Constitutional lawyer and former All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA) governorship candidate in Lagos State, Bob Okey Okoroji, has said he is still very much interested in governing Nigeria’s commercial capital, as according to him, he has all it takes and would make his intentions known in due time. Okoroji who sought to govern Lagos State twice, in 2011 and 2015, emphasised that he has not given up on the dream.
The APGA chieftain who spoke in this interview with OBINNA EZUGWU also decried the rising insecurity in Nigeria, arguing that the
so-called Fulani bandits perpetrating criminality all over the Nigeria are mostly foreign mercenaries who are allowed into the country to displace indigenous communities and change country’s demographics.
He said, however, that their agenda would fail because, according to him, people already aware and are determined to defend their lands.
Insecurity challenges have heightened in Nigeria. Many people already believe that it’s gotten out of hand. Are you worried?
Yes, it is worrisome and every Nigerian has a reason to be worried. But the point is that I am not surprised that it is happening this way. I am not surprised because we all saw it coming. We raised alarm, but those who were too blind to see that the Muhammadu Buhari led All Progressives Congress (APC) government has nothing to offer Nigerians, insisted that they were the best to govern. When they came with their so-called three points agenda of fighting corruption, fighting insecurity and growing the economy, I knew it was all deception. They didn’t have the capacity; they don’t have the capacity and they won’t have the capacity. There is no sincerity of purpose. There is no genuine intention to address those issues and you can see that nearly six years down the road, insecurity has worsened, corruption has become worse and the economy has nosedived. So what are they talking about? There is a sense in which one may just conclude that Nigerians should take what they have got because they asked for it.
In 2019, some of us also told Nigerians not to re-elect the president; not to support him for second term, but many of those who were in position to stop Buhari from being re-elected where blinded buy short-termism; short-term pecuniary interest of maybe appointment or whatever. Now, you can see the rate at which bloodshed has become a common occurrence in the country, from north to south, from east to west. The main challenge, however, is that there is no genuine intention by the government of Buhari to actually tame the spate of violence of the herdsmen in the country, many of whom, of course, we suspect and that has been confirmation from northern governors like Nasir el-Rufai, that they are not Nigerians. These are people who came from outside Nigeria. They are mercenaries whose primary goals are money making and displacement. They have realised that kidnapping for ransom is big business in Nigeria, and is paying heavily. Many politicians and individuals in the North and elsewhere have paid ransom at one point or the other to the so-called kidnappers. So for them, it is a lucrative business. Now insecurity in Nigeria is a huge challenge but this government does not have answers.
But the problem was there before Buhari came on board. Isn’t it unfair to put the blame squarely on his government?
Yes, but not at the rate that it is now; not at the dimension it has taken. It was never this bad prior to Buhari’s emergence; so that people can no longer travel from Abuja to Kaduna via the highway. It wasn’t that bad. It wasn’t so bad that southern Nigeria is being invaded by unknown persons under the guise of cattle rearing, and they are seizing people’s farms, raping women and sacking villages. It wasn’t this bad prior to the emergence of this man as president. So let’s call a spade a spade. This government is not available to address this challenge. There is no evidence that Buhari is available to address the problem. There is nothing to show that the presidency has shown sufficient interest and sufficient capacity to address these issues. Of course, there is security challenge in every country, but let’s make comparative analysis in Nigeria. Let’s compare regimes. Boko Haram was a challenge even in the days of Umaru Musa Ya’Adua and later Goodluck Jonathan, but the question I ask is whether the Buhari government has actually shown any capacity. Is the Nigerian army a capable of defeating Boko Haram? Is the Nigerian Police and the Nigerian Army the capable of challenging the rampaging herdsmen and stopping them? The answer is that there is the capacity, but there is no will; there is no sincerity of purpose and there is no political will to get it done.
Do you then subscribe to the idea that there is hidden agenda here? Because ideally a government would want to end insecurity.
To say there is hidden agenda is to say the obvious. Even the blind man can see that, and there has been an official confirmation by the government that the unknown assailants and mercenaries invading southern Nigeria forests particularly, are not Nigerians. Are you telling me that if the government is serious that they cannot identify these people and flush them out? It is becoming manifest now that there is an inflow of foreigners allowed to come in through the northern Nigeria borders. And they are encouraged by what this government called visa-on-arrival policy. This issue is about land. These people are moving in basically seize lands. It is about the displacement of the local population; it is about alteration of demographics of Nigeria. Let’s not deceive ourselves, we have to call a spade a spade. We don’t want to be politically correct anymore. People are dying, blood is being shed. Villagers are being displaced. Women are being raped in their homes and in their farms. We can’t afford to use flowery language to describe what is a painful experience. Hundreds and thousands of women have been widowed by the so-called Fulani herdsmen. But these people are not cattle rearers. Cattle rearing for them is a guise; a mere smokescreen. That is the fact as it is. Are you saying that there are no grasses in the whole of northern Nigeria? That the cattle have to be taken to Isiukwuato or Okigwe to be fed? Are you saying that there are no waterways in the whole of the North that can be used to irrigate large swaths of land to be used to feed the cattle? I’m not going to believe that, I’m not going to fall for that deception. I have studied history enough to understand this strategy. It is a strategy that they have used for over 200 years. It has worked in northern Nigeria, they defeated the Hausa speaking people. That’s the same strategy they are trying to use on southern Nigeria, but it is not going to work because people have become more enlightened. It will not work because we are ready to resist them.
Many people are already raising concerns about Nigeria sliding into another civil war. Are you not concerned that such may be a possibility?
No one prays for war. War is not good to any person and to any people. War is about destruction of lives and property. It is not something anybody should wish for; it is not something attractive, No. But the truth, however, is that if war is exported to your doorstep you cannot fold your arms and wait to be killed. If war becomes inevitable then you have to fight to preserve your life and the lives of your family and the lives of the members of your community. If you have to resist invation, what other options do you have but to prepare for it? And indeed the only guarantee for peace is to get ready for war; that’s the truth. I have flipped through the pages of history and I do not know of any people who would fold their arms and wait to be killed when they already have seen that those Killers are coming, and that they are showing signs that they are determined to kill and to destroy. We are not going to fold our arms. Just like the Taraba governor, Darius Ishaku said, we are going to have to defend ourselves. It is not reasonable for this government to wait and allow invaders from from wherever, to come into Nigeria and killed Nigerian citizens. And if the government is not willing to defend Nigerians, Nigerians in my review should be encouraged to defend themselves.
Some have also said part of the problem is the centralized security apparatus that we run. To that extent, the call for state police is gaining momentum, so is the call for restructuring. Could that be a way out?
The truth is that the grand agenda of the invaders from the Sahel has always remained the same. Maybe restructuring would reduce the speed at which they are going or they have been going in the last 6 years, but don’t forget that it is the same constitution that Buhari is operating today that Obasanjo operated from 1999 to 2007. It was the same constitution that Yar’adua and Jonathan operated. But it wasn’t this bad. Is it the constitution or the structure that enables the visa-on-arrival policy or that opens up the northern borders for invaders to flow in to alter the demographics of the country? It is not the structure. Yes it is important to take a second look at the structure because I know if each region or state takes care of its own security, it will be more effective in checking this problem.
If this central command system continues, then the problem will continue to escalate. It is easy for them to use the central command structure weaken the sub-units and then do terrible things. So, Yes, there might be a need for us to address the issue of structure, but not the hypocritical way it is being pursued. We can’t be talking about state police and they’re talking about community police, No. It has to be fundamental; the restructuring has to be fundamental. Let each region take care of its internal security. It worked in the 60s, it can work today.
But the question will be what should be regions now? Obviously we can return to the arrangement we had in the 60s.
We already have six geo-political zones. The zones can be the new regions, and if there is any two regions that want to pull resources together and have joint effort then it’s up to them. if the South East and the South South, for instance, can pull resources together and do it together for security and developmental purposes there’s nothing wrong with that. The Southwest is already a region of his own with people of the same language and same geography. If the Middle Belt wishes to have its own region they can do so. Obviously, North hasn’t served them well. They have been the most affected by the insecurity. So, the region does not have to align with the core North. The point is that the regions should have the power to take care of their own security, and to a reasonable extent, run their economies. It doesn’t have to be on state basis, not the states as presently constituted, in which case we would be talking about 36 regions, No. We can have six or more or less, based on historical affiliations that have long existed among people of different parts of Nigeria.
For the South East in particular, there has been this confusion about whether the key aspiration should be restructuring or presidency. Where do you belong?
I want to talk about the issue of presidency as a South-Easterner. In that light, I must tell you that every effective political strategy must have a backup plan. If we are talking about restructuring now, it is not a bad idea. But we must agree that it entails fundamental constitutional changes. I mean, because it is only through constitutional amendment that you can restructure Nigeria. As long as Nigeria remains one country, you can’t talk about restructuring without talking about constitutional amendment. But those who hold the levers of power, are they committed to ensuring that there is this constitutional amendment that will pave way for the restructuring of the country? I doubt. So, with that in mind, I think the first option will be to have a president from the South Eastern Nigeria. I’m not talking about Igbo presidency because Igbo presidency is the most senseless thing to talk about. Presidency should not be linked to ethnicity. We are talking about the exclusion of a particular geopolitical region of the country. We are talking about a political zone that has been excluded from leadership for more than 50 years. If you look at the political zones of Nigeria, it is only a Southeast that is yet to produce the president of the country, be it civilian or military, since the days of Aguiyi Ironsi. So, it is in the interest of justice and equity to support the Southeast in 2023. Now, it is not just anybody from the Southeast, I’m talking about the best hands from the Southeast, and I know that there are heavily qualified candidates for presidency from the South East. If they indicate interest, the rest of Nigeria should be able to say, okay, let’s give them a trial, because they are also Nigerians.
But it’s not going to be possible for other to simply decide on that. Again, there is the argument that the South East is not reaching out?
The South Easterners are reaching out. Everybody already knows that they are reaching out. The Igbo are everywhere in Nigeria, so what do they mean by reaching out? Who has reached out more than the Igbo? Economically they are reaching out everywhere, they are in every nooks and crannies of Nigeria. Have they not been voting for candidates from other geo-political zones and candidates in all the places that they are living? Reaching out means exactly what? Is it that they should go cap-in-hand begging and licking boots here and there to massage egos? Appeasing the so-called gods of Nigeria? No, what they should do and what Nigeria should judge them on is their policy proposals. Reaching out does not come first, what comes first is what the person has to offer; what are his plans and programmes. But as for reaching out, I believe that they have reached out more than anybody else. Where in this country do you not find the Igbo? from Abuja to Sokoto to Kano, they live everywhere and they relate with everybody. In fact, no other group has reached out more than the Igbo in terms of interaction. So it is a lame excuse to say they are not reaching out. Of course, they are reaching out. What is left to be done is for the rest of Nigeria and Nigerians to give them a chance to prove their mettle. And I can tell you that they will make a whole world of difference. I have that confidence that they have the capacity to introduce novel and innovative ideas that will take Nigeria beyond people’s imagination.
You said there are a lot of people who are qualified. Do you have any particular individuals in mind?
Well, I cannot pinpoint anybody yet. Yes, there are people who have indicated interest to run. I learnt from the grapevine that Pharmacist, Sam Ohuabunwa has indicated interest. You can’t rule out the possibility that Peter Obi might be interested in running. He hasn’t said so yet, but it’s possible he might run and there are many others. Of course campaigns have not started anywhere. But it is as more people indicate interest that we won’t be able to decide who are our best candidates. So you cannot say in advance that it has to be XYZ when the XYZ has not indicated interest to run. But it is not that they have not indicated enough interest in serving the country. It is too early to make any recommendations now. When we have one two three or four candidates coming forward, then we can say that OK, let’s set the criteria. Mr. A is better than Mr. B on this or Mr. B. is better than Mr. C. I don’t want to say that he has to be Mr A or Mr B yet, because Mr B or Mr A has to first of all indicate interest in running.
Talking about indicating interest, you indicated interest twice to govern Lagos. Some might say Nigeria is not mature enough to have a person from South East become governor in Lagos. What was your experience, and are you still interested?
I have always said it, and I will say it again, that I am still interested in governing Lagos. And at any time I’ll make my intentions known. See, I have what it takes to take Lagos to the next level. This is a city where I have lived for almost four decades. What else can I do other than give back? Contribute like I have been doing; contribute and participate in leadership recruitment in order that we can put behind us all the imaginary boundaries limiting us in Nigeria. I am by no means saying that it has to be me or nobody else. Whoever is interested in running for the governorship of the state at the appropriate time should engage me and I will engage the person, and let the people of Lagos decide who governs them. But what I will not accept is exclusion based on ethnicity or state of origin. Of course, I am an Igbo man and nobody can take that away from me, but I am also in a Lagosian like many other people who have settled here and are making their own contributions to the development of the state. We are contributing in terms of investment and we are contributing in terms of tax payment and performing all the other citizenship duties and we vote when election time comes, so why should we not be voted for as well? Why should we be outsiders when it comes to participating in leadership recruitment? It is unacceptable, and that is why nobody can fault that logic that Bob Okey Okoroji is ably qualified to assist in developing Lagos or to participate in leadership recruitment. I have what it takes. In fact, I am better qualified that most people who have been here; who have been governors in the past, who have been mere political godsons. I remember in 2015 when I was invited by some media organisations, particularly channels Television for a debate with the other two candidates, Jimi Agbaje and Akinwunmi Ambode. I went to the station but none of the others showed up.
One didn’t show up because he was sure he was almost guaranteed he was going to be governor. The other one didn’t show up because he didn’t have any intention to; I’m not sure he was actually interested in becoming governor. So if the people of Lagos give me the opportunity of serving them, I will be very willing to do so and I will do my best to improve the life and welfare of Lagosians.
Leadership in the 21st century has to be very innovative. it is actually fair that leadership of Lagos State shouldn’t be meant for one ethnic group only because Lagos is a melting point. It is like a mini Nigeria. It would amount to the kind of apartheid system that you had in South Africa if Lagos has to be governed only by what ethnic group. The leadership recruitment should be mixed to reflect the structure and the nature, and the mix of peoples in the state. But I should not be judged or seen to be qualified based on my roots, but based on the policies I am bringing to the table.