Monday Ubani Onyekachi, is the second vice president of the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA). In this interview with PETER FOWOYO, he speaks on the clamour for restructuring, insecurity, decongestion of prisons and sundry other issues.
Do you agree with insinuations that President Buhari has constituted himself to be Nigeria’s problem by rejecting the clamour for the country’s restructuring?
I think it might be a bit hasty to jump into the conclusion that the President has constituted himself to be the nation’s problem by rejecting restructuring. Some of us have reacted to the president’s pronouncement about the issue of restructuring.
My first reaction was that it seems the president does not clearly understood what Nigerians have been saying on the issue owing to the fact that there has been diverse opinions on the issue.
The president has not gotten the correct perspective as to what those that are genuinely clamouring for restructuring are saying. We will not be able to make any progress if we continue with the present structure of the country.
We are talking about a Federal Republic of Nigeria, but we are running a unitary system where everything is centralized.
Such a structure cannot work in a diverse country with various ethnic groups like Nigeria. The Federal Government must be divested of some its powers for us to attain some efficiency in the system.
The federating units must get more things to do and we must do away with the system where everything is centralized.
The president was talking about the issue of presidential system of government and the likes which are not what restructuring is all about.
Are you not concerned that the President’s pronouncement on the issue might have eventually shut out all agitations about restructuring?
No, I don’t think so. The ruling party and the president’s aides have made some clarifications on the issue. They have said the president’s pronouncement is not the final.
In particular, the APC National Chairman, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, said he still believes that the issue should be given a serious thought despite the president’s pronouncement.
The party has even set up a committee on the issue and I don’t think the president could have pre-empted what the committee would come up with by his assertion.
So, I think the committee should be allowed to conclude its assignment and come up with recommendations. It is then that we can say whether or not the ruling party has actually adopted the current approach in addressing the issue.
Restructuring was contained in the party’s manifesto. Promises were also made during campaigns to Nigerians that the issue of restructuring will be addressed.
Do you see the current spate of insecurity in the country, particularly in the Middle-belt, posing a threat to the successful conduct of the 2019 general elections?
No, I don’t think so. INEC has done what it is supposed to do. We ought to know the time-table for next year’s general elections in advance.
That is actually what the electoral body has done by telling us when elections will hold. If there is insecurity in the country, it is the responsibility of the Federal Government to tackle it.
Though, some of us have criticized the security architecture of the country for being too centralized. We should decentralized the security arrangement. We should have state police and then allow people to monitor the environment.
People should be encouraged to report what is going on in their system. The present arrangement is not healthy. But, that does not mean that things that are suppose to be done will not be done.
Government is addressing the issue of insecurity and I think they are trying to nip it in the bud. I was impressed with the timely arrest of the murderers in Rivers state.
I am also a bit impressed, though belatedly, that the presidency has actually woken up from its slumber to address the high level of insecurity in Benue state.
The Inspector General of Police (IGP), Ibrahim Idris, was directed by President Buhari to ensure security of lives and property in the entire North Central part of the country.
That, to me, is the kind of reaction any government that is serious about tackling such issue should adopt. Government is there to provide solutions and that is what governance is all about.
So, for that intervention and sending the IGP with express instructions to fish out the perpetrators of the heinous crime, government has reacted properly.
We want government to be up and doing as we are entering into the last lap where there will be another election. People will want to forment trouble and cause crisis here and there, but all these will be addressed when government is up and doing.
There should be no threat to the next general elections. It is when government fails in its duties of securing people’s lives and property that we begin to nurse the fears as you have expressed.
Do you think the Federal Government has been decisive enough in dealing with the menace of herdsmen attacks in the country?
I think that elsewhere, some of us have expressed opinions that the president has not been very decisive in dealing with the herdsmen’s issue the way others related to it has been dealt with.
When the issue of Biafra agitations came up, the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) was proscribed by the government. The military was also sent to the South-East to douse the tension created by the Niger Delta militants.
So, I see no reason why the same president will now prevaricate in taking decisive action when lives and property were being lost owing to the activities of the herdsmen.
This indicisiveness and prevarication does not augur well. But, I am glad government has now woke up from its slumber. Open grazing has been banned and security operatives have been directed to fish out the perpetrators.
These are all actions taken in good direction and I want urged that government must continue to live up to its responsibilities by protecting lives and property. If this is not done, then there is no reason calling such a government.
Nigerians will definitely reject such a government that cannot protect their lives and property. So, it is left for those in power to either do the needful or refuse to do so at the expense of their political fortunes.
The choice is theirs. Nigerians are watching and at the appropriate they will speak with their votes.
What is your assessment of the state of the nation since inception of Buhari’s administration?
I think it’s a mix bag. There has been some mistakes and we have had some gains. I am happy with the current level that we have attained in agriculture and I want it to be sustained.
All the tiers of government are now going back to farming. We now have the local rice in abundance and some of us has abandoned eating the foreign rice. Besides, on the economy, the outlook for 2018 looks bright, going by the experts’ predictions.
The country was in recession last year which adversely affected many Nigerians. But, it has been predicted that things will be better this year.
What do you expect from Buhari’s government in 2018?
I expect government to create jobs and see to have improvement of the general economic situations for Nigerians. Government should also tackle the decadence in basic infrastructure.
We expect an improvement in power generation. All Federal roads in dilapidated conditions must also be repaired while new ones are also constructed. States government must also fixed roads in their domain.
The most important critical thing is the economy. Government should ensure that prices of food items in the market are reduced. I also want to fix the power problem.
If we could surmount the problem and get power right, I believe every other thing will begin to fall in line in this country. These are some of the things government should do to address the challenges confronting Nigerians.
These major issues has to be tackled because they will act as catalysts for growth, development, national cohesion and unity of the country.
How do you see plans by the Federal Government to erect courtrooms in prisons across the country to aid decongestion?
If we want to carry out prison reforms, let’s be holistic about it. Government should engage in construction of new prisons because the ones in existence were put in place by the whites.
Over the years, we have not been able to carry out any serious prison reforms to reflect modern day realities.
The real essence of prison is to reform inmates and make them better members of the society at the expiration of their jail terms. But the reverse is the case in Nigeria.
Inmates come out of our prisons to become hardened criminals and find it difficult to fit into the society. Inmates conditions in Nigeria prisons are completely horrible. The Federal Government should allow states to build prisons.
I saw what Akwa-Ibom government did at Ikot-Ekpene. A very modern prison was put up there. So, I am expecting a holistic reform of our prisons and not the issue of erecting courtrooms across prisons in the country.
It is not the best way to decongest prisons. The prison system in the United Kingdom and America are so appealing that people want to go there.
The prison system in those places is all about the reform of inmates’ characters. I urged government to carry out holistic reforms that will make everyone that goes into our prisons better citizens.
The Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen, is asking lawyers to stop commenting on cases that are pending in court. Will this not amount to an infringement on the constitutionally guaranteed rights of lawyers to freedom of expression?
I don’t think so. The CJN only wants people to be careful while speaking on pending cases in court.
If a matter is in court, lawyers are expected to refrain from saying certain things that might influence the substantive judgement of the court on it.
In actual fact, the normal thing is that when a matter is in court, we are not expected to talk about it because it will be subjudice to do so.
That is what we are taught. A lawyer is not expected to draw conclusions while commenting on such matters because he is not the judge. I think the statement is a time-honoured advice for us as lawyers.