By Ngozi Nwoke
Professor Pat Utomi is an economist and leadership expert. He speaks of his efforts to restore integrity, leadership competence and values in the All Progressives Party (APC) and also the need for criminally minded politicians to be eradicated from the parties for Nigeria’s progress.
What are your reflections on the deteriorating security situation in Nigeria?
It is very sad in many dimensions. There is the immediate dimension of the loss of life, the grave mental stress that it causes citizens, because the aspect of not knowing what will happen the next minute is probably a fate as bad as dying, but it has manifested in the form of challenge to food security in the country. Many people cannot freely go to their farms and it means that food inflation which has gone over 20 per cent is not a surprise. It means that raw material input into manufacturing would be affected, that means that more people could be laid off from their jobs, where we already have 43 per cent rate of unemployment, and youth unemployment in excess of 45 per cent. So, these are really troubling signals, but it’s even much sadder that the security issues are totally preventable, but we allowed ourselves to travel this path. Our politics has been unfortunately not one of deep thinking, one of very short-term orientation, by a majority of political apparatus driven by narcissism, rather than service to Nigerians. I began to complain very publicly about the possibilities of these kind of insecurity as far back as 22 years ago. According to the book written by American’s Robert Caplan, where he laid emphasis about the ‘Coming Anarchy’, and how this sub region could descend into anarchy. The whole analysis of the book was spot on, deepening ethnic cleavages, religious cleavages, economic cleavages, all these cleavages were such that any thinking man can project where Nigeria is heading towards. I bought copies of the book and sent to my friends and said look at this matter, can we start initiatives so that proactive measure can take place to prevent this future that has been predicted. The author of the book is not a prophet but just an analytic person and he accurately predicted the crisis we have today in the country. I said to my friends, we must not allow his predictions come to a reality. But what are we seeing today? We allowed these issues to continue to grow, pretending and deceiving ourselves that they were going to get better, but today these issues have grown to threaten our lives and safety. With the way it is going, we can wake up tomorrow to see that the insurgents have mounted the Boko Haram flag in Aso Rock. All of these things were predicted, but because of corruption, our eyes are blindfolded to these things. We have also unwittingly collaborated in bringing the situation to where we are today.
Is there really any future for the country with the rising insurgency?
Sadly, security issues are not necessarily solved by guns and more guns. We always tend to think that curbing insurgency is shooting other people. Let me give you some clarity on whether there is any future for the country. Firstly, if the economic conditions are better, young men and women are getting out of schools and finding good jobs, looking at the bright future and actualizing their ambitions, they won’t be available for the erotic recruitment into some funny course. But we have not done the right thing to solve the economic issues. So, the economy is in the doldrums because of the incompetence of some greedy politicians. Instead of thinking of how to build the county’s economic situation, all they think about is what they can grab to live in extravagance and affluence. Instead of growth, expansion, job employments, good education, security and good health care system, all they are interested in is their selfish interest, leaving us with a collapsed economy. This has left so many youths with no future at all to become vulnerable and available to any form of vices. Another clarity is that the primary purpose of any politician is to build bridges over troubled waters, but what do Nigerian politicians do? So long as they can get enough money from whatever they claim they do in the National assembly, they don’t build those bridges anymore. Leadership failure is clearly what we are experiencing in Nigeria today and this has prevented us from recognizing that we have a shared humanity. Failure of the political class has deepened many cleavages in Nigeria. We are paying the price today.
What is your view on Pantami, the Communications Minister’s link with terrorism?
It is still the same problem in the Nigerian government I am talking about. He might be wrongly accused or the allegations may be right, but just as a mark of respect for the people, he could choose to resign honorably. Let me answer this question with a practical illustration of UK’s Tony Blair who had a minister, the man who was sacked by the cabinet about two or three times over an issue, and was reappointed by Tony Blair. Something else happened, he was sacked again and Tony Bair reappointed him for the second time. Now as a mark of respect for the British people, he offered his resignation and left the cabinet. It does not necessarily mean that what he was accused of is right or wrong, it just means that he respects the people. But with the kind of politicians we have in Nigeria, such dignity and honor do not matter.
As a member of the All Progressives Congress, are you still proud of your party with the obvious underperformance?
The problems of Nigeria are fundamentally problems of the failure of the political party system. The Peoples Democratic Party represented nothing, it was going nowhere, they had no plans for anything besides taking power during Goodluck Jonathan’s tenure, probably because they had no mechanisms to say to him, this is not the right way to go. And so, corruption was the DNA. Some of us that we needed something different, and we said the country cannot go on like this, so we sat down and put together a frame of roadmap, but what happened after the All Progressives Congress won the 2015 elections and came into power? The signals became very clear to me that they wanted people like me out of the way. I mean, I have never attended one meeting of the APC since it was founded. I have never been invited to one meeting, not one. The political parties in Nigeria are designed to prevent people who are ready to serve the country from getting into power. That is their main function. The Nigerian state is more of a criminal enterprise for criminally minded politicians if you look at it properly. This is really sad for the Nigerian people who feel sad and helpless as they watch a bunch of criminals play with their lives. Immediately APC was founded, I went to the chairman of the party who is a nice friend of mine and said to him, these are the criteria for anybody who wants to run for public office, these are our values of the party, these are our understanding of how economic thought should flow. I recommend that anyone attempting to run a public office must undergo leadership and competence training. And what happened next? Nothing. So, it was clear to me from the word go that the kinds of people that basically had hijacked the party, were not interested in people of value, serving the country. With all the assets in the country, Nigerian leaders have not been able to solve the country’s problems for 30 years because it is a sleep-walking leadership. Politicians are very little interested in the Nigerian people, all they want is how to loot and gather for their unborn generations; they don’t even care about how history would remember them. So, these people have made it seem like it is impossible and difficult for Nigeria to become better. It is time Nigerians begin to understand and accept that our future depends on men of knowledge and thinking. There are so many incompetent people claiming to be lawmakers at the National assembly.
What is the drive that has made you still remain in the party despite all?
I am trying to work my talk. I was close to quitting, but I chose to stay and show that there can be a difference. What have they not done to get me out of the party? The APC government has done more to prevent my influence on government than any government in Nigeria. I influenced more on Obasanjo’s government in 1977 than I was able to influence the Buhari’s government which I have been blamed for helping to bring into power. They did everything possible not to invite me for any political meeting. So, there is something wrong with the Nigerian political system and until we can get rid of these parties, it is sad to say Nigeria cannot make progress. It is not possible to make progress when you have political leaders whose interest is how much wealth they can gather. One day, Nigeria might just collapse on all of us if we don’t do something about saving it. One day we will find ourselves in Somalia if we do not act now.
Quote: “It is not possible to make progress when you have political leaders whose interest is how much wealth they can gather. One day, Nigeria might just collapse on all of us if we don’t do something about saving it. One day we will find ourselves in Somalia if we do not act now”