Chidi Obineche and Daniel Kanu
Following his political antecedents, Chief Kenny Martins could aptly be described as “a political kingmaker”. This is because he has played frontal roles in politics with the very mighty in the game of power very early in life and remained a strong force.
He was the brain behind the founding of several political parties, including the National Democratic Party (NDP), National Centre Party of Nigeria (NCPN) and the All Peoples Party, now the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP).
In this encounter with Sunday Sun, the dogged and versatile politician speaks on Nigeria at 59, the journey so far, what needs to be done, his disappointment and hopes, among other critical issues. Excerpts:
Nigeria just clocked 59, so far so what, since the journey of independence?
For me, it’s a mixed bag, but in overall, there is one thing, I am an incurable optimist and there is something somebody said that has stuck with me for a long time, I call it the principle philosophy of policy of minimum achievable. So, on the basis of minimum achievable; I think Nigeria has done well. If for nothing else, I think I was reading one of the posts recently, taking it from where we are now to where we were before, the number of graduates per year, the number of medical doctors since 1960, the number of roads whether good or bad that we have now, the number of airports, whether good or bad, the amount of money that we are sending in from the Diaspora to Nigeria, so when you look at it, Nigeria may not be where it should be, far from what we have, but at least it’s not a disaster, it should have been based on all the things that have gone wrong. It is either God has been good to us, which is true, either we have been lucky or blessed as the Christians will say, which is also true, or someplace somehow something is just holding it together, the stars of this country. So, I would say passably, between 1960 and now, we just need to thank God.
When most Nigerians speak today, I mean at least those that are matured in age, they will say “in the good old days”. Where did we really miss it that we always refer our past as better instead of the other way round as in other countries?
It is hard to point to one point of departure or at what point we missed it for the simple fact that every succeeding government has always, either rightly so, or perceptively so or wrongly so has always been adjudged worse than the one it succeeded, so by extension the best we have had in Nigeria remains the government of 1960-1966, that still remains the best time in the history of the country because after that everything has so to speak in real terms gone down the hill. This is because when you look at the…let’s take it from the constitution, let’s take it from even issue of indices, let’s take it from the issue of growth, let’s even look at it from the angle of dream and hope, 1960-66 remains our best time. Why is it that when one government takes over, it is believed that they are always worse than the one they took over from, normally you see that Nigeria remains the only country where our yesterday has always been our best. And as I always say, today is so precarious, so turbulent, so unpredictable, and ungovernable that it makes us even scared of tomorrow. Tomorrow is the best, today is so bad and we are afraid of tomorrow, it’s only in Nigeria we experience such. In all other nations their yesterday remains their take-off point, their today is their happening time and tomorrow is their dream and they are aspiring and working towards it. You can see, for instance, in Dubai now, just a few days ago, the first man from space landed back, and they said they have the most number of personnel or individuals who are training, participating and getting ready to dominate the space in so and so time, that is Dubai. Dubai and Maroko were at the same pace, the same status in 1979-80. But see where they are today? So in a way, I can just point at the departure where we missed it: is it the coup that terminated that government? Is it after Gowon did nine years and then handed over to Murtala and Obasanjo? What really went wrong because Gowon’s government was already going well, there was this five-year ruling plan which Obasanjo and Yar’Adua inherited and they rolled out so much. For example, all the ports we built then, we have not built one single more port in Nigeria since Obasanjo, Yar’Adua left. What has happened? Then you now take it over to 1979 where there was democracy and Babangida also took over. How come that since 1999, which is 20 years till date, the 4,000 megawatts that Abacha left with Abdulsalami is what we are still fighting with? And they now mention some stupendous amount of money, still there is no light. And you and I know that without power, without NEPA we can’t go anywhere. So, where does one say we have missed it? Is it that we did not apply the money to power? I still use to remember it was the first time I ever bought a generator around 1979 and you even forget that the generator is there, but now it (generator) has become stable and you can’t do without it. How can we have economic development without power? Forget about this talk on economic growth, they say they are improving on agriculture, forget about that, where do you store the product, where do you preserve them? Where are the roads to circulate them? So, which industry do you want to run without power? I cannot point where we departed from real development, but the truth is that we have been missing it gradually, each government has caused us some pace in our progress and developmental pace until now we are almost stuck.
If a child is 59 and is still a toddler what do you think should be done to that child? Juxtapose it with Nigeria at 59 and still a toddler, what should be done to Nigeria?
Late Chief Sam Mbakwe said at a time that we should hand Nigeria back to the Queen to govern, maybe that is what we should do (laughs). But let’s ask this question: what is wrong with our leaders? The problem with Nigeria is leadership. How come that in Nigeria today there is no one single reference hospital? If one, particularly the poor masses with no voice, if there is any major health case today; they need to go round the church, G.Os, go to Dangote Foundations, go to Redeem camp, Mountain of Fire, Winners, some Muslim centres etc to go and beg for money for treatment in India, not even in their country. Nigeria, with vast resources human and natural? Do you know what our doctors are doing abroad? The same people that we train here who go outside and excel so well, operate in the best hospitals, and deliver the best are Nigerians. I have a cousin, he is so good as a neurosurgeon, brain surgeon, but the man sits in his house, he doesn’t even have a hospital, you need him you come, book his appointment where he will treat you, you send plane to pick him, he comes to the hospital, he does the operation and goes back. How come he cannot find a place here to operate his training, service and we can pay because we spend not less than N2-4 billion every year? I see the government saying that they are pursuing agriculture, agriculture is very far, just build us six reference hospitals, one in each of the zones, at about $150 million each, it can pay itself back in three years and then you save not less than $4 billion in the pocket of Nigerians. It will not stop what you want to do in the agriculture sector because that is a long-term project. First, conserve the one we are throwing outside in medical tourism as they call it. So, leadership is the problem. If a 59-year-old man is a toddler you need to get special care personnel, we call them carer, somebody who specializes in taking care of the invalid or catering for the invalid. We have an invalid situation in Nigeria and we need a leader who can take Nigeria by the bulls and put things in place. Power is not magic, it’s not a science, it’s already there, it’s just connecting generator to wires. In a state like Pakistan, 20 years ago I sat down with the Pakistani Ambassador in Lagos (then they had not moved to Abuja), I told him we have excess of gas beyond oil and anything else, and even almost beyond water and the man said, (you can still Google it) that in Pakistan, if you want to be a local government chairman, for instance, Ikeja where we are now, the only thing that will give you the seat is that you promise how many kilometers of gas pipeline (the tiny ones like the size of a biro) that you are going to lead into how many homes in the local government, because they run everything by gas, their fridge, air-condition, bulbs, their lights etc, run by gas, so they don’t have power problem, they have enough gas and they are using it. We have enough gas and we are not applying it at all. We need a leader that will help us to apply that, we don’t need to still be depending on oil because there are options. We need a leader who will, at least, pick a five or six point agenda and say: on power, on medical, gas, etc, the person will deliver. We have excess gas that we are burning to pollute the environment. Nigeria needs special care, leadership is the problem. But it is not enough to blame the leadership at the centre, so it’s not the case of one man, it is 36 men and the centre making 37, then you take the local government chairmen who are over 700 in number, I think 774, so we need leaders whose vision can be synchronized to drive the Nigeria projection into the real world, we are so backward.
Can the leaders you are talking about emerge with the structure that we have today?
I still think so. I have come across people who are burning with passion, who are crying for things to change, we will now ask: can they emerge with the process on the ground? There is no process. And that is why the fault is not the fault of that old man who is a toddler, but the fault of the constituency that has failed him. Nigerians are their own problem.
Now that you have identified leadership as the main problem the country is facing, would you advocate the Asian Tigers model on how they handled their leaders who were straying or the treatment that Ghana meted to their leaders who erred by abusing the office?
Let me tell you a story, it is part of the book that I am writing now. In 1993/94, there was an issue in this country where it was so clear that the four foremost leaders then were going to fight themselves to a standstill, possibly kill themselves and put Nigeria into confusion in the process (I am talking of General Abacha, General Diya, General Obasanjo, and General Yar’Adua). Myself and my justice friend that died few months ago, we went to my sister to tell him that the wahala (problem) that is coming will destroy Nigeria and I said except we do something to mitigate the situation on the face-off that they will kill themselves and drag Nigeria down with them. It was during the battle of transition, to announce the transition and the support of the government of Abacha. I went round to all of them, IBB, OBJ, etc; but upon my visit to General Idiagbon…I want to build the foundation to answer your question on how we can have a solution, I told Idiagbon, sir, this is a problem we foresee and this is the solution that we are suggesting so that we can have peace in Nigeria. General Idiagbon said, young man, your ideas are very good, I wonder why you have not been part of us, you have not held power, you have not had a contract and you are doing all this for the sake of salvaging Nigeria. He asked me: but why do you waste your time? He said he will give me the solution. He said I will give you a list of 100 names, including myself; put us at the Bar Beach and eliminate us and the problems of Nigeria will be over. He said if you do that you will solve Nigeria’s problem. He said that is what he is recommending and the problem will stop. I said I do not think that is the solution and he said: then the problem will persist. The rest is history and I do not want to go into the reason the meeting held or did not hold, but you saw the result, the four nearly died, nearly killed themselves in the process, although Nigeria didn’t die in the process. So, it is not easy to use the Ghanaian option in Nigeria or that of the Asian Tigers. How do you do it? Are you saying that there will be a coup? But it is a possibility…but when we cannot do that the next question is, what then can we do? What we can do is to take the power out of the hands of these master-slave drivers, from those leaders who are not able to deliver. You see, the problem there also lies with the people. You cannot fight the exploiter. The human tendency is to exploit, to dominate, where you have the resources that are the animal in man.
You think that if the Americans and others have not constitutionally tied down their leaders that they will not misbehave, you can see how they are dealing with President Trump. But can Nigerians say that their leaders must listen to them? Why must Nigerians make the results close during an election that they vote for even the person they know that will not deliver or incompetent?
(Cuts in) But remember that they rig the elections and not through voting that counts?
When they go to cast their votes they will vote almost equally…you cannot win where you are rejected. Why is APC not winning the election in the Southeast? You can’t rig election there because the people will not allow it. You cannot rig election where you are not popular, but some people allow themselves to be used, but still there are places you cannot just win an election and if you rig your way through you will expect large scale violence you cannot contain. So, you also blame the people that compromise because a people get a government that they deserve.
Rigging is only possible where the person who rigs has a substantial level of acceptability, popularity, and numbers in his favour. If the people are totally against you like we had it in Ondo during Omoboriowo’s time it is difficult to rig a 70/30, 80/20, 90/10 elections, but when it is 45/55 you create the opportunity to rig. Rigging is a subjective matter. It was not easy for the APC to go and rig in the Southeast and the reason is what I have explained.
What of the impunity that has crept into our body politics?
You can’t win where you don’t have a substantial number. When a house is divided unto itself it can always fall, but if the people speak with one voice it is impossible to rig.
What is your take on the perceived divisions in Yoruba political leadership or you think it does not exist?
Some people are saying that Tinubu is the Southwest leader, but people are still contesting it. What is the division? Tinubu and Osinbajo are they not in Buhari’s government in Abuja. So, where is the division?
What of the issue of the state of insecurity in the land?
Of course, it’s a major issue and another failure of the Federal Government. The Federal Government has failed woefully in the area of insecurity. You can see that ordinary herdsmen and kidnapping in some cases, it is so clear that they have the cover of the police and the army in their favour, you can’t hide those facts. Every day they say they rescued people from kidnappers. And I ask, where are the kidnappers you rescued them from? Are the kidnappers ghosts? Is there any official cover for some of these things? And when people confront them, they arrest those who are confronting them, why? Some people have also found a business in it, who are not Fulani. I see government negotiating with bandits and I find that strange.
Has there been any day you wept for Nigeria?
I have done that many times and even just during the week. It was a man that went home to bury a cousin or so and they were coming back from Abuja, the same man (former Dean, Applied Science, Auchi Poly) between Abuja and Lokoja was killed on the road inside his car by bandits that came out shooting (showing the watts sap picture sent in his phone). His younger brother was also kidnapped during that sporadic shooting, according to the story. Fortunately, what we need is just a good leader to clear the mess. It is possible to take a state like Bayelsa and turn it into a Dubai and make the state an oasis of development in this desert of no event, but nobody is doing that. It is not an age thing; it is now even a generic thing as if all the leaders both young and old sign a file that when they come to power they are not going to deliver. Look at young governors, those after being governors and now in the National Assembly, but still, there seems not to be a positive change. So what is going on?
Some say the travails of Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo is a war targeted at the Yoruba?
(Cuts in) Please leave that matter; let’s talk another thing, there is nothing like that. Where is the war against anybody or race? The man (Osinbajo) has a problem, the usual villa fight. It happened in Abacha, Diya, and Mustapha fight; it happened between OBJ and Atiku, it is the usual Vila politics. It is like governors and their deputies. What is happening has nothing to do with the Yoruba race. Our leaders are all the same: they drive the same car, walk the same road, and attend the same party, relate with one another, wear the same designer dresses etc; there is no line among them; everything is blurred because they are the same and enjoy together.
Don’t you think if we restructure things will be better in terms of governance?
What is restructuring? Is it possible? It is saying Buhari is at the centre and you collapse the 36 states; is it Sanwo-Olu of Lagos State will tell Dapo Abiodun and Makinde to collapse as one state and who will lead as governor? All these elderly people that are now advocates of restructuring, what have they been doing since they were in their 40s, some of them were commissioners and ministers then? It is not possible for us to do it. We cannot do it. I hear Senator Okorocha saying that we do not need more than one Senator from a constituency; if you tell him now that, okay, let one person represent Imo, will he accept the sacrifice himself? Why has he not propounded this before he became a senator? They should stop propounding what is not possible. The way we are restructuring is not possible unless you are calling for a coup for the military to do it. Then you ask yourself, how feasible? But despite all, I am an incurable optimist that Nigeria will be great someday, but the youths must do the needful, take up the challenge.