By Chukwudi Nweje
Debo Adeniran, Executive Chairman, Centre Against Corruption and Open Leadership (CACOL) in this interview insists that President Buhari remains the best among the pack of politicians eyeing the presidency. He also said without a sovereign national conference Nigerians will only be tolerating each other.
How would you sum up the year 2017?
2017 was so eventful, there were lots of confusion in the polity but at the level of CACOL we didn’t expect things could have been better because the country was handed over to the ruling party that didn’t know they would win the 2015 presidential election in the first place.
The administration started on a wobbling note because of the level of degeneracy in the country. The president fell sick and there was confusion whether he was going to make it or not; the acting president couldn’t act with all the authority of the office of the president, issues that were supposed to be of national importance were put in abeyance.
So far it has been so good, it may not have been better if it were other political parties at the helms of affairs, and it would have been worse if it were the PDP that continued because they were actually ruining us. The way they were progressing in error, they would have led us into the precipice of cataclysm.
The expectation of the people was that the new government was going to affect some changes and some changes they did effect but because their detractors, especially the opposing parties would not want people to see the modest achievements the administration made, they continue to mask it with propaganda. But so far, the best we can get is what we are getting now. However we believe it is possible that we can do things differently and better. But we can only achieve that with system change.
What do you mean by system change?
Since the beginning of Nigeria as a republic in 1963 we have been running a government based on the principle of capitalism, which entails exploitation of the weak for the benefit of the strong. So most projects that are embarked upon are not pro people, there are no social services for the masses to enjoy. Like healthcare services, you can’t be too healthy, you can only be healthy enough; you can’t have too much education, you can only be educated, you can’t have too much food or too much electricity. You can’t have too much of facilities that would make businesses thrive and make the people live fulfilled lives. All these services are supposed to be made available to the people. If all these are done then everybody will live comfortably.
The government should establish industrial villages where people who have learnt some trade but could not buy the required equipment to practise can go to when they have jobs to do; these people can use the equipment at the industrial villages and pay a token. Our leaders don’t care when they see homeless and hungry people, when people die of preventable illnesses because they can’t meet the cost of healthcare required. Because of these, people who otherwise would have been patriotic citizens seek unconventional means to survive. When JFK in the United States of America said you should not think of what your country will do for you but what you can do for your country, it was because America had made it possible for the citizens to be patriotic and happy.
Also party expenditure should be measured in terms of the capacity of the average citizen. Nobody should be allowed to put into the party anything that is above the average per capita income of the citizenry. This would create a level playing ground for the citizenry. A situation where your country makes you sad will produce a negative effect because a hungry man is an angry man and an angry man is a mad man in the making and a mad man will do anything to keep on moving that is why we have this level of insecurity in the country.
Section 14 (1)(b) of the 1999 constitution as amended provides that the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government. How come nobody has challenged the government for not living up to this obligation?
It is not that the government has not been challenged. Rather, the government has used brute force to suppress the voices of the people. They have cowed the people with poverty and made it impossible for anybody to raise his voice. So because of this brute force and the ravaging poverty it has become difficult for anybody to organise. For instance if a protest is to be organised in Abuja, there is no poor person in Abuja metropolis so you will have to move the people from faraway to the city centre and transportation cost is off the roof. This has made it difficult for the CSOs to organise the people unless you pay them and if you pay the people then you have defeated the essence of the protest.
Nigeria has been made very difficult to organise. Successive governments in Nigeria behave like deaf and dumb, they don’t care if the people live or die. Look at what is happening in Benue State between the herdsmen and farmers or in Southern Kaduna and in Rivers State or even in the North East. Nigeria is a peculiar society where holding government accountable is difficult. The constitution does not even protect the citizenry enough to the extent that when you go to court to challenge the government, they will be spending your tax money. The court is no longer the last hope of the common man. Even the National Assembly is part of it, when you introduce a bill to them; they water it down just like they did to the Freedom of Information (FoI) Bill before they passed it. There is no law the National Assembly pass that is in the interest of the masses. There is a conspiracy of the three arms of government against the masses that is why it is a herculean task taking government to account. That is why CSOs like SERAP dragged the federal government to international court because they don’t have confidence in the national courts.
A major aspect of President Buhari’s New Year address is rejection of restructuring. What do you think?
When we talk about system change we are not talking of restructuring. It is as good as there is no structure on ground. The system needs to be changed because it is not working. It is when you have a system that you start talking about restructuring. The problem of Nigeria is that of nation building. What we have is a conglomerate of nations. We need to build a nation and to build a nation you have to consider the opinion of every citizen and the way to do it is through a sovereign national conference. You say you are a federal republic but have a federal constitution that is run like a unitary constitution, you can’t make headway. Sovereign national conference is the true beginning of true nationhood, without it we will only be tolerating each other until everybody comes to the table and we discuss.
Do you think the 2014 Jonathan’s conference report should be adopted?
The 2014 Jonathan conference is far from a sovereign national conference because majority of the people at the conference were appointed by Jonathan, his proxies or apologists. Not just any conference will do otherwise there has been several conferences in the past. All the reports of these conferences could be brought to a sovereign national conference to be examined. A sovereign national conference is not as difficult to organise as people are looking at it.
Let’s go back to the slow pace at which the President Muhammadu Buhari-led government started. He contested the presidential election three times earlier before winning, so expectations were that he would hit the ground running. What do you think happened?
President Buhari didn’t expect that he would win because he had come close to winning but was cheated out. This time he knew he had overwhelming support but the doubt was still there. The reason he contested severally was because he had some vision that Nigeria can be better and that was why he shed tears before he lost the 2011 election. Again, he knew that if he won he would not have a free hand to operate because he is a ‘child of necessity’. The aggregate of many political parties that merged to win that election are like a granite coalition, many of them had never worked together. Their ideologies were far from each other and it was within that short period that they came together that they won the election; they have not even ironed out their internal differences before they came to the government house. They couldn’t have been working at cross purposes and running the government at the same time.
Even after they harmonised their different manifestoes there is no item on the manifesto that does not require the approval of the National Assembly to implement and the National Assembly has a different idea of what governance should be.
Buhari needed so much money to win that election so even when he did not solicit for money people were contributing money because they needed to be in power; they came to power and they control the larger percentage of those who control the party and the machinery of government. So even if Buhari wants to adhere to his principle the situation on ground doesn’t favour him.
Buhari has done the best any President can do. People say he is nepotistic, but if he wanted to be nepotistic or tribal, he would have released Dasuki long ago, he wouldn’t have touched anybody from the north. Then he went to his constituency, the military and dealt with those alleged to have committed acts of corruption, those of them who made it impossible for the war against Boko Haram to be totally won. He could have hit the ground running but because of the influence of the political class on him, which he cannot ignore. A lot of political intrigues didn’t allow them to move.
APC has served more than half its lifespan and some Nigerians say there is nothing tangible to show. What about you?
I am neither the spokesman of the government or APC but the party manifesto is like a programme that says if Nigerians allow us this is what we would like to implement. But as you know the National Assembly is not constituted by just one party and a few people can make it impossible for you to implement what you desire. But if we had not voted out PDP Nigeria would have become a failed state where ethnic militia would be competing for the reign of government. It is usually very difficult to right a wrong.
The big debate ongoing is whether President Buhari should seek re-election. Do you think he should?
Personally, I have not heard that he has launched his re-election campaign. I only hear speculations that he has appointed some people into his campaign committee. But I can tell you that among those parading themselves as willing candidates; President Buhari stands head and shoulders above them. If there had been a more credible alternative I would have preferred such. But if it is these breed of politicians or interlopers then I think Buhari is more credible than all of them. What we should caution against is that the campaigns should not hinder governance.