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Corruption was done on dinning tables before Buhari came – Umohinyang

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The president, Centre for Leadership and Justice, Emmanuel Umohinyang.

Nigeria has celebrated 60 years of nationhood since it gained independence from the colonial masters on October 1 1960. Since then, the country has been opposed by different challenges of insecurity, civil unrest, human rights abuse, electoral fraud and violence, corruption and bad governance.

In this recent interview with The Guardian, the president of the Centre for Leadership and Justice, Emmanuel Umohinyang, sheds insights on how President Muhammadu Buhari is gradually making a change towards putting the country on the path of true progress and unity. Excerpts:

What is your general assessment and what lessons do you think we can carry as we prepare for Ondo election in a few days from now?

The problem with elections in our country has always been a case of whosoever is apex federal wins almost all the elections, and under the Muhammadu Buhari administration the game is changing and I want to appeal to the opposition that, you do not only criticize a president when things go wrong, you also encourage him when he has lived up to expectation. Not only when the opposition wins.

We should get to a point of electoral maturity where when you lose, you concede defeat, congratulate the winner and see how you can work with the winner to advance the frontiers of possibilities of the people. What happened generally in Edo was that PDP was not in bad luck – strictly speaking, it was an APC vs APC. The leaders of the party decided to go against the party position which I feel is very unfortunate. Democracy was not built to be like that. Party supremacy is what drives democratic processes when you remember where we are coming from during the first republic and that is why I frown on people referring to a sitting president as the leader of a party. A sitting president is only a driver, he takes the manifesto of the party to go and implement. Which means he can be called upon when he is going astray.

What I have proposed and fortunately for some of us we are not members of any political party and we may not if things continue on this platform. A situation where parties give directives and some rebels decide to do otherwise because their interest was not protected, the party is supreme at all times. The moment the party decides on anything whether it favours you or not you fall into line and take the party position.

But in the Edo event, even the governor having defected to the other party and was still boasting of having his brother governor in the APC working for him and we saw the outcome. So it is not about Ize-Iyamu neither is it about Godwin Obaseki, it is about the morality of the process. The late Gani Fayemi who said, “we have to stand up for what is right even if it means standing alone because at the end you will be vindicated”.

But what has happened in the political process we are seeing now is an unhealthy one and it is not helping our country. It is not politics of ideology, people seem to be members of the ministry of stomach affairs where they drive their process to where the food is. It is so shameful and I feel so disappointed in the shifting of the members of the APC’s who did those things. The party should be supreme at all times so that we can grow our democracy. 

As unfortunate as it is, I think the president has shown full capacity by ensuring at all times since he came into office in 2015, that the best at all times wins. 

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For this particular election do you think the statement from the United State Government, the British, the EU, in the days leading to the election with regards issues of visa ban and asset seizure played a crucial role in what we saw in Edo in helping to keep the violent ones at bay?

While we admit that our friends in the west are here to help us grow our democracy. It is hypocritical of these two countries to continue to create an impression that it is only by election rigging that things are turned upside down in our country. When you put a visa ban on politicians who rig, then that is good, but how do you justify keeping your backyard as a place for warehousing looted funds. 

They should also place a ban on those who steal our common patrimony and warehouse in their country. I expect the USA who is in the custody of our several billions of dollars stolen by politicians to weigh the big scene. So you want to place a visa ban on election riggers but you are comfortable in keeping looted funds of these same politicians in your country.  

Let’s not forget in the past a certain former president in the British referred to Nigeria as fantastically corrupt. He was saying this when Ghana must go bag of looted funds was kept behind him by a Nigerian politician. So they should place a ban on anyone that steals a kobo from Nigeria and not just on election rigging.

Are you for or against the formulation given how difficult it is for Nigerians to survive, should we have waited a bit before allowing market forces to determine the price of electricity and petrol?

The Buhari administration has shown this issue of subsidy for five straight years and if you know the person of Buhari and the passion he has for the people, basically his interest and target has always been for the poor. I have told the president that for as long as he continues to upload those democratic credentials I will continue to support the president to succeed but if it means to look the other way I will use the exit door. I am not one who massages the government’s ego. 

I want to use the media to appeal to Nigerians, the president did not create the COVID-19  that we are going through. He was in office and the virus met him in office. The difficult times are not just to Nigerians, it is across the world. 

I agree that times are hard in the country but there can be no better time to do a good thing. A good president is not one who wants to please some group of people, a good president is one who takes hard decisions. We must protect the generation yet unborn and put things in place for them. 

The government is in pain in making that decision but it is a pain that is necessary that we must endure at this trying time of our lives.

In recent times we have seen a surge in killings, kidnapping and insecurity and people have called on the service chiefs, but then the president has continued to keep disguise in the office. Do you think this is the right decision considering the rate of unrest across the country? 

When we talk of insecurity it’s as if Nigeria is an isolated nation. Insecurity is a general phenomenon that the whole world is going through and Nigeria is not an exception. If we reduce it to Nigeria context, the issue will be where were we before the 2015 election. Stepping out was a problem because we did not know where the next bomb would be triggered. We tend to forget that there was a time when leaving your home was risky. 

Has this government achieved the desired result in the issue of insecurity? The answer is no, but are we still in Egypt? the answer is no, but we are on our way to the promised land. 

When you talk of the clamour for the removal of a service chief, the question you should ask yourself is, have we given them all that they needed to succeed? Do we have the resources to get them all that they have asked for them to succeed? And if we have given them the resources, can we buy some of the equipment they are asking for on the shelf? The answer is no. 

If previous administrations had taken care of the military in terms of weaponry, peradventure we would not be in this mess. The problem is not about the service chief, we can only tell them to do more with new strategies.

I know we have insecurity issues but I cannot say it was as bad as it was before the President Buhari administration. He has done a whole lot in terms of welfare, weapons and rewards in encouraging the men in the field. I can assure you that before the end of the president’s administration, insecurity would have been brought to its nearest minimum. I am not saying we are going to completely eradicate it. 

Some people are also saying that politicians are part of the problem among those instigating those crises we have seen here and there. Do you share that view, sir?

It would not be far fetched from the truth. The Goodluck Johnathan administration was, in the word of the former British prime minister, fantastically corrupt. Corruption was done on the dining table without any form of reproach. Politicians had unhindered access to the treasury. 

But the Buhari administration has come to say no. All money must go to the treasury single account. 

On the issue of corruption, Mr president re-appointed some ministers who had issues of corruption. What is your assessment of the fight against corruption?

I would give the president the credit for opening up the books. In the past, we used to have it as family affairs when a government official who is accused is very close to the president. But in the Buhari administration, one thing you can do and not go scot-free is to steal the people’s money. 

When you take a look at the generality of the administration against corruption, who are those that have been badly hit? It is basically those you can refer to as the president’s closest ally. 

At a point people said the very minute you move from the opposition party to the ruling party, your sins are forgiven. We saw the Orji Kalu’s case that was lately decided by the supreme court. That even when he came into APC, he was jailed. Buhari is one man that will never intervene in a court-related case. 

The whistleblower policy has been expanded that the government relies on it so much to tackle the menace in society. 

Come 2023, Buhari will use the exit door and Nigerians must rise and say enough is enough. The mindset of a politician is to make the people poor and continue to oppress them during elections. So we must rise as a people and say we will not allow our country to be dragged by the dredge of the society, by those who have no value system in them, we must rise and challenge the status quo and take back our country from the shenanigans of power.

Nigeria is 60 years after independence. Do you think we are on the right track across all spheres?

Honestly, if you look from 1999 to 2015, I would say that under the federal republic, our founding fathers would be turning in their graves that the Nigeria of their dream has achieved very little within that period. 

The Buhari administration has come to redefine what governance should be in nature and focus. I think outside the pandemic, we were not doing badly in terms of the economy. When you also look at the current challenge we face as a global community, Nigeria is also not doing badly when you look at the statistics that have been brought out by the world bank. 

But 60, a man of 60 is much closer to the grave. We should begin to think of how we can look in the way of Dubai, Germany in the next couple of years and that will require everyone on deck. We should stop the idea that the government will do this or do that. Nigerians must come together to say look the country is ours. If we allow these politicians to destroy it our children yet unborn will not see a country to call Nigeria. 

So if we had focused on how the country is being then, maybe we would not have been in this situation we find ourselves now.  We must as a people begin to think as a Nigerian not necessarily the tribe, ethnic group or religious domination you belong to. That is what is destroying our country.

One of the failings in this administration is the inability to fix refineries five years after. What is your take on this?

It will equally be unfair to say it is one of the failings in the administration. The Buhari administration did not come to solve human problems. In the issue of the refinery, there is a subjective argument behind it. The Jonathan administration gave 11 refinery licences in 2011, where are those refineries, there are nowhere to be found. 

The question you should ask is why was it so difficult for that administration to fix the refinery. Who are those people who benefited from those licences? 

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