Prof. Pat Utomi is an activist, academician and a politician. In this interview with SINA FADARE, he laments the ignorance displayed by President Goodluck Jonathan and Senate President, David Mark on the need for the convocation of a National Conference. Excerpts: Says ‘charlatans have taken over the baton of governance’
President Jonathan and Senate President David Mark have ruled out the possibility of a National Sovereign Conference, what is next for the National Summit Group?
There is a big sadness over a failure to understand a bit of history in this country. Today, people are shouting about Boko Haram. They are saying anarchy has overtaken Jos. But 15 years ago, it was predicted that all these would happen. It is the same attitude that it is not feasible that got us to where we are today. Expatriates have started leaving Nigeria. Ask these women who offered manicure and pedicure services to these expatriates’ wives, they will tell you the true situation of things. Their businesses have collapsed. Their fear is that Nigeria is moving towards a civil war. This is so because when we should have been talking 15 years ago, we did not. People were bottling up various issues that are causing them anger and later manifest itself to the anti-social behaviour we are now experiencing.
When they manifest in one form or the other, we are all shouting what the country is now turning into. It is evident that to expect people who occupy public office, to welcome Nigeria sitting together, even though it is very wise, but not good for them, Why? If Nigerians sit together, the outcome may be something tilting to anti social order. We know that those who occupy political office, are beneficiaries of a dis-functional order that is making the future of our children object of jeopardy.
We should pretend as if we did not hear them, because the sovereignty belongs to the people, not to some officials whose elections are questionable. I love Nigeria and do not want it to break up. I really and passionately want a united Nigeria, not as a Nigerian, but as a black man. If Nigeria breaks up, the chance of redeeming the future of a black man from a successful black nation will diminish.
So, from my heart, soul and everything in me, I want Nigeria to be united, strong and progressed. But for that to happened, Nigerians have to express their opinions why they feel that things are not working and those opinions should be taken into account to move the country forward.
I hear people say that a national conference will break Nigeria. I have not heard anything foolish like this in my life. Failure to talk will definitely result to what will break Nigeria and it would not be a tidy break up, it may descend to anarchy in which people will become ungovernable. If you say you will dispatch soldiers as usual and they will descend on the people and make them temporarily silent that will be the silence of the graveyard because something will definitely follow.
We have seen this happening in Somalia, we saw Sierra Leone 15 years ago, and these are the cases we are trying to avoid, that is why it is necessary to talk. The other thing l found remarkably embarrassing and amusing is that we cannot sit down to talk because the only thing which Nigerians want to talk about is the issue of revenue allocation. Those who are interested in revenue allocation are politicians, who do not live the life of service. All they are thinking about is that they want to gather and discuss much more money to share.
What are the issues to be discussed at the conference?
As far as I am concerned, l do not care how, where and what is shared from the national cake. The issues to be discussed in the national conference are fundamentals that will give light to how the country would be developed. The issue of national question, for instance why must l be born in Kaduna, had my primary education in Northern Nigeria, my secondary education in Ibadan, lived most of my life in Lagos, would woke up one morning and go to this place that is strange, called Delta, and say l want to be governor, because my father’s father was born here.
These are the type of fundamental issues that we need to discuss.
Why is governing Nigeria so expensive? We know of other places that are not as rich as we are and they are fairly better. Their leaders don’t siphon much money from the state treasury like our own are doing. We need to tell ourselves the truth. In Nigeria, when the President is going around, the entire road and economic activities are closed down. What is peculiar about Nigeria that power has become an object of intimidation and oppressive tendencies in the hands of our leaders.
Why is the Presidential fleet in Nigeria bigger than two or other airlines in Nigeria? For what purpose and how does it affect governance in Nigeria. It only portrays a political class that is insensitive to the plight of its citizen.
In Nigeria, politics is government of the politicians, by the politicians and for the politicians; that is the democracy of Nigeria. Why is it that the brilliant people are alienated from the public life, when you tell them to run for political office, they tell you that you are crazy? It is a different thing if you bring people like Olisa Agbakoba, a man who has been beaten by the people he claimed he was leading because they did not know him as their leader, yet fighting for the cause of ordinary people. It is different when you bring some people from foreign institutions calling them technocrats, but unfortunately has lost touch with the ordinary man on the street.
These are the kind of issues we will be dealing with. We want to go to the conference to discuss why the rule of law is not the anchor of this mess? Why is it that this is a country where might is right. Where a person can steal from a state government and the judiciary says that there is nothing wrong with him. Until the British judiciary pronounced him a thief, our judiciary said he has never done anything wrong in his life. Every person in government knows that this is a common criminal that has been convicted in the past, how can the country degenerated to this level and we are expecting to make progress?
How do we build the system of accountability where the public office holder at every stratum is held accountable by the people? How can we inspire the people to know that it is their duty to hold their elected officers accountable? These are the reasons l want to go to the conference, not to go and discuss who is taking what from the federal purse.
My thesis is that unless you have a dedicated leader, the state that got more revenue is likely to get poorer and have nothing to show for it in the long term. Why will some people in Maiduguri complain that they are not getting 80 per cent of the revenue allocation when those collecting 13 per cent derivation are not faring better in terms of the quality of live they live.
Where do you think we are heading towards?
If we cannot discuss, it is obvious that the country will fall apart. That is the truth of the matter, the people who own the sovereign will come together and say no way, things cannot continue like this. One of the major reasons why I want to go to national conference is that I don’t believe that we need a full-time National Assembly. I don’t believe that Mark should take the amount of money he is taking outside Nigeria as his service did not worth that. Mark therefore cannot be a judge in his own court.
If they don’t want a National Conference, the people who own the sovereignty will go to the street to demand for it. We are going to march in the streets until we force them out. We do not want to do that, that is why we are now shouting to them that let us have Constituent Assembly. In the National Assembly, and in law, they can only change laws that are archaic. But if you want to review the growth norms, the National Assembly cannot do it but Constituent Assembly. Those who make peaceful change impossible, simply are inviting violent change.
Are you canvassing for a unicameral legislature in order to reduce the cost of governance?
Personally, l would like a unicameral, part time National Assembly. I will also prefer a parliamentary system as an elected national president who become a binding figure, but not elected like that of the presidential system. That will reduce the cost of governing drastically and it will ensure that the people who are there are direct representatives of the people.
Since the inception of civil rule, it has been difficult to have internal democracy across all political parties. What accounts for this?
We all made a terrible mistake in 1999, people of like minds put our lives on the line to chase the military away, and you know I was one of those on the waiting list of Abacha for assassination. Attempt was made, but they did not succeed. When the military decided to go, they ran so fast that many people were not sure that they are really going.
For some of us at that time, we thought our business was not politics but to have a better society for our citizens who fought for democracy. Unfortunately, we underestimated that the good people thought that the military were going away. A lot of these people stayed in their homes and a lot of charlatans like Ibori stepped forward to take the mantle of power at that time. Let’s not laugh about Ibori because a lot of them, like 80 per cent are like him. It just happened that he was the one that fell to the British trap.
These people stepped into the political space, when they stepped in, they used the instrument of the state to perpetrate evil. It was so unfortunate to us as Nigeria, a lot of things happened at the same time. The price of oil swelled up dramatically as they came to power, but they used their abuse of power to corner these resources for their private use. Look at how Ibori was converting properties of Delta State to his own, others also did the same. Because of their obsession for power and do not know how to create wealth and live off the state, they embarked on accumulation of wealth unlimited so that they would be able to use the resources to keep themselves around.
They then redefined the political space to how much money are you ready to spend. As a result of this, democracy was dead in Nigeria in 1999. Every election that we had has been worst than the one before it. Last year you may say statistically it may have been better. A lot of factors played a fast game on us in 2011. First, a lot of leaders in the North are proclaiming what was their due in terms of power, therefore the Southern people with one voice said, no matter the character of this man, we are going to vote for him, they don’t want to care about the party, but they wanted to make a point; to tell these group of Northerners that Nigeria belong to all of us. That one determined one block of voting.
The Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) which could have been in ascendance in the North and frustrate the PDP, was faced by a severe internal democracy. It eventually shot itself on the foot. The PDP has conceded about eight states to them, but they were consumed by internal strife. When the rigging took place, people took it from the perception of God’s willing. So the 2011 election was a farce considering the way candidates emerged. The result was that those that captured power, whatever the party they belong, acting in full contempt of Nigerian people, are contented in holding power and determining who gets what in the political space. That was how we lost the game in the power tussle of internal democracy.
What do you think is wrong with the anti-graft agencies that they cannot win the battle against corruption?
There are two fundamental factors that hinder the performances of the anti-graft agencies. You can either use the institution of horizontal accountability. Against the backdrop of sycophancy all over the facets of government operation, it is very difficult for any of these agencies to get its bearing. It is easy for them to deal with the enemy of those that appointed them rather than the friends of those that give them job, because of the law of power and public preservation. This makes horizontal accountability difficult.
The most potent of this which is vertical accountability, where the people face you in a town hall meeting or in an election that completely devoid of money manipulation, people will tell you to your face that you either have their confidence or you are a mere bird of the passage. In Nigeria we do not have political campaigns anymore, you don’t have town hall meetings; you go to speak directly to you leaders, this day the people do not even know who their leaders are talk less of speaking to them. Political campaigns have become a jamboree to dance and shout and everybody goes home. That is not democracy or representation, so we have allowed machine politics to emerge in Nigeria.
How do we get out of this?
The truth of the matter is that we are trapped in a fictitious circle. If you look at the failed state index today, Nigeria is as low as the earth and Ghana is as high as the heaven. Does national pride say to us that something is fundamentally wrong with us? Why can’t our democracy resemble that of Ghana, if not better. The shame of it all is that these set of leaders do not think about the collective shame of the nation but the fat amount in their accounts in the banks. All I will say is that I will keep hope alive and fight my own good fight so that when history evaluates, history will vindicate me that I have done my bit.
You have contested for the presidency once; if you have another opportunity will you try your luck?
I am not obsessed with position. My favourite position is that of the local government councillor. You are closer to the people, feel their impulse, needs and aspirations. But since I am connected to the global level, always on the move outside Nigeria, what will determine my going into public office are numbers of variables I cannot predict now. Wherever I see, I can add a core value and there is a need and time for it, I may give myself up to add to that value.
Until 2006 I have not carried the card of any political party. As a professional who is working hard, I thought that l can give my time to political activities. During the era of Obasanjo, I felt that I must just be involved politically so that the country will not go into abyss. I told a couple of friends to join me in the voyage. My friend, Udo Udoma, was about rounding up in the Senate and I discussed with him. He looked at me and shook his head that the eight years he spent in the Senate was the biggest mistake of his life. I thought this is really sad. I joined the ACN where I think I have like minds.
Then there was a group who came on me vociferously that I should join the presidential race. But then ACN was tilting towards Atiku Abubakar and I know that with him in the ACN, my chance was very slim, he was a good friend of mine. I wrote the feasibility study on his farm in 1983 when he was still in Customs. What I saw then was a political fracture that if there was an election, nobody could have won.
If you go back to political landscape in 2007, the PDP was rated zero in the South-West. The chance that they will win the South-South was marginal. That Muhammadu Buhari will take some part of the North; some candidates will take others if we had real election. I believe that the contribution I could make in such arrangement is that I should set an agenda, therefore when nobody wins after the first election, people will then sit together and ask how do we construct a coalition?
Then the agenda that I have set will then be the basis of discussion. Whether I am one of the structure that will come out of it or not, I would have achieved my primary goal in determining how Nigeria should be governed. Since I know ACN may not likely pick me as its candidate, I have to look for a platform to contest that was where ADC came in. As you know there was no election in 2007. After this, the issue of a common front to aggregate Nigerians thought surfaced, this was where I found out that most Nigerian politicians are unserious, because most of them did not turn up for the meeting. There was a time I had to cancel my trip to Australia because of such a meeting and getting there, most of the conveners did not turn up. That was why I went back to the ACN.
Do you think we are jinxed as a nation?
No, the fact is that when you have wrong set of people controlling the destiny of the people, you will think along this line. We are not cursed as a nation. Charlatans have taken over the seat of power; that is why it seems nothing can work as it used to be. Recently I met one of the top senators in Abuja, during the cause of our discussion, I told him that there was a 419 which they approved as a minister, the guy looked me straight in the face and asked me why am I complaining, because 70 per cent of the people in government are 419. I was so disturbed when I came out of the meeting
. I called another friend of mine who is a Managing Director of a media outfit to share my experience with him about what I have just heard from a senior senator. That if we continue like this, Nigeria can degenerated into a criminal republic. He embarrassed me more that the Nigeria state is a criminal enterprise. I had the same experience also inside a plane in one of my journeys. That night l put my hands on my head, saying, are we going to keep quiet and fold our arms?
Against the backdrop of insecurity in the country, do you think the recent police reform committee set up by the President could provide antidote to our security challenges?
Yes. Why not? It is possible to solve the problem of the Nigerian police. Man is able to change situation he put his mind to. The question is, do we really put our mind into it or it is just another jamboree? If we really put our mind into it, it will work. We have a terrible and corrupt police in the advanced democracies in the past. The people decided to make them responsible and reasonable. We can do the same here if we are determined as a nation. The new Police boss can change the tide if all Nigerians give him the needed support.
What is your take on this regional integration to be embarked upon by the governments of the South- West?
It is a fantastic idea. It is not only feasible, it is desirable and necessary. With all sense of modesty, l was one of those people talking about this concept in the past. I discussed it with some of the governors of the South- West who are my friends. I said the time has come when Fashola should drop the idea of Lagos as mega city, but Lagos of Megalopolis where you can develop a new town around Ibadan and even as far as Ijebu Ode and you live in Iyaganku in Ibadan, you get into a train, 45 minutes later you are in your office in Victoria Island. Ibadan, Lagos and Ijebu Ode can be the hobs of business in Africa. If the governors of the South-East are serious, they can do a similar thing. I can’t see why Kano cannot be the hubs of a megalopolis of the North.