Former General Secretary of the Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG), Chief Frank Kokori has revealed what the Igbo must do to get the presidency of this country. He advised the Igbo to focus on one strong party, either the All Progressives Congress (APC) or the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and get the ticket and with that, they could get the presidency, adding, “You don’t just sit down and expect power to be given to you; you must work for it.”
In this exclusive chat, he spoke on other nagging national issues in the polity, including the controversy trailing the establishment of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), the rift between Governor Godwin Obaski of Edo State and the National Chairman of the APC, and the security situation in the country among others.
Constituting the NDDC board has been generating a lot of controversy, leading to the president ordering for a forensic audit. As a Niger Delta person, can you let us into the workings of the Commission? And what are your thoughts on the controversies?
Actually, the forensic audit was announced before the list of board members was forwarded to the Senate, which everybody supported. People in the Niger Delta are worried about the strange reaction of the Minister of Niger Delta, GodswillAkpabio, because when the president forwards the list of board members to the National Assembly and it is confirmed, that is the end, and that is how it has been over the years. So, another strange interim body of three persons nominated by the minister is what people are worried about because the board is made up of about 12 to 15 persons representing all the nine oil producing states. So, it is that strange board that we are all worried about. Actually, the president appoints but the tradition is that the Managing Director (MD) is always coming from the four big oil producing states – Delta, Rivers, Bayelsa and Akwa-Ibom. I have never seen an MD from any of the other nine states apart from these four big state oil producer states because ironically, the NDDC is the precursor of the Oil Mineral Producing Area Development Commission (OMPADEC). I was even still the General Secretary of NUPENG in 1992 and the National Financial Secretary of the Social development Party (SDP) when the president formed the OMPADEC and gave the secretaryship to Delta; there was no Bayelsa at that time. And my state (Delta) governor at that time and some other individuals at that time actually pleaded with me to go and become the pioneer secretary of OMPADEC that was zoned to Delta. The chairmanship was zoned to Rivers, which was a combination of Rivers and Bayelsa because at that time, Bayelsa has not been created. Chairmanship was zoned to Rivers because at that time, Rivers was the highest producer of crude oil and Delta was number two and since then, all the Managing Directors had always come from these four biggest oil producing states. And that is why these four states produce almost about 88 percent of Nigeria’s oil. All the other states produce one percent, 0.3 percent or 1.5 percent. It is Rivers, Delta, Bayelsa and Akwa-Ibom that produce 30 percent, 20 percent and so on. The nearest is Ondo which is about five percent, the rest are just producing minimal percent. Even Edo and Cross River don’t produce much. So, the MD has never come from other states. But, the chairman according to the laid down rules of the NDDC is to be chosen in alphabetical order. So, that is where the problem lies but that does not mean anything because the president has the final decision. So, following that alphabetical order, Delta was to produce the chairman and the MD has almost been zoned to Delta. Now, stakeholders are saying how can Delta have both the MD and the chairman and that is why Edo State was considered for the chairmanship position. Some people are worried that Delta State wanted the two, whereas Ondo State has not had anything. So, I think the whole confusion was caused by what is happening in the presidency. The presidency, the way it is, has given a lot of confusion to things that could have unavoidably been treated without rancour. I am a classic example recently. You people saw what happened in Nigeria Social Insurance Trust Funds (NSITF). Twenty four hours before my swearing-in, money changed hands and a lot of things happened. I think the presidency has to be firm in some of these things and that is why people talk of cabal. Cabal is faceless but I think there is something happening in that presidency, which some of us are not very happy about. My final take is that the interim committee is unnecessary; it is diversionary and I think that is a selfish agenda of a few individuals.
The APC National Chairman and former governor of Edo State, Adams Oshiomhole who said at the twilight of his administration that he has demystified godfatherism in Edo is today up in arms against the incumbent governor, Godwin Obaseki in what some political pundits have described as struggle for the soul of Edo between godfather and godson. What are your thoughts on that?
Oshiomhole’s case and that of Obaseki are not the same. Oshiomhole has never been in the PDP; people like the late Tony Aneni were in the PDP and they were using the party to dominate the politics of Edo State, and if you were not in the PDP, you could not go anywhere in Edo State and in Delta State where I come from. So, that was that but this one is different. Oshiomhole and Obaseki are in the same party and it is just like father and son having a little problem. The battle we had at that time was who would be Oshiomhole’s successor. I was involved as a stakeholder and we made it clear that they should go for a free primary poll between the then deputy governor, Pius Odubu and Obaseki. I knew my stand at that time, but fortunately for Obaseki, he won. So, if father and son have their own little problem, I think that is internal but the party is trying to do everything to settle them. That is the much I know about that but I know that Oshiomhole was not in PDP. So, you can’t compare the two situations.
Border closure is biting hard on Nigerians, particularly as it concerns prices of commodities like rice, which price has hit the roof top. Nigerians are crying that the border should be opened, but the FG is saying that it was closure for national interest. Placing the argument of national interest side by side citizens’ welfare and survival, should the borders remain closed?
Those of you in Lagos are still buying a bag of rice for N32, 000. People in Delta State are buying it for N34, 000 because of the bad roads; so why are they complaining. In any case, I think closing the border by the government wasn’t necessary. Nigeria cannot produce all it requires. No country in the world does that. You specialise; you talk of comparative advantage. If we don’t have the comparative on rice; then we should concentrate on cassava, corn, millet, soya beans, yams and other things which we should sell to the world. It is not compulsory that we should produce all our rice, and if rice is coming in from abroad, the government has agencies that should see to that. All these articulated vehicles don’t come in through bush paths; they pass through the Customs’ check-points. Government should divert its attention to the Customs as an agency. Customs officers should not be taking bribes and under taxing the people bringing in rice. So, if they pay their normal import duties, then anybody who wants to eat rice at such expensive cost is free; that’s the person’s own cup of tea. You don’t because of that close the borders and punish every other business person or trader or every other commodity. For me, from the beginning I know that Nigeria does not have the comparative advantage of producing rice, like the South East Asian countries of Vietnam, Thailand and others. So, let us concentrate on our cassava, millet, corn, soya beans, guinea corn and other crops that we have comparative advantage. What is this about rice? So, because of rice, everybody should suffer in Nigeria? Nigeria is the mother of Africa, especially the West coast; we are the big brother. How can you shut down the whole border and say Benin Republic is doing this and Ghana is doing that and you have a Customs posts with so many Customs officers? Government should descend on the Customs and Immigration, and not the common man who is already suffering. There are so many business people who sell other commodities they take across the border to other African countries, just many commodities are coming into Nigeria. Why should you close the borders? It is the common man that is suffering. So, I think the government was wrongly advised to have closed the borders. Open the borders and police them; that is what other countries do. How can a giant of Africa just close its borders? It is unnecessary and that is why other West African countries are going against Nigerian leaders and indigenes in other West and Central African countries. No, Nigeria should man her borders instead of closing them.
The Yoruba council of elders recently stated that Nigeria is currently at a crossroads following series of security challenges such as kidnapping, armed robbery, banditry, farmers/herders clashes as well as Boko Haram insurgency. In your candid opinion, is Nigeria truly at a crossroads?
Every country can be at a crossroads at any time. It depends on how you look at it. Nigeria is currently having security challenges like many countries in the world and that is unarguable. People are being killed anyhow by bandits, Boko Haram and others. We don’t want terrorists or bandits. The primary responsibility of any government in the world is to protect its citizens. We should protect our people. Actually, most of the crimes in Nigeria are under investigation and at the end of the day, you don’t see the end of those investigations and people being penalised. Normally, no patriot will be happy with what is happening in Nigeria. We should have a stable country; a more disciplined country like we had when some of us were growing up. We have endangered our children such that they can’t move around. Small girls can’t move around; crimes and bad people are everywhere and we are not clamping down on them. We should clamp down on them. The issue lies with the security agencies, mainly the police. The police and the judiciary should be up and doing. Catch these criminals, and if the job is too much for the police, then other arms of the security agencies like the Department of State Services (DSS) and the army can come in once in a while and clamp down on them. Who are they? Who told you the criminals have more sophisticated weapons than the army and the police? Most times when they are caught, you see them with some useless, old rifles and shotguns and everything. But, they will tell us, oh, they overpowered the police. That means the police too were not serious. The security agencies should organise themselves and include nationalism and patriotism in their struggle; government should equip and take care of them properly. And anybody who is shortchanging them should be brought to book because even the heads of the security agencies are shortchanging the rank and file. These are the things that are making security very bad now unlike in those days when everything was well organised. So, crimes should be punished. Whoever commits crime should be punished immediately, and not all these long trials that are not helping matters. Why should you be going to court everyday for 10 years on adjournment? The judiciary should be up and doing. Nigerians want to see the criminals caught, quickly prosecuted and punished promptly. So, actually there is a security problem in Nigeria. Anybody who said there is no security problem is just deceiving himself; whether you belong to the APC or the PDP. I am a chieftain of the APC but I am telling you this. It did not start with this government; it started long time ago but we felt that with Buhari administration, things will change immediately and that is why we talk about change. But, as it stands now, Nigerians are becoming helpless and actually getting disappointed that the change they desired is not coming as fast as expected. So, that is it.
Where exactly do we place the blame? Is it before the security agencies, the judiciary or the political class?
The blame is on the system itself. The slow pace of getting justice in the country is not fair. And when the system is so slow in justice delivery, there are two groups to hold responsible – the police, which is the investigating body and the judiciary. And when you say police, you are talking about the government. So, if government is not up to the task of making the police to work hard and other security agencies do their job instead of trying to make the system in the name of security, then we have a problem. That is why today, you see that many of the security chiefs have become billionaires. We don’t want that; how can a security chief become a billionaire?
Barely five months into Buhari’s second tenure, the race for 2023 presidency has started with almost all the zones angling to succeed him. For justice and equity, shouldn’t the next president come from the South East?
In politics, people struggle to get power. Everybody struggles to gain power. Have you forgotten about Abiola’s case when he even won election and people annulled it? So, there is this power game all over the world, especially in developing countries where they don’t keep to the rule of law. So, the president can come from anywhere. You get power through nomination or through primaries. You can’t just sit in your house and say it is your turn. No, you can’t get it like that. So, let the people who want power struggle for it. That is my own opinion. The power can come from anywhere. We just want good governance for our people because we have suffered so much. We want a better government. A man like me is pro-people’s leader. Everything should be pro-people and that is the philosophy of social democracy. A social, liberal democrat is our philosophy but we are not practising it. It is unfortunate that some of us are getting old and we couldn’t get what we wanted for our country but we still pray for the best.
Don’t you share the concern of the Igbo who are saying they have been sidelined in the country, considering that even in state creation, their zone has the least number of states and that since the return of democracy in 1999, all other zones except the South East have produced the president of this country? Don’t you think their concern is fair enough?
Normally, South East issue is very unfortunate. I grew up in the old Mid-West and my parents were in the National Council of Nigerian Citizens (NCNC), which at that time was under the leadership of Nnamdi Azikiwe. Some of the ethnic tribes were punished because they were NCNC. Chief Obafemi Awolowo of that time punished us for that. So, if you don’t belong to the ruling party, then you will have problems. But, the golden years of the South East were during Olusegun Obasanjo and Goodluck Jonathan’s administrations. They had everything to themselves. They had all the key ministries – the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), the Inspector-General of Police (IGP), head of the army and everything. They should have been able to put themselves in the right position to fight for the presidency. You can’t just sit alone, especially now that the Igbo are unfortunately not with the APC apart from Okorocha and few others who staked their neck at that time. They enjoyed the PDP; they were enjoying the PDP, but they could not make the PDP shift the government to them. So, now the government is with the APC; the party they don’t belong to, I wonder how they are going to shift it because you will go for primaries and it is the person who wins the primaries that holds the ticket. So, let the Igbo focus on one strong party, either the APC or the PDP and get the ticket and with that, they can get the presidency. They must focus because at the time they had everything; all the whole powerful positions in the country, they could not get the president. And, I can also see now that most of the developments in the South East are carried out by the APC government like the second Niger Bridge, which has been on the drawing board for many years during the PDP era, but now they are doing something about that. The Zik’s Mausoleum was there and nothing happened. Some of the leaders of the South East are taking the people for a ride. I think one of the few patriots the Igbo actually had were people like Ikemba Nnewi, Chief Chukwemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu. Even though I grew up as a fan of Nnamdi Azikiwe, Zik faced the whole Nigeria; he wasn’t talking about the East alone in his own time. So, the Igbo have a right to produce the next president but they must work hard for it