Human rights lawyer, Femi Falana, on Thursday charged governors to fight for their fair share of the accruals to the federation account and demand a true federal system of government, for the good of the citizens.
Mr Falana was the guest speaker at a lecture to mark the 3rd anniversary of the Rotimi Akeredolu administration, which was held at the Dome in Akure, the Ondo State capital.
He centered his lecture, which was attended by the governor of Kebbi State, Atiku Bagudu, on the failure of state governments to demand “their share of what is due to them of what should go into the federation account,” noting that some of the accruals do not even go into the account.
“I have therefore decided, on this occasion, to challenge our state governments to mobilise our people, I am challenging Governor Akeredolu in particular, who is the only senior advocate of Nigeria in the Nigerian Governors Forum, I am asking him to lead a battle, a legal battle against the overconcentration of power in Abuja,” he said.
Speaking on the topic,’The Nigerian Federalism Imbroglio: A Pragmatic Approach’, Mr Falana said although the constitution provides that Nigeria shall be a federal republic, the political elites ruling the country had preferred to retain the distorted version of the constitution bequeathed by the military government.
He said in looking for money to govern Nigeria, Nigerian governors must take more than a passing interest in the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and the Nigerian Liquefied Natural Gas (NLNG).
According to him, the NLNG, within 10 years, successfully paid about $15billion to the federation account through the NNPC, but the money did not get to the federation account.
He urged the governors to ask serious questions about the money.
“NEITI, a government agency, has come up with a figure that the NNPC has failed to remit to the federation account – $22 billion and N480 billion,” Mr Falana said. “We must get the money, Sirs.”
He argued that the federal government controls 52 per cent of the federal revenue, while the states and local governments are only able to collect 48 per cent of the revenue, noting that the arrangement was unfair to states.
Mr Falana said besides the federation account, there are other accounts that the governors should pay attention to, on how they are being managed.
“There are certain accounts belonging to the people of Nigeria. One of them is the foreign reserves account; another one is the Sovereign Wealth Account,” he said.
“It has just been discovered that the federal government has yanked off N1.5trilion from that account. The governors must have that money brought back to that account.”
He recalled Mr Akeredolu’s efforts in the legal battle to ensure governors could no longer be removed from office by some legislators, illegally. He cited the Ladoja’s case, a case which went to the supreme court, where the judgment was given against his impeachment.
Mr Falana urged Mr Akeredolu, along with other governors, to initiate legal battles to demand fairness in the federal system practiced in Nigeria.
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“Although the Constitution of Nigeria prescribes that Nigeria shall be a federal republic, it is there in Section 1, the political class has decided to retain the distorted version of federalism bequeathed to the nation by the defunct military junta,” said Mr Falana.
“Thus successive civilian governments since 1999, headed by southern and northern political leaders, retained the status quo. Therefore, when we are talking of restructuring and true federalism we must appreciate that it is a national crisis.”
On restructuring, Mr Falana said the All Progressives Congress (APC) said in its manifesto in 2015 that it would restructure Nigeria if it attained power in Abuja. He said five years down the road, the party was yet to keep his promise.
He said he had received assurances from Mr Bagudu that the report of the El Rufai Committee on Restructuring would soon be considered by the federal government.
He noted that the founding founders of Nigeria voted for federalism in their quest for independence which is power sharing between the central government and the regions, arguing that a return to true federalism as anticipated by the nationalists would bring through development.
According to Mr Falana, restructuring should be vertical and horizontal and such as would ensure the redistribution of resources for the good of the citizens.
He also lamented the state of underdevelopment in the country, which he blamed on the wholesome sale of public assets by the country’s governments.
“Public assets valued at $10billions were sold at giveaway prices and not up to $1billion was realised,” he said.
“Those who bought the assets stripped the assets, and today there is no Ajaokuta, Osogbo rolling mills. Our underdevelopment is caused by the sale of our commonwealth. Today we are poor and your Excellencies, you must ask questions, where is the proceeds of privatization? You must ask questions.
“We have invested so much in the energy sector. Under the Obasanjo government alone, we are told that an alleged $16billion was invested in power. They sold them to 18 companies to generate power. Governors must ask questions so that if we don’t have power, we can have the money for development.”
He also challenged the state governments to look at the exclusive legislative list and reach for what can bring development to their people. He also urged south west governments to invest in ranching, as the 10,000 cattles are consumed in the region daily across the states.
Ondo Governorship Election
Mr Falana said the governor of Ondo State, Oluwarotimi Akeredolu, had performed well and should be given a chance to return as governor in the coming election so he could consolidate on his achievements in the last three years.
The race for the governorship ticket in the All Progressives Congress is becoming tight with heavy weights like business mogul, Olusegun Abraham and Isaac Kekemeke challenging the governor for the ticket.
He is also facing the challenge of factionalisation in the party, a problem that began with his emergence as governor, and likely to continue into the coming election.
“When Governor Akeredolu came on board, Ondo State was indebted to the tune of N4 billion. Hence, the state could not access fund for UBEC. When the Governor came on board, that was one of the things I reminded him about. I’m happy today that he has cleared everything,” Mr Falana said.
Mr Bagudu, who chaired the occasion, said the challenge of governance had brought out the quality of leadership from some governors, like Mr Akeredolu, who came into office at a time the state was facing hardship, and was able to steer the state clear of the economic woes.
He noted that the economic realities were the same in the south and in the north, and what mattered was how the economy could be expanded to include all Nigerians in order to alleviate their harsh economic situations.
Mr Bagudu added that Mr Buhari had led a revival in what each part of the country could produce, supported by the Central Bank of Nigeria, which had culminated in the success stories now witnessed, especially in Agriculture.
“Oluwarotimi Akeredolu will not give excuses but will make do with the little to transform his state,” he said. “So, I wasn’t surprised when Mr President commended his investment stride. Ondo State is lucky to have him as a governor. We are proud of him. On behalf of the Progressive Governors Forum, I say to Ondo State that you have a forthright person who speaks his mind at all times.”
Mr Akeredolu, in his remarks, said the federal government was delivering on true federalism.
He said his administration in the last three years had prioritised massive development of the state.