Former Secretary General of the Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas workers (NUPENG) and member of the Board of Trustees of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Chief Frank Kokori, has said that Nigeria is not where it ought to be in the fight against corruption. He made the remark and went down memory lane on the commemoration of June 12 as Democracy Day.
As Nigeria celebrates for the second time June 12 as the Democracy Day, what are your thoughts on that, considering the fact that some people still pick holes with the Federal Government’s decision to replace May 29 with June 12?
Those of us who were behind the struggle for the actualisation of Chief MKO Abiola’s presidency after the annulment of June 12, 1993 presidential election are happy with the development. We are happy, but the issue is that Nigeria is not going the way we expected 27 years after the struggle. We are disillusioned. Actually, we fought for freedom in democracy so that Nigerians could develop and learn from the great democracies of the world. But unfortunately, instead of advancing and developing and making life more worth living for the people, our leaders have woefully failed us. Instead of enjoying the dividends of democracy, the people are wallowing in poverty 20 years after democracy.
We are happy that June 12 is now recognized as Democracy Day, the symbol of the struggle for democracy in Nigeria instead of May 29, which is just a number created for us by the military. The fact is that we will continue to pray so that our country will take its rightful place in the League of Nations. Currently, Nigerians are frustrated and unhappy because of bad leadership for the 20 years of civil rule. Instead of progressing and developing, we are retrogressing. It is a shame and the younger generations are the greatest victims of all these shenanigans in the government for 20 years. Corruption is the bane of this country. We thought that the president would fight corruption to a standstill within two years, but unfortunately, most people around him have stood against the fight to demystify corruption. Nigeria today belongs to some few people who are very rich; people that have acquired obscene wealth, while 90 percent of the people are living below the poverty line. It is unfortunate but that is where we found ourselves. Those of us who staked our lives for democracy in this country actually have not been happy with the situation of things in this country in the last 20 years. But, we are happy that at least June 12 is recognised and celebrated.
Do you think that declaring June 12 Democracy Day will deepen democracy in any way in Nigeria?
Whether it will deepen it depends on the choice of people who will judge them and not me. But, I have told you what I believe and what I have seen in Nigeria, which is that Nigeria is not moving the way we thought it should move. I am one of the greatest victims of the struggle. I spent so many years in solitary confinement. My case was like that of the slain American George Floyd, who shouted that he couldn’t breathe and that he was dying when that police officer pinned him to the ground with his knee. It happened to me 26 years ago when I was abducted around 11pm that fateful night by the Abacha’s hefty secret policemen, whom I call the denizen of Abacha. When they captured me, they flung me on the floor of their vehicle and sat on my chest and I couldn’t breathe and I was telling them, “I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe.” I almost died until when I told them with my last breath that if I died, they would plunge Nigeria into a blaze of fire because I know the solidarity of the working people. All over the world, the working people would not take it lightly because they were fighting and they were defying the struggle in Nigeria even though the labour movement in Nigeria at that time betrayed the NUPENG, and the Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PENGASSAN), but we took the battle. We, in the labour union and the civil society fought the battle. NUPENG was in that battle and that was why I was punished so much in a solitary confinement for four years. So, what can I do for my country more than that? We have paid our price for the country but the leadership will not listen. They are just accumulating wealth primitively, while the masses are suffering. We are aging now, so that is the situation. We suffered for our country; we did our best for the country, but the black African leaders have refused to learn their lesson and they have actually disgraced the black race. That is why you see young black Africans taking so much risk crossing the Mediterranean Sea and dying in droves to get to Europe. Why should we disgrace ourselves in such manners when our continent is blessed with so much? We shouldn’t do that but bad leaders, especially in Nigeria, the so called giant of Africa, have forced the black race to become an object of ridicule. It is a shame and some of us are disillusioned but what can we do? We are all aging now, but I wish my country well.
Some people have argued that President Buhari simply saw an ample opportunity, cashed in on it and declared June 12 the new Democracy Day to score a political point and garner support from the people of South West; do you share that view?
Normally, we expected Obasanjo to have done most of the things people are now expecting from Buhari, because he was a victim in that struggle, but for eight years, he refused to address any situation. He refused to even address the issue of decentralization of government; he refused to call the national conference until when he was preparing to leave because of his third term ambition. So, when Buhari did, people were happy that it came from the least expected person. So, if he takes advantage of it, that is his own luck, because even our own brothers; our own southern people, could not do it. You know I am a chieftain of the APC, not because I am a politician; I am more of a labour activist, so I don’t support a bad government. Obasanjo should have done well for this country but he left it. That is how unfortunate we are and that is the situation, so if Buhari capitalised on that and people hailed him, that’s his luck. Actually, Buhari was heavily hailed for giving us that June 12. I spoke that day on behalf of the organised labour and we were happy. Even Wole Soyinka was there, the Gani Fawehinmi’s families, the Abiola’s families were all happy. That is just a landmark but what we want for our country is the dividends of democracy and a developed country, not a retrogressive development. That is the pains of this country. Why am I saying this? I am saying this because I am a labour man and I believe that our own generation has failed the youths of this country. Why should the youth be so unemployed? In our own time, we just left ordinary secondary school and we got good employments. Although, I know that things have changed because we now have millions of graduates; in our own time, even school certificate was a big thing. I lived in Lagos and worked with school certificate. I also worked with a university degree and we were happy because things were okay. But today, what do we have? You see people with three degrees and they are not even employed and some people are wallowing in obscene wealth which they hide in foreign countries, while they pauperise the people. We thought that Buhari would fight corruption to a standstill, but at the end of the day, he has not been able to do that. I feel he is a bit weak. He could not fight the articles of corruption. He should have been able to do more. He tried; at least he tried his best, but we are not where we are in the fight against corruption. We should have done more and there should have been more deterrent. So, I still put some of the blames on our judiciary and the police. The judiciary and prosecution have been very corrupt in this country.