Nigeria’s unity will be in danger if another northerner succeeds President Muhammadu Buhari in 2023. That is the view of former Secretary General of the National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers Union (NUPENG), Chief Frank Kokori.
Giving the warning in an interview with TUNDE THOMAS, Kokori stated that, for fairness and equity, the presidency should rotate to the South in 2023. He also spoke on other national issues.
How would you react to the present state of security in the country?
It is a shame that Nigeria is going through this kind of situation. It is very unfortunate and worrisome. Insecurity has done so much damage to Nigeria’s political and economic psyche. Nigerians have become helpless. Can you imagine that people now have to pay rent to bandits and terrorists before they can farm on their land? Farmers who can’t afford to pay these bandits are forced to stay at home. What a shame. We are heading towards a big disaster when the situation has now degenerated to a level where you have to pay terrorists before you can farm on your land. It has never been this bad in the history of the country. With this unacceptable situation, we don’t need a soothsayer to tell us that famine is looming.
Do you believe in how the FG is handling it?
Nigerians are tired. But I think Nigerians have to wait for a new regime or administration before they can hope to have a reprieve. I think Buhari has done his best, and he can’t do beyond what he is doing now. Any hope that Buhari may do anything extra-ordinary about the present security situation is a misplaced hope. Honestly speaking, I don’t see President Buhari doing anything beyond what he is doing now regarding the security situation in the country. Buhari has not been hard on his Fulani compatriots, I mean the Fulani herdsmen, who have been terrorising the country. These Fulani terrorists don’t have sophisticated weapons like the Nigerian military, so why has it been difficult for the military to crush them? The answer is simple: it is because we have not been hard on them. Then when they capture some of these terrorists, they don’t punish and prosecute them. Where there is no deterrence for crime, then crime thrives. Nobody can tell me that these terrorists are more powerful than our military. No, they are not. I believe that there is something in all this that we don’t know but which obviously those in government and the military know. You see them parading yahoo boys and other criminals almost every day, but how many terrorists have they paraded and punished? There is something mysterious in all this. Let’s leave Buhari alone; he is tired. It is not about age. Is Buhari older than Joe Biden, the President of the United States? But see what the man has been doing to tackle terrorists. Buhari is not serious with those who are his compatriots in the war against these terrorists. He is a Fulani himself like these Fulani herdsmen terrorising Nigerians, but the Fulani in Nigeria are not these wild Fulanis from the Sahel, so why should we allow them to come and take over our country? Why should we be treating them with kid gloves? The federal government has not been handling the issue the right way. These terrorists are not powerful more than our military, and I believe that they can be defeated if the military decides to do their job.
What should the government do to have a lasting solution to the security crisis?
The federal government is too powerful; we have to decentralise security to enable Nigerians to arm themselves against these Fulani terrorists who are armed with sophisticated weapons. If vigilantes are well co-ordinated, and are allowed to use automatic weapons like the herdsmen, they will be able to drive the herdsmen away. You can’t come to my area and take over my land, and we will just look at you like that. The youths of my area and the local vigilance group, if they are armed, will defend the people.
Buhari’s government is in its twilight year, so Nigerians should not expect too much from the regime again. Let’s pray that the next person who takes over the presidency will have the guts to handle the security issue properly. I don’t also think the government is ready to take any advice from any Nigerian again. But I strongly believe community policing is the only way out. State and local governments should set up local vigilance groups. Members of the vigilance groups, if well armed, can secure various communities against external attacks. I believe this is what state and local governments can do if they are serious about it, instead of spending money on frivolous expenditures. The federal government should support this idea. They should not procrastinate on it. Since these terrorists are well-armed, then members of the vigilance groups should also be armed, otherwise, the objective of setting them up will be defeated. Community policing is crucial to the security challenges we have in the country. It will go a long way in helping us to solve this big problem, and this is why I’m appealing to the federal government to support it. It is clear, and very obvious, that the Nigeria Police can’t cope with the current policing system.
A situation where you post somebody from Sokoto State to Delta State will pose a serious challenge, as the person who is being posted to an environment he is not familiar with, won’t be able to operate efficiently. His scope of operation will be limited, whereas members of the vigilance groups, who are familiar with the environment, will be able to operate effectively. I believe community policing will complement the work of the Central Police. What can be done is to ensure that arms given to members of the vigilance groups are licensed. You don’t expect them to confront the terrorists with local guns, as that will not work. These terrorists are operating with sophisticated weapons, and you don’t expect those that will confront them to do so with inferior weapons. To provide room for checks and balances, the government should then ensure that arms issued to members of the vigilance groups are licensed.
As ordinary Nigerians, what should we do to save ourselves from these criminals since we can’t bear arms?
Community policing, as I stated earlier, is the answer. It’s the most viable option that we have now.
An NBS report released last week says 133 million Nigerians live in extreme poverty, what’s your opinion on that?
This is sad. Unfortunately, the vast majority of Nigerians are living in extreme poverty. There is no justification for it, considering the fact that Nigeria is an oil-producing nation. The situation is not acceptable at all, although it is a sad reality that millions of Nigerians are living in poverty. One would have thought that the present administration would have been able to address the issue of poverty, but, sadly this has not been so. The mantra that brought APC to the government was ‘Change.’ But has there been any positive change in the lives of the citizens? No. It is sad that the gap between the rich and the poor is getting wider. The issue of poverty ravaging the land is one that needs to be urgently addressed. It is like sitting on a powder keg, because, as the saying goes, a hungry man is an angry man. How can Nigerians get out of the poverty line? It is very simple. They should vote the right people into power. When the right people are in positions of authority, there will be positive changes. But as long as we continue to vote the wrong people into office, the problem will continue. Leadership is one of the major challenges facing this country. Once we get the right leadership, we will get it right.
Is the government doing enough to reduce corruption under Buhari?
Corruption is one of the major factors fuelling poverty, and Nigerians thought that Buhari would be able to tackle corruption. That was why they voted for him. Unfortunately, the Buhari we knew as military head of state between 1983 and 1984 was not the Buhari that was voted into office in 2015. Buhari that we know today can’t fight corruption. He is tired. When people are arraigned for corruption, the EFCC detain them for two weeks, later arraign them, and, after they are given bail, that may be the end of the case. The battle against corruption has not been total. Serious sanctions are not being meted out to those who are corrupt. In some countries, like China and Russia, those found guilty of corruption are even executed. Although one is not advocating the death sentence for corruption, we need to impose stiffer penalties to those found guilty of corrupt practices. The way we treat cases of corruption in Nigeria is not the way to go about it. Some cases even drag on for years and at the end, suspects will be allowed to go free. When people are outside the government, you see them shouting anti-corruption, anti-corruption, but when they enter the government, they join the bandwagon, and the vicious circle continues.
Politics is in the air now. What are your thoughts about the ongoing campaigns?
It depends on the individual, but for me, I’m satisfied. Politicians should do their campaigns, but it should be devoid of violence. Every Nigerian has the right to vote for candidates of their choice. We are in a democracy, and people should have freedom of choice and freedom of expression. But it should be politics devoid of bitterness and rancour. Campaigns going on now are in order, but we should avoid violence. Candidates and political parties should be more focused on how to sell their manifestos to Nigerians.
In your opinion, are the candidates addressing issues or just playing to the gallery?
They are addressing issues. Now they are having town hall meetings across the country where they are addressing Nigerians and speaking about their plans and programmes. I believe that these town hall meetings provide an opportunity for Nigerians not only to scrutinise them but also to ask them questions. But the issue is not even about what candidates are promising Nigerians at these town hall meetings but it is about the candidates’ integrity. Some of them will promise heaven and earth, but, at the end of the day when they get there, they will do nothing. This is why I will advise Nigerians to scrutinise the candidates very well in order to ensure that it is men and women of integrity that they vote into office. Some of these candidates may be good debaters, and with this may be able to talk their way into power, but that may be where it will end, as they may not be able to deliver. They may not have the capacity to perform, and this is why Nigerians have to scrutinise the candidates very well before the elections. But it is unfortunate that Nigerians don’t care again about what those they voted for do after they have voted them into office, and this is one of the reasons why some of those elected don’t care about whether they perform or not. This is why impeachment is there as a deterrence to deal with those elected public office holders who have not lived up to expectations. But how many governors or Presidents have been impeached in Nigeria? So they are not afraid of impeachment. We have to get to that stage where we can impeach people if we want our elected leaders to perform.
What are your thoughts concerning the leading presidential candidates?
As a chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC), I will like to talk only about my party candidate, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu. I believe he is the best presidential candidate, and I want him to win. I can criticise him, and give him advice, but I can’t condemn him. I believe that Tinubu still remains the best candidate. He has the capacity to deliver. I’ve known him for a long time. We were together in the defunct Social Democratic Party (SDP) in the 1990s, and I have been monitoring his political activities since then. He performed very well when he was in the Senate, and he also delivered when he was elected governor of Lagos State. I can vouch for Tinubu. He will not disappoint Nigerians. I have confidence in him, and I believe Nigerians should put their trust in him. Nigerians should also not forget that Tinubu was also there during the struggle for the enthronement of democracy in the country. He played a yeoman’s role in the struggle against the military dictatorship like some of us.
Some have said there’s nothing wrong if another northerner succeeds Buhari after his eight years in office. What would that portend for Nigeria’s unity?
It is not ideal. It is not acceptable. I will not support another northerner or Fulani man taking over from Buhari. After Buhari, it should be the turn of another person from the south. Having another northerner succeed Buhari will not only endanger Nigeria’s democracy, but it will also threaten the nation’s unity. It is both unfair and morally wrong to have another northerner succeeding Buhari. Anybody or group who loves this country should not canvas that idea. Another northerner succeeding Buhari will have a lot of consequences. It will have a boomerang effect on the nation’s democracy. For equity, justice, and fairness, it should be the turn of the South in 2023. We want a united country, and not a country where nepotism thrives, and this is why we must always canvass for fairness. I’m one of the advocates of a power shift between the north and south, and I believe that it is the turn of the south. I have nothing against Atiku or any other northerner, but I believe that power must shift to the south in 2023 after Buhari’s eight years in office.
What’s your take on INEC? Are you confident they will perform creditably in 2023?
INEC has been doing very well, and I do not doubt that the commission under the leadership of Prof. Mahmoud Yakubu will deliver in 2023. With the BVAS technology introduced by the electoral body, the issue of rigging and other forms of electoral malpractices will be dealt with. It is an innovation that will improve our electoral process. INEC has also been free and fair in the discharge of its duties. My appeal is that all stakeholders, including political parties, their candidates, voters and the citizens should all cooperate with the electoral body. INEC should sustain the current tempo. They are doing very well, and should keep it up
Do you think INEC can refuse to be influenced by the political elite?
Normally, there would be some bad eggs in the commission, but for the bad eggs, that’s why the secret police, I mean the DSS, is there to monitor and flush out the bad eggs. This is what they do in Western Europe, and the developed world, and this is what we should do. When these electoral workers realise that they are being monitored, they will be very careful and refuse to be influenced by any individual or group. But I still believe that, with the BVAS technology, we can hope to have a good election.
Is the change of naira notes by the CBN a good development?
The reasons they gave are very cogent reasons, and I support the development. Naira has been bastardised a lot, and, like what they said, we’ve over-printed the naira. People are hoarding the naira. There are lots of naira in the hands of bandits and other non-actors. So I believe we should streamline the naira, and, since we’ve given that responsibility to the Central Bank, we should allow the apex bank to do its job. It is a popular decision by the Central Bank, and I support it. Anybody who has genuine money should not be afraid of the CBN’s decision. I have been reading that some people are even asking for extension of time on the new policy, but what I know is that if you give Nigerians 10 years, they will still be asking for extension. Look at the issue of PVC registration, some Nigerians are still asking for extension after many months. CBN should just ignore those asking for an extension of time.
Is it profitable or sustainable to have two different exchange rates in a single country? Why can’t Nigeria eliminate the parallel market run by the Bureau De Change operators?
Bureau De Change operators are all over the world, but they should operate in the normal market. While I’m not calling for their elimination, I believe they should operate in the normal market. What I mean by this is that whether you change your money with the banks or the Bureau De Change, the exchange rate should be the same.
How can Nigerians survive this hardship in the land?
Nigerians should insist on good governance. Not only that but we should also find ways to tackle corruption. Corruption and lack of good governance are those factors fuelling hardship in the land. This is why Nigerians should vote for good leadership. They must ensure that they vote for candidates that can provide good leadership for the country in 2023.
Do you think the insecurity we have everywhere will allow a fair election next year?
There is no cause for alarm. I believe that we are going to have a peaceful election next year. If everybody keeps to the rule, there won’t be any crisis. Nigerians should not harbour or entertain any fear about 2023.