By Dickson Okafor
Abumchukwu Okoye, a legal practitioner and Coordinator, Take Back Nigeria Initiative (TBNI) has said that whoever wins the 2023 presidency won’t birth a new Nigeria except democratic institutions are strengthened.
He said the resignation of the Director General of the Labour Party (LP) Presidential Campaign Council (PCC), Dr. Doyin Okupe has boosted Peter Obi’s chances in next year’s Presidential election.
From 1999 till date, what is your assessment of the nation’s democratic evolution?
I have watched the debacle called the Nigerian politics and I come to realization that rather than having strong political democratic structures and institutions, we have institution personae. All over the world, we have institutions established by their constitutions which have bettered the lives of their people. But in Nigeria, rather than having this global accepted institutions strengthened and empowered by the constitution, we have institution personae. That means persons being stronger than the institutions instead of institutions that are structured in line with the tenet of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria being stronger. And as a result, we got democracy wrong. To further explain what I mean, in Nigeria, individuals seem to be more powerful than political institutions like the Executive, the judiciary, the legislature and the press. Some men and women have amassed wealth and much power that they have no regard for institutions of government. Primarily, the people as represented by the parliament have so much diverted their powers to the Executives by way of deregulations or what is called subsidiaries legislations in terms of traffic and registration of highway rules. Those laws or rules are made by ministers in their executive capacity. There are worries all over the world concerning Executive Orders of Presidents that can change both political and economic space of countries especially as regards to emergencies and other national issues. But Nigeria as it is, is being run in such a way some grammar surfaced like cabals, what we call ministerial mafias and power hijackers. It’s unfortunate that we are in a country where the parliament is not strengthened, in a country where the judiciary is not strengthened, in a country where the press is not strengthened and independent. And because the people are emasculated, the nation cannot be said to be practising true democracy.
But the democratic institutions can’t be strengthened before next year general election, how can the new administration strengthen the institutions?
It is possible to strengthen democratic institutions instead of strengthening few individuals in the nation’s political sphere. Looking at Nigeria in the right perceptive, we cannot say the democratic ethos is observed. And in the absence of this, they have so much afflicted the people in the present democratic dispensation. That is why the political parties are now mere political signposts because people regard persons more than the institutions. That is what I call institution personae. Right now, we are talking of Bola Tinubu, Atiku Abubakar, Peter Obi and Rabiu Kwankwanso. We are not talking about the political parties and their mandates because the mandate to Nigerians is different from personae, or person. A mandate is collective of ideas, plans, programme, agenda which a party maps out and believe in it and the people will hold the party responsible for the agenda called manifestoes. A manifesto is a mandate. Unfortunately, what we hear now is Peter Obi’s manifesto, Tinubu’s manifesto, Atiku’s manifesto and Kwankwaso manifesto, but it shouldn’t be so. Rather, we should hold the party responsible if the candidates fail to keep their campaign promises.
How can balance of power be actualized so that there won’t be much power resting on the centre thereby limiting the powers of other ties of government?
The reason why we got it wrong is that we are running voodoo or mechanized federalism. We operate a federalism of government where I cannot say I reject the law of Lagos State and go to Ogun State where a different law will apply to me. If I want to practise law in Lagos State, I will register with Lagos State Bar Association and if I choose to be in Ogun State, I will register with Ogun State Bar Association. So, if police is pursuing me from Lagos and cross to Ogun State, I’m free because they cannot cross the boundary. I will be looking at them and they will be looking at me except it has something to do with national security or national interest. Therefore, a lot of powers are resting in the centre and that is why you see everybody running to Abuja for minor instruction. There is need for devolution of powers. Let power come down, let us run a true federalism, let local government be empowered through constitution amendment. Let traditional rulers and President Generals of towns be in charge of security of their communities. The governors are merely called Chief security officers of their state and they are not in control. The Commissioner of Police in a state has to take instructions from the Inspector General of Police (IGP) and not from the governor. There is no way an Hausa man from Sokoto State that comes to Anambra State as Commissioner of Police will know the terrain very well. Also, if you bring somebody as a Chief Judge of Enugu State Government from any of the southwestern states, the man won’t know people in Enugu State. There are certain cases Federal High Court shouldn’t do rather they should concentrate on federal issues. But you see cases that should be handled by the local courts, such as the Primary or Magistrate courts being treated by the High Courts. For instance, the Divisional Police Officer (DPO) should be an indigene of where he or she is posted like a Sheriff in England. You can’t be a DPO in an area you don’t know the people very well. Therefore, whoever is elected as next President of Nigeria in 2023 won’t birth a new Nigeria except democratic institutions are strengthened; he will be able to transform the country under the present system.
Nigerians will be going to the poll next year to elect President Muhammadu Buhari’s successor, do you see the electorate vote for a competent candidate that will find solutions to challenges facing the country?
Yes, if the presidential candidates will diminish a little for the political parties to manifest so that the manifestos of the parties will be known. For example, as far as we are concerned, the PDP manifesto is Atiku, the APC manifesto is Tinubu, the LP manifesto is Obi and that of NNPP is Kwankwaso. So, what are you talking about? That’s number one. How do they diminish when they claim that their parties belong to them while in the actual sense, they are not party men. I know Nigeria democracy transcends but we have a problem which has not been addressed. What is that problem? After the end of EndSARS protest, the youth woke up from slumber and the agitation shifted to take back Nigeria. They are doing the right thing and you can’t stop them. Meanwhile, there is something they should know. And that is agitation which is more like activism is different from administration. That you are an activist does not mean you will be a good administrator. So, that is what the youths need to know. They should go to the trenches and decide which of Presidential candidate that is competent and credible to succeed President Buhari in 2023. Now that they have shown interest to take back Nigeria from the old breed, they need to go back to their electoral wards and become members of political parties not only in their electoral wards; they should become core members of the political parties also in their local governments, in their Senatorial districts, in the states and national levels. If they don’t do that, they will be jumping at the middle because they will not be in the decision making body of the party in the grassroots up to the state and the federal levels. Gradually, they weed off those who are elderly. That’s how they will capture the party system and that will make our democracy rich.
Don’t you think that the economic situation in the country which has brought more hardship on the citizens may hamper youths from taking back the country from the old breed?
I must confess that there is institutionalized poverty in Nigeria created by our leaders and engineered by the ruling class. But they forget to know that as a rich man, you send your son to study in the United Kingdom while the poor man’s son becomes his thug carrying gun. By the time election is over, that gun you gave to a poor man’s son which you did not retrieve from him, if his son comes back from the UK, the poor man’s son will turn the gun on his son. Nobody had ever held negative power that did not suffer for it. It is through such power that both what you call external and internal coups are carried out by the guards. Because they have seen the enjoyment in power and you think after serving you, you will bring your son for them to serve also? You are wasting your time. Again, within the country, your son doesn’t have course mates or classmates and you that recruited thugs have a classmate, somebody you can rely on, somebody you can talk to. Meanwhile, your son who read in London may not have course mate from the University of Lagos (UNILAG) or University of Ibadan. I have seen many who made third class here and they go to London to further their education and perform better. So, we have environmental hindrances because if you don’t eat well, you won’t read well. No doubt, poverty is an instrument of digression.
Nigeria’s economy is in bad shape but who among the Presidential candidates do you see that can revamp the ailing economy if voted into power in 2023?
We are looking at the individual candidates and their capacity with hope that any of them that is elected the next President of the country will work with a credible team. Yes, we are looking at their pedigree. To me, the Presidential candidates are competent and credible to lead the country if voted into power. They have a right to contest for the presidency as Nigerians, hence they should go to the field and Nigerians will choose one of them to succeed President Buhari in 2023. It is not proper for me as an individual to say Obi, Tinubu, Atiku or Kwankwaso will win. There are others but these are the frontrunners. Whoever wins among them is okay by me, but if they don’t have a good economic team, they will fail to revamp the nation’s ailing economy and they won’t meet the needs of Nigerians. Whoever emerges the President requires a good economic team to revamp the economy and transform the country. It is unfortunate that those managing the nation’s economy under the present administration are political appendages of politicians who have no economic skill. With a committed leader, a leader who is detribalized, whose focus is to better the lives of Nigerians who won’t select men and women that will run the government from his political party, but from across board will birth a new Nigeria. The next President must remove personal interest and play the game according to its rule. What did Dubai have? Leadership. They don’t have mineral resources like Nigeria.
A court judgment has convicted Doyin Okupe, Director General of Peter Obi Presidential Campaign Council (PCC) for money laundering which led to his resignation, isn’t that a dent on the integrity of the Labour Party Presidential candidate, Obi whose mantra is to fight and eliminate corruption?
Doyin Okupe’s conviction for money laundering by the High Court is unfortunate and a dent on the integrity and image of Peter Obi. It will be a disaster for an ex-convict to be in charge of Peter Obi’s campaign organisation. I repeat, Okupe cannot lead Obi’s Presidential Campaign organization for next year’s Presidential election. It is a case of integrity and image.
The new Chief Justice of Nigeria, Olukayode Ariwoola was under fire over his comment against the G-5 governors at an event organized by the Governor of Rivers State, Nyesom Wike in Port Harcourt, as legal practitioner what is your take?
If it were in advance countries, he should be called upon to resign because he goofed. If lawyers in Nigeria or the Senior Advocates of Nigeria cannot ask him to resign, who will tell him? Let him go also and speak about cassava farm. He is the ambassador and the alter ego in the judiciary. For him to descend into the arena of conflict, the dust has covered his eyes and justice is not expected from him as it stands. Just like the Lord Chancellor in England descending so low to be biased, he should resign. If the President takes his task seriously, by now the CJN should have been compelled by the parliament to resign. What concerns him with an internal matter of PDP? Whether you call it G-5 or G-30 governors led by Governor Wike, what concerns the Chief Justice of Nigeria with such matter. He should be told to resign. For me, the Chief Justice of the Federation should resign. I don’t know why everybody, group and even the media are keeping quiet over a grievous statement made by the CJN. Therefore, to extol his virtue and that of the judiciary, he should resign.
INEC Chairman Prof. Mahmood Yakubu reechoed the commission’s concern over several attacks and burning of its offices and materials in some parts of the country by hoodlums and the danger of vote buying which he said may hinder INEC from conducting next year elections in these area, what is your view?
I have always believed that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) will conduct free and fair election in Nigeria if the commission stops being more Catholic than the Pope. Why are they jittery? Why are they crying, saying there could be second election if a winner did not emerge at the first ballot. We have institutions and security agencies saddled with the responsibility of maintaining law and order during general elections. INEC should have plan A, B and C which is called in-house operation. But for them to come out and say there may be a second election, it means there is something they are planning to do. So, they are seeking the opinion of the people to see whether they can do it. INEC is mismanaging the press or the media by suggesting that the Presidential election may not be won at the first ballot. I think their media arm must always weigh whatever information they are putting out to Nigerians concerning the conduct of next year’s general elections.