Former President of the Ijaw National Congress, Prof Kimse Okoko, has said that for the sake of unity of Nigeria, no other region should contest the 2023 presidency with the Igbo. In this interview with VINCENT KALU, the erudite Professor of Political Science, decried the alleged corruption in the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), noting that Niger Delta people don’t know what goes on in the organisation.
What is your view on the state of the nation? Recently Bishop Kukah said that Nigeria was more divided today than even during the civil war. How can this division be halted?
I have been saying this over time that the divisiveness in the country has never been so bad. The country is more or less in tatters. Corruption is too bad and it is most terrible thing to have happened to us, but it is a symptom; it is the system that has produced this kind of massive corruption that we have in the society. We have to address the fundamental causes of corruption and every other vice and problem confronting Nigeria.
Over-concentration of power in the hands of individuals and worst still, over-concentration of laws; its disastrous consequences are what we are experiencing because the so-called federal system is not a federal system; it is virtually, a unitary system.
You cannot operate a unitary system in the guise of a federal system; you cannot operate a unitary system and yet call it a federal system, it will not work. Everything in the country depends on a false structure we have developed for the country. This structure was brought about by the fraudulent 1999 constitution. It has not been so bad; Nigeria is disunited as it is now, but in the past, at least, there was some acceptance of fundamental principles of true federalism, it wasn’t perfect in operation, but at least it was determined to address some aspects of federalism.
Today, the 1999 constitution has bestowed all laws in a unitary system, which concentrate both power and wealth at the centre. Most of the states created are just vassals of the centre; under this circumstance, you do not expect meaningful competition taking place either in the states or in the context of the entire federation because there is no incentive to compete since at the end of the month they are sure that, no mater what, money is always coming from the centre.
How can you progress under that kind of set up? Competition is one of the key aspects of progress in any society. We have created a monster for ourselves; the military created it for us, and it is at the heart of the problems of this country by creating the constitution that puts power and wealth at the centre to create a united nation, and they have seen the opposite of what they planned for the country.
Until we go back to restructure the country on the lines of a true federal system we are wasting our time; sincerely, we are just wasting our time as incompetence will get worse, service delivery will also get worse and definitely we are regressing. Fundamental problems have to be tackled before we can move forward.
I have always believed that Nigeria will be a great a nation; I believe in the greatness of Nigeria, and I do not support those who believe that going our different ways will solve the problems of this country. It is better for us to stay together and resolve these fundamental crises and Nigeria will emerge one of the greatest nations on earth.
When those in authority don’t want to address these fundamental problems where does it lead the country?
If they remain blind to these fundamental forces in our society then you will continue to have people who are calling for Oduduwa State, Biafra etc. The calls will continue to increase, and the more calls we have the more factionalised the society will become and at a point it might break; snap. As I always say, I do not want the country to snap because it is not going to help the black race. We want Nigeria to lead the black race so that the black person will be respected among the comity of nations.
You said the 1999 constitution is fraudulent, but President Buhari doesn’t believe that. In fact, recently, he said the constitution is very fair to all. According to him, a small state like Bayelsa has the same senatorial seats with a big state like Kano.
I cannot take him very seriously. That shows that he has partial understanding of the country. If he said so, why must Kano have 44 local governments even after Jigawa has been created out of it, why?
Talking about fairness, why must Bayelsa have only eight local governments? If he is talking of fairness, why must Southeast have only five states when others have six and another seven? What is the fairness in it? If he says he doesn’t want restructuring of the country, he will live to see the consequences of that refusal even if it is for the remaining of the next four years. What he said is completely wrong because he knows that states were whimsically created; there was no logic behind the creation of states in this country; there was no fairness behind the creation of local governments in this country.
If there was no fairness in the creation of states and local governments, how can anyone say that the 1999 Constitution is fair to all? How can you make comment like that and how can you expect a rational person to accept your reasoning? I just can’t. Those who are discernable in this country know that the 1999 Constitution is unworkable as a federal system; and they will know that the 1999 Constitution is a fraudulent document. If he says it is fine and he doesn’t want to touch it, he will witness the consequences of the fraudulent constitution as we move on as a country.
What is your take on moving NDDC to the Niger Delta Ministry?
These are cosmetic changes. If they move it to the Ministry of Niger Delta and you can’t fund it properly, does that make any difference? There is nothing fundamental about that change, it is just cosmetic. It is not going to change the massive corruption in the NDDC; it will still continue. Why are they deceiving us with this kind of ephemeral changes? I wouldn’t take that kind of change seriously. I don’t see it as a serious policy change that will bring about meaningful progress within the organisation of the NDDC. It is one of the most corrupt organisations in Nigeria, just like the NNPC.
Talking about corruption in the NDDC as you highlighted, what are the Niger Delta leaders like you doing to stop it because the people are at the receiving end of environmental degradation caused by oil exploration in the region?
On the corruption in the NDDC, if you look at it critically most of the contracts undertaken by the organisation are not contractors from the Niger Delta. Because they have no empathy for the region, these contractors aided by the corruption in the system do very shoddy jobs if at all the jobs are completed; most of them are shoddy jobs.
Because of the political linkages of the elites throughout the country, you may find out that one of the major contractors is somehow related to one of the leaders in the Niger Delta, who will override it by going to the centre to stop whatever people want to see done. All I’m trying to say is that the Niger Delta region is not in control of their NDDC, never mind the appointment of MD, etc.
I recall that even some of the leaders of the Niger Delta have been complaining about the poor funding of the Niger Delta and the NDDC; they pointed out the inadequacies within the organisation, but because of the system we are operating, nothing significant will happen and it has not happened because they know those who are corrupt and nothing happens to them, and the worst they can do is just to change their personnel and we are back to square one.
Because of the nature of the organisation itself, we have membership from all over the country with different interests, which are not in the development of the Niger Delta, if not, why will they give the major contracts to people outside the region, ditto, the NNPC.
Most of the contractors, those who lift oil are not from the Niger Delta, most of those who have the oil fields are not from the Niger Delta, and the leaders of the region cannot do much because laws created the situation and laws created by the National Assembly are the ones used to operate the NDDC, and even if some Niger Delta people want to make a change it will be difficult to change these laws at the NASS because its membership is skewed against the region and other places. So they cannot be interested making changes, affecting the laws of NDDC.
Don’t you see what has happened to the Petroleum Bill, how many years is it still hanging at the NASS? But we have representatives, but their number is so inconsequential and cannot bring about any change. So, for years, the Petroleum Bill is hanging primarily because they don’t want the seven per cent proceed to get to the oil producing communities, and so we are stuck.
We are not in control of NDDC, and even those appointed have also joined the bandwagon of corruption, and the moment you are corrupt, there is nothing you can do again; you cannot stand up for anything again; the minute a board member or managing director has cornered a contract in NDDC there is nothing he can do again, he is already a finished person; he cannot bring any changes in the system. That is the tragedy of the NDDC.
APC says that South- South has benefited far more in Buhari’s four years administration than 16 years of PDP rule. Do you agree with the party?
Let them come and show us what they have done; it is as simple as that. Let them show us the railways lines and how far they have gone. Ordinary East-West road, look at what is happening to it, the road that cuts across all the oil producing states of the nation is being treated cavalierly; cavalier attitude is the problem of the Niger Delta and that speaks volumes. Let them tell us what they have done in the region. It is not a question of making noise; it’s science, objective facts. Let them point to all the projects they have implemented in the South-South or the South. It is a worthless propaganda because it is trailing in the face of realities on ground. No sane person would take them seriously; it is one of the lies being peddled around by this administration.
Talking about 2023, the North is still pushing that it continues to hold the presidency. Prof Ango Abdullahi recently said that the North can hold on to power in the next 100 years, if it wants. What is your position on that?
Those kind of provocative statements do not help the unity of this country. This country has to be restructured along the lines of true federalism before 2023. Come 2023, a South Easterner; the Igbo man should be the president of the country, if we want unity in this country; if we want to be fair. I will not support the idea of a Northerner becoming a president; I will not support the idea of a South-South person becoming the president, I will not support the idea of a person from Southwest becoming the president and I will not support the idea of Middle Belt person becoming the president.
I will only support the idea of an Igbo man becoming the president, and if we love this country that has to happen. If we want to perpetrate injustice that has kept us on edge, let the North have it; let the Southwest have it or let the South-South have it and let the Middle Belt have it.