A lawyer, Richardson Onyebueke, bared his mind on the agitation for president of Igbo extraction in 2023, the #EndSARS protests, police reforms and other national issues.
What are your thoughts on the recent nationwide #EndSARS protests?
These nationwide protests are a step in the right direction. The youths should be part of governance, but somehow, they sidelined themselves. In a situation like this where the economy is not moving forward and things are not as they should be, people should react, particularly the youths; they are part of pressure groups. Talking about the Special Anti Robbery Squad (SARS), I don’t know where they came from, their dressing and behaviour alone make them look like armed robbers. Their mentality that a young Nigerian cannot drive a vehicle, when you don’t know the background of such person is condemnable. The #EndSARS protest is good, but it should not be abused. The youths have made their point.
What is your take on creating SWAT in place of the disbanded SARS?
Whether you call it SWAT or SARS, they are the same people. If you are driving to the East, you will see these SARS officers at every one kilometre, and they are there not to secure the road users but to harass innocent road users while the real armed robbers have a field day. This has raised questions on who are these armed robbers and kidnappers that operate on these roads. What we need now is a comprehensive police reforms. The Inspector General of Police (IGP), saying that no member of the SARS will be in the new SWAT does not make sense because wherever these SARS members are, they will resurface and corrupt the system. It is like when you go to any Police Station, you will see boldly written ‘Bail is Free’, but it is not, because they have a target to meet, that is why anywhere you find the police, they are only thinking of money.
In reforming the police, what do you think should be the minimum academic qualification for recruitment?
I think it should be a First Degree from a recognised institution, and the applicant should also be found not to have been involved in any form of crime. There should also be comprehensive medicals for any person who wants to join the police. If you go to our police stations today, you will see alcoholic drinks sold all around the stations, it shouldn’t be so.
The Nigerian Army headquarters has directed troops to be ready to assist civil authorities in dealing with the protesters referred to as anti-democratic agents. At what point does the fundamental right of freedom of expression become a threat to democracy?
There is a limit to every freedom. You can’t take the laws into your hands and say there is freedom of speech and expression. #EndSARS protesters have made their point, and everybody including the presidency agrees with them on their demands, but it is enough. The protests are already being highjacked by touts. Further protests will not be good for the society. The government has said what it will do, so the protesters should wait and see what will happen.
What is your take on reducing the high cost of governance?
What the senators and members of the House of Representatives are taking in an economy as bad as this is too much. They were elected to serve the people, and the people are hungry. They should look at other sectors of the economy because all the money cannot be pushed into servicing the National Assembly when the economy is at a standstill. In fact, all these representatives are still running one business or the other, so they should be on part-time.
How do you see the six years of President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration?
This is the sixth year of the administration, and it is not as if president Buhari has done so badly. The economy was already in a mess before President Buhari took over. There was nothing much Buhari could have done in that situation; there was no magic to it.
How do you see the proceeds of crime bill at the National Assembly for the creation of a new agency to manage seized assets?
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) was created during the administration of President Olusegun Obasanjo and I think the purpose has been defeated. Even then you would see that it was more or less an opposition affair, once you oppose the administration, they will come for you. If you want to fight corruption, it should not be selective. You can see that the EFCC under the past chairman mismanaged seized assets. People were elected or appointed to fight corruption, but they end up more corrupt than the system they want to fight, that is unfortunate.
August this year marked the 29th anniversary of the creation of Abia State, what has governance been like?
Since 1999 when we returned to democracy, Abia State has been bereft of good governance. The only time we had good governance was during the administration of Senator Orji Uzor Kalu. People didn’t know this until they tasted the succeeding administrations. Look at Anambra and Ebonyi States, the governors there have transformed their states, but Abia State, which should be a God-blessed state, has remained underdeveloped. There are no roads in Abia; the people are the ones constructing roads. Even in Aba, the commercial nerve centre, there are no roads. The flyover at Osisioma has been under construction for a very long time now.
What is responsible for the increasing spate in self-determination agitations?
The problem has been bad governance. If you give people what is due to them, there will not be agitations for self-determination. The constitution provides for federal character, that whatever the government is doing must reflect federal character, but when government appointments are concentrated in one part of the country, there are bound to be agitations for self-determination. The constitution has been abused and misused.
What is your take on the agitations of various zones of the country for the 2023 presidency?
It is a very serious issue that since the return to civil rule in 1999, the South East has not had a shot at the presidency, and it must be addressed to avoid more serious problems. In 1998, there was an understanding to shift power to the South West. If you look at the election then, Olusegun Obasanjo contested on the ticket of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), while Chief Olu Falae contested on the ticket of the Alliance for Democracy (AD). No other part of the country contested that election; it was left to the South West to compensate them for what happened to Chief MKO Abiola. After Obasanjo’s eight years in power, power moved to the North when Umaru Yar’Adua was elected. Yar’Adua died in office and power moved to the South-South because of the constitution that Vice President Goodluck Jonathan should take over. Jonathan completed Yar’Adua’s tenure and was elected president for four years.