 1968, I remember, it is going to look like fairy tale to these officials today, who celebrate bail as if bail is vindication. There was an executive officer, promoted executive officer after many years of serving as a good clerk. Once, you become an assistant executive officer, you are entitled to a car loan.
And he applied, and got a car loan. But he was 63 and he had to retire at 65. And he and his friends said to themselves, what is the point? So, he completed his house with the car loan. The car loan was being deducted. Car loan was meant to buy a car. It also had some allowances, which enabled him to maintain the car, which he was collecting. The fact that he took money for car and built a house with it was by our rules indefensible and will attract sanctions. So, he started going round.
They were now trying to set up departmental enquiry, which would have led, if he was lucky, to termination. It could have led to dismissal. But rather than wait for that and for the disgrace of the enquiry, that poor man committed suicide. Can you imagine that today? That was in 1968. Now we take billions and you say it is your political enemies that are getting at you.
After jailing the politicians, Babangida released them, banned them from politics. then he unbanned them and they all went about doing politics, spending money and all that. Then, they invented two parties, a little to the right, a little to the left, which, of course, was rested finally by Abacha, who now started his own revolution towards a kind of civilian rule.
Now, Abacha died and within 11 months, we were to start political parties and we now found people to become local government chairmen, representatives in National Assembly, governors , Senators and then president. And then, we had this unfortunate position in the constitution, which says only parties can nominate candidates. You can't be an independent candidate. And who were now available with money? Not the core politician. Not people with ideas, not the hardworking professionals but those who have cash and with that caveat where unfortunately for us, the motivation for politics has become extremely commercial. People are not going there because they have a dream for service.
A dream of hammering tribal groups, ethnic groups into a great nation.
People were doing investments. If you don't have, you look for godfather. And when you now get elected, your first consideration is how to make money for yourself, or how to make money for your group. This is the root of our national crisis. We must redefine why we want to seek political office. We must re-establish that politics properly understood, should be how to move our nation forward from a certain level of development to a higher one. If that is our motivation , then many of the things happening would not happen.
Two, we must find a way of making the cost of seeking political office, much smaller. So that the excuse they must amass wealth by all means because they want to get political office will not be there. Because what is happening now, is that you see somebody who was riding a bicycle yesterday, he becomes a local government chairman, the next thing, after one year or two, he has a stream of houses, and lots of vehicles. Is that the idea of politics? As you go higher, the magnitude becomes greater? And of course having destroyed the civil service, we now have people who are more or less accomplices.
Look at the nonsense going on. It is unbelievable. Somebody in charge of pension fund, you see pensioners dying everyday, and you take billions of it into personal accounts. And some of them, as I see them on television, don't even look sorry. They felt why are you talking? Am I the only one? So, we have a regime of competitive corruption. If you have a belief that somebody has made away with some money so you must make away with as much. So at the bottom of it, how can we now get the president and the leadership to realize that these things, the way we are going is not sustainable. We don't have the resources to misapply to this extent. We seek a more equitable approach to what we think our remuneration should be.
In the first republic, the minister and the permanent secretary had about the same salary, around 2900 to 3000 pounds per annum. What is it today? Large-scale differences. The idea that somebody in the National Assembly should have allowances is even unconstitutional. Because they are supposed to have all these things recommended by the Revenue mobilization allocation commission.
When I was in the presidential advisory council, we found out that they sit back to give themselves allowances. But when you aggregate what they have, it is maybe 50million per senator. Now it is even more. But even if you still take 50milion, you are talking about 1000 times the per capita income in Nigeria. On that analogy, an American senator should take about 35million dollars a year, but he is given 250,000 dollars.
How do we now re-orientate leadership and political parties to go back to responsiveness' to the needs of the people?
Service delivery, cost effective use of public funds, a situation of instead of 75 per cent going for recurrent, because you are paying bloated salaries, people are going around with five or six cars, they are not paying for it. You are inventing parallel civil service. You have special assistants. You have special, special , special and so on. The parallel civil service is temporary, and they know they are temporary.
If we resolve this, and people can now see the president and leadership making all the sacrifices to put this country back on a path of rapid growth, and centralize the institution of government, I tell you there would be immediate reduction in extreme corruption. What is the place of centralisation of power in the whole equation? Because some people argue that since 1966, power has been centralised?
You see, when certain things happen, they become irreversible. True, we were making some progress in the three regions. Then, there was a crisis in Action Group, and mid west was created, and unfortunately , because of opportunism at that time, if the leadership, were a bit more statesmen like, when they created mid west, they should have created Calabar, Ogoja, Rivers and middle belt which had a long demand. We would then have had six regions, if you like. The situation might have been quite different.
Because at that time, people were talking about northern domination. And really, I do not know why the British did it that way. Because before the Clifford constitution of 1922, when people talked about northern Nigeria, they took the big rivers as natural divisions. But under the Clifford constitution , northern provinces were now brought to include Ilorin, Benue and plateau and all that. But in terms of resources, maybe that might have motivated it, because of the little differences in income earning. But people were talking about northern domination.
And the problems which led to the coup, the flawed election of 1964, which the so-called UPGA very unwisely boycotted. Because if they didn't boycott it, they might have won it marginally , with the in road the Action Group had made into Adamawa. Be that as it may, confronted with the crisis of early 1967, of threats of secession by the East, it was desired in particular to actualize the agitation that has been going on before the coup against northern domination. It was clear that north cannot remain as it were, it had to be broken up, so that the federating units will look more equal.
Secondly, as a way of containing the threat of Eastern secession by Ojukwu, it was then considered how to address the long-standing demands of the so-called Eastern minorities for their own state about creating states and giving these people the autonomy they had asked for decades and had not, even been recognised by any commission before independence. The only reason being if we were to create new regions, independence will be postponed. That was the basis on which you heard okay don't postpone independence, we will deal with it. But we failed to deal with it as a sovereign country.
So, it was a brilliant stroke on those two counts for General Gowon to create 12 states. Six in the North. Six in the South. But even those 12 states, when you come to think of it, were not equitable but then with the military in charge, because I still believe that if we didn't have military coup in 1966, I don't think we could have created those many states. Maybe, by now we would have managed to have six states today, responding to long-standing agitation of one state in the South, one more state in the North. But with the military, no parliament, and people with vested interests in creating states to have offices and access to public funds because the motivation is not service. T
he motivation is sharing; We then went from 12 states to 19 states, from 19 to twenty-something and then 36. And these states are not basically viable to exercise their autonomy as a region.