Hon. Eseme Eyibo, vintage political strategist, was former House of Representatives spokesperson. The former lawmaker was also the spokesman and chairman of the Information and Strategic Communication Committee to Akwa Ibom APC Governorship Campaign in the 2019 election.
He told Sunday Sun during this chat his views on COVID-19 pandemic and its management, the skirmishes in the All Progressives Congress (APC), Boko Haram amnesty moves and corruption in the judiciary, among others. Excerpt:
How do you assess the approach of the government in this COVID-19 containment so far?
You know it’s a pandemic and it wasn’t something that was envisaged so that you will think about that government policy in relation to the action taken. The change in the event of things is something that has taken everybody unawares globally. Even America with its sophistication and China too, of course, they never envisaged it, so most of the policies and steps taken as a matter of fact are done out of panic and you can see some inconsistencies somehow. But I think that over time as we progress daily most of those things are going to be adjusted to and, of course, they are being adjusted to already. But if you ask me the containment rate is quite impressive because like the lockdown now, they will be able to do successful contact person and getting accurate data on the spread. So, one can say, so far so good as there is room for improvement.
Most critics have continued to insist that President Mohammadu Buhari has no such constitutional power to enforce a lockdown as we are witnessing it in Abuja, Lagos and Ogun states…?
(Cuts in) I am sure those people who have made such comments are not aware of the bill that the president has just signed into law on the issue of the lockdown. I saw a statement from the Vice President’s office (Prof Yemi Osinbajo) saying that the presidential action taken is not only important, but also very well backed by extant Nigerian laws, particularly the Quarantine Act.
What are the challenges that you think the situation has thrown up?
You see our institutions are not working as it should be, are not up to the challenges of contemporariness as a result of poor leadership recruitment. It is a culture in this country not to recruit people into sub-national and national institutions based on merit. People are recruited either on federal character, quota or who knows who basis, among others, so the result of that, usually, the outcome of such poor leadership recruitment is weak institutions and when the institutions are weak you now begin to have this kind of epileptic service delivery. For example, at isolation points at what most of the state governments are setting up, what has usually been the situation of the primary health care centre? This is the time that institutions like the primary health care development agencies, the various primary healthcare centres across the country should be up and doing but how has it been faring ? in some cases you just have buildings with no facilities and even the human capital that you have there are not sufficiently trained. Even the private hospitals, somebody will graduate as a medical doctor and immediately after the housemanship will go and open clinic without going through the basic training. And even those big hospitals do not train and re-train their doctors so this pandemic has come to take everybody unawares, as well as raise concerns on the inadequacy of various sectors before now. The professionals themselves are not trained enough for it. If you go to the private hospitals, most of the nurses there are those who have not done well in their school certificate or those who are unable to go to the university, so they are able to take peanuts. Private clinics now employ those folks, and those folks cannot work in a time such as this as the professionals. The general leadership recruitment process into sub-national and national institutions and private sector initiatives, as I said earlier have now come to be challenged by this pandemic, it has been unveiled.
So, we need an overhaul of the system?
It is not an issue of overhauling rather we should be able to go back and do some kind of attitudinal re-orientation because if you talk about overhauling how are you going to overhaul a private hospital who instead of recruiting qualified personnel to work in qualify areas, training and re-training of doctors, nurses and other medical personnel they choose to pick people they will be able to pay peanuts. When you pay peanut you get monkey because they want to maximize profit. The name of the game here is no longer the professional ethics, the ethical values, ethical integrity; it’s now profit maximization because the society has shifted from value which is the core thing to affluence.
What is your take on the move to offer repentant Boko Haram members amnesty by the government?
The issue is that who are these Boko Haram in the first place? You can grant amnesty to a person who is identified, so who are these Boko Haram and what are they agitating for? When they did it for the Niger Delta militants those militants came out clear and they stated what and what they were looking for, their demands, what they were agitating for, so the government now asked them to calm down and that they were going to take certain measures to address those agitations. That was how the ministry of the Niger Delta came up, that was how the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) came up and that was how the issue of the amnesty came up. So, what is the meaning of amnesty in this case? It is a prerogative that the government is granting to persons who were agitators so in the case of Boko Haram now what are they agitating for? Who are they? So, you need to answer these questions before you begin to talk about the issue of amnesty. Do you give amnesty to a group of people you don’t know? A group of people who have no ideology what they are fighting for. Is it religious, is it economic, is it social? Are they trying to redress perceived injustice? The justice of what are they demanding? So, you can see that there is a difference between the Niger Delta militants, for example, and Boko Haram.
Most commentators say the National Assembly has become a mere rubber stamp of the executive. Do you share this view?
National Assembly is not a rubber stamp, it has never been a rubber stamp, but the outcome from the legislative activities in that place is not reflective of the collective expectations of the people. You realise that the National Assembly and indeed most of the legislative houses across the country have deteriorated in terms of quality of the legislative activities and the capacity of the members. The emphasis have now been shifted from the issue of competencies and capacities to the highest bidder. So, that has affected the quality of legislative activity not only in the National Assembly, but even in all the state houses of Assembly across the country. That is why you are not having quality legislation other than the executive bill being attended to.
Most Nigerians have concluded or have this impression that the judiciary is no longer the last hope of the common man, but for the highest bidder?
Well, the judiciary is one of the three arms of government, of course, but the executive has its problem too. For example, people keep calling the Buhari government. it is not the Buhari government. You have the presidency and in the presidency or the executive you have the ministers, the permanent secretaries, the directors, chairmen of boards of commissions, parastatals, so these people in their various responsibilities are mandated to drive the overall policies of the government and the implementation of actions of the government, so once you don’t recruit the right people into the various places you won’t achieve much. For instance, you want to pick a permanent secretary and you go and pick an assistant secretary or somebody inexperienced to become a permanent secretary to the detriment of a competent person as a result of either quota or federal character that ministry is going to suffer in service delivery. If you now go-ahead to take somebody to become a chairman of a board when he hasn’t understood the principle or the intent of the establishment act, the person is not likely going to do or perform magic there and you will not expect the service delivery of that agency to be anything fantastic or of a quality outcome. So, that is the same thing in the judiciary. What are you expecting from the judiciary? What has been the quality of the person? And when you are talking about the judiciary you are talking about not just judges, but you are also talking about lawyers, you are also talking about the judicial staff, you are also talking about registrars etc, so the totality of these people is what constitutes the judiciary. So, when one in that table, I mean the table of governance where you have the judiciary, executive and the legislature, once any of the leg or all the legs are deficient the table cannot be stable, that is the experience that we are having now. What you are saying is not only peculiar to the judiciary. When you say that the judiciary is corrupt what are the roles of lawyers in this corruption? What are the roles of the registrars and paralegal staff? It is not just the judges alone.
What do you make out of the skirmishes that have engrossed the All Progressives Congress (APC)?
Well the APC problem is a universal problem of political parties in power as far as Nigeria is concerned and this manual is very consistent with the democratic practice since 1999. Any of the political party that has been in power in Nigeria in its manual, it gets into a chapter where implosion and later explosion will characterize its survival. What is going on in the APC is not strange, it’s not new, it is expected and typical. The only difference will be in the management of those issues. In the APC case, I can tell you that the party like any other party such as PDP, APGA etc, APC is the product of the absence of manifesto in the organisation of political party ideology in Nigeria. There is no political party in Nigeria that has an ideology, so they keep moving from one party to the other. You see somebody moving from APC to PDP, PDP to APGA in search of a ticket or in search of appointment or in search of patronage. So, when you have such unethical issues, when you have that integrity deficit in the management of political parties administration and, of course, in the sponsorship of candidates into the various offices or the appointment of persons into a government that is controlled by a particular political party, you are going to have this suffocation.
Are you in support of the de-registration of over 70 political parties by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC)?
There are too many political parties in Nigeria and most of the people are going into that political party registration just to get whatever comes out from INEC or they will wait for an election time when they will compromise and collect money from other political parties who have the willingness to pay and all of that. So, I don’t think that we need more than two or three political parties in this country. If you say two parties we may be divided along religious lines, if you say three political parties’ people may also look at it from the position of the North, the South, and the West. Nigeria has an attitudinal problem which has cut across governance, even religion, its sad and very unfortunate.