By Sunday Ani
Former General Secretary of the Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG), Chief Frank Kokori has added his voice to the contentious issue of which zone would produce the next president after President Muhammadu Buhari in 2023. He spoke on that and more in this interview.
There have been calls for some time now from different quarters urging President Buhari to rejig the country’s security architecture. Last week, the president appointed a new set of Service chiefs. What are your thoughts on that?
Normally, Nigerians are grateful because it is better late than never. Like I have said before, what we need from the new Service chiefs is deep patriotism and they should not be tempted to embezzle money meant for the welfare of soldiers because all the Service chiefs that have been involved in this Boko Haram insurgency battle became billionaires after they left office. Though you can’t stop them but they should not make that their primary objective of serving the military. There is so much money being pumped to them and that is why they don’t want the insurgency to end. Let this set be the last on this Boko Haram and other insurgency issues in the country because it is a shame that Nigerian soldiers that are respected all over the world and who have played major roles in peace-keeping cannot even protect their territory. It has been a shame but like I said, it is better late than never. I wish them well but I think the greater blame should go to the head of state because we expected a retired general to be more efficient in handling this type of war than what Buhari is doing. And to leave some people in a command for five, six years is not acceptable anywhere in the world; even in Nigeria here, it has never been acceptable. Buhari believes that he is an island unto himself; that’s the way he runs his government. But, every government should be sensitive to its people; at times, Buhari is not sensitive to anybody. He does things at his own time and leisure; that is the issue. But, as I said, I want them to be more patriotic to be able to clear this dark era of our history – banditry, insurgency, kidnapping and so on.
The whole country appears to have been enveloped by insecurity. It started from the North East before moving to the North Central and North West. Today, it has gone to the South West. That informs the recent seven-day ultimatum issued by the Ondo State Governor, Rotimi Akeredolu, to all unregistered herdsmen in Ondo Forest Reserve to leave or get registered. The Fulani have also threatened to eject all the Yoruba in the North if the ultimatum is carried out. What is your take in all of these?
Normally, you could see that the thing is coming to an end; they are reconciling and doing a lot of other things. Actually, the Yoruba are the only people who can deal with the criminal Fulani elements in this country. The Igbo cannot deal with them because those people who are thugs in the North can always pounce on the Igbo and take their shops because the Igbo have investments all over the country. The Yoruba people don’t have investment outside their own territory because they occupy the most critical part of this country; so you can’t mess up with them. The people of the North respect the Yoruba more than they respect every other people in this country, so they will more likely want to reconcile with the Yoruba than if it is the South East Igbo, Middle Belt or even the South-south people. So, all what is happening in Yoruba West happens all over the whole country. There is so much banditry in the South-south. The Fulani herders destroy a lot of crops; they kidnap people, rape women and do anything they like and they are not afraid because the South-south governors are not playing their roles like their Yoruba counterparts in the South West. Edo State now is virtually taken over by the bandits and sundry criminalities. So, it is an issue that has reduced Nigeria to something close to a failed state. That the World Bank and other major international agencies have not rated Nigeria as a failed state is because of our economic resilience; that is why, if not, the insecurity in Nigeria is abnormal. We are even the third most dangerous country to live in the world. But, I can only say that Buhari should try to leave a good legacy, if not, he would be on the wrong side of history when he leaves. He was able to defeat a sitting government because we all believed that Jonathan was very weak and Buhari, as a retired general, would perform wonders. But, here is Buhari whom we thought is a firebrand, and who doesn’t take nonsense from anybody, the whole indices are now showing that corruption is on the increase. Security-wise, we are one of the worst countries and the economy is also poor. I don’t blame him much on the economy but those two areas – corruption and security, which were the flagship of his campaign mantra, he hasn’t impressed me. Nigeria expected so much from him when he came on board and within the first three months, even without saying one word, Nigerians were running away from corruption but when they saw that it was the cabals that were running the country, nobody was afraid any longer. So, normally, every governor has the right to drive out criminals in their states; even the traditional rulers have the right to drive out criminals from their communities. But, why it is now difficult for communities to maintain security is because of the type of weapons these Fulani from the Sahel have imported into the country – high caliber weapons like the AK47 and others. So, with that, ordinary village farmers cannot withstand them and they are very ruthless. So, I know the battle that is going on in the West. What is happening in Yoruba now should be replicated in all the other zones of the country by the governors. You can’t just run a country where everybody is afraid to drive on the road.
Recently, the leader of Miyetti Allah, Bello Badejo, stated that all lands in Nigeria belong to the Fulani. Some people have reacted saying that such statement was capable of causing crisis in the country. Do you agree with them?
No, all lands belong to the government; I think that is what the land use decree said. I think the Miyetti Allah leader was becoming too arrogant and that was why one Dr. Aliyu gave Bishop Matthew Kukah a notice to leave Sokoto. Normally, you don’t have a right to tell people to quit but you have a right to tell criminals to quit your territory. Any country or organisation that is in this type of situation should hold the people at the top responsible. And that is why I am holding the president, governors and the National Assembly members responsible for the evils, and the pains we are going through in this country. When you talk of restructuring in this country, if the state governors and the National Assembly members said they want restructuring, it will be done, whether Buhari likes it or not. So, when we blame Buhari, the whole governors and members of the National Assembly should equally be blamed. If the governors and the National Assembly resolve to restructure this country, Buhari will have no choice but to do that, otherwise he will be impeached.
Last week, Nigeria got the worst global corruption ranking since 2015, even though the presidency has disagreed with the ranking, insisting that the president should be commended for diminishing corruption.
However, not many Nigerians would agree with that defence; what is your take on the rating?
Forget about the rating. Nigeria has always been corrupt. There was a time when Nigeria was ranked the second most corrupt country in the world. So, now we are almost beating 20 countries. Nigeria is only better than those countries that are ruled by warlords in corruption rating. During the military regimes, only few people stole money, but now, a lot of people are stealing money. Today, you have about five percent of Nigerians stealing money, and living big while 95 percent of the people live in squalor. Today in Nigeria, if you are not attached to any governor or presidency or any State house or National assembly, you can’t get a job. You must be attached to somebody before you get a job. It is no more a country. The country is dying little by little. I am now calling on the governors and the national assembly to step into the crisis we are facing in this country. Leave Buhari; those two agencies can act and change everything but due to corruption because they themselves have acquired so much wealth, they won’t do anything. That’s the problem we have. If you have skeleton in your cupboard, you can’t dare to challenge the president. They dare not challenge Buhari. The presidency is eating and they are also eating, while the common man suffers. And most of the pressure groups in the country are no longer the way they used to be in those days. And when I talk about pressure groups, my own labour is the first culprit; the most powerful pressure group. The fourth estates of the realm, that’s the media, which actually are the tribune of the people, have been killed by corruption. The civil society group can only bark; they can’t bite just like the media. But, the most powerful pressure group is the organised labour. I am just watching my people from the sideline and shaking my head. The labour can shake any government; any authoritarian government or any rogue government.
Which geopolitical zone would produce the president in 2023 remains a very contentious issue; what are your thoughts on that?
I am somebody who believes in meritocracy. But, because the Nigerian system allows rotation of the presidency, it should be allowed to stand. I know that Nigerians agreed to rotate the presidency; although it is not written in law, but there is a conventional agreement to rotate the presidency between the North and South. It is only fair that the next president after Buhari should come from the South because the North would have done eight years after Buhari. So, naturally, it should go to the South. Actually, I am one of those who don’t believe in that type of nonsense but the way the country is going now, it is like some people think it is their hereditary right to dominate other people. No, that is not acceptable. It should be rotated between the two sides for us to have maximum peace, equity and justice in the country.