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Gen. Abubakar’s govt responsible for Nigeria’s problems – Chekwas Okorie

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Gen. Abubakar's govt responsible for Nigeria's problems – Chekwas Okorie

Founder of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) and a co-founder of Ohanaeze Ndigbo worldwide, Chief Chekwas Okorie, speaks with EMEKA EJERE on 24 years of Nigeria’s democracy, proffering solutions to some of the problems retarding the progress of the country.

He is the founder of APGA, former National Chairman of the defunct UPP, one-time strong member of APC, and just recently, a factional presidential candidate of APGA.

 

Nigeria can boast of 24 to 25 years of uninterrupted democracy. What is your assessment of Nigeria’s democracy within this period?

I will say that our democracy has a checkered history. But before I go into that, I will say that it is quite comforting as you put it that we’ve had close to 25 years of uninterrupted democracy. Because right from independence we’ve had interruptions – military coups, then civil war that lasted for 30 months and so on. So, to have democracy 25 years unbroken is something to cheer about, at least we can draw from that experience and build blocks for the future.

Yes, the 25 years we’ve practised democracy has been quite checkered. What has made it so is that right from 1999, which is where the 24 to 25 years starts counting, Nigeria was run and continues to be run with a constitution that is a fraud. And that constitution was imposed on Nigerians, with very ulterior and unpatriotic intentions. Because before the 1999 Constitution was enacted by the government of Abdulsalami Abubakar, there was a constitutional conference under Gen. Abacha, and very lofty recommendations were made to the government, arising from that conference.

But some of these important aspects that would have given the federating units certain latitude to develop at their own pace were dropped by the government that took over from Gen. Abacha. And some of them will include the issue of rotational presidency, which was recommended. It was resisted, but the south persisted.

When Dr. Alex Ekwueme, came with that proposal, it was so resisted by the north that the chairman of the conference now said well, Dr. Ekwueme must present that his proposal; that he had only five minutes to do so, because that was the time given to every elected person. It was at that time that Dim Odimegwu Ojukwu, matched forward and donated his own five minutes to Dr. Ekwueme. And Dr. Mbakwe and so many of those, who were from the south, who were given five minutes to speak, donated their own five minutes to enable Dr. Ekwueme present his proposal, which couldn’t be presented in five minutes. And at the end of the presentation, everybody – from the middle belt to down Nigeria – applauded that presentation, and it became part of the recommendations.

Not only that he got Nigeria divided into six geo-political zones, he also recommended that presidency should rotate among the six geo-political zones. And for every president that exists, there will be six vice-presidents. The idea was that if anything happens to the President – whether he resigned, ill-health or whatever that will make him not to complete his tenure – then the vice-President from his own zone will complete the tenure so that it could go to another zone.

And we believed that if that was done just once, by the time it’s done once to every geo-political zone, Nigeria would have attained such a nationhood, in terms of trust, that it would no longer matter where any president would come from thereafter. So, it was not supposed to be a permanent feature. And this pleased everybody. And we thought we were on our path to having a country that everybody will call his own.

There were so many others. And then what did the military do? The military under Abdulsalami Abubakar, set up a committee dominated by their own persons, led by one Professor Yadudu, to review the recommendations. It was in that review that they removed all of these things, and now came out to say this constitution is the people’s constitution. That’s why I call it a fraud. Everybody knows it’s obnoxious.

And do you know one other unpatriotic thing they did that they thought was to favour only one part of the country? They went ahead and ensured that to make an amendment of the constitution will be like the proverbial camel passing through the eye of the needle.

There has not been a major constitutional amendment since 1999. The issue of autonomy of local government, the issue of fiscal federalism, and so many other issues that have come up have never been settled. Because before the National Assembly will even agree on it, you will now need 24 state assemblies (minimum), to also agree on it, where will you get it? It had already assigned 19 states to the north and given Abuja the status of a state, which means 20 out of 37 coming from one side that would normally want the status quo to remain. And so this is what has brought in bad blood, and made our presidential election a matter of do or die.

The same thing applies to other policies of government that talked about quota system, which now killed meritocracy, especially in the public service. The educationally disadvantaged; you have never something more degrading than that. That a certain section of the country will admit that their IQ, the IQ of their children is so low that we have to lower the bar for them to be able to go to tertiary institutions. And this includes critical disciplines like medicine. And that brings people with such low IQ to now become doctors and begin to experiment with human lives. And you tell me how a child who’s growing up with another child who’s from another region will see Nigeria that he has made, maybe, 150 or 200 points in an exam, and the one that made less than 100 will now get into the university, while himself is out of school, because he’s not from a favoured area.

Going by the elementary definition of democracy, the people are the most critical stakeholders because they have the final say at the poll. Don’t you think our own democracy has been hijacked by those with deep pockets?

Yes, democracy is what it’s expected to be – the people deciding, who represents them. In other words, the one, who has the majority of the votes of the people wins the election to represent the people. But, unfortunately, in the case of Nigeria, the people have been completely shut out of that sacred role of being the true sovereigns in matters that concern their representation and governance. And this is done by people with unfathomable war chest – money – which they use to corner every aspect of the electoral process.

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Starting from how they emerge as candidates of their parties, the delegates of the parties that go to participate in the primaries are usually bought over by those, who have the money. So, that denies a critical appraisal of the character and the quality of the people, who have presented themselves to be elected to fly the party’s flag. So, the leadership recruitment at that level begins to suffer from this type of problem, the act of using money to shut out the people.

And then in the election proper, that’s where the worst things happen. There’re deployments of thugs. A poor man cannot hire thugs, no matter how good he is, he can’t. These thugs are used to scare people away from coming to vote. And in most cases they also cart away the ballot boxes. With money politicians even penetrate INEC and the documents that are regarded as sensitive materials find themselves in the hands of those, who are contestants in election. So they have the opportunity to go and fill in the figures they like and bring it back. And INEC officials, who have been compromised become complicit. And in this way, we have the kind of people elected, who’re not the true representatives of the people.

And then when they get into office, first of all if they were sponsored to go in, they are beholding to their sponsor, that’s what people will now call godfathers. And at the same time they’re also preparing themselves to become godfathers themselves. So they begin to steal public funds. And that’s where I remember what Chief Arthur Nzeribe, told me. He told me that the problem with those who steal when they hold public offices is that once they start stealing, they never stop. They will steal what they need and they will steal what they do not need. And that becomes a problem of the society. People begin to cart away common patrimony, even for reasons that they themselves cannot explain. All they know is that they have access and they must steal.

So this is the problem of our democracy. Once we move away from the method we’re adopting now and go to the electronic voting I have started advocating since 2012, what it means is that first; there’ll be no ballot box for anybody to carry and to hire of thugs becomes unattractive. Secondly, the moment a voter has gone to vote either directly going to the polling unit to vote on the laptop that is there or voting with his smart phone, the result of his vote goes straight to the portal, whether you call it BVAS or i-rev, it goes straight there. And there is sufficient safeguard against multiple voting because you can’t. And it simply means also that Nigeria will not be locking down its economy for two days in a month just to be able to have an election, which is a very huge drain on our ailing economy. Unfortunately, we hardly have statistical data in this country, otherwise, when you have the data of the economic cost of the entire country locking down businesses, and offices including public service, except what they call essential services, which don’t even function fully during elections, you now begin to imagine what we lose because we’re doing election.

In other countries, even in third world countries, they don’t lock down their economies, there’s no public holiday. In fact, most elections are held within the week. People can go to work, and on their way back from work, the vote and go. And others will use their phone and vote. And at the end of the day, the result that will come out will be so transparent and acceptable that all of these going to the tribunal to go for another round of bribery, where the tribunal will now determine who has won election or not, will be avoided.

Another aspect to it is that there will be greater participation of the people. The voter turnout in Nigeria has remained the lowest every election cycle. But if we use technology to encourage people to participate, I imagine that over 80 percent of registered voters will participate. You can imagine, where 70 million Nigerians cast their votes against the thirty something million that we’re having now, if anybody wins majority of the votes, then you’re sure that in the majority the people have spoken.

And again, to make our democracy more like what happens elsewhere, I also recommend that this matter of 25 percent in two-third of the states of the federation was a policy designed by people, who didn’t mean well for Nigeria – people, who thought you already have 19 states in the north, including Abuja making it 20, so with that kind of policy, they monolithic north will remain in power forever. But today they’ve seen that there’s no longer the monolithic north, the middle belt are beginning to assert themselves. The Hausa of the north are beginning to assert themselves as against the hegemony of the Fulani. The Kanuris are beginning to assert themselves. So the only way, therefore, to carry everybody along is to say that, who so ever wins 50 percent plus one of the total votes cast becomes elected as President. Otherwise, the highest two will go for a runoff. And what’s the benefit? When they’re now going for runoff, the others, who didn’t meet the threshold, who didn’t come within the first two, will now align with whosoever they want of the two that gives them better accommodation in terms of everything. And if they succeed, you don’t need to be talking about government of national unity because it would have become a logical outcome of an alliance.

Edo and Rivers states are currently not at peace politically. Why do you think we have this high frequency of governor and deputy, political godfather and son, locking horns?

Well, it derives from the very serious flaw in the recruitment process, where somebody, who has been in power and has acquired so much war chest from public treasury, which he now appropriated to himself, will be the one to come out openly, unashamedly, to announce to the whole world that he alone paid the nomination fee of every person that went for election in, say Rivers State, from House of Assembly, House of Reps, the governor, and Senate. So, if that is the case, in a place like America the top billionaires there, like Bill Gate and others, can undertake to pay the fees of all the candidates, in fact, of the two political parties. But that is a very primitive practice. And now where there’s a disagreement between the person, who has been so rolled into office and his so-called godfather, then that also affects the entire governance and bring about bloodshed, like it nearly happened in Rivers but for the intervention of the President. And it’s not even over. You go to Edo State, the same thing. The governor says he has no interest in who replaces him, but that’s not true. Even people, who are distant from Edo State know that that is not true. Obviously, the extent of sidelining and alienating his deputy governor, with whom they fought Oshiomhole, is very suggestive of a personal agenda that he has, that does not accommodate the deputy governor, who has expressed his desire to run.

Look at Ondo State, how an ailing governor has held on to power. And it nearly cost the deputy governor his seat, through an impeachment orchestrated by people in the House of Assembly, who were practically sponsored by that ailing governor to become members of the House of Assembly. It now took the intervention of President Tinubu to bring some level of sanity in Ondo State. This type of democracy is so disgusting and so disgraceful. And there’s no way you can be talking of attracting investors into Nigeria, when this type of system is staring everybody in the face that we don’t have anything that can be described as democracy.

Nigeria’s legal system is designed to ensure that nobody is above the law, and that the rule of law is upheld at all times. In practice, would you say this has been the case in our democracy?

The rule of law has been upheld in the breach. That is what has happened. And it is worse that it’s coming from government and the government institutions. When the government decides which law to obey, the order of court to obey and the one not to obey, how do you expect those down the line to behave? In fact, we’re getting to a point, where people are beginning to lose so much confidence in the judiciary, that they think that self-help will give them faster result. And what does self-help mean? Just turning the country into a jungle, the survival of the fittest; kill or be killed. And that brings about anarchy. In that kind of situation how can there be development? How can there be security? So I, therefore, give that responsibility (not that only one person can carry it), but the present Attorney General, who for many years has been on the other side defending all manner of people, helping in all the cases that made him popular and reputable, and he has seen on first hand, where judgments given against certain people in government, in certain institutions, have not been obeyed. And now providence has brought him to the office, where he is now. So one will expect him to initiate, as quickly as possible, reforms that can be taken to the National Assembly by way of executive bill to amend the constitution and other provisions of the law. He’ll first decentralise the judiciary architecture, because having one, say, Supreme Court for a country that has this population for all manner of cases, including divorce matters, is not right.

You look at countries that are as big as we are how their judiciary architectures have been designed and copy from them, or design the one that is suitable to our own system. There’re cases that should not go beyond the level of the appeal court. And these appeal courts should also be increased to make sure that in every state of the federation, you have just not one appeal court.

Then the Supreme Court should have enough justices as provided by law. If 21 is not enough, make it 36 or 37 since we’re operating 36-state structure plus Abuja. Because we’re running a country, where people are sensitive to representation, sensitive to religion and all sorts of things. You make sure that every state is represented at the apex court, even if they’re not going there like political representatives.

You could see the recently retired justice of the Supreme Court, who complained and raised the issue that even in the cases involving our presidential candidates that southeast did not have a representation. Now that he was leaving, north central will also not have a representation. And he made it clear that, perhaps, the outcome of the judgment would have been different, if those places were represented. This is the mentality of the average Nigerian. Nobody talks about this kind of thing in the U.S, but because you can’t trust people to be equitable and not influenced by some mundane considerations, it becomes necessary that every side is represented. The new man is assuring people that very soon there will be 21 justices, as if that will be a very wonderful thing. To me he should be talking about 37, since Abuja is now enjoying the status of a state.

And in addition to all of that, the institutions that supervise, monitor all the staff of the judiciary and the judicial officers, that’s the judges themselves, should be threatened to be alive to their responsibilities. The code of conduct of the judicial officers are not observed. I’ve had opportunity to read through all of these things and, I’m not a lawyer but I am a very interested member of the society. So some of these things I take time to look at them. You see that our judges have left their code of conduct, the ethics and behave just like every other man on the street.

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So these are some of the things that need to be done, Not that people have not made suggestions, the late former CJN, Justice Musdapha, set up a committee that came up with very extensive and impressive reforms. But that report is now somewhere gathering dust. So all of those things can be picked up again, plus the present day realities, and then we have a judiciary that can be trusted.

Many people don’t trust the judiciary any longer; they give all manner of conflicting judgments. Recently, a governor was sacked in Plateau State because his party did not obey order of court, and they said to the right leader, obeying order of court is sacrosanct. And because they didn’t obey the order of court to go and hold a congress, so the party didn’t have a structure and he couldn’t have emerged from the illegal thing that did not follow the due process. So the governor, he had majority votes, won his election clearly, but on that technical ground, he was sacked.

Then on the other hand, just two days ago, a court was going to sentence the INEC chairman, Yakubu, for refusing to obey judgment of Supreme Court, Appeal Court told the court enforcing the judgment, to stop further proceeding, 24 hours before sentencing. So how can this type of contradiction make anybody happy and proud? A court is sacking a governor for emerging without first of all obeying the order of court, the same Supreme Court is encouraging a contemnor in the person of the chairman of the electoral body, the same commission that is the headache of Nigeria today.

It appears insecurity is growing with our democracy. What do you think is fueling it?

Insecurity in Nigeria can be categorised. In most of the cases, the feeling of alienation, the feeling of injustice, the feeling of inequity has brought some young people to think that Nigeria is not a country for them. And that the way to go about it is to exit from this country. And that has also led to them forming different kinds of groups to actualise that. And these are not formal groups. So they set their own rules and operate according to their rules. And some of them are ideologically rooted in what they’re pursuing. It’s easy to know this particular group, what is it that they want.

But in the case of Boko Haram, I’ve never seen anybody (not even their leaders or anybody, who has sympathy for their struggle) come out to say this is exactly what they want, except saying they want to Islamise Nigeria; they want to establish Caliphate Republic and all of that. Having said that, there are criminals, who have lashed unto this general discontent to set up all manner of criminal gangs and come under the cover of freedom fighters to just kill, maim and steal.

The police architecture does not help matters in terms of trying to curb the insecurity in the system. It does not help matters because we have a central police command, in a country of over 200 million people, and as versed as Nigeria. You require constitutional amendment quite alright to bring in state police as being advocated, but I said there is something that can be done in the interim by President Tinubu. And that is direct both the Police Service Commission and the Police High Command to immediately redeploy police personnel from the position of DPO down to the newly recruited ones to their states of origin and local governments of origin. And when you do that, you see policing become more effective. The Igbo man who’s a Christian you’ve posted to Kebbi or Zungeru or somewhere, he doesn’t understand the culture; he doesn’t understand the language and he doesn’t know what he will say or do and it will be termed as blasphemy, and his head may be severed from his neck. We have seen it happen. And people like that posted in that kind of areas will definitely not do policing work. They will just be there. In fact, they will even be answering sir to those they’re supposed to be policing, just to save their lives, survival is the first human instinct. Then you come down here, they brought soldiers, policemen, many of them are so illiterate – I don’t know the criteria for their recruitment- who cannot even communicate in pidgin English, the bastardised form of English that everybody speaks down south. And so what do they do? They just see themselves as army of occupation and be extorting money from people in the south. That’s why every half a kilometer there’s police checkpoint. And that has not stopped the criminals from carrying out their nefarious activities. But if you do this redeployment, within 30 days of completing the redeployment, you will see the insecurity will be doused. The reason is that security is everybody’s business. And there is nowhere any person in the rural community, who knows the criminal in the area, will share that intelligence with someone, who can’t even understand him, and who might even betray him and he will be a dead man. Because to him it doesn’t matter that you’re dead. He’s not there to protect you; he’s there to make money. So the police architecture is anti the fight against insecurity. In fact the entire constitution we’re operating is designed to retrogress, because those who designed it had other intentions. They didn’t design it for Nigeria to grow. They designed it to keep some people whom they think have overtaken the others down so that other people will catch up. Now when you keep somebody down, you’ve kept yourself down. It is an Igbo proverb. So how can we have this type of system and you want people to be patriotic?

Would you say the country has gained in some ways from our democracy in terms of development, freedom and so on?

The gain is marginal. I wouldn’t say we haven’t moved an inch, but the gain is marginal. When you consider what could have been gained that is not gained, you might as well say we’re stagnated. During the period of President Shagari, I remember very well there was a report by a well composed committee of eminent Nigerians on food security. And it was concluded in the report that with the right type of policy, the revenue from agriculture will very much outweigh the revenue from oil. And what did the government do? That recommendation was thrown to gather dust. So now you have a country where only oil is the source of revenue. Benue State that used to be food basket of Nigeria, how many farmers are going to their farms now?

So, our democracy has not produced what we need, but we don’t have, for me, a better option other than to make our democracy work. What President Obasanjo was recommending does not make sense at all to me. Democracy is the way to go, and we can do better than we’re doing.

Our development is dependent on restructuring this country. If we don’t, we’ll remain stagnated. The constitution we’re operating is designed to retrogress and to stagnate. There’s work to do. Once you restructure, I can tell you, every state in Nigeria is endowed with such enormous amount of human and material resources, that when they begin to compete in a healthy manner, on their comparative advantages, Nigeria will experience exponential growth. That is what restructuring means to all of us. And if there is fiscal federalism, oh my God, who will be bothering who’s President or who’s not? Especially when revenue allocation returns to 50 percent by derivation, as we started in the first republic. Nobody will care again who’s President and who’s not, whether he’s Muslim or Christian or whatever, whether he’s from the north or the south. That will become a secondary issue. Many people know their governors in America than they know the President of America.

In all the issues that you have raised, and as a parting shot, what is the way forward for our democracy?

You see, Nigeria is so badly divided. Right now ethnicity has taken centre stage. Ethnicity is even superior to religion now. I said it because people of the same religion will pander to their ethnic sentiment more than to their religion. I’ll give you an example. When Peter Obi was running, there was this impression that almost all the Christians will vote for him. But I said to somebody, find out from your Christian brothers in the southwest, who they would vote for. Just make a sample finding. And he came back to me and said eight out of ten said they would vote for Tinubu. And then you go to the north, you make the same type of sampling, you get the same result. So I came to the conclusion that ethnicity is a superior consideration to even religion.

So, how do we then curb all of these? To curb all of these is to restructure Nigeria. When people like Edwin Clark, who’s in his 90s, Pa Ayo Adebanjo, who’s in his 90s, and so many other people, who are already on their way are championing it, you now see it’s only patriotism and concern for the generation they’re leaving behind that will make them to insist that this is the way to go. And those of us who’re coming behind them, those of us in the 70s, we’ve seen it that if you don’t restructure this Nigeria, Nigeria can never move forward. But restructure Nigeria, give every federating unit the latitude to develop at its own pace, I can tell you, Nigeria will experience not only exponential growth but will be in the big league of world economy in a very short time.

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