General Joseph Okoloagu (retd) is a member of the Board of Trustees (BoT) of the All Progressives Congress (APC). He vied for Enugu North Senatorial seat on the platform of the APC during the last election. In this interview with IHEANACHO NWOSU in Abuja, he spoke on key national issues including the raid on the homes of serving judges by the Department of State Security (DSS), crisis in the APC and the state of the economy. He argued that DSS acted rightly by swooping on the judges hinging his position on what he called the nasty experience(s) of many Nigerians including himself, in the hands of some judges.
What do you make out of the recent arrest of judges by the DSS?
I must say that for the first time, I got 100 percent conviction that the fight against corruption is real. I am telling you this because I have been a victim. It is not always good to mention names and I will try not to mention names. I did not go to Senate in 2007 because when I won my case at the tribunal and my opponent appealed, and went to the Court of Appeal, certain amount of money was demanded from me and I said it and I have repeated it several times. I jokingly told the judge that if you sell my whole town you cannot raise N250 million from them for this case. People laughed over it because I have been saying it over and over again. I did not know that the man meant it. When he wrote the judgment, which I have today, it was nothing but an insult on justice and the judiciary. I still keep it. It is not a judgment that anybody reading law should refer to because in most decisions, we have what we call “Stare Decisis” (Reason for the decision). The same judge has been indicted by the DSS. He left Enugu to Port Harcourt and later on to Ilorin, today he has been disgraced as a corrupt person. President Buhari does not know about my case. So the war against corruption is real. I am using my experience to tell you that the anti-corruption war is real and must continue. I have seen it, known it and have suffered from it.
As I said earlier on that it does not serve the end of justice to see crimes or offences being committed and do nothing about it because you are hamstrung by procedural requirement, no. Any drastic situation must be approached with drastic solution. I think that is what the DSS has done. Doctrine of necessity is very important. It is not proper to humiliate judges and subject them to inhuman treatment. I concede to that one. But when a person conscientiously commits a crime, I do not think he or she has any option than to be treated like a criminal. This idea of immunity, I like also to add my own voice that the law of the land accords immunity only to Mr. President and Vice President and Governors and Deputy Governors. Nobody is above the law, because the immunity clause shields them from prosecution while in office. We don’t have anything for the judges or legislators. They even said they want immunity, God help Nigeria.
There is crisis in your party. The leadership is polarised. How disturbed are you?
Very pertinent question. You cannot stop human beings by thinking and conjecturing what they want. For me as an individual, where I blame my party seriously is its inability to get the leadership together for us to sit down and confront the problem facing us. By now, the Board of Trustees should be meeting regularly to proffer solution or even give advice. That is the essence of having a BoT. No one man has solution to everything and there is a time they said on the paper that they had dissolved the BoT. But you do not dissolve BoT on the pages of newspapers. Just like the chairman said, he cannot be changed on the pages of newspaper, so also the Board of Trustees. We were appointed formally and I have my ID card.
I am calling on the leadership, especially Mr. Chairman, some of these crises could be addressed, ought to be addressed really if the BoT meets. There is no point washing our dirty linen in public. I do not feel comfortable if any member of the party is directing the chairman on the way things should not be. I do not know why the party leadership has not convoked the BoT meeting. In a time like this, this kind of meeting is needed to move the party forward whether it is between groups or individuals within the party. My party may be in crisis, but the fact remains that PDP is not an alternative and we as APC leaders must get united now given the fact that 2019 is at the corner. What President Buhari and his team are doing today is laying foundation for our own children, but everybody wants it sowed and harvested today. It is not possible.
Some Northern elders rose from a meeting recently and declared that there is hunger in the land and that companies are closing up. Are you not worried that it does seem that an APC government is not getting the handle to the way out of the nation’s economic challenge?
I like to start by saying that these are statements of facts. These claims made by groups and individuals are all right. But I will quickly add that this situation is not one to be used in playing politics. It is real and my honest view is that people are trying to lay the blame at the doorstep of Mr. President or the party. As much as we try to avoid the blame game, we must accept the fact that it is not only Nigeria that is in recession. There is recession globally. And if you recall, one of the things that caused the removal of Brazilian President, was the recession. Venezuela is a member of OPEC like Nigeria. Our situation is better. They are virtually begging and their situation is precarious. Their people are leaving in droves as they are queuing to collect essential commodities. I am scared because I do not know whether we will get there. But if we do, God’ll help us to overcome.
Yes, my party is in government, but I don’t have access to information on what Mr. President must do now to arrest the situation. But the truth is that we must keep on trying until we get it right. I want to beg Nigerians to stop the blame game. You will agree with me that before now things were bad. So, you cannot blame the present regime. I told you in my last interview that the situation was like a plane on hijack. It has already nosedived and will take the experience of a pilot and grace of God to return back to normalcy. So, having used that analogy, what everyone needs is patience and prayers. As we pray, we also want government to try their hands on other things that will uplift the economy for good.
We cannot just sit down and cry but must do something drastically to remedy the situation. But whether the government is doing its best to reposition the situation, as far as I am concerned, it is doing its best given the situation it finds itself. By the time we came on board, the inability of government to take certain decisions could as well be part of the problem. This TSA issue is not the solution.
What we need do now is for all hands to be on deck. If I were the president, I would asked for the best brains in economics or experts. If it means going even to the opposition to pick someone, let it be. But the idea of blaming Mr. President or the party, I reject it in Jesus name. I am talking from the bottom of my heart. Things were bad before and there are genuine efforts to solve the problem. If you view it critically, you will know that we have not failed. We may not have the best in economy today, but we have achieved a lot in security and corruption. I said corruption with emphasis. For goodness sake, we are on the right track. We must look inwards to promote our economy. The over dependence in oil has landed us where we are today.
Venezuela is a case in point. They do not have anything to turn to. But we have agriculture and all sources of mineral to fall back on. We must accept the reality by patronizing our own goods to grow our economy. When you analyze a problem, proffer a solution. My own solution is changing my taste and it is working for me. We must not go to farming alone, but extend to animal husbandry.
Would you say this government has handled the issue of herdsmen attacks satisfactorily?
I know you would ask me about the herdsmen. There is no room for uncontrolled grazing especially in my own part of the country. The issue is that we keep goats and sheep. I personally have sheep in my village but they are kept in a particular place. It is a hobby for me and if your sheep makes mistake of going into somebody’s farm and consume his crops, you will be sanctioned by the elders and you will pay heavily for it. I cannot allow anybody coming from anywhere with herds of cow to cross my farm. As a solution, government should build ranches for them. We need the ranches as we cannot do without meat. But what we should not tolerate is free grazing through farms and what have you. It is not cost effective because the cost of the crops they are destroying is higher than the meat. I am not an economic expert, but there are certain policies made by the government I am not comfortable with, like TSA and Forex. I do not know their impact on small scale industries and even the economy. The TSA is even hurting security because the Armed Forces sometimes could not get something to solve immediate problems. They should look at these policies critically and relax some of them for good governance and make funds available for certain things to grow.
But has it not helped in curtailing corruption?
I agree with you, but it must be relaxed for better economic management and growth. Money has been saved, but of what use do you save money and keep it away from the people? Such money must not be kept outside the reach of the common man. Of what use is the money that you stash somewhere and not working for the economy? I also call on government with utmost humility to invest the money recovered from corrupt people on infrastructure, production and other areas that will grow the economy. It will make us to break out of this precarious situation. There must be regeneration to keep the economy afloat. But the truth remains that Buhari is not the cause. Nigerians should be calm and understand the situation as it is.
But they cannot wait forever. So what is the timeline like?
If we cannot wait forever, what do we do? Crying and shouting all the time will not solve our problem. Going to the media and start shouting will still not solve any problem. The naked truth is that recession is happening globally and it is not affecting your country alone. What we should do is to bring in people that will make sure that we do not feel the effect much. Recession is everywhere and my party is in government and we are doing everything possible to address the issue. The issue of this recession is not for APC alone; all Nigerians should join hands together to curtail its affect to make sure we do not suffer much. The blame game must stop now and people of goodwill should put on their thinking cap as the country belongs to us all.
Are you shifting this economic retooling to Nigerians? Is your party overwhelmed by the situation?
I totally disagree with you, . It is not the issue of the party being overwhelmed by the economic realities on ground. You are a Nigerian. The party is only administering Nigeria. We must rise above party and shun the blame game as it will never do us any good. If we continue like this, we are not going anywhere. 2019 is at the corner and if you feel we have not done well, vote in your own party provided we follow due process. We are in the middle of the sea now and anybody can offer solution to help the situation. The problem is that we are quick to make blames. Nigerians must consider President Buhari and ‘change begins with me’ campaign passionately.