Pat Utomi, Professor of political economy and management expert is Founder/CEO of Centre for Values in Leadership (CVL) and co-Chairman, National Consultative Front (NCFront). He became Special Assistant to second republic President, Alhaji Shehu Shagari while in his 20s. In this interview, he spoke on what governance should be and advised youths on how to take the mantle of leadership.
What lessons do you think Nigeria should learn from the EndSARS protests that crippled social and economic activities in the past weeks?
Finally, a democratic order is begging to dawn on us and I think those who seek power should recognise that we are moving towards democracy. What we have now is not a democracy; we all know that. We have a system of grabbing power using the ballot box as a rational or rationalisation, and we use intolerance towards alternative opinion, whereas democracy is about competing ideas and like every definition of democracy and modernity, Jürgen Habermas the philosopher basically said democracy is about the rational public conversation. We do not have a rational public conversation in Nigeria because most of the politicians don’t understand the issues enough to have a rational conversation about it. Since we returned to democracy in 1999, most politicians think it is something you go into to look more powerful and have a motorcade with sirens and be able to chase people off the streets when you are moving, to get more money and other things apart from what politics is supposed to be in a democratic order. It is about representation, an agency function, you are supposed to be an agent of the people who chose you to represent their perspective, that is where the servant concept comes from. Politicians are servants of the people and their first duty is a listening duty, to find out what the people want and to represent that in the arena of public choice. But what often happens is that people who go into politics assume that to win an election is to become a master and that the people are their vassals. That can be classified into a cultural thing for political life in Nigeria. That is why you hear people calling themselves constituted authority and things like that. When the youths of Nigeria have had enough of a particular institutional arrangement which has a negative consequence on their lives and they protested in different ways. Meanwhile, the politicians did not really try having a dialogue with the people to interrogate and resolve the problem. It might be that there is a particular way that people don’t have enough information then you can now interrogate the problem and explain it to the people and change their minds, or you can even change it to suit their needs because you are just their agent. When the youths started to articulate this through the ＃EndSARS initiative and the video clip of the police shooting in Ughelli went viral and triggered them to move and do something. I am impressed by the organisation of the youths, I think it is one of the best-organised protests the world has known in recent times. This is our very own version of the protests by Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jnr.
The protest started so peacefully; how come it suddenly turned violent?
It is unfortunate, just as we were beginning to clap for the youths, people who were threatened by the organisation of the youths felt they were being challenged because they didn’t understand the meaning of democracy and felt they must do something. Public authorities in Nigeria do different things, they will always look for something to do to discredit a protest. Rather than say okay, how can we engage this protest, they will look for how to discredit them. From my experience, I know it is the standard operating practice of people in authority to try and discredit every protest. In this case of EndSARS, those in authority were shocked that it was so well organised and so peaceful. My knowledge of public authority in Nigeria is that they felt these people are gaining more credibility and support, we must do something. This could account for the so-called ‘infiltration’ by thugs and miscreants. We all saw the videos of where security agents were dropping off the so-called miscreants. That is also not to say that it is not likely that miscreants as we call them were around. We have a state that has impoverished the citizens. Majority of the citizens are poor and hungry and so they will like to use any opportunity they have to make some moves or score some points. There was free food so some of these people felt they should enjoy free food without making trouble. That was the way things were until whoever these people were becoming worried that the protest was beginning to get support and credibility and all of a sudden there was confusion.
The chairman of the South West Governors Forum, and governor of Ondo State, Rotimi Akeredolu, said when the forum paid a sympathy visit to Lagos State that the destruction of businesses and property in the state may have been deliberate to weaken the economy of the South West Region?
Everything is possible, but you will want to find out those behind the destruction, surely they would not be those whose property was destroyed. Most of the property and businesses destroyed in many parts of Lagos are owned by people from outside the South West, such people cannot go out to destroy their property and businesses. I seriously doubt that the destruction of property was targeted to destroy the economy of the South West. But I know that people from the South East lost significant property, so which other people will want to deliberately destroy these businesses and property? Is it the North? I think there is a need to find out who they were.
Lagos like many other states has set up a judicial inquiry into police brutality and extra-judicial killing. Expectations are that the inquiry will be an avenue for full disclosure but the members of the panel in Lagos have been made to take secrecy oath, why is that?
I think it is normal. For the panel to be able to get to the roots of things and prevent reprisals on persons that brought petitions before it, there should be some assurance that the identities of such people should be protected. I don’t see why that is a problem.
What are the implications of the EndSARS protest on the image of Nigeria internationally?
The protest has left Nigeria completely naked. African countries were ashamed of us, the rest of the world woke up to who we are. Nigerians around the world were protesting so the entire world knew that there was something wrong with us. Yes, it is humiliating but it may be a good thing to have this baptism of fire to wake up public authorities. I have said over and over that people in public authority should be careful because youths of Nigerian have become a global tribe, they are everywhere and we saw them demonstrating. If they choose to use technology, which they know to wage asymmetrical war against public authority in Nigeria, they can very easily reduce Nigeria to a pariah state in which no public official in Nigeria will be able to function properly. That should be a good reason for public officials to behave better in office.
For almost six months, Nigeria was on lock-down due to COVID-19, palliatives were said to have been distributed and the people didn’t get them. Now, warehouses staked with palliatives are being discovered around the country. Some governors reportedly say the items were kept in anticipation of a second wave of coronavirus. What is your reaction?
I don’t know the motives of those who left the palliative to pile up. We saw from the video clips that some of the items were already going bad because they have been stored for months. Who will get something and then leave it to go bad? It is either the person is inefficient or has other motives. During the lock-down, CVL in collaboration with some of our Asian friends whose companies are into manufacture of food items distributed food in Lagos and Delta and everywhere we go, people were shocked because they got more food from us than they did from the government. Sometimes, the government will reduce these things to politics. For the governors talking about the second wave of coronavirus, I think people need to survive now before you start talking about something you will give them later.
EndSARS protest opened our eyes to many things but looking into the future 2023, do you think Nigerian youths have a large memory span to help them make informed decisions for effective change?
I think young Nigerians should not make this something that comes and goes; they should discover their voice and make it consistent. Government works only when there is pressure for accountability. Everywhere in the world, when you look away, the government will stop accounting. We need institutions because institutions are meant to keep you within certain boundaries. So, young people have a duty to themselves, to the future and the country to say okay, we are off the streets but you agreed to implement Five for Five, where is the implementation plan, what are the timelines and who from our side will be in the governance process, that should be the continuous pressure going forward.