• Tuesday, July 16, 2024
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BusinessDay

I am not a turncoat; I am a realistic, flexible activist – Agbakoba

Olisa Agbakoba

Olisa Agbakoba, a former president of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), has dismissed the “turncoat” appellation affixed to him by some critics over his call for pursuit of cooperative federalism for the good of the masses as against the endless wait for restructuring.

Recall that Agbakoba had recently canvassed for cooperative federalism to address urgent needs of the country, while waiting for the eventual political and economic restructuring of the country. His stand attracted a barrage of criticism and he was accused of chickening out from the struggle.

But speaking with BusinessDay yesterday to set the record straight, Agbakoba said: “Most of the sub-nationalities kicked against it and called me a turncoat, but I am saying that I am not; I am a realistic, flexible activist.”

“I have made a choice based on a lot of factors. The most important factor is the decline I have seen in the standard of living in Nigeria, it is going down. I have made a choice because I have seen government response, extremely poor; and I have made a choice that in as much as I believe in the ultimate goal of restructuring, there are other steps that can lead to it. I have made a choice going back to Thabo Mbeki’s advice to me in Lagos in 1989. I have made a choice because the demand placed on the Federal Government by civil society is completely a dysfunction of state governments and it is not understandable. I made a choice because the state governors are not as helpless as we think,” he said.

 

He explained that if state governors should embrace the cooperative federalism being suggested and also exercise their powers as contained in the constitution, Nigeria would be the better for it.

According to him, “Governors can build roads, hospitals, power stations, virtually everything. There are things, of course, that governors cannot do like federal roads, solid minerals and this is where the principle of cooperative federalism comes in. If there is this East-West road that covers three or four states, why can’t the Federal Government in cooperation with those states get the programme done? Because if the idea of cooperative federalism or restructuring is about people, I don’t see any reason anyone should say it is either this or nothing, which is what the argument sounds like; which I don’t accept at all. It cannot be either restructuring or nothing.

“So, my short clarification is this, I hope that the time will come when we will reach to the stage of political and economic restructuring. But to the extent that we don’t have it, the limited space that, for instance, Governor Rotimi Akeredolu has to have cooperative federalism with the Federal Government to explore his bitumen is there, but his people are not making demands. Ondo is a poor state, but they have one of the world’s richest bitumen. Enugu is a poor state, but they have one of the world’s reserves for coal. Ebonyi is a poor state but has one of the world’s salt mines valued at N14billion. So, is it not possible that we, the people should also make demands, not only on the Federal Government, but on the states? So, what stops these states from cooperating with the Federal Government to harness these natural endowments?”