“I helped found the APC and we had our ideals. Has it been 100 percent what we hoped for? Far from it. Have we been unhappy at many points? Yes indeed…”
Professor Pat Utomi, a chieftain and founding member of the All Progressives Congress (APC) is a governorship aspirant in Delta State. He spoke about his vision for Nigeria, the current state of the ruling party, his decision to contest the governorship election after twice taking a shot at the presidency and his gradual disengagement from partisan politics.
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You are aspiring to contest the governorship election in Delta State in February 2019. What informed that decision?
I took a position after 2015 as my 60th birthday approached that I was going to go into instrumental disengagement from public service since retirement age in Nigeria is 65. I decided that I would begin a quite disengagement from public service. In the last one and half years or so, I have received quite a lot of comments, some accusatory others encouraging, but all asking me how I could be working on how to better the society for this long, yet the place I come from is the ultimate source of embarrassment in terms of development experience. They all said that my home state (Delta State) is in a sorry state of development.
I have taught about it in many different ways, the one that really got to me was when the Old Boys Association of Government College Ughelli, sought to see me. When they came they made a presentation of why I should go in and I told them why I was tired and that I had done enough and that nobody would hold it against me, that I had done enough and don’t think that Nigerians are ready to think about making progress. I couldn’t see why people work against their own good. Those conversations led to my decision to contest one final time to ensure that I absolve myself completely of blame.
You ran for the presidency twice, first in 2007 on the platform of the African Democratic Congress (ADC) party and in 2011, Social Democratic Mega Party (SDMP). Why the step down to the governorship race?
My involvement in politics is an evolution so it is important to start it from the beginning. During the June 12 crisis, we started a group known as The Concerned Professionals. It came out of something I wrote titled ‘We Must Say Never Again’. That led to my argument that professionals and the citizens should not leave governance to a group of soldiers and hustling politicians. All that led to confronting the military and when the military finally withdrew, the question became, what should be done now? Our group was split into, one said let’s go in and show what we have been talking about, the other said ‘let’s leave politics to politicians.’ I was of the position that we should leave politics to politicians.
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So, what changed your position?
Unfortunately, the politicians we trusted didn’t trust the military so they didn’t come out, so the country was taken over by those who took it over and as you can guess the result has been frightening. But by 2003 we knew we cannot keep watching that we must do something. So The Concerned Professionals formed a political party and took over the ADC initiative and felt that I symbolise that trust in the run. After 2007 which was a complete disaster in the sense that there was no election, even the international community agree to this. After that process, Chief Anthony Enahoro began a process of trying to bring the progressives together. His argument was that the way things were going that he needed all the progressives together, all the presidential candidates and their deputies so that they can discuss and give up their claims for the other so that they would form a progressive alliance. Chief Olu Falae said he trusted me the most for that. So I was ‘prevailed’ upon to become candidate and be the one to manage that process. Unfortunately, that process didn’t work out as well. By 2013, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu said to me that we have to try again, that we should go and see Gen. Muhammadu Buhari. That is how the process that led to the founding of the All Progressives Congress (APC) took place.
In other words, you are a founding member of the APC?
Of course yes, I was a member of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) when the APC was founded, we were trying to merge. My protest has been simple and straightforward, opposition, and politics for change. I don’t change political party; when the political party cannot bring change from within, I will withdraw and leave partisan political life.
You talked about Delta State as ultimate source of embarrassment in the development experience, what do you mean?
Development in Delta State has been terrible, it is almost disastrous. There is a simple measure for this. In those days, the present Delta State was part of the Midwest Region, then Bendel State and then the Midwest was one of the most progressive parts of Nigeria, it dominated everywhere. In the civil service, most permanent secretaries came from the Midwest. When the civil war ended and the University of Nigeria Nsukka (UNN) was being revived, we were at UNN then, it was Ogbemudia that provided the greatest support. Today, that Midwest that used to be number one in almost everything has fell to almost number 20. Go to the area of infrastructure, before when coming from the east and you get to the Niger Bridge, you will heave a sigh of relief that you are escaping hell because the road leading to the bridge was a nightmare. Today it is the reverse. How come there is no motorable road in Delta State and almost every rural road in Anambra State is motorable? How is this possible? Somebody exorcised Anambra State of its demons, from the transition of Chris Ngige, Peter Obi and now Willie Obiano. Somebody also exorcised Edo State of its own demons. The exorcism already started through the transition through Adams Oshiomhole and now Godwin Obaseki. So our effort is to see how to also exorcise Delta State of its demons so that the people can finally breathe from under the yoke of bad governance.
Talking about change and moving the country forward, do you think the APC government has done this in the last three years?
I helped found the APC and we had our ideals. Has it been 100 percent what we hoped for? Far from it. Have we been unhappy at many points? Yes indeed, but everything is about evolution. In the Conservative and Labour parties in England, they have those they call backbenchers. These are people who are not happy with the things that are going on in the party and want a different thrust. The Labour Party was floundering and doing so terribly and the backbenchers were in revolt until Tony Blair and Gordon Brown worked out some kind of third wing coalition that brought the Labour Party out of the doldrums. In that same way, I am convinced that if we are serious as political actors, we can find people who are not happy with the way things are going in our party to join hands together and we can make a difference. That is exactly what I am trying to do with this my final effort to provide example before I exit from partisan politics,
What is your take on the Not Too Young to Run law?
I think anything that makes people happy is okay but there was no need for the law. Nobody was stopping young people from running for office. Young people have the tools to organise. With the technology available to them today they can organise, the population is in their favour. More than 60 percent of eligible voters today are youths. So, you don’t need a law to make them do what they need to do. I keep reminding people that I had no godfather when at age 27 I reached presidential advisory position.
It did not come from any godfather; it came from serious output and the fact that a serious leadership looking out said we like the ideas of this young man. So Dr. Alex Ekwueme principally invited me and I was introduced to President Shehu Shagari and I was engaged.
What is your vision for Nigeria?
I will like to see a prosperous, just state where there is opportunity for all. I believe that if opportunity is provided for all citizens no matter their state of birth, ethnic group or religion, Nigeria would prosper. The United States of America despite its pockets of discrimination is still one of those countries where
you can come from anywhere and be somebody and that is the reason why it is prosperous. That is what Nigeria is not doing, Nigeria is a very unjust society and it is a victim of state capture. Nigeria has been a captured state for generations, which is unfortunate.