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‘My grouse with Buhari’s Presidency’

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Duke

Presidential candidate of Social Democratic Party (SDP), Mr. Donald Duke says the situation in Nigeria is so frightening that another four years in the hands of the current administration is unthinkable. He told LEO SOBECHI in this interview that security and economic circumstance of the country expose the ineptitude of the government in power.

• Another four years, where would we be? asks Duke
You’re are aspiring to become Nigeria’s president for the second time and one of the things people want to know is why you changed parties. Is it true that whatever Donald doesn’t initiate he doesn’t support?

I don’t believe in that, that’s someone’s view it’s absolutely nonsense. Our country is in a precarious state and I feel I have something to offer. This is not time for vainglory or flamboyance. There is much to do and I have a track record to show that we can get things done in Nigeria like other rapidly developing countries.
Recently, you made scathing remarks against President Muhammadu Buhari despite the fact you were one of those who warmed up to his administration at inception to the extent that some people said you were angling for an appointment?

Far from that! A government comes into office and it was the first time we had a transition from one party to another. They studied where they are or where the nation is, and how they can implement their programmes, it would be unfortunate to criticize them. Yes, they made a few mistakes. Not appointing ministers on time affected the tempo of governance. Certain statements that the President made regarding the economy, especially that Nigeria were bankrupt scared investors, both local and foreign.

Now, the economy is all about confidence, if the head of a country says am bankrupt, where’s the confidence? You can blame the previous government by saying they could have done better, but the fundamental thing is for the economy to remain strong. That’s what people want to hear to bring their money, not to tell them that the country is bankrupt.

I started getting worried particularly on the security front. The lopsidedness of the war on corruption got me very concerned and the handling of the so-called herdsmen crisis, where folks were slaughtered and not even a word of apology or sympathy or condolence from the government when 78 people were killed in Benue.

The first responsibility of government is security of lives and property before any other thing and that wasn’t being done and one felt like what’s going on here? The next thing, the war on the corruption front were so lopsided, you can say you’re going after the PDP people because they were the ones in government for so long, what about the PDP people who left for APC? That was disappointing.

Now, having taken what has transpired for the last three and a half years, if you allow him go in for another four years, where would we be? We can see the drift; the disagreement with the National Assembly is totally unnecessary. You don’t talk down on another arm of government; you talk to another arm of government. It’s an equal arm of government, you need to relate with them, you need to share your views and policies with them, you don’t dictate to them.

This is the last quarter of the year; the budget has not been submitted to the National Assembly as we speak. Ordinarily, if we get our acts together, the budget ought to have been sent by the month of June, six months ahead for thorough appraisal and it’s not a federal budget it’s a national budget. And because it’s a national budget, even the National Assembly members should have an input in the budget, they represent the constituencies.

The legislature need to agree on certain things, the compilation of all these things put together, analysed against the resources that are available should form the national budget. But there is no consultation by the federal government or the budget office with any other arms and participants within the government of the country, so the folks will tell you that we didn’t just come to Abuja as cheerleaders, we are part of the government structure. These are the things my people want. And because it’s not in a harmonized manner you have such a roughshod as a budget then you complain.

We need to be more intergovernmental friendly and relate better with each other. What are we doing about education, infant mortality, malnutrition and the number of kids out of school? We are in danger; the population has been growing astronomically, our land mass is the same. In fact, it’s shrinking, so it’s no longer glib talk and politics, this is now life-threatening, because if a country cannot accommodate us then it’s going to be a dog-eat-dog society.

We are already there, Boko Haram, herdsmen crisis, corruption; all these things are symptoms of a larger and bigger problem. Lack of opportunities! The economy is not encompassing enough to embrace all of us. If anyone tells you that unemployment in Nigeria is 15 per cent, he’s kidding you. Unemployment in this country is nowhere less than 60-70 per cent. Out of 10 people in Nigeria seven are under-employed or unemployed and those seven are dependent on 30 per cent of employed ones.

So, you have a greater number of people depending on a fewer number, when we talk about corruption we make it sound like it’s a plague, it’s a symptom of a plague. There are two types of corruption, corruption based on need and that based on greed. I have a job say a police man, a corporal my salary is so low but the level of but the level of dependence I have even make it this small, I have four children, aging parents, relatives and other bills it’s going to be very difficult for the man not to extort that’s corruption of need. Then we have that of greed.

When one man takes N1billion, it is greed. The corruption of greed only flourishes because we have weak institutions. You go to the judiciary it will take you 10-15 years to obtain judgement, the system, institutions are weak. So, more than 80 per cent of those within the bracket in this perimeter of corruption go free because the system doesn’t check them. There are no proper audits in ministries, audit reports are not adhered to, the few that find their way into the system, EFCC and all other agencies, their investigations are not thorough and capacity is weak.

The judicial system allows for delays, at the end of the day there’s a lot of frustration, because when one case is on there are others piling up behind, the system can’t cope with it. That’s the weakness in institutions, but when we look at the other one the corruption of needs, those ones never get prosecuted, but it happens every moment, even as I speak to you it’s happening, we are dealing with the symptoms. Expand the economy! You cannot be running a N400billion economy for 200 million people. It’s nothing.

Are you saying democracy has not borne the necessary fruits for Nigeria? 
Democracy is the first threat. That’s why folks take money to vote, there are certain things that are required for acquiring democracy: education, a vibrant and expansive middle class, which is almost none existence in Nigeria and strong institutions.

We don’t have all of these, so we are pretending to be democratic and that’s why there is certain arrogance in the executive level. And in the executive level, the governor is the only prosperous one that feels he can do as he pleases, because everybody is begging, after a while, he feels everybody needs him.

But when you have a vibrant middle class, and these are the people that don’t need the government to survive, they are doing one thing or another, they are the ones that can tell the government that they are wrong, they can speak truth to power. But we don’t have that, everybody is begging.

Nigerian politicians have way of rallying round former military dictators to the Presidency and after they display their disdain for democracy as in the current situation, why can’t politicians build consensus around a democrat to keep the former despots away?
Well they are former military leaders they are now civilians. It is okay as long as it’s subjected to democratic process, the two examples you dropped immediately are former President Obasanjo and President Buhari. They are eminently qualified constitutionally, but they must be subjected to democratic process. Just because they are ex-military officers doesn’t mean they should be stigmatized at one time or the other. They were prepared to give their lives for the country, there shouldn’t be a stigma, but they should play according to the rules of democracy and when they are in office they should maintain the rules of democratic process and participatory government.

If elected, between being a team leader and a team player, which would you prefer?
It’s important to be a team player, but to be a team leader without a team is void. Who captains the team is not as important as the quality of the team, but I will not see the captain going astray just because he wears the band of the captain and say nothing, because that will destroy the rest of the team.

With your change of political party, what is your relationship with your state governor, Professor Ben Ayade?
I try to remain cordial with whoever is in authority, because I need to have the opportunity to air my views to be able to speak truth to power. Ben is a very likeable person, I may not necessary agree with his style of government. Till date he is very warm towards me, I hope I have reciprocated and that’s how it ought to be, because if you destroy the bridge you’re not helping the state, because sometimes people need people like me to be able to express things to him. But I will always speak truth to power.

What is the place of tourism in economic diversification? What message were you trying to pass with Tinapa?
There is beauty in simplicity. We just wanted to attract traffic, people to come to Calabar! That was what Tinapa was all about. If people stop going to England or London, the (London) economy would be affected negatively. We don’t have that advantage where people go through Calabar like Benin. If you are going to the East, you will pass through Benin.  Likewise the far north, you will go through Kaduna. You would have to tell people you’re going to Calabar, you don’t pass the place going elsewhere. So we needed to make it attractive for people to come, we needed to make it safe; we needed to give them reason to come. So we had the serenity of the place, the cleanliness of Calabar, Obudu Cattle Ranch, Tinapa, etc; all that was reason for people to come.

We can do similar things for Nigeria. You don’t keep inviting foreign investors, if you make the environment safe and conducive for business, investors would come on their own volition.


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