Dr Osagie Obayuwana is a foremost lawyer and activist and served as Attorneys general and Commissioner for justice in Edo state. He spoke to Victor Ofure Osehobo about the controversy over the goldfields of Zamfara among other issues.
What is your take on the developments over Nigeria’s gold found in Zamfara state visavis the reaction of the South-south states?
OBAYUWANA: Well the Zamfara Commissioner in his statement has seriously indicted the law enforcement system in Nigeria. That there are people who are mining Nigeria’s gold who are acknowledged to be doing so illegally and that the Federal government that has exclusive control over the law enforcement agencies has been so overwhelmed that the Zamfara State government has no option but to deal with these people who by virtue of entering into transactions with them confirms that they are not faceless. That is quite an unfortunate statement. I don’t know whether he appreciated the import and purport of what he was saying. But if the governors of the South-south states have a position to articulate, must the representative of the Federal Government be in attendance before they can articulate that position and share it with the world? And the excuse they were given is that it coincided with security council meeting. I cannot imagine that all members of the delegation from the Federal side were members of the security council. Of all of them I do not even know beyond the Secretary to Federal Government who else was on that delegation list; that had to be eexcused and why could replacement not be found. The fact that the meeting did not take place because that incident took place a week or two ago now- they have called for an apology which is not forthcoming, why have they not spoken up? The minerals in the subsoil in Nigeria whether such minerals are gaseous or liquid or solid minerals in our existing system, those things are vested on the Federal Government, by virtue of the land use act and the solid minerals act and the petroleum act. So the struggles have been that rather than the FG dealing with the oil companies with the NNPC entering into joint venture partnerships with oil companies, the struggle has been that the state governments should have been able to do that. But that is a struggle that has not yielded any fruit. Rather we have seen a situation where individuals are being allocated oil wells who enter into joint ventureship. The skewed nature of the Federalism that we have in Nigeria is in the economic front. As it rela Gold and other solid minerals I see double standards which portends grave danger for the country. The cohesion and peace of the country. I don’t see why those who feel they are getting the short end of the stick should fight shy. The ball is in the court of the victims of the system.
The price of petrol was increased again a few weeks ago. There are indications that the price wiill still go up. What do you think this means for the Nigerian economy?
OBAYUWANA: Well Mr President warned when he increased the price in the early part of September that there were likely to be more increases. It goes back to the dictations of the IMF and the World Bank and people who are saying that Nigeria should pay International price for commodious like petrol and others and even the cost of energy. So rather than talking about market forces I think it is arbitrariness. It was the same Mr President who was comparing what we pay with what obtains in other countries. So that dictation continues. At a point no measures have been taken to enhance the capacity of an oil producing country at the magnitude that Nigeria is. When are we going to refine what we produce, to meet our countries needs? A situation where we are importing finished products from countries like Niger is shameful. So the question of winning of economic sovereignty for a country like Nigeria is clearly not on the agenda for the present rulers of the country. This also has a bearing on the expansion of our economy and opportunities for the work force, if the refineries were to be producing at optimal levels it certainly me as more hands would be at work. Those countries from where we import finished petroleum products right now we are subsidizing their employment market. So I will not imagine that we do no have experts in the corridors of power to appreciate these issues. A situation where the rulers of the country wish to be in the good books of those who dictate world economic life, of countries that are susceptible to and agreeable to thag, it’s a disservice to the present and future generations. Even it’s a betrayal of the struggles of our heros past, who fought notvonlybonly forv political independence but for economic independence. It’s a very sad day.
Do you not think that if Nigeria is restructured most of these issues and chahllenges will be better addressed in the popular interest?
It’s a false argument. It depends on the policies. As it is right now we are saddled with a abad leadership that will not act decisively in the protection of the national interest. If that quality of leadership emerges in the smaller bits that Nigeria will be dismembered into we will even be in a weaker poaition. So it’s a red herring to earn imagine that it is the is the size of the country that is the problem. We want ecwonmic justice for all the victims. Infact we are pan-Africanist. We believe that if eeget all of Africa to speak with he voice we could enhance our economic situation. And to exploit fully the African market. The potentials that Nigeria has…why should be Nigeria importing petroleum products, which we have in the crude form in such abundance, from a country like Niger. Nigeria should be meeting the African market forces petroleum products and so many other things. The way it is now the system is such that we produce what we don’t process and we turn around to import and that is that is the way it has been from colonial times. We exported Cocoa and imported Chocolates. We exported Cotton and imported cloth. So to say that within 60-years of on independence we have not had a forward looking leadership that can address this issue and people think that the way forward is disemberment of the country is a red herring. I do not subscribe to it at all. The injustice that the Nigerian people face cuts across board and Infact is continental. The earlier we appreciate that the better for us.
What is your response to the orgy of criminality in all parts of the country deeply involved either in banditry, armed robbery or kidnapping and assassinations?
OBAYUWANA: I think it’s a mirror of the economic situation. You have so many people who are excluded from the process, people with needs that need to be met. Not everybody who is deprived of the opportunity to earn an honest living will stay hungry or resort to begging or doing menial jobs. There are those who cannot resist the temptation of fighting the society back the best way they know how. So there is an element of bitterness and justification on the part of those who take to crime to put food in their stomach and to meet their basic needs. So its so much a question of strengthening the Police, give them bigger guns, build more correctional centres. Issues have to be appreciated in their fullness. There are peculiarities in very part. In the North as I said it’s a measure of protestation. Unfortunately one would expect that the victims will be those who are endowed but the unfortunate thing is that no one is spared. So they kidnap some prrpsn and take them out of reach. Sometimes in the attempt to rescue them sooner or later, families and friends, cousins and sometimes the government coneinto the fray as people to partake in the Negotiations. Once that bears fruits the foundation for repeated action is laid. I think this is what we are dealing with. In the South people are talking about the jail break and then the arms that got into many hands from the a police stations that were ransacked but I think it is also a function of lack of opportunities. People resort to that kind of self-help. That’s the phenemenon we are dealing with. The level of unemployment, under employment of both the skilled and unskilled segment of the population is arming and is growing. So any attempt to find solutions must be comprehensive. Just now we are being told now that the country is back in recession. We have read stories of the 1929 depression whereby managers of public affairs who appreciated the social and economic roots of crime and deviant behaviour just have to be creative by providing opportunities for the unemployed to earn a living in a decent way. I am not so sure now of the US President who had people dogging holes, filling them just to get people the opportunity to leave home and go out and go and work. Although that was symbolic we saw the Governor of Edo state with his aides cleaning the streets as a precursor to his inauguration for the second term. Even the chairman of the waste management board partookmofcth exercise which was like a one-off thing whereas what is needed is institutionalization of waste management. Edo cannot be talking of tourism with it’s level of filth. All over the place. I don’t know the last time they went to see what scavengers have turned the moat into. Infact people bring trash to he centre of roads in expectations that the waste management trucks would come pick them up. And the trash ends up being there for weeks. I think Mr Governor tried to exhort youths to appreciate the importance of a clean city but why is that he cannot appreciate that that exercise should be for the engagement of hands. Edo is a wood producing belt in the country. We have virtually cut all of our woods without replacement. One would have expected that a forward looking government would invest in planting of commercial trees, taking hundreds and thousands of youths, we have the land to plant trees. Not only to plant but also to tend and for years to come. That is revenue being incubated. Even Rubber. Yes there are items derivable from the petroleum industry but plastics has not completely rubber products. So quite honestly there so many things that we can engage our people in. That way those who engage in crime out of need would have been given the opportunity to put food in their stoamack in an honest manner, na matter the level of pay. So at that level we can become justified when those opportunities are there are still going who ignore these opportunities and resort to violent crimes like armed robbery, kidnapping and even so-called scamming. I think flowing from the obligations of government to meet the security and welfare of all citizens, government has the obligation to provide the opportunity for the teeming populace to earn a living and move away from crminilaty. The impression one gets is that government is not doing enough being that the private sector once empowered will meet these obligations. But we know that the motivation of the private sector is first and foremost profit. So they will get by with as small a number of work force to assure them of the profit level they have set for themselves. So the government has to play a primary role in this.
In your own assessment, how the nation get to this juncture?
OBAYUWANA: First and foremost its ideological. There are those who believe that government has no business in business. There is this belief that all that government is requested to do is provide the enabling environment for the private sector to thrive. And it is that thinking that upholds the argument about survival of the fittest, believing that those who succeed do because they are fit. But that world view completely ignores the obligation of government to address the welfare of all members of the society, not not the rich and believing on the trickle down theory that when the rich gets satisfied then everybody else sooner than later they get trickles. But it does not work like that. When the economy is under the direction of institutions like the International Monetary Fund, IMF, and the World Bank; that looks at issues from the balance sheet point of view, of profit levels, that believes in running public affairs with profit motive being primary you see conditionalities for loans being prescribed that tell government to withdraw from public sector expenditure: oh you have too many Universities, too many faculties, prune of down and all that. Unfortunately we have not had firwrad looking governments for a long time, that’s why things as basdoc as provsiosn of water. I don’t know of any state in Nigeria right now that is seriously addressing water supply to the populace or infrastructural development with an eye towards creating jobs! And of course they can not appreciate the linkages between full employment and economic expansion so that the more person you have working, the more money youbahve in circulation because whatever you earn is ploughed back into the economy, markets will expand. Demands for good and services will increase. What an be done is for the victims to say this is not working. The phenomenon of fundamental changes is a mass phenomenon. This is where the trade unions,the civil society, engage the government. Right now everybody is at the level of onlookers. In Edo for example our Governor is called wake and see!. Many people applaud him for that. Which by and large means that the government conceives of it’s ideas and implements them and people are surprised. Whereas popular participation in the formulation of policies and the implementation of policies provides an opportunity for the policies to be screened by the best minds that are available. Incidentally if you are to date back to our pre-colonial system our people say ideas about prosperity cannot be privatized. It’s a mass phenomenon. These are issues that need t be appreciated so that people do not begin to imagine themselves as experts in all fields. Throw the process open , !at the best ideas come forward. And people should be democratic enough to yield to superior ideas no matter the suffix from which they derive. So leaving everybody at the level of being onlookers on the sidelines is a recipe for inefficiency and mediocrity in the final analysis. #