Read Time:5 Minute, 47 Second
Alhaji Ibrahim Mantu was the deputy president of the Senate between 2000 and 2007 and is currently, a delegate at the National Conference from the North-Central zone. In this interview, he gives insights into the deliberations of his Committee on Devolution of Powers and how the eminent Nigerians in the committee turned mutual suspicion to camaraderie. Excerpts
How would you describe your time in the ongoing conference?
So far, I can describe the conference as a huge success. Huge success in the sense that for the first time we brought people from different parts of the country with divergent views and they are being given the opportunity to speak out their minds on issues that have been very, very controversial in the nation. And as you can see when we started debating the president’s speech, everybody’s position came out very clearly because there were some people who came with a mindset that I am here to achieve this. It is either this or nothing.
Like my committee, the Devolution of Power, the committee carries most of the sensitive issues. So, there were heated moments that people almost become like Mike Tyson and the rest of them. Of course, appeals from well meaning members calmed down nerves and we brought people back to table to discuss meaningfully and so on. The good news is that in spite of all these positions, we were able to arrive at consensus or at least unanimous decisions in almost all the issues.
I believe that we need to make sacrifices. But the most important thing, the greatest news of the century is the fact that in the course of this work, we have discovered that every state in Nigeria has not one, two or three different types of mineral resources including the oil producing states.
If not that we have neglected the solid minerals sector; if we pay attention to it and develop the solid minerals sector; look at bitumen, I think we have the largest deposit in the world but it is untapped in Ondo State.
And then, we are now importing bitumen for our roads. Why? We could have sufficient for our use and then export the rest to the needy world but we are not doing that. They said that the gold in Zamfara is even better than the one in Ghana, but it remains in the ground and so on and so forth.
I believe that one of the greatest decisions we took at the Devolution of Power Committee which I am very happy about and I hope that government will immediately put to use, is to say that 4.5 percent of our national revenue should go into development of other resources that are not tapped yet, so that in the next 5 years or so, every state of this federation will bring something to the table and when everybody sees everybody contributing, then, of course, the issue of looking at other people as parasites will not be there. There will be more unity, better understanding, friendliness, respect and so on.
Some people felt shortchanged with the decision not to increase the derivation percentage?
Well, I don’t know. Apart from one person that I noticed talking to the press or feeling bad about the decisions that we took, I am not aware of any member of our committee feeling bad about the decisions that we took. What is important is that we should remember that while the people where these resources are being found came with the intention of gaining more than they currently have, there are those who came with the feeling that offshore should be totally removed.
As of now, Akwa Ibom takes the lion share from the federation account. If you remove offshore, Akwa Ibom will become like Zamfara; will become like Jigawa, because there will be nothing for them at all to share. They don’t have even a single onshore resource.
So, many people came and said look the land belongs to the state but high seas of the nation belong to the nation. So, therefore, there is no justification for any state to claim resources from the high sea and they were very, very dogged and resolute about it. Now, for us to be convinced and allow status quo to remain, it wasn’t an easy task. So, the South-South gained tremendously. That they were able to at least argue their way and allow onshore/offshore dichotomy to remain is a major success for the South-South delegates where this oil is found.
Would you say now that the cord of unity between the south and the north has been strengthened after the work?
I can say that your observation is absolutely correct because even in my committee, I don’t know, it was not arranged, not by deliberate arrangement. But the sitting arrangement so happened that those from the north just happened to be sitting together.
What happened was that some people arrived earlier on the day of the beginning of the job. Naturally you know when you are conversing, you will sit down. So, by the time the leadership came and sat down, everybody just remained where he was sitting. And it so happened that on the right hand side of the leadership, starting from me sitting very close to them was about 99 percent of northerners. But later on, some people on their own just decided to change their seats and mix.
That was the beginning. So, to say that what started even from the sitting arrangement, people who were hostile and discriminatory to each other ended up embracing each other for a job well done, I think it is a major, major achievement.
Some of you have formed the National Unity Forum. Is this an agenda Some people are now wondering whether the conference is now skewed to the realization of the second term ambition of the President even though you spoke on issues that touch on the conference.
Thank you very much for asking this question. First and foremost, the national unity forum was actually formed immediately we were inaugurated.
We discovered that so many of us are from the National Assembly and there were many of us who had interacted politically at different fora at different times. So, this special conference became a rallying point for most of us. There are people I have not seen for about 30 years and yet we were together during NRC, NPN era. But we are being reunited courtesy of this conference.
And we know that all over the world, in conferences like this, there are interest blocs; like-minded people who come together and brainstorm on the issues and see how all of them can actually go on the same direction. We are over a hundred members. We call ourselves National Unity Forum.