Chief Bayo Ojo(SAN)
A former Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation,is a delegate in the ongoing National Conference representing the North-Central region. In this interview with FRIDAY OLOKOR, he expresses his views on the confab and the controversy over the Bakassi Peninsula, among other topical issues
What is your expectation at the end of this confab?
My main expectation is that there should be devolution of powers in Nigeria. There is an adage that if a woman doesn’t marry two husbands, she would not know which one is better out of the two. We have tried the parliamentary and presidential systems of government and we should now be able to decide which one would be best for us in terms of cost, efficiency and delivering the goods and dividends of democracy to our people. So, I am of the view that the centre should be weak; the federating units should be strong. We can have additional zones apart from the six zones we have now.
We should do away with states; I mean states should be scrapped, let’s have only local governments and the federating zones and then a weak centre. Having the states, having the zones and the Federal Government that is strong has brought a situation where we spend 75 per cent of our resources on recurrent expenditure because maintaining 36 state governors, their aides, commissioners and local government chairmen is an enormous task. But if you make the LGs strong and have the zones as federating units, that automatically will bring down the cost of governance and governance will be able to reach the people. The second thing is education; Nigeria is a country of illiterates and UNESCO has stated that one-thirds of our population cannot read and write. So, we need to educate the people and the way to do this is to ensure that free, compulsory and qualitative education is declared at primary and secondary school levels. Also, the presidency should rotate among the zones; the governorship of every state should rotate among each of the senatorial districts. This is important because there are some states where the governorship is for only a particular part of the state to the detriment of others. It is very unfair and not in conformity with equity. The President said in his speech that we should ensure inclusiveness and that is the way to give everybody a sense of belonging.
What is your view on the agitation for restructuring?
We need to restructure the polity, ensure devolution of powers and make the centre very weak. The centre is too strong, there is no way the Federal Government should sit down in Abuja and give out contract for exercise books in Kaura Namoda or my village. The LGs should do that. It is the same thing with some aspects of health. Primary and basic health should be done by the LGs. So if you strengthen the LGs by giving them the financial muscle, it will be better. This was done before all over the North and it was also done excellently by the Native Authorities.
Would such a neo-colonial policy be practicable in modern day Nigeria?
Yes. I was born in the North and grew up in the North and I knew all these things. The Native Authorities did all these things and they did them excellently well. Why can’t we go back to them if they worked very well? If you don’t know where you are going, you should remember where you are coming from. We need to re-evaluate because the present system is not working, so there’s no problem if we go back to the past. What we’ve done in the past that we did well, let’s go back to them. But what we are not doing well now, let’s do away with them.
In terms of power sharing between the Federal Government and the states, do you think the concurrent list should be touched?
It will be touched automatically – If you go by what I said. Of course, a lot of things in the exclusive list will now be in the concurrent or residual list. So you will now have the zones, the zones will now have premiers and have their own constitutions, their own court systems, they will have Court of Appeal. All these can be worked out at the committee level.
As a stakeholder in the nation’s Judiciary sector, which aspect should be reviewed by way of reforms?
Once we have devolution of powers, this will automatically affect all organs of government. So, you will have a Chief Justice for each region or zone and each of these regions or zones will have their own constitution. But there won’t be states again but there will be say 10 federating zones as units and you will only have 10 Chief Justices and then the High Court and Court of Appeal of those areas. Then there will be Supreme Court to take care of appeals from those areas. Once you devolve such powers it will affect all the various organs of government.
And State Police?
That would also be affected. In the past we had the Native Authority Police which was like community or state police. Even though there were some abuses, there can be checks and balances to curtail such abuses. There would still be federal offences and state offences. There would be community committees which would administer these Native Authorities or state police as it were.
You were the AGF when the Bakassi Peninsula issue came up and now the people, through Senator Florence Ita Giwa, are demanding for compensation. Are they really justified?
She said her area as it presently exists in Cross River State should be given recompense and compensation. As for the compensation of Cross River State, why not? Cross River State used to be an oil-producing state before the ceding of Bakassi Peninsula to Cameroon. But now, they are no longer because that area has shut them out of oil-producing state. So if they are compensated, it will be a good idea.
If you consider compensation worthy, why didn’t the administration of ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo in which you served as AGF and Minister of Justice do that?
It was not concluded before I left office. My successor concluded it and I wasn’t in a position to do that.