Nigeria: what the governors say.

Author:Asante, Ben
Position:Interview - Interview

How to move Nigeria forward continues to exercise the minds of all its citizens, and particularly the political elite. Ben Asante went to interview a selection of governors on how to restructure the country. Here are excerpts:

'We must continue to live together'

Governor Obong Victor Attah of the oil-producing Akwa Ibom State in the South.

On resource control by producing states

"My assessment is that the phenomenon of resource control has become better understood and therefore better accepted. This is the only thing that would make this country develop and for us to live in peace. This is allowing the people in whose areas resources are found to control them and to make accounts to the centre as the constitution demands."

On the national or sovereign conference to decide how to move Nigeria forward

"I don't know why President Obasanjo keeps resisting the idea of holding a national conference. At first, I didn't think there was a need for it, but now I think we need to talk to each other, advise each other and even caution one another that if certain things continue, we would have to look more closely at the union. There is a limit to how much one can bear when Nigerians kill fellow Nigerians and keep driving them away at the slightest opportunity on the basis of religion or ethnic differences. We all want this country to survive but we are caught in the middle of being devastated from the left and from the right. Do we deserve this in any way? After all, it was the minorities that kept this country together when the majority tribes were fighting and trying hard to tear the country apart.

"I don't believe a national conference would break the country up. Rather it will help us to talk and agree on the ground rules for the union. As a governor, I single-handedly protected the people from the North from being attacked in revenge acts during the recent outbreak of violence in Kano directed against Southerners living there. What this means is that fellow leaders can stop these acts from happening and even take proactive measures to protect every citizen of this country. I don't believe we are such animals that we would take weapons and kill fellow citizens if indeed we consider ourselves as brothers and sisters, as citizens belonging to the same Nigeria."


On overcoming religious differences

"They certainly can be overcome and they must be overcome because we must continue to live together and live in harmony. We are not going to be a country of purely one religion or tribe. It would never happen."

On national unity

"It seems to me the more we create states, the more we cut up areas and fragment Nigeria, the more insular the fragments become. Places like America, Canada and Australia are settler countries where the indigenous people largely got wiped out. This is not the case here. We have different tribes living in one country with none being a settler group. What we need to do in a democracy is to protect everyone and every group. This is the only choice and without it we would destroy each other."

On governors being put in charge of security in their states

"The current arrangement is clumsy. The commissioner of police here is supposed to be subject to me but I don't employ him. In any situation, not to talk of disagreement or conflict, he has to check with his employer, who is the inspector general of police through to the president. This is not to mention the army, of which the president is the commander-in-chief. We have been arguing for a state police force. Some of us who did not support the idea at first are becoming convinced. Really, if you don't have the means to enforce your order and someone else can counter your order, then the situation you have is not only clumsy but also awkward."

'We are not keen on going to Abuja every month with a cap in hand'

Governor James Onanefe Ibori of Delta State.

On security threats and violence in Delta State

"There is no doubt that the situation in the Warri axis constitutes a diversion and a drain on resources in trying to manage the delicate security situation in the state, which is home to several extremely sensitive national installations. The security agencies are on the alert to fish out the criminal elements. I have hopes that we would resolve the situation sooner rather than later. This region being the source of oil and gas is not only strategic to the Nigerian economy but to the international community as well. My hope is that the major oil companies would not only take the oil and gas from here but also get involved in the development of this area, to provide employment for the youth and end the violence and crisis in the Warri area forever.


On resource control by producing states

"We really don't think the funds we receive from the federal government are enough to meet the challenges we have on the ground and the development projects we have to undertake. My state government is not keen on going to Abuja every month with a cap in hand and taking what is shared from the federal accounts. The publication of these figures in newspapers gives the impression that there is so much money coming to the Delta State, for example, from the federal accounts. This distorts the picture. It should not be the case. We are not satisfied at all. There are important outstanding matters regarding true federalism, including resource control. Those of us who are very keen in championing this cause on behalf of our people keep meeting and reviewing strategies all the time. We can never stop pushing this agenda as it...

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