An All Progressives Congress (APC) chieftain, Chief Frank Kokori said it is a sad development that the country is still crawling at 61.
As the nation celebrates its 61st independence anniversary, Kokori, former General Secretary, National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG), also declared that secession is not the answer to the myriads of challenges facing the country.
He spoke on these and other issues with TUNDE THOMAS.
How will you assess Nigeria at 61?
Nigeria has continued to remain a mystery to me. I thought by 61 that Nigeria would have gone far as a nation. But sadly, the reverse has been the case. But I think everything boils down to leadership. Instead of running, we are still crawling, and this is very unfortunate. All our contemporaries who were developing nations in the 60s like India, Malaysia, Korea, and Singapore, they’ve all left us far behind. Things are not working in Nigeria. While these other nations are making progress, we are lagging behind. Nigerians are sad with this ugly development. People are not happy. You can see disappointment and disillusionment on people’s faces. This is not the kind of nation envisaged by the nation’s founding fathers.
God blessed us with human and natural resources like oil and others. Our leaders should have harnessed all these for the maximum benefits of the citizens, but this has not been the case over the years. If we have not been blessed with these resources, it would have been understandable. Our leaders have access to all these and yet they refused to transform the country into a land flowing with milk and honey. Nigeria is blessed with a long rich coastline on the Atlantic, and yet we can’t feed ourselves. Instead of planning for the present and the future, we are just procreating, giving birth to children at an alarming rate. Now we are having population explosion, and nothing is being done about how to take care of the unfolding development, and what this means is that we are creating problems for the future. Nigeria has not really been blessed to have a statesman as our leader. The military intervention after independence also played a part among other factors that have brought the nation down.
Nigeria was a better place at independence than now. As we were growing in population, the leadership was supposed to be adjusting just like what China is doing as her population keep on expanding, but here our leaders refused to do the needful. Everybody is afraid to talk about population explosion because of religious beliefs and other rubbish. But look at where our foolishness has now led us to. We are growing an abnormal population, and there have been no checks and balances. Having rudderless governments over the years have also not help matters. Many Nigerians are frustrated that at 61 that we have nothing to cheer about. This is why many people, especially the younger ones, are rushing to leave Nigeria in search of greener pastures abroad.
What is the way out in view of what you are now saying?
The youths have an important role to play in this regard. The youths of this present generation, instead of resorting to kidnapping and other forms of crime, should embark on strong protests because the three tiers of governments in Nigeria have failed the people. State governors and even elected lawmakers at the states and federal levels don’t think about people who voted them into office but only think about their own selfish interests. We also have to do something about the Nigerian constitution that gives so much power to these governors including the President. Now the youths and generality of Nigerians can rise up by saying no, that enough is enough. But everybody seems to be passive. It is not as if one is calling for violence but there are ways you can protest that will make those in authority to know that there is discontentment in the land. We have to take our fate in our own hands otherwise the regime of oppression will continue, and with this Nigerians will continue to suffer. We need to have checks, and balances in the system, and nobody is presently doing that, and this is why it is mostly those people that are in government and their collaborators that are mostly enjoying while majority of Nigerians are wallowing in abject poverty. Nigerians should insist on good governance, and good leadership. My expectation is that the organised labour should do more in that regard.
The organised labour should serve as a watchdog, some kind of checks and balances on the executive but it seems some labour leaders have compromised, and that’s why they are not talking. The civil society and the organised labour should be monitoring the government to serve as watchdogs. I expect them to be speaking out more on some contemporary issues like these foreign loans being taken by the Federal Government. If you are taking foreign loans, you have to be careful about the terms and the conditions in order not to put your people in bondage, especially the future generations.
What’s your position on the recent insistence of the North to retain Presidency come 2023?
I don’t agree with that. What the Southern governors are saying on the issue makes more sense. For equity, fairness and justice, I believe that the President should come from the South in 2023. Even on moral grounds, the South should have it. You don’t expect the North to have it for eight years and then that position should still remain in the north. After President Muhammadu Buhari, a northerner must have completed eight years in office in 2023, then power should revolve back to the South. This is the position that anybody that believes in Nigeria’s unity should canvass.
Even northerners who are insisting on 2023 would not accept that a Southerner, having served for eight years, should be replaced by another Southerner. We should be fair-minded on this issue. Our leaders should be mindful of positions they take on some national issues. They should not take actions or make utterances capable of jeopardising the nation’s unity. It heart-warming that prominent Nigerians are already speaking out on the matter, and they are giving reasons why they don’t agree with the position being taken by the North on the matter.
The natural justice is that the Presidency should come to the South in 2023.There would have been no need for all these debates if we are practising true federalism but since the 1966 military intervention truncated that arrangement which was in place in the First Republic ,we have been having this kind of problem. The unitary system which was foisted on us by the military is responsible for this and other series of challenges that have been confronting the nation. Nigeria is too big, and too diverse, for a unitary system of government.
Like all these agitations that we are having all over the place, there would have been no need for it if we are practising true federalism .For instance in the South-East,the IPOB are not supposed to be killing people from their own region. They are supposed to be protecting the people from invaders, and not be punishing people economically. What they are presently doing doesn’t amount to struggle for justice, and democracy. For IPOB, and promoters of Oduduwa Republic, and other groups that are angling for secession, we don’t need that. Secession is not in anybody’s interest. Secession is not answer to Nigeria’s problems. If everybody should secede, then there will be war again because we will be fighting one another. Nobody gains in a war of arms because we will just continue killing ourselves. Instead of continuing with these agitations, what we should be clamouring for is true federalism. It is the answer to these challenges confronting us as a nation.
Why is it that most of you that struggled for the enthronement of democracy are now taking the backseat during the present democratic era?
Some of us took the wrong step at the initial stage. We made that mistake which we later regretted as we left the space for the professional politicians to take over after spearheading the struggle. The professional politicians were much better than us. They were busy strategizing on how to take power after the exit of the military while on the other hand we activists were busy on how to chase the military out of office. When the civil society was busy to liberate the country from military dictatorship, the politicians were quiet. They were strategizing on post-military era. Immediately we liberated the country from dictatorship, these professional politicians took over power while members of the civil society went back to their professions. Those of us who were at the front of the struggle that time were not jobless. We had good careers but unknown to us these politicians were planning ahead, and they outsmarted us. These people have been in politics for a longer time. They understand primitive African politics. They also rigged the elections. This is why I support the idea that INEC should start developing electronic voting as they do in other nations now.
But how do you react to the rejection of electronic transmission of election results by the National Assembly?
The lawmakers should have a rethink. There is no way we can move forward if we continue doing it the analogue way. Those members of the National Assembly opposing it are just being selfish. Everybody should support INEC to develop an election process that is free from rigging. If you win, you win, and if you lose, that’s the way it is supposed to be. It is time we started thinking of those things that will move us forward as a nation. We should call a spade a spade, honestly speaking. I think those opposing electronic voting are doing so for personal interests. They want the status quo to remain because they are benefitting from it. But in this case, we have to think about national interests. Moreover many nations of the world are now embracing electronic voting, and we can’t afford to be left behind.
The nation appears to be under security siege with the Boko Haram insurgency, banditry and kidnapping. What’s the way out?
The security people should up their game. Like I have always been saying, how can we have insecurity challenge with the kind of budget we have for defence? And yet, people will abduct 300 school pupils and will be moving with them, and our security forces can’t detect where they are being kept? We also have satellites and drones, and yet we can’t detect where they are hiding these pupils. Then what kind of security do we call that? How do you move 300 children in a savannah part of the country, and you keep them for months, and nobody can detect their whereabouts? Then what’s the duty of the military?
Why can’t the satellites and the drones which our military have detect the hide-outs of these bandits and kidnappers? What kind of security or military do we have then?
The Federal Government, in all fairness, is even trying. They are adequately financing the military but those people who are in charge of security are not doing their work the way they are supposed to carry it out. I don’t believe these bandits, kidnappers and the insurgents have the kind of weapons available to our military. Our military have superior weapons more than them. We can defeat these people. To me they are rag-tag elements who shouldn’t pose serious threat to our military. The Boko Haram insurgents are a rag-tag army, and our military should be able to wipe them out, especially with the kind of budget we vote for defence. Bandits and kidnappers should not pose any threat to us. They can be wiped out if our military people are serious.
What is usually responsible for these kidnappings is that when some of these incidents occur and they alert our military, their response is very slow. And I believe the reason of this is because they don’t want to take risks. They don’t want to take risks because the military personnel know that if they die in action, that our compensation system is very bad, and they don’t want their family members to suffer if they die while undertaking risky assignments.
They don’t take risks like the ones the Marines take in the United States. Over there, they provide adequate compensation for the families of personnel that die on active duty. But in Nigeria, that’s not the case in most situations. You see widows running from one office to another in pursuit of their deceased husbands’ benefits, and they treat them anyhow. The insecurity challenge is not insurmountable if those in charge of the security apparatus can demonstrate more will and effort. There should also be punishment for people who fail in their duties. The security people should be up and doing, and if we have this new change of orientation, the tide will be turned against bandits, insurgents and other criminal elements making life difficult for Nigerians.
President Buhari and the APC, in 2015, promised change. Looking back, six years after, will you say Nigerians are better off now?
Nigerians are not better off. But then we shouldn’t forget that the PDP that was in power for 16 years before Buhari came into office had more resources and yet the party failed Nigerians. This time around, the resources available to Buhar, and APC are very lean. But that should not have been an excuse. The government should have devised a way to manage the resources very well. Resources are very lean now. Look at the oil price, it is very low and Nigeria’s economy depends on oil.
But when compared to PDP, APC is still trying. PDP government that was in power for 16 years laid the foundation for corruption. When the party took over from the military in 1999, the general expectation was that the party would perform very well but at the end, the party disappointed Nigerians. I’m an APC man but I’m not satisfied with what the party has been doing in the government in the last six years. The party is weak, and the only real source of power is the Presidency which to me is not good. The party should be able to exercise its powers, and should not have in any way surrendered it to the Presidency or any individual. We should have strong institutions instead of having powerful individuals, and this is what is killing us as a nation.
If Nigeria continues this way, the nation will remain the poverty capital of the world. We are still in the woods, and those people in authority should wake up. They should strive to write their names on the right side of history. They should think about how to move this country forward. Nigerians are expecting more from President Buhari and the APC. They promised change, but Nigerians are still expecting those dividends of democracy that will lead to reduction of poverty, creation of jobs for our teeming unemployed youths, and reduction of hunger in the land. The President should also whip all our institutions, especially the judiciary and the police in line. If he can do this, Nigeria will fly.
Former President, General Ibrahim Babangida recently said the next Nigeria’s President should be under70 years. What’s your take on that?
Age does not really matter. The most corrupt people you have in Nigeria are the young governors. They started the rubbish since 1999. Old men don’t have predilection for stealing money. Old men don’t steal much. The younger elements steal than old people. Old Presidents serve more meritoriously. Look at Nelson Mandela in South Africa, George Bush in the United States, Julius Nyerere in Tanzania and a host of other places where older men served as presidents and they excelled. Even Joe Biden, the current President of the United States, an old man, is doing well. It is not about age but commitment. It is all about being committed and dedicated. Nationalism, dedication and patriotism are the qualities that are required for public service. Anybody that possesses these qualities can serve as Nigeria’s President.