Defections defeat essence of party system, says Utomi
*My politics is to see an end to poverty in Delta, where recognized wealth abound
Professor of Political Economy and founder, Centre for Values in Leadership, Pat Okedinachi Utomi, in this interview with News Editor, MARCEL MBAMALU, x-rays the intricate political calculations in Delta State, stressing that as a public intellectual his romance with politics will benefit Nigerians.
Our democracy, in the current Republic will be 20, next year; how do you assess our progression?
First, we have to be thankful to God for the gift of the democratic tradition. It may not be Uhuru, but it could also have been worse. If you follow the Afrobarometer surveys you will surely find a trend of Nigerians being less and less happy or satisfied with their democracy.
My view is that part of the problem is the outcome of the fact that the traditional politicians were doubtful of the sincerity of the military in withdrawing to the barracks. The space was thus captured by former soldiers and cult boys from a decaying university system. The new players had not been socialized by the politicians of old into a culture public life of giving, serving and the pursuit of immortality. What emerged instead from this mix of new players was a dangerous alchemy in which the oxygen of public life was an invasion of the public teal and a remorseless deployment of the public treasury for the aggrandizement of power.
But, we can still rebuild, make corrections and renew the land. We have good examples. Anambra, went to Hell and returned from the time of Ngige becoming born again through the Peter Obi rethink of public life. Edo experienced same. And Lagos has been blessed.
One of the things that bother me in this democracy is the idea of professional politicians. I have said before that I find it unacceptable that a person should draw income for more than 12 years from the public purse without a break if the person is not a civil servant. That leads to the agent, that is the elected or appointed, being disconnected from those they represent. Think of the object quality of governance in Nigeria. To be doing that for 20 years without drinking of some wisdom from elsewhere is like taking one year of a bad experience and repeating it 20 times then claiming 20 years’ experience. Nothing is more deepening of corruption. Corruption in the use of public resources to prosecute the desperation for re-election. Add to that the absence of fresh ideas as the process shuts out new entrants and you discover the essence of term limits.Until our democracy matures we cannot afford people in public life who do not have another address, people who cannot be in another job within weeks if not days of losing an election.
Nigeria recently overtook India as the country with the most number of people living in absolute poverty, despite all our resources. How do you explain that paradox?
Often lost to people is the fact that as power has become more concentrated in the centre, Governments closest to the people, the subnational and local governments have not operated with the passion of care for the bottom of the pyramid. The principle of subsidiarity requires that administration move closer to the people and reflect their ideas of man in society. The core need of a people is their quality of life. If they are descending into absolute poverty, then society is being degraded as poverty assaults their dignity. The states and local governments therefore need robust strategies, committed and compassionate leaderships that are obsessively focused of wealth creation, poverty reduction and the evolution of development areas driven by a peoples capitalism that ferrets out the wealth at the bottom of the pyramid.
Sadly, we have failed to find the right kinds of leadership at the subnational government level in many of our states. We have much to learn from China in the era since Deng Xiao Ping. The place of Knowledge, Thinking and Sacrificial leadership.
A lot of people recall your reputation and accomplishments, especially your much-talked about sense of integrity and wonder why you want to step into the murky waters of Delta politics at this time?
I will be first to admit that most people close to my family and friends are quick to compute the cost of such engagement and say it far outweighs the benefits. Those positions are logical. What is lost in such analysis is the essence of our humanity.
Even before many dear friends and relatives expressed displeasure at the visitations of people urging that I step forward on a rescue Delta Mission, I had come to the view that I had run a fair course in the quest for a better society, first attracting attention as a 19-year-old Student Union Leader and as a 21-year-old NYSC member assigned to Newbreed Magazine, where I was an investigative reporter.
In the 40 years from those times I have steadfastly pursued the progressive, just high growth and compassionate society idea as a Thought Leader, so called activist, and in later years, as an opposition politician. I was pained for years about the self-inflicted wounds that kept the Nigerian promise out of reach and hurt by how much the people have been more than the excuse for, rather than the purpose of, public life. I thought that even though I remained unfulfilled by the outcome of all the effort, and sacrifice, which included assassination attempts and my commercial interests being sabotaged, it was time for retirement. As I turned 60, I thought it appropriate to let the next generation grab the baton and I could spend more time mentoring them.
When some from that next generation began to insist that I owed them that one last opportunity for example, I had to challenge myself with my own preachments from the stump. First was the obligation of care the duty that privilege imposes, and the sacrificial imperative of leadership. Noblesse oblige means those who have privilege are honor bound to look out for the disadvantaged and nowhere lines of deprivation in the face of plenty quite as starkly as Delta State.
In teaching and writing about the leadership metaphor: The Shepherd as gate to the sheepfold in Christian tradition, from the 10th chapter of the Gospel of John. The duty of care for the shepherd may require a generosity of uncommon concern and care for neighbor, beyond the famous “Good Samaritan” sense of the word.This has, in the main, defined my activism in a society that has so many so neck deep water in that a ripple can drown them, a country biggest pool of the extremely poor on the planet.
As the conversations went on and I continued to evaluate the trauma the Common Good had been put through in our country I would increasingly feel a sense of duty to make a final drive for play in public life. Even at that I have kept saying I will offer my views and if the people are unwilling to fight for their own liberation I will quiet step aside because it must be that they enjoy their own enslavement.
From carpet crossing in the 1950s to modern day decamping, jumping from one party to another and back has become the hallmark of Nigerian politics. What does it say of the Nigeria politician?
It says a lot. It says principles do not matter enough. It suggests there is no difference between the parties and that defeats the essence of the party system. It also suggests a focus on instant gratification for self rather than a cause. I was in opposition politics from 1991 to 2015 because my first commitment was to institution building and the ideal of a viable opposition. Even when the beginning of that goal was achieved in 2015 there were reasons to be dissatisfied with some things but I calmly told those who sought my view that the options that appealed to me were to seek change from within and if that did not work, a quiet exit from partisan politics as it remains possible to make impact that affects people for good, the purpose of public life for me, outside of the partisan arena. Nigerian politics needs to reduce this mindless crossing business of dancing naked in the market place has degrade us all the guilty and innocent.
APC stalwarts in Delta State have adopted “Rescue Delta” as their slogan, do you think Delta can be rescued and if so how?
The road to decline has been long and steep. The good news is that recovery and progress can happen quickly. A three-point agenda for Delta revival I spoke to at a recent Retreat of the Pat Utomi Support Hub (PUSH) captured its focus on ending poverty should suffice here. The three include, a quick step to ending poverty in a state where putative wealth stares you in the face; an infrastructure strategy that facilitates spatial location of growth nodes that effectively move the state to a post oil rapid development economy; and a Community Empowerment Strategy that drives social harmony, security and noble culture with a work ethic that is admired and regard for the dignity of the human person and social justice.
Central to agenda of ending poverty is the dramatic improvement in education standards and access to health care, with an Agriculture and industrialization strategy anchored on the latent comparative advantage from the factor endowments of the state; with turning LGAs into Special Economic Development Areas inclined to processing and value adding to the factor endowments as the peg.
In the immediate, coming from a season of recession and high unemployment, public works and jobs like LATSMA and LAWMA, in Lagos, will be used, in a temporary mode, to stimulate improved incomes and better environment of public services. This classic Kenysian approach with stimulus and conditional cash transfers to boost interest and participation in production by vulnerable groups like poor mothers will also boost the velocity of money in the neighbourhoods. Cutting waste and renegotiating and restructuring debt is important to free up cash for development.
With such Agricultural produce as Rubber, Palm, Cocoa, Cassava, Yam and Fruits and Vegetables and the Hydrocarbons value chairs as the basis for Industrial policy; and a significant coastline to boost tourism and port facilities, Delta should become a gateway to the economy. Ocean facing cities have been critical for growth in this age of globalization. Delta can produce two Lagoses.
On infrastructure our idea is to create at least three hubs located in 3 senatorial districts that will emerge as new cities growing organically based on the processing clusters. Major Turnpikes and Railway networks between these cities and traversing the older cities and ports will be driven from private capital attracted as equity and Bonds both local and international.
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