DR. Greg Agbonkina is a Russian trained medical doctor. In 1991, he was in the Edo State governorship race on the platform of the defunct Social Democratic Party (PDP) but had to step down for Chief John Odigie- Oyegun who eventually won the ticket. He was a delegate to the late Gen, Sani Abacha 1994/1995 National Conference where he moved the motion of not less than 13 percent derivation principle for oil producing states in the sharing of the Federation Account. In this interview on the planned National Dialogue, he calls for a return to the 1960 Independent Constitution and regionalism as well as the adoption of the French model of government. Nigerians, he says, must embrace the dialogue as a way of finding lasting solutions to the problems facing the country.
What is your take on the proposed National Dialogue?
Many people believe nothing good will come out of it.
The National Dialogue will yield many good fruits that will bring this country back to sustainable development. The conference did not come as a result of the wish of Jonathan; it came as a result of the wish of the different groups in the country. They have been clamouring for years to have an ethnic based national constitutional conference, ethnic based in the sense that the country at amalgamation was a conglomeration of ethnic empires and groups that made up both the Northern and Southern Protectorates.
And before independence, there was a constitutional conference in London where the different stakeholders put their interests on the table and an agreement was reached. That led to the Independence Constitution. We saw the good that came out of the operations of the Independent Constitution, but, somewhere along the line, that Constitution was not only abridged, it was violated by the first military regime that suspended the Constitution and brought in a unitary system of government not based on agreed wish of the constituents that make up Nigeria.
Since then, Nigeria has been groping in the dark; nothing has been done to return us to where we started; then, the war decree that was promulgated by the Gowon regime removed the smallest ingredient that was binding the country together as a federal entity. Jonathan’s conference should return us to where we missed the point and the first assignment of the ethnic nationalities that will gather at that conference is to pass a resolution that we have agreed to live together.
Secondly, as a basis of living together, the National Assembly should enact a law that would return the constitution that was in operation before the colonialists left us to be the new national constitution. If that is done, all the clamoring and wastages taking place now will be a thing of the past. Without mincing words, we should give it to General Sani Abacha because the conference he called between1994-1995 is the only legacy he left.
It laid the six zonal structures that we have in the country today. It was the first time after independence that states were created almost on equal basis along the six zones: Bayelsa was created from the South-south, Ebonyi from the South- east, Ekiti from the South- west, Jigawa from North- west, Gombe from North- east and Nassarawa from North- central.
The local governments created in Edo State also followed the same principle. From Edo South, two local governments were created, one from Edo Central and one from Edo North. Thirdly, the revenue allocation that we are enjoying today and has brought seemingly peace to the country, that is, the 13 percent derivative principles, was arrived at that conference and, since then, no amendment has been made either by the National Assembly or by the Revenue Mobilization and Fiscal Commission because it is so difficult to get an agreement that will cover the entire country by the few nominated people.
There have constitutional conferences in this country since 1942 and reports not implemented. What makes you think the Jonathan conference will not follow the same way?
Well, if I may correct you, no military administration, in fact no administration in this country has set up a national constitutional conference other than the one that was set up by late Gen Sani Abacha and I told you that it achieved results and, if not for the sudden death of Gen Abacha, there was a Committee on the Devolution of Powers that was going to remove 50 percent of what the Federal Government is doing now to the states and allocation of funds was to follow.
Secondly, the six zonal structures in the country came from that conference and the revenue allocation we are enjoying now. For emphasis, I was a member of that constitutional conference representing Edo State in the Revenue Allocation Committee, in the state and local government creation committee and in the Committee of National Consensus, I moved the motion “of not less than 13 percent” Derivation Principle.
Other conferences organized by other military Heads of State were not conferences; they were constituent assemblies and constituent assemblies are different from constitutional conferences. Since the Lanchester House Constitutional Conference, which gave birth to the Independent Constitution, the nearest to that was the 1994/95 National Constitutional Conference, but the South-west said they did not send their first eleven to that conference.
Governor Aliyu Babangida warned the North the other day in Yola to send their first eleven to the National Dialogue. In the 1994/95 conference, the North sent their first eleven led by Gen. Shehu Yar’Adua, the South- east sent their first eleven led by former Vice-President Alex Ekwueme, Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu and Sam Mbakwe; the South-south sent their first eleven led by Chief Tony Anenih, myself, Don Etiebet, Victor Attah who later become governor of Akwa-Ibom State, Dr. Peter Odili who became governor of Rivers State and Senator Aniete Okon. Although Chief E.K.Clark was not a member, he was a very useful accessory and, without him, we would not have been able to secure the 13 percent derivati
on. And we arrived at rotational presidency. That rotational presidency gave rise to Chief Olusegun Obasanjo because in 1993 during the SDPNRC days, the presidency was zoned to the South-West and North-East. That was how Chief MKO Abiola who won from the South-west contested with the person from the North-east, Babagana Kingibe. Because both of them were from the zones to which the presidency was zoned, one became the presidential candidate and the other the vice- presidential candidate even though they were both Muslims.
That was what informed Chief Obasanjo becoming the presidential candidate of our party to pacify the South-west that lost the presidency and that was why Atiku Abubakar who was already an elected governor of Adamawa State became Vice-President to Obasanjo. In other words, if they had ruled well, the presidency would not have gone to the North-west but to the North-east and the South-south because these were the only areas that have not had it.
When the G.7 were going round consultating, they saw former President Shehu Shagari from the North-west; they Gen Muhammadu Buhari in the North-east, they saw Gen Abdulsalami Abubakar and Gen Ibrahim Babangida from the North-central, they saw former Vice-President Alex Ekwueme from the South- east and 9nment that we have seen either by its operations or even by its proclamation has brought no good to this country.
It has brought only wastages. In other words, if all of us work together to bake a cake, all of us should be there when the cake is being shared; a situation whereby the governor of a state determines what happens in the state House of Assembly, determines what happens in the local government cannot bring about any sustainable development and transparent use of funds generated either internally or externally by the government.
Therefore, a parliamentary system of government is more desirable for a diverse country like Nigeria. We can still have the position of President, a modified type of the presidential system with the parliamentary system which we advocated for during the 1994/1995 Constitutional Conference. That is, there should be a Prime Minister who should be head of government and responsible to the President and the National Assembly. A quasi parliamentary/presidential system is the best for this country. Today Okonjo – Iweala is almost acting as a Prime Minister as Coordinating Minister of the Economy.