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Igbo have learnt bitter lesson
By Willy Eya
National Chairman of United Progressive Party (UPP), Chief Chekwas Okorie believes that the 2019 general elections would be a different ball game. His position is that no presidential candidate would win the race in first ballot. He speaks on various issues.
What are your reflections about the state of the nation in this brand New Year?
The state of the nation is not enviable; it is not what anybody will wish or expect for Nigeria, it is not what anybody will be proud of. The situation was brought about by some number of factors but super of which is poor leadership because even when an economy is in recession, Nigeria is not the only economy that is in recession or has been in recession. It is the creativity and determination of leadership that will determine how excruciating that recession will be and how quickly it can be resolved.
When Obama became President in his first tenure, circumstances were quite there in the United States and being the first black president, not many people gave him any chance of being able to weather the storm. But he showed a lot of political determination, a lot of creativity and the right kind of advice.
But here, rather than face what will bring the economy back, we are busy appropriating powers to certain sections of the country, appropriating powers to ourselves, concerned about which person is occupying which position, not the capacity or capability of such person. That has made the issue of the recession worse. Deriving from that, the general discontent began to arise with regards to whether Nigeria should be or not be. Some sections feel so agitated that they believe they are better off opting out of Nigeria. That agitation is there. The handling of that agitation again influences the type of leadership that I am talking about. Instead of using diplomacy, political sagacity to reach out and douse tension, our leaders still behave as if they are in a war situation. What I call Jack-Boot approach that made the Niger Delta militants to spin in their trenches and has made oil production and even our derivation from it to be at all time low.
Then the agitation by those wishing to opt out of Nigeria by way of the Biafra agitators, whether anybody likes it or not, it has again contributed in bringing the economy of this country to its knees. But unfortunately, those at the helm of affairs don’t seem to appreciate the negative economic impact of that agitation which has lasted for so long and has worsened under this administration.
There is instability in politics, instability in the economy as it is in the political parties and it is fanning the tyranny and this is a challenge of leadership and the leadership seems to be overwhelmed and almost appearing confused and that is not helpful. So the state of the nation is in a very deplorable condition.
Do you think rejigging of the cabinet could bring about the expected turnaround in the fortunes of Nigeria?
Start from the very beginning when the appointments were made, I think I was one of those who pointed out in fact that round pegs have been put in square holes and it then turned out to prove some of us right that this is what has happened. So I am not talking about the credentials of those who have been appointed whether they are eminent or learned enough but I am talking about the capacity to deliver in the various pool assignments assigned to them. As a matter of fact, we have a government that has almost 60 per cent of its executive coming from the legal profession. And you see now a lawyer handling areas that ought to be handled by people with certain different kind of background training and cognate experience and that has affected the overall performance of the ministers and then, that also affects the quality of advice they give to the President regarding their portfolios as per how what they are encountering in the field. Nobody can give what he doesn’t have. So he needs to rejig, many people have pointed at that but unfortunately, we have a leadership that seems to be so self-opinionated that it appears that even well meaning opinions and advice seem to fall on deaf ears.
One of the allegations against the present leadership is that it is increasingly closing the democratic space. What do you think is the implication of for our democracy in terms of the issue of elections; people are increasingly losing confidence in INEC. What would you make of all of this especially ahead of 2019 general elections?
First of all, we want to see the National Assembly expedite action in its amendment of the Electoral Act and then amendment of the Constitution which I suppose will also give new direction in the electoral process. For example, myself and UPP that I lead as National Chairman, have been in the forefront of advocating for electronic voting system. The card reader cannot be sufficiently electronic as in the true meaning of it, and I made this known when we made presentations that it is the Electoral Act that prevented them from going fully electronic and they sighted Section 2 of the Electoral Act that said expressly that electronic voting system shall not be used for the time being as they have.
We sent memorandum to every senator and every member of House of Reps and the entire leadership of the National Assembly, the Presidency and INEC and I understand that that aspect of the amendment has been incorporated to permit INEC to adopt it. So if that is done, definitely the process will be more transparent, there will be more participation in the process because people will now believe that their votes will count and results will come out fast. The cost of the benefit is that this challenge of sensitive materials being delivered late will be a thing of the past because it will no longer arise and this whole idea of ballot paper being snatched would also be a thing of the past.
All the major political parties in Nigeria are in one crisis or the other. Do you foresee the emergence of another mega party on the road to 2019?
I don’t believe in the so-called mega party and in any case, the way the polity is now, people are beginning to consolidate in their geopolitical zones. But politics is getting more local now and by 2019, I am foreseeing a minimum of six political parties, strong parties, engaging in the democratic contest and each of these parties will occupy more strongly, at least one geopolitical zone. The APC will implode; PDP has disintegrated and the disintegration is irreversible. Of course APGA, everybody knows is moribund and in the place of APGA, UPP is a new sing song in the South-East now as a result of the party’s principled stand on restructuring and self-determination of which is a major part of its manifesto not just rhetoric like Atiku will address conferences and be talking about this thing but we are talking about proper social contract as reflected in the party’s manifesto. So UPP is the party that has reflected this burning issue of self-determination, resource control, true federalism and so on and so forth.
So I am seeing the situation where there will be no clear overall winner like what we have in APC today or what we used to have in PDP before. So the National Assembly of 2019 will be a little more balanced with legislators coming from different political parties and different geopolitical zones with different ideological inclinations. Of course, a presidential system means that one person must emerge as president but I feel that such a president would be a product of a coalition of political parties. In order words, no president will emerge in the first ballot and by second ballot, some parties would have gone into coalition to present one president and there will be a shared government. It will no longer be winner takes all, where one man will sit down and decide that certain critical components of the polity will not be represented in the Security Council like the Igbo people are agitating right now or like a greater number of people from one section will occupy the critical positions in the polity. That will not happen again and perhaps, President Buhari is even God-sent in the sense that his very nepotic approach to appointments has opened the eyes of many Nigerians as to the fact that we have not matured to put too much power in the hand of one person.
One of the fallouts of this present administration is also the emergence of different groups agitating for one thing or the other. With all of this, what do you see of the future of Nigeria? Many think that the way we are going, the issue of disunity will be difficult to halt again. Do you think that it is possible for us to go back to that era when Nigerians used to see one another as one?
Well, that is why those who want Nigeria to last little longer are the ones who are advocating for restructuring of the polity. When Nigeria used to be one, the structure was not like this. When Nigeria was appearing to be one if we put it that way, we had quasi federalism, not even true federalism but such federalism that the various regions were allowed to develop at their own pace. There was revenue allocation formula that was 60 per cent by derivation. The regions were contributing to the centre and not the regions going to the centre with cap in hand to collect allocations or handouts. That was what made Nigeria thick in the First Republic. By the Second Republic, things have started going down because the Second Republic inherited what the military handed over. But after that, things got worse; the structure we have now, we never meant for peace because before you can have unity, there must be peace and before you can have peace, there must be justice. If peace is not there, there will be no unity and those who say Nigeria’s unity is non-negotiable are deceiving themselves and living in self denial.
There is nothing made by man that is not negotiable. Even marriage the first institution that God instituted and it is in the bible, the bible even made room for dissolution; and marriage is constantly renegotiated almost on daily basis. So you cannot have a contraction in which people of desperate cultures, background and so on and so forth, ways of life, orientation, you have them lumped together as a country and you say it is non-negotiable. And maybe some of our leaders are not emphasizing it that the document that established amalgamation gave this country 100 years to experiment on that amalgamation, sit back and decide whether to continue with it or not. It is a document that pronounced the amalgamation, it is clearly stated and 100 years have passed and we are continuing. We have even met a situation worse than the structure that Lord Lugard and his government even enforced on Nigeria. For example, at the commencement of the First Republic, there were 14 provinces in the North, nine provinces in the West, 12 provinces in the Eastern region. At that time, the Mid-western region was not created. When Mid-western region was created, two out of the nine provinces in the West became part of Mid-western region and they are Delta and Edo provinces.
Now, while there was one province in the South, there were 14 provinces in the North and that was what Lord Lugard and his people handed over to Nigeria up to 1963 and what is the situation today? The military just sat down with a stroke of the pen, reversed everything and we now have 774 local governments, plus the local governments at the middle of the desert with nobody leaving there and still, these are all factored into revenue allocation. Landmass, local government areas, even when we recruit people into the Police, they are drawn from the local government areas on the basis of equality. So whereas the South-East will be contributing their own quota to the Police Force from only 95 local government areas, the North-West was making their own contribution from 188 local government areas, just one geopolitical zone as against the other. That is just for recruitment into the Police Force and that is what has happened in the military, in the navy, air force, in immigration, in customs, everywhere. So how can you have such structure and expect everybody to be happy and you preach peace with such injustice pervading the entire landscape.
But do you think that your geopolitical zone, the South-East, has learnt any lesson from the dynamics of the politics of this nation? Over the years, they’ve always been the weeping child of the nation’s politics. Ahead of 2019, do you think they have learnt their lesson?
They have learnt a very, very bitter lesson and that is what you are seeing now in this agitation. This agitation started as agitation of impressionable young men and women but today, everybody preaches and sings about it, everybody is involved no matter the age or background, or level of education. The only thing is that only few people have the courage to speak out. People like me, we are not many in my category of the youth class or the political class but it does not mean that the rest don’t feel the way all of us are feeling.
So this lesson is not just lesson but a very bitter lesson and that is why I said earlier, the politics of 2019 will be totally, totally different. If anybod is thinking in terms of mega party in the type that brought about APC for 2019, he is not reading the Nigerian political parameters very correctly.
A lot of people have been canvassing for this restructuring but if you watch the power elite in the North, especially those from the core North, they have always fought to ensure that it doesn’t happen. Do you think that there will be a day that Nigeria the way it is, will be restructured?