From Obidike Jerry
Malachy Ugwumadu, lawyer and human rights activist, was among the protesters who occupied Lagos at the Ojota end of the city for more than 10 days in January 2012 when former President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration deregulated the downstream sector of the petroleum sector. In this interview, he speaks on various issues.
When this APC government was campaigning to come into power it looked like the government was going to be on the side of the masses. Looking at what we have now in terms of increase in electricity tariff, fuel price hike and so on, do you think the government has abandoned the masses?
A direct response to that question will also be very confusing in the sense that you cannot be charitable to even yourself if you fail to pick out the components of your answers that would clearly aggregate your views in such a way that you are not making a general statement. One, the entire essence of government as known all over the world but specifically defined in section14 subsection 2b of our 1999 constitution as amended is the welfare and security of the people. Now if you take that as a takeoff point, you would be tempted to say that look, for as long as the interest, the welfare and the wellbeing of the Nigerian people is not at the heart of your policy, that long you would have questions to answer because the threshold of your existence as a government is to secure that. That is as far as blanket answer is. If you choose to be analytical, that is, looking beyond that and asking the question why is it so, you would sympathize with them and then realize that this was a government that came on board knowing that things are bad, probably didn’t know the depth of decay, the extent of rot and magnitude of dislocation in terms of the surviving links that held this country. I have a feeling that they undermined it. They knew it was bad but they didn’t know that we had gone this far in the woods. And therefore rather than dealing with the promises of feeding Nigerians, paying stipends to unemployed youths, creating jobs in droves as they promised, they so soon realized the more fundamental issues of survival other than those very alluring promises. And so it became difficult to marry their promises, at least, within the time frame they gave them and then dealing with the peculiarities of the challenges as they are in practical terms. So what happened? It sent the signal that look, it is either these people didn’t do as much feasibility study, on the ground assessment of practical situations on ground or that they actually did not have the magic wand to transform their promises into realities and give life to those promises. If you saw the determination of the government in terms of fighting insecurity which is also at the heart of development processes, if you reckon that they are making determined effort on the issue of fighting corruption and find them wobbling in terms of fixing the economy of the country. Only recently we understand, in effect, the Central Bank of Nigeria has, as it were, allowed the policy of trading in the black market- that is the effect of what they have done. That has implications even as laymen in that aspect of law because it is not from nothing that we saw that as shadow economy. If you are now going to take it on as the policy of government and allow official dealing at that level, then it certainly would have clear implications on the already pulverized economy.
Still on what you just mentioned, in as much as many people recognize the extent of decay of the economy, many still believe that PMB’s government has compounded the problem by procrastinating, not acting decisively in terms of some policy measures to keep the economy going. For instance, this flexibility in foreign exchange as recently announced by CBN ought to have come since May/June last year according to them. That delay until recently complicated the issue, do you agree with that?
I am not an expert on economic issues but what I can say outrightly is that (and it is not so much an excuse) because if you have promised and have put out yourself for leadership, you must be able to get the best hands because no person is expected to be an island in itself in terms of knowledge. And therefore if you knew precisely where your limitations are in terms of professional expertise, the least you could do is to gather the best of hands beyond the rhetoric and political calculation and get the job done. As far as the Nigerian people are concerned, we are continually scared that given the tendency or the indications already out there, there’s the urgent need more than ever before to arrest the drift. If it doesn’t happen, it is immaterial whether the strike recently did not succeed. It would become the reality that there would be yet another round of protest. And it were better than you are dealing with known formations like labour, the civil society than that you are dealing with ordinary Nigerians who are already down. Many of them as we have seen are not organized, in terms of identified group. It is worse dealing with the Niger Delta Avengers or the Boko Haram which are all forms of protest, levels of protest. And I think the message should be clear that the honeymoon has long gone. Nigerians invested their hopes in the present administration. Surely, there are fundamental challenges that confront the government but certainly, it does not detract from the responsibility they owe the Nigerian people to turn around the tide. It does not reduce their obligation, somehow statutory and constitutional to chart the course and revive this country. Some of us were convinced that it was dangerous to continue with the past administration, particularly on the issue of not just on the transgression but the impunity with which they were committing those transgressions but imposed an additional responsibility on the present administration. But I am looking at it more fundamentally from the angle that look, it is about our lives. Whether the PDP or the APC is performing, it is the lives of the Nigerian that is the grass upon which they are doing this trial and error, sometime deliberately, abdicating their responsibility. It is you and I that are growing older. It is the generation of you and I that is being spent.
It is the generation of our children that is being encroached. So I made this point because we don’t have an option. And this is why I get a little surprised that Nigerians are almost happy seeing that labour-civil society could not sustain the strike.