Okotie: Why Nigeria should adopt aboriginal democracy instead of presidential system of government
Former presidential candidate of the Fresh Democratic Party (FDP), Reverend Chris Okotie spoke to MUYIWA ADEYEMI on why Nigerians should consider interim government and jettison presidential system of government for aboriginal democracy he is proposing.
Interim government is alien to the Constitution, why are you campaigning for such when presidential system of government has a process of replacing electing leaders?
I am calling for an interim government because I am propounding a new political philosophy. The presidential system of government that Nigeria has practiced at our second attempt at democratising the elective process has failed us woefully. It has polarised the polity, it has bulkanised the Nigerian society, it has fractured the whole confederacy of the Nigerian brotherhood, it has elevated corruption to become an institution, it has created an ambiance for hatred among the federating units and for this purpose, it should be jettisoned to allow for national progress.
An interim government is the immediate solution, not just an interim government, the one that will introduce what I called aboriginal democracy as instrumentality for realisation of new Nigeria of our dreams. It is within that concept of aboriginal democracy that all these aberrations will be constitutionally corrected.
Presidential system is the problem and it is the root cause of all the problems we have in Nigeria. We cannot correct the aberrations unless we change the system. That is why I am saying that an interim government will provide conducive environment to change the system.
We had a parliamentary system in the first republic, it didn’t work and we changed to presidential system, it has failed us, we can’t go back to the parliamentary, we must move forward. What I am saying is that presidential system of government and the manner it is being implemented in Nigeria is our problem, I am suggesting that aboriginal democracy, which will take democracy back to the people, because the classical definition of democracy we know is that, it is the government of the people by the people and for the people. But our experience in Nigeria has changed the definition to “government of the party by the party and for the party”. And the situation has created a false impression that we practice democracy in Nigeria because if we practice true democracy power must belong to the people and not to the party.
Nigeria is not only the country operating presidential system of government, are you faulting the system or its operators in Nigeria?
It is the system together with the operators. We are seemingly practicing federalism but we are not, because calling Nigeria a federal state is what I call terminological inexactitude, it is a lie. What we are practicing here is more unitary than federalism. If we are practicing federalism some of the federating units will not want to secede. Federalism requires an understanding of the centrifugal and centripetal forces on how they interact but the power is centralised in Nigeria.
Besides, true federalism gives autonomy to the federating units to determine how they control their resources. So, these are some of the things that we must correct.
What we need to do is to tailor our presidential system into our cultural sensibilities, which is why I suggested that we could still maintain the tripartite nature of the government, that is the judiciary, legislature and the executive. All we need to do is to change our legislature and I have suggested that instead of having an elitist club we should give power to professional associations that predate these political parties. For instance, when they come to the National Assembly in Abuja, they break themselves into committees. There are 57 standing committees in the Senate and 89 in the House of Representatives. These committees are only replicating what is already in the polity. They have committee on aviation, education, heath etc, but in the polity we have bodies that can do these jobs. You have Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) for lawyers, NMA for doctors; these professional bodies can make laws on areas that concern their professions. This is what I called concept of gregarious conceptualisation. These are people who have operated in those firmament for years, so if you wanted to make a law about medicine or law, we don’t need to go the elitist club in Abuja or National Assembly that does not understand the dynamics of these areas, go to our people that are already there, they are volunteers, not paid. NMA was established in 1951 and can take responsibility for any law that affects that firmament, instead of going to the elitist club that has been consuming billions of naira.
Expunge the legislature, empower these professional bodies to make laws in the areas that affect them, that way we would remove the financial burden and reduce corruption that is inherent in the system.
Is that the thrust of aboriginal democracy?
Yes, it is taking power back to the people and creating a rapprochement where people can come together to decide how they wanted to be governed. If you have that system, you don’t need political parties because the definition of democracy does not envisage political parties. We don’t need political parties to practice our democracy, if we don’t need political parties, then we don’t need governors, we don’t need commissioners, we don’t need ministers because they are political appointees.
The civil service structure is already here, when a minister is appointed, he supervises the activities of the civil service even when he does not understand the responsibility assigned to him, he is just a political appointee.
Are you saying we don’t need a governor in a federal structure like Nigeria?
Yes, we don’t need a governor.
So states should be governed straight from Abuja?
What I am saying is that people would decide, for instance, take a place like Lagos, you can split the city into segments. My proposition is that each state should have four compartments, and those who supervise each section would be elders, not less than age of 80. I am saying this because of the corruption in the system, we have to tackle problems that are culturally inherent in our system, corruption must be dealt with and the only way to deal with it is to give power back to the people and those who will supervise do not have the kind of power governors have today.
Who coordinates the states?
The local legislature that we have created, you remember the professional bodies I told you before, if we give power back to these bodies that are within each state.
You are against the existence of political parties, how the will electorates elect a President and other leaders?
What we need to do is to apply a system that is already with us by ballot. Take for instance, you belong to Lagos State and you say you want to be President, what we need to do is to get all the states and put them in a ballot box, what I called democratic votes, their names written, put them inside a box, ask somebody to pick one, like a draw, the first state that comes out will provide a President, it is not something that will be politically engineered, it will be done by the people.
For instance, in a football mundial, when it comes to a certain point, this is exactly what they do, they take all the teams and put them in a box and they draw out of the box, there is no argument, that is democracy.
Democracy does not mean people have to vote, it means what people will accept or people decide how they want to do something. If they agreed, all these godfathers and money they spend will come to an end. Nobody has the control to say this is the candidate who will rule Lagos or Ogun State. The argument that let power go to the East or West will no longer be there because that box will determine for all of us, the state that will produce the President. If the draw picks Taraba State, it is now the responsibility of Taraba State to determine who becomes the president using the same process.
If the next draw picks another state from Northeast, do you think people from other geopolitical zones will be comfortable with such system?
That is what the process brings. Look at what is going on in our country today, how many zones have produced President? Has it not been southwest, south-south and northwest. It is the same thing but the difference is that it will not be manipulated by powers that be; it is now under the control of the people. There is no godfather that will come and tell us that power must come from any zone.
It seems you have issues with the way political elites govern the country?
The reality is that governance has been the major problem of this country because there are certain political parties that have seized power like the PDP and APC, determining for the whole of the country where their leadership is going to come from, see what happened during their primaries they determined among themselves, not all Nigerians.
Considering our political experience, how feasible is aboriginal democracy in Nigeria?
It is absolutely practicable because we are already conversant with that process, it is this political process that is still alien to us because most of us love football, we have seen the practicality, there was no time in football that a country protested that you have paired them with a super football nation, it is an agreement that whatever happened during the draw is accepted.
What happened to your Fresh Democratic Party (FDP) and why didn’t you want to join any of the major parties to actualise your political ambition?
When I began my political process, it was not to acquire a political carrier with a view to self-aggrandisement. I was looking for a podium to articulate concept of political governance that will augur well for the unity of this country and that will strengthen Nigeria for the challenges of the 21century. That is why I did not align myself with dominant political parties that have their tentacles within the longitude and latitude of our political spectrum because if I wanted that, the easiest thing to do was to align myself with one of the dominant parties.
I knew that the presidential system was faulty ab initio and that it was not going to get us anywhere. That is why in 2019, I wrote to the chairmen of the dominant political parties that they should allow us to go into the interim government but they did not buy into that concept but this time I am speaking to the flag bearers, hoping they are patriots, they will understand the need to deal with the problem that face Nigeria, to create an enabling environment for proper government.
Did you say your intention with the FDP was not to take you to the presidency?
Yes, it was not because you cannot get to Aso Rock with a party that is nascent and did not have a national spread. That is why politicians struggle to be candidates of the dominant parties. What is going on in Nigeria today is not democracy, I call it partisanism, government of the party by the party and for the party, therefore anyone who is interested in a political carrier must join one of those dominant parties, if you don’t, there is no way you can win. If President Buhari had contested on the platform of the Fresh Democratic Party, there is no way he would have won. APC is a conglomeration of many political parties and that is what gave Buhari an edge. People don’t vote for personality in Nigeria, they vote for parties, if it is a vote for personality, we wont have problem.
Many people still ask why clergymen should be involved in partisan politics, should there be a mix of religion and politics?
I think it is ignorance, when God created Garden of Eden; he gave political power to Adam because it is the political power that drives a society. Politics is the science of government; it is not possible for you to govern without a political structure and God gave all the structure to Adam. God first created an enabling environment before leadership came and that is the pattern we are following here. You cannot govern Nigeria in an environment inimical to the leadership, we must first create an enabling environment for leadership and that is what our interim government will do.
People did not understand that God is a political leader; he controls the nations. God has given to man his ecclesiastical responsibilities, his economic responsibilities and his political responsibilities because without that you cannot govern. Jesus made a statement, he said, ‘I am the way, the truth and the life, no man can come to the father outside of me.’ In that concept, he introduces the way you can translate from dystopia to utopia. The ‘way’ is the methodology and when it takes political colouration it becomes ideology, ideology begets manifestoe, manifestoe is an aggregation of philosophical abstraction that are seeking material practicality. It is through manifestoe that you beckon at people to come in tandem with you on a journey of political adventurism.
The ‘truth’ is the philosophy you created, is it based on veracity or mendacity, if it is the truth it becomes veracity, then idealism. Now to the ‘life’, that is what kind of life will it fortify, what is the animation and it is the person that proposes these things that can internalise it and that is why I am saying I want to lead the interim government, because these are things that are intrinsic to me. It will be difficult to transfer it to another person or another party and you expect them to imbibe it by osmosis, it is not possible. I am saying that it will be better for Nigeria if I lead the interim government to implement the agenda of this particular philosophy.
Are you saying nothing is wrong for a Reverend to be partisan, even when politics is said to be dirty in Nigeria?
The reason why we say politics is dirty is because of the way it has been operated. Even for the purpose of argument, let’s agree that politics is dirty and if it is, indeed dirty, it needs a detergent; it needs to be cleaned up. A dirty man cannot solve a dirty problem; you need a clean man or a righteous man to deal with the situation.
You know what it is to emerge as the candidate of the party not to talk of winning election?
He doesn’t have to follow that path that makes politics dirty. It is desperate men who have no conscience or philosophical connectivity with the people that do this kind of thing. I have been trying for a while and that is why we said this system is not good for Nigeria, it is inimical and subversive to the Nigerian course, that is why we want to bring a system that circumvent all these aberrations. We need to construct a system that suits our cultural sensibilities, that’s why we are saying the way forward is not regime change because if you follow this path, we are going back to square one. It is going to be a journey in futility. We need something that is practicable, that will sustain the corporate existence of Nigeria and we need to do it now.
You are sounding like an idealist…?
I don’t have any problem with that, because idealism is part of political existence if properly executed and prosecuted. If you look at the history of Nigeria, you will see that we have taking a quantum leap from the very day of our very beginning to where we are today. But if you look at the global village now, there is a necessity to articulate a concept that has global relevance. Aboriginal democracy has taken into cognisance, cultural historicity, evolutional modernity and global relativity as necessary ingredient of our evolutional political indiginisation. It is a concept that is well rounded, if we apply it, it will salvage our nation, it will bring peace and stability, all these agitation for secession will seize, people will have a sense of belonging and regional xenophobia permeated by political bandits will come to an end.
Lets come to the present political reality, what is your opinion about same faith presidential ticket APC is presenting for 2023 election?
I have said it without equivocation that in an ideal situation, we must rise above the pastiche of religion but the reality that confronts us indicate a dangerous situation because we have seen the consequences of religion, fanaticism in governance and that is why our people are not comfortable with Muslim-Muslim or Christian-Christian ticket, depending on where you are.
What I am saying is that you cannot blame Nigerians because of our own experience, that is why it is needful to bring a system that circumvents that aberration because if we are going to become a nation, we must face our problems holistically, if we don’t, we are only postponing the evil day.
At the moment, Nigeria is sitting on the concrete of crisis. We need to pull ourselves together as patriots and not as politicians and come to a place where we can dialogue to avert impending implosion. The anger on the street is unprecedented, insecurity we are experiencing today is unprecedented, regional xenophobia is at a level that is totally unprecedented, if we don’t do something now and stay away from personal aggrandisement, Nigeria will dissolve and that is why I am saying very clearly that we must temporise. I have asked the flag bearers to temporise, let us fix Nigeria first before we start talking about governance.
This generation did not experience the civil war and they did not understand what it is for a nation to get into that kind of quagmire. That is why I am sounding a clarion call to all patriots and true Nigerians that we must now begin to invoke a nationalistic sentiment that will over ride sectional and personal sentiments, so that we can hold Nigeria together. It is a task that must be done.
Interim government is unconstitutional and many fear it will lead to crisis and abuse of power…?
It is because they do not know what it is about; it is called lack of knowledge and ignorance promotes fear. An interim government is like a surgical theater, sometimes they refer to the Shonekan’s government, but the circumstances are totally and completely different.
We are going to change the Constitution because the one we have today is a fraudulent document; it was Nicodemously contrived and forced upon the nation. We know that is why we have imbalances in the nation today. So, an interim government will come into being and there will be suspension of certain provisions of that Constitution for Nigerian to come together; not in sovereign conference like all of those things we have had in the past.
And the reason why these conferences didn’t succeed is because no subsisting government can perform the responsibilities that are necessary to bring change constitutionally. So, you need an interim government and the one that I am suggesting, I want to lead it because Nigerians know my antecedent.
For instance, this concept of aboriginal democracy has come from me, I have stayed with this philosophy for over twenty years. My citadel of confidence is erected on this philosophy and if Nigerians embrace this philosophy we will do well. I have never aligned myself with any political party, I mean the predominant and dominant political parties, with a view to prosecuting a career for my self-interests. I have never been involved in a situation where I am promoting the idiosyncrasies of some godfather because of the unseen arm of coercive intimidation.
And I am a minister, so to that extent, there are certain moral perpendicularity, political rectitude that is required of me and lastly, I have paid my dues because if I wanted to be in government I would have been there. I first ran for President in 2003 and some of the people who started the journey with me at that time have aligned themselves with some of these parties but I haven’t. To that extent Nigerians can trust me to lead an interim government because of what I believe and what I stand for.
Talking about security in Nigeria today, how do you view it?
It is still the system, when you talk to government they will tell you all their good intentions but the system itself makes it impossible to prosecute governmental policies. And because of that system, there has been an infiltration that has led to a breakdown of law and order in different parts of this country.
I consider myself a consensus remedial facilitator not to criticise but to reconcile because the minute you begin to criticise you can no longer be an impartial judge. So, what I want to do isn’t to criticise one person but to say, we agree that things aren’t working, let’s come together and find a meaningful solution because the minute you criticize, people become very defensive.
I am saying yes, the security of the nation has really diminished to a point where you aren’t safe in any part of the country, even the Presidency will tell you that. We need to come together to find a meaningful solution to how we can secure lives and properties and create an environment for pursuit of happiness for each Nigerian. And it is only an interim government that can do that.
Going through your profile, including your music career and attempt to go for presidency in 2003, age is still very much on your side but do you see Nigerian youths prepared for the change or even to take ownership of governance as people are saying?
Away from the sentimentality of youth’s participation, I am happy by the fact that the young people are taking their destiny into their own hands but the system in which they are operating cannot enable that. You cannot dislodge APC and PDP, it is impossible because they are fully entrenched in the nation. The reality of politics isn’t what you are talking about; it is the reality that is on ground. And the two political parties are in every nook and cranny; that is why the major players, His Excellency Atiku Abubakar, His Excellency Bola Tinubu, His Excellency Peter Obi and Rabiu Kwawanso are desirous of following political parties that can help them achieve their purposes but PDP and APC are the main parties and you cannot dislodge them and that is not being pessimistic, it is just being realistic.
Political structure determines the winner and what I am saying is that yes, the young people must participate because the future belongs to them, my responsibility is to create an enabling environment where that dream can grow, where the things that they desire can be properly articulated into reality. But in this present system; it is an absolute impossible, particularly given the time frame, it is impossible.
I have been in the system and I can tell you realistically that only PDP and APC have any chance of emerging if we go through this process because of their national strength and the fact that they are formidable and well entrenched in the system. It is like you are trying to dismantle a hydra headed monstrosity from its habitat and you are using just a broom; it is foolishness.
The young people have shown a desire for change and I applaud it but they must understand that change can only happen in an enabling environment and we don’t have that right now. I respect the youths and hope they will join voices with me so that we can create an enabling environment that will make it possible for their dreams to become reality and it is only an interim government that will circumvent the political crisis they have established to entrench themselves.
What are the characteristics a Nigerian President of your dream must have?
A man that will lead a nation like Nigeria must have what I call a connectivity of empathy. I will give an example, when Jacob was coming back home with his family, his twin brother met him on the way with 400 men on horse backs and they reunited and exchanged pleasantries. Esau, his brother who came with the 400 men said to him, “Let’s go home.” because he was excited seeing his twin brother whom he hadn’t seen for many years but Jacob made a statement.
He said to Esau, “I have young children with me whose feet are just taking a firm hold and they needed to be guided in their pedestrian experience.” He continued, “You go ahead, I will come with my people at our own pace, we will eventually get to the house.” So he prioritised safety and welfare above progressive velocity. A leader must understand that you are dealing with people of all kinds of infirmities and disabilities and you cannot drive them at a pace that will destroy them, you must walk with them step by step until they come to that place of rest.
How does that translate to what I am saying, one of the things we must do is to create an enabling environment where all Nigerians have the capacity to move from dystopian to utopia where we enact our brotherhood. We must set aside religion and ethnicity, we must begin to remember that we are one and we have one destiny and we need each other as people who can’t do without each other; we are indispensable to one another.
It is that unity that a leader will focus upon because that will eventually produce the nation that he is leading, so that at that point when we sing our National Anthem, it is no longer just a song but it becomes our triumphant canticle, it becomes the mantra of our solemnity. That is the kind of leader we are looking for, a person with a heart and that heart that controls his leadership.
Looking at governance, many Nigerians will tell you that things aren’t rosy; inflation, unprecedented unemployment, lack of electricity, etc, do you think we have a government that is working or a President that understands governance?
What I am seeing here isn’t the persons themselves, it is the system of operation. PDP was in government for about 16 years what difference did it make? Outside of some strides taken by the great President Olusegun Obasanjo, it has been status quo all the way. But what I am saying here is that even if the President has the intention, the system in which he operates can frustrate it.