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Nigeria has a distorted democracy, says Obioha

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Former National Chairman of the Justice Party, Chief Ralph Obioha spoke with Lawrence Njoku on the challenges facing the current administration as it marks three years in office. Excerpts:

Democracy then and now

We had actually been practising democracy before independence in 1957; that was when we had our first rule that was started in the eastern and western regions and then in 1959, the northern region came on board.

After that, we had our independence. Of course, the nascent one was brought about after what we were practising was terminated and presently, we have spent 19 years on the journey.

Democracy is a system of communal human management and which great philosophers been adjudged as the most accepted governance system.

Before democracy as a form of government was accepted, so many other systems were tried. In Nigeria, we have distorted the practice in that it is no longer the government of the people by the people and for the people.

It is now government for the few with hunger, starvation, denials of all kind and what have you, staring the common person in the face.

We cannot say that the democracy we practice here is one that is of the will of the people. It is a kind of compromised will of the people by using all kinds of reasons to distort it.

Going into actual democracy as it regards things that make life bearable for people, the missing link in the Southeast is the lack of industrialisation and opportunity, which is actually driving the vibrant youths out of the region to seek greener pastures.

There is the absence of sufficient energy. Ninety per cent of all the industries in the Southeast are shut down.

There are zero opportunities in the Southeast and you hear of Federal Government industrialisation of a particular section of the country, which is the North, but you don’t hear anything about the Southeast.

You hear about the railways expansion going on in the West and North and you don’t see anything going on in the Southeast sector. There was a Turkish company that is said to have the contract to do the Southeast sector. It is really a joke.

So coming again to celebrate another democracy, there is no doubt that the Southeast is suffering what one may call criminal neglect.

I have had opportunity to appeal to the Federal Government to treat all parts of the country as one constituency but what is happening shows that the appeal does not hit the presidency at all.

But the slogan we used during the struggle is that people do not reject themselves when others reject them.

They are hard working. They have used their knowledge to excel anywhere they are all over the world but if the Federal Government refuses to give them boost, there is no way they can make the required progress.

That is why I will always call on the Southeast governors to pool resources and look inwards to see ways of helping our people.

Insisting that it is only the Federal Government that can provide electricity will never help the zone.

The state governments may not generate mega supply of electricity, but they can generate a little quantity that can boost our industries.

The agitation for regionalism, fiscal responsibility and all kinds of colourful and beautiful language should be reduced to what they really mean and that is the fact, that people should manage their own affairs.

The Federal Government has no business in education and health matters. The regions should be able to articulate matters in an integrated system where each component should assist the other excel.

The day we started defining what structural adjustment is all about –where people should be on their own, where leaders should decide what they want and how to manage their resources, it will be better for us.

A situation where one region dominates the affairs will not be sustainable. It is only a matter of time and may get to a point where lives and property are damaged.

Nobody can stop the spirit of the current agitation for structural adjustment. The rank and file knows what it means.

There are laws that the Federal Government cannot make in the states, where structures in Abuja make laws that run in communities. It is not possible.

So let us at the 19th celebration of our democracy get to the basics and the basics is for us to face what will make this nation get up again and exhibit the inert human resources and power we have.

Whoever created the world made provisions for the entity called Nigeria by giving her abundant natural and human resources. It is now for us to find a system, which will flourish on justice, equity and fairness.

On structure of government and insecurity

Those who see the structure as responsible for the collapse in security system are not far from the truth. It is unthinkable that the Federal Government will stay in Abuja and control a Police Force to be able to know what is happening in the remotest area of the country.

People are frowning at the state police on the basis of the behavior of the governors that they may turn the institution of the police into a witch-hunting instrument. It misses the main point that security is best managed at the most basic level.

The United States has up to local sheriff and local police, so is the system in England and China. They all have these units of institution of policing and police work; also there is a need for the overall national security outfit to ensure that there is no abuse. The national one also coordinates to avoid security excesses.

When every society feels that it is getting a fair deal, that already is to say that fifty percent of security has been achieved. It is only when people do not feel that they are getting a fair deal that insecurity starts creeping in.

It is only when people feel that they are not being treated well in security, that it becomes intrinsic and it is very difficult for any government to control it.

When the community believes that the boundary that has divided them has been distorted and compromised, the community will rise against the other community.

A lot of appeal has gone to the Federal Government to check herdsmen activities, associating it with a particular section in the country because they are the ones who herd cattle.

No human being will fail to react when cattle distort their source of livelihood and it would be unfair to say the people reacting like that break the law.

This is something that the Federal Government should find solutions to but instead they came up with grazing colony.

Whatever that means, the issue is that the movement of herdsmen conflict with farmers’ activities. This is something that should be addressed and solutions found.

The northern herdsmen need a market to sell their cattle; the southerners need the meat of the cattle for life sustenance. So we must find a solution to this menace that it should not be in a way as to rob Peter to pay Paul. We need the re-establishing of harmony in Nigeria.

There are fears that 2019 elections may be compromised

How do you ever want us to speculate on a probability? Why will this government even contemplate not allowing this democracy to give birth to another democracy? How did this government get in there if not through an election?

If for any reason there is a tendency or thought to subvert the election, it will not be in the interest of the country. Election will hold in 2019 and Nigerians will also witness the handover to a new government.

I agree that insecurity will affect the 2019 elections, that is why we must be serious with efforts to ensure that the scourge is tackled as soon as possible.

Nigeria’s security is seriously threatened. We cannot continue to live like this. Government must rise to the occasion and preserve the unity and peace, which our forebears struggled to achieve.

It should not be democracy celebration when lives are wasted daily and nobody is sure of the next thing that could happen.

Ways to strengthen democracy

If we point fingers at one direction without looking at the other direction, fairness may not have been established.

I say this because the two major arteries of roads in the Southeast zone have work going on in them at the moment: they may not have been as fast as anyone wished but something is happening.

The engine of development is ascertained when you look at the number of government structures that are available to make things like jobs to be created, electricity and what have you.

Our five Southeast governors, if they had applied what they received from Federal Government judiciously, would have established a working arrangement that would have transformed the industries in the zone.

There were many industries in Igboland but which have currently been shut down. For Southeast, there is the need to look inwards to create jobs for our people.

More than fifty per cent of people who walk across Sahara desert in search of opportunities are Igbo.

Eighty per cent of those being killed in South Africa come from the Southeast. As much as we will shout marginalisation and what have you, let us make use of what is here to develop our zone.

One problem has confronted industrialisation in the Southeast; there is the absence of energy.

The power plant at Ala Oji near Aba being built by Barth Nnaji has been totally sabotaged. The one at Oji River has been abandoned. That one has capacity to produce at least 100 megawatts of electricity.

So bearing in minds the litany of problems, there is a need that a deliberate effort is channeled towards addressing them.

So on the sides of the Federal Government, these challenges of Southeast are not new; government should be fair, to the zone by bringing up policies that should address the problems.

If you are working in the North and Southwest, you should also work in the Southeast, if you are making appointments, you should know that Southeast is part of you and don’t neglect them and many others.

The fight against corruption

A scratch has not been done on issue of corruption and everybody has given up on that mantra and even they believed that Buhari was coming to do the magic. The war on corruption under Buhari has failed woefully. He has little time within which to see if he can make a headway on the issue as promised.

Let us hope that in 2019, another government will come up and tackle corruption because it is so endemic in our system. One of the greatest setbacks for the country is the issue of corruption and I know that Nigerians will be happy with any government that should talk about it.

In all, celebrating another democracy, which began for the incumbent administration in the last three years, should focus on how to solve grievances, agitations, curb insecurity and restore unity and progress to the country.


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