Former General Secretary of the Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG), and chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Chief Frank Kokori, has called on President Muhammadu Buhari to as a matter of urgency to open up the Nigerian borders that have remained closed for some months now. The labour leader who insisted that closing the borders just because government wanted to protect a few rice and poultry farmers was not a good economic decision said the decision is adversely affecting millions of Nigerians.
In this exclusive chat, he spoke on a wide range of issues as he sets agenda for the president in 2020.
As Nigerians step into the year 2020, what would you want President Buhari to do to bring about the long awaited rapid socio-economic and political development of the country?
Nigerians are suffering. A man like me is a fanatical supporter of Buhari when he was struggling to be president because of the discipline he brought into the country in his earlier sojourn as a military head of state; fighting corruption and indiscipline, thought he would do very well when he becomes a president. But, to some of us, he has not measured up to the level expected. We believe he abandoned the leadership of the country to a small cabal of people who are very heartless and money conscious, and I don’t think he is actually in touch with what is happening to the masses of this country. I am personally disappointed as a patriot. I had so much respect for him but with all the things that are happening in the country, no, the people should come first in any government. I think he should shine his eyes properly and see the way the country is going.
I expect that the party should have a lot of inputs in 2020. I am a member of the APC and a leader of the party in Delta State. I was a member of the Board of Trustees (BOT) of the party. Actually, you should even ask the APC leadership and Buhari himself about the APC BOT; where is the APC BOT? I am a member of the BOT. We were appointed in 2014 and we held some few meetings in 2014 and 2015, headed by the then party chairman, Odigun Oyegun. But, up till today, six and a half years after, is it not a shame that a national party that is in power has no board of trustees? The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) BOT is still very active up till today, settling problems of the party. The APC has no functional BOT; that is a disgrace to the party. So, how can the party even be respected? A BOT is made of elders and people of integrity and conscience who can talk to the president eyeball to eyeball but there is nothing like that in the APC. The party is run in a haphazard way and that is why people who don’t contribute to the victory of the party in various states and local governments are forgotten. There is no patronage for them and those who crossed from the notorious PDP are the people who are on top of the party today in Nigeria. They are the people enjoying the fruits of the struggles of the pioneers of the party. I know that some of us suffered and sacrificed so much for this democracy we have in this country. Right from 1999 when the PDP took over the leadership of this country, they forgot the masses and ran the country like a mercantile company. We thought the APC would be different, but APC has not changed it. The APC has maintained the same project of mercantilism in running the country. I believe strongly that Buhari is not the same Buhari we knew in the 1980s. The president should wake up because Nigerians are not happy with what is happening in this country. People are suffering and I feel that he should be more available to the people. He should not just sit down with a few cabals around him and take decisions on behalf of the country.
I believe too that the National Assembly, which is the legislative arm of government should be up and doing. Forget about the state assemblies which are rubber stamps, and most times populated by governors’ boys. It is only the National assembly, especially the House of Representatives that we still believe in. The National Assembly should do its oversight work and put the government on its toes. There is a lot of frustration in the country; so much poverty and sadness because of high rate of youth unemployment. We kept sermonizing everyday about the past government; yes but you have been holding power for six years; what have you done? We, who are the leaders of the party, are being oppressed everyday in various forms. Those who can buy their way to the cabal are the people who are getting anything in this country. Some of us are terribly disappointed and I was a victim. You all know that I was a victim. At my level in this country, I was oppressed by this same Buhari government. The acting President gave me a job, and Buhari himself confirmed it as the Chairman of the Nigeria Social Insurance Trust Fund (NSITF), after two years of struggle, but 24 hours before I was sworn in, the position was sold to a small boy. He should be the person working there; they said he is an accountant. There are thousands of accountants in NSITF; he should work and men like me, at my age and experience as an administrator and a patriot who knows how to have a human relations expert should be a chairman. That is what the job of a chairman is; an administrator that will mobilise expert to run an organisation and fight corruption. They have done it to many people unsung; but just because I was a labour leader in the labour movement, the Nigeria public and the media stood behind me and that was how it became a public issue. So, how can a president see that kind of thing and he won’t even intervene properly? And even when he intervened, it was a whitewash.
What specific areas would you want the president to tackle as soon as we step into 2020?
First of all, closing the border is unnecessary. You don’t close your borders as a country. How can you close your borders for so long because of a few rice dealers? Every country should rely on what it has competitive advantage. You deal with what you can produce properly to the people. We can produce soya beans, cassava, yam, guinea corn and so many other things that Nigeria can produce. And because of few rice and poultry farmers, you make the whole Nigerian business community, the whole masses to suffer. Small and medium scale businesses are shutting down.
Enough is enough. The borders should be opened. People are suffering too much. A bag of rice that cost N12,000 about four years ago is now being sold for about N30,000 in Delta State. Why should you punish other businesses just because you want to protect a few rice and poultry farmers? So, because of a few rice farmers you want to cripple the economy? The president should deal with the Customs personnel who have compromised and failed to do their job rather than shutting down the border and crippling the economy of several small and medium scale entrepreneurs.
We have advantage in cocoa, palm oil, ground nut. We can do all these and go into big time agro business without crying to the world. If we can take the whole West and Central African market, by engaging them where we have comparative advantage, why not? Why should poultry even be imported into Nigeria when Nigeria has so much poultry? It should be stopped. If you want to bring in foreign rice, it should be properly taxed and we get our import duties from it. Government should open the borders as a matter of urgency, face the Customs and Immigration and not the common masses.
Talk about the power sector. The power sector could be revived; it is not because of corruption. And if you say you are fighting corruption, it is being done in such a low pace because of the impediment which the judiciary has put on the way. A lot of things should have been done; a lot of bills should have been signed into law by the president like the electoral bill to formalize electronic voting because elections in Nigeria today are nothing to write home about. Elections are bought and sold. We don’t have elections mostly in the South-South and South East regions as well as in the far North, because in these areas, we rig the elections and put anybody there. So, it is only in the South West that you can still find some level of elections. In Nigeria, there are no elections. You just bribe the security agents and INEC officials and the next day, they will produce the useless result and the judicial officers are taken care of and people have what is called purchased judgement. We see all these things but we thought it is a joke that will fizzle out. Most of the people who sacrificed so much for the party are abandoned because they don’t have money to buy positions. So, it is a shame. Buhari is a good man and we thought he was going to save this country but we don’t really know what is happening. I don’t know but I know that there is a cabal and that the cabal does not know how this country was saved from military dictatorship and tyranny. They don’t know because they never sacrificed anything; all what they are doing there now is making money. Once you are in corridors of power in Nigeria, all you talk about is money. As I am blaming the president, I am not leaving out the governors because most of the governors are a sham. But, we have some few good governors, just as you have some few good judges, few good labour leaders and few good journalists. There are many things that the labour movement ought to have intervened in but today they don’t intervene because they have been compromised. We are in a bad situation. What pains me is this forgotten generation; this young people. When you go to the university, you do a lot of things to qualify; corruption has eaten deep there. You buy marks; you trade sex for marks and all sorts of things to get good grades.
With the picture you have painted of the party, APC; where do you see the future of the party after the Buhari presidency in 2023?
Well, I don’t want the PDP to come back. I want the APC to be properly organised. I want the BOT to be properly inaugurated and people of character and integrity should be there, so that they can reach the president because they are people who have seen it all; they have seen it all. You don’t expect a man like me sitting on the board of trustees not to speak the truth to Buhari. They are even protecting him; the cabals are even protecting Buhari from the public, you can’t see him. Nobody can access the president; even his minister can’t access him. He can only meet people in a function like National Executive Council meeting, the Federal Executive Council meeting, and after that he goes off. When he goes off, you can’t reach. All the PDP presidents are better than him because they were accessible even though they were deaf and dumb. But, at least, they were accessible to the people and they knew what was on ground. These are some of the things we are seeing as leaders but in Nigeria these days, you must have a platform and we don’t have a platform. Even those who have platform don’t even know what to do with it. The civil societies can only talk. The conscience of the people is the media but the media are being manipulated because of publishers and some well known columnist who partake in the ‘chopping.’