Former Abia State Governor, Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu has urged the federal government to drag state governors to court over non-conduct of local government elections.
He gave the advice while delivering a public lecture at the University of Calabar.
According to him, “While searching the constitution, I realised that it’s mandated that local governments must be administered by an elected leadership, including a legislature.”
He said during his tenure as Governor of Abia State, he allowed local governments to run as the constitution recommended.
“In so doing, I did not go about imposing myself on local governments and micro-managing them.
“By allowing them to have elected leaderships as enshrined in the constitution, I gave life to the concept of the rule of law, which I believe is our best bet towards addressing so many issues in our democracy,” he added.
On ongoing agitations, he said it had always been part of the political development of every country.
He said: “what we are experiencing in Nigeria is not exactly different because man, as a political animal, will continually seek for more even if you give him the world. People will keep agitating especially in an environment where the source of livelihood is negatively affected.
“So, when we ask for the devolution of powers, what comes to mind is what exactly are we asking for? This is a question that will be asked time and time again. Those who see meaning in the question will not dwell so much on it. Those who do not will keep asking you what you want. But as people from a part of the country where the only singular national export is extracted from, there is need to ask more questions and seek answers.
“What constitutes devolution of powers to me, a Nigerian from Abia state, a state which is blessed with hydrocarbon reserves, is not necessarily the same with what constitutes devolution for a man whose land is blessed for rice cultivation, for instance. Therefore, I will like to know why the oil, which is a mineral resource, in my state is not working for the benefit of Abia state.”
He querried, “Why don’t states have power to issue drivers’ license for instance? How come it is only the federal government that can issue licence to anyone who is ready to mine the oil in Ukwa area of Abia state? Why wouldn’t the state government have a say in that?
“Why must all the states go to Abuja every month to collect money to run their affairs? Why not Abuja going to the states to collect its share of their income? Sometimes, you find out that you are helpless because some federal law has limited the capacity of your state government to provide you some basic amenities.
“For instance, while it is easy for some states to utilise gas that is flared by oil exploring companies to build gas-powered electricity turbines, the governors soon realise that the best they could do was to build the turbines, generate electricity but cannot evacuate and distribute what is generated because of a law which says that only a certain company, owned by the federal government, can transmit the power and sell to distribution companies.”
Dr Kalu said, “In my eight years in office as governor of Abia state, we engaged federal authorities on some of these issues, including resource control and eventually Sovereign National Conference. So, whether we call it resource control, Sovereign National Conference, Restructuring or by any other name, we are saying the same thing.
“That we want power to devolve so that our states and local governments can have constitutional powers to do much more than they are doing today. We make that demand because we agree that there is too much power concentrated at the centre.”
Consequently, the guest lecturer said “I will like to know why the gas reserve in Abia state is not being exploited for the good of Abia people. Why do states not have powers to mine mineral resources in their land? Why are states in the north central not empowered to mine all the solid minerals in their land and develop with them?
“Statistics show that under the soils of north central lie various solid minerals, much more than you can get in the whole of Asia. So, why do the state lack powers to participate in their exploration?”
He lamented “There are some roads you would like to fix because of its economic importance. But you would be told by the Minister that you cannot go ahead because it is federal road and the federal government has plans to fix it. If you insist and push too hard, you may get them to fix it. In some cases, you may go ahead and use state funds to fix the road because of the people, but you may never get the money back. As a governor, I had to do that to take the pain off the shoulder of my people.
“In some cases, some major and very strategic roads become very bad and impassable. While it stands as a sore point in the governor’s performance, you may not know that he is not allowed by the law that designated it a federal property from fixing it.
“In the mind of the young people like you who might not be close to government, the state government has failed to provide electricity. But for the state government, it is the federal law which is frustrating its effort. When the people eventually find out what is happening, they begin to agitate and ask that power be devolved to the state to enable it distribute the electric power it had generated.
“But let me say this, the agitation for devolution of power, restructuring or a referendum, are all legitimate democratic demands. They form part of the conversation that must take place to strengthen democracy and make it a real system of government of the people, by the people and for the people.
“It means that if ‘the people is lost’ in any governmental system, then, we no longer talk of democracy but dictatorship. For it is only in a dictatorship that people have no say on how they are governed or over what happens to their resources.”
The former Governor said “if we fail to do what is necessary today for the sake of our tomorrow, we may live our old age regretting the opportunities that we lost to help this country rise to its full potentials and make the sort of impact that our youths want to see.
“I lend my support to all legitimate actions and voice seeking to help us redirect our democracy towards a path where it will serve the interest of the majority and not that of a few. This is so because in essence, those who are in power are actually holding such power in trust for the people.”
“However, I will insist that we keep our agitations within the bounds of our laws and constitution. Once your agitations are within legal limits, and devoid of insults and name-calling, then, you will have no issues with the law. You would also attract support. Doing otherwise means attracting the wrath of the law; and as you know, it is not always a sweet experience,” he stated.