Hilliard Etta is a former National Vice Chairman (South-South) of the All Progressives Congress (APC). In this interview, with CLEMENT JAMES, he speaks on Nigeria’s unity and the need for a truly federal system of government
Your party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), recently conducted ward and local government congresses but there are people who have criticized the way and manner the exercise, especially the local government congress was handled. Are you satisfied the way the congresses went?
I don’t recognize any congresses conducted in an illegal and unconstitutional contraption, the very reason I approached the courts. So, in all honesty, I am not wired that way. I cannot probate and reprobate.
What is your opinion on the raging issue of Value Added Tax (VAT), which has pitted some states against the Federal government?
The issue of VAT hasn’t ever engaged my attention but I thank Governor Nyesom Wike for bringing this to national attention. I must confess that I am not properly schooled on the subject matter, so cannot give an informed opinion on it. However, I believe in devolution of power as a necessary ingredient to true federalism.
The states and local government areas must be empowered to play real developmental roles in the emerging Nigeria. The states have become vociferous in their quest for more resources and I fully support such quest.
But I must also stress that the states must remove their strangulated hands clasped on the throats of the local government areas. I am still studying the VAT matter, and will give my view in no distant future.
Talking about a truly federal system of government, why is it difficult for the APC-led Federal Government to dust up the report of its committee on restructuring led by Governor Nasir el-Rufai?
First of all, if you read the manifesto of our party, it would be clear o you that devolution of power is fully subscribed by us and I consider that a fundamental pillar of true federalism.
Having said that, the Governor el-Rufai committee set up by the party did a great job. But I also remember that the Senate led by Senator Bukola Saraki at that time killed the devolution of power aspect of the constitutional review exercise carried out by the 8th Senate.
Surprisingly, the same person is gallivanting round Nigeria, revising our history and speaking of restructuring. How fraudulent! Nigeria is work in progress, so I believe very strongly that our party will find strength to implement this important promise we made to Nigerians.
On the overused term ‘restructuring,’ it means different things to different people and until we have a national consensus as to its meaning, it will continue to be too verbose for candid and objective examination. Nigeria is not yet a perfect union but even the oldest democracy isn’t. So, let’s pull our sleeves and continue to work for a fairer and more equal Nigeria.
Some states in Southern Nigeria have enacted laws banning open grazing, while the Federal Government is bent on creation of grazing routes and what it describes as settlements. What is your opinion on these issues?
Well, it’s a continuous search for a permanent solution. There is the problem of desertification; there is the problem of population, the problem of education, and the challenges of new economic paradigms.
Some of the solutions proffered are not workable and because they are not workable, there must be search for other solutions. If you ask me, I believe that the time has come for us to ranch. It is not a political decision but a developmental one. We have come of age and cannot allow our goats, our dogs and cows to be roaming about as if we are in pristine times.
We are in an age that animal husbandry is a private business and must be so conducted. We are in an age where we know that those little boys that go around as herdsmen ought to be in school.
So, for me, we cannot create situations where we are seen as uncivilized, backward and retrogressive people. We must embrace new methods because the world is no more the way it used to be.
In the past, the party could reign in on an errant president. In other words, the party was stronger than the President. But in this democratic dispensation, it seems to have changed such that the president is stronger than the party. Is this supposed to be the case?
In 1999, Nigerians elected a military man as president of Nigeria in the person of General Olusegun Obansanjo, who introduced the military way of doing things in politics.
He did not have the democratic temperament to accept that disagreements are necessary ingredients in politics and he was changing the national chairmen of the ruling party at his whims. We now have a President Muhammadu Buhari, who not only removed the national chairman, but also the entire structure of the party because in the military, everybody respects the last order by the senior officer. In politics it is different.
You must have a debate, you must have an engagement, you must have interactions, and you must have intellectual discourse within the political process. This is not acceptable in the military environment.
Consequently, political officers elected on the platform of the party, who are now in power in true military fashion, have completely destroyed the political party that brought them to power. How very sad indeed!
You have not said anything since Governor Ben Ayade of Cross River State dumped the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) for the APC. Wha informed your silence?
First of all, I wear a lot of caps and the first one is that I wear the cap of the Acting National Chairman of the APC; the second one is that I wear the cap of a Cross Riverian and the third one is that I wear the cap of a pundit. I can appraise the APC from three different perspectives or even more.
As a partisan politician, who happens to be in the APC, Ayade’s defection has given the APC a fighting chance at subsequent elections because we come from a very impoverished and a very poor state. Please remember that I said that it has only given us a fighting chance, I didn’t say that it has given us an opportunity to take over.
Now, as a Cross Riverian, I have decided not to say anything since Governor Ayade crossed over to APC, he has not sought my counsel or even bothered to visit me or to interact with me. So, as a Cross Riverian, I will keep my peace.
I hope that even if I was not a member of the party, but I have held various positions in the party where he is presently, it is important for us to meet, but as a Cross Riverian, I will keep my peace.
Recently, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) conducted its state congress in Cross River and Barr, Venatius Ikem emerged as the state chairman of the party. What difference do you think he will make in the state as the 2023 general election approaches?
Let me firstly congratulate Barr. Ikem for emerging as the state chairman of the PDP in my home state. Vena, as we call him, happens to be a friend and as it stands, his work is cut out for him.
From my experience, to lead an opposition party in a state like ours can be quite challenging.