‘We must change method of floating, bringing about political leaders’
Professor Robert Dode is a former Head of Department of Political Science, University of Uyo. He spoke with INEMESIT AKPAN-NSOH in Uyo on the 21 years of unbroken democracy in Nigeria and on other touching issues such as insecurity, diversification of the economy, restructuring or constitution review, among others
What is your assessment of 21 years of unbroken democratic rule in Nigeria?
It is unprecedented that Nigeria has had 21 years of unbroken democratic practice after the other republics were aborted by the military with their usual excuses of corruption and mal-administration. But you know, there is what we call the democratic wave that griped the world, especially the developing world in the early 2000, which has almost made undemocratic states treated as pariah entities and with global nature of the world now, no country wants to be put in that category because it comes with a lot of sanctions. So, we can say that Nigeria strolled into that category that period. Consequently, it has, to large extent, sustained between 1999 and now and we have had no less than three to four major elections.
So chronologically speaking, it is kudos to the country but you cannot only talk about the chronological age of a being, but you go beyond that to talk about the achievements of that being or thing. One thing that you cannot take away from a democratic state is the issue of freedom. In fact, one cardinal point people yearn for when they are clamouring for democracy is that the constitution of the country must be restated, that has been done since 1999. But another question is, to what extent have we observed the content of the 1999 constitution, in regards to human freedom and other factors? When democracy started in 1999, especially with (the Olusegun) Obasanjo era, a lot of blunders were observed and those blunders were excused on the grounds that we were experimenting on this. Again, after about 26 years of military rule, you expect what is called military hangover, especially when the commander-in-chief was a retired head of state.
So, there were some breaches there; you still saw some kind of military authoritarianism playing out, but when President Umar Ya’Adua came in we saw some semblance of what a democratic state should be, probably because of his peculiar nature. He was a democrat to the core and Nigeria’s democracy was developing because that is the man that gave every tier of government the free hand to operate in line with the constitutional provision. You must give that to late Musa Ya’Adua. We wish we had many more Ya’Aduas.
Unfortunately, he died even before the end of his first tenure and Dr. Goodluck Jonathan came in and I can tell you a lot of hawks came in with Jonathan. At a point, some of us referred to Jonathan as a ‘captured’ president. In fact, when we talk about cabal, cabals in government are not new; it did not start with the incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari. To some extent, how cabal here has influenced the day-to-day running of the state is what matters. So Jonathan came in, with a few persons with so many others that descended on the national treasury like never before. Their major aim was pilfering. There were few exceptions, but largely speaking, our resources were stashed away in billions of dollars. That was the period Nigeria saw a peak in oil prices to the dollar that were flowing in and flowing out at the same time and then it got to a point that signals were showing that people have lost confidence in you (Jonathan) – just go. But hangers-on still gave him the impression that, look, as long as you pay out more money, you will get second tenure. And that is where the current head of state had the chance, because the people were fed up of what we called ‘Jonathan the sleeping President’.
Now that we are in the current dispensation, 2015 till date, I have to slightly go historical, because I am an historical scholar. I like recalling history so that we don’t make the mistakes that our forebears made. We should have the advantage of having their records so that we can avoid those areas they had shortcomings. From 2015 till date, the question is, how far in terms of the fight against corruption? Whether you like or hate him, you cannot take it away from this administration. When a war becomes a one-man war that is supposed to be a community war, one man’s efforts most times amount to nothing, because when the one man is no longer there, it is like reverting back to status quo. I don’t want to be a pessimist to say that what Mr. President is doing is not going to be sustainable, but to a large extent, that is the truth because the body language of over 80 per cent of those around him shows that once this man is out in 2023, they will continue.
We have seen it, under the strict watching eyes of the President through the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Independent Corrupt Practices and other related Crimes (ICPC), a lot of corrupt activities are still going on in Nigeria. But the joyful thing is that, with the relative posture towards corruption, Nigeria’s rating at international level has increased which is very important. That is why even, if you go and ask for credit now, because of the good rating, they will give. So, in that regard he has shown that there are some leaders that can eschew corruption, leaders that can say, ‘look, we can do without this thing.’ The anti-corruption policy of President Muhammadu Buhari has helped Nigeria to a large extent. We cannot say uhuru yet because an error of one 50 years cannot be corrected in just five years. What I want to believe is that President Buhari is trying to lay a foundation so that whoever takes over from him, if the pace can be sustained, then we can say that Nigeria is already moving towards a less corrupt society as there is no society that is devoid of corruption, not even America. But the way people get emboldened to get involved in corruption is what matters.
At least for now, you have seen an ex-governor go to jail; we can point to senators going to prison, House of Representatives’ members and other military officers and government officials being charged even if not sent to jail, including former Head of Service, Chief Justice, etc. Whether the process was right or not, but at least it shows that there is somebody who has gone into areas where others were so scared to go.
How has the country fared in the area of security?
Insecurity has been a challenge. Again, it is a factor that was inherited by the current administration. The issue of insecurity has become a hydra-headed monster in Nigeria, because it has to do, to some extent, on economic interests. Many people have been dogging away from this reality, but that is the truth. The military architecture has grown to what some call ‘conspiracy theory’ to the point that you have saboteurs within them. You have those who are benefitting from the seemingly Boko Haram activities. Three, four years ago, you can see the scramble in military agencies on how they could be in joint the task forces. Why? It is a huge budget. It has almost become a constant phenomenon in our budget; it would only be resolved when Nigerians are ready to face the fact and say human lives matter more than money.
Many people had thought that General Buhari would perform magic in solving this problem once and for all. It doesn’t work that way. That is what we talk about strong men. Nations that have made it and are still making it are nations with strong institutions, strong cultural background, nations where, irrespective of who sits there, the rules and regulations are clear. The person who sits there is only to press a button; it’s like a pilot; without you there other pilots can move the plane. That has been the major problem with Africa; it is an inherited problem, judging from our traditional upbringing where there were the traditional medicine man who knew what other person did not know and so on and so forth. Now we have brought it into modernity. We have to break away from it if we must make it. In terms of insecurity, I can tell you that some analysts have even argued that we have it more now than during Jonathan’s era and they have their reasons.
Yes, we can say during Jonathan’s era Boko Haram occupied some local government areas than now, but the casualty rate from 2015 to some extent has surpassed those of previous years and it calls for concern even in Covid-19 era. You can still hear about the activities of these people in the North where people are killed, kidnapped under this pandemic. One would have thought that with the lockdown our security forces would have had almost 100 per cent control over our territories.
So these are the issues, even when you hear that there are betrayals even among the security forces, it brings us back to the hierarchy of the armed forces. Many have argued and they have their point, too, that the current service chiefs have overstayed their importance. You can’t keep doing same thing and you expect good result. We hear from records that the Chief of Army Staff is supposed to have retired since two years now. What is he still doing? It still boils down to that concept that he is the only one to do it; he is the only one that knows it. The law should be law. Yes, the president has the discretionary powers to keep someone, one or two years after his retirement. Your keeping the person, is it that the person is productive or just because you just want to keep him?
These are some indices that give this assumption, which may be unfounded, that the president is weak with regards to taking major decisions in these areas. Probably, if the military architecture is rejigged with emphasis on new leadership, we may see a new phase.
Are you surprised that the clamour for restructuring of Nigeria has persisted?
Restructuring means so many things to so many people, although some people don’t want to hear about it at all. When it comes to state governors having control over their states, especially in this era of pandemic, they don’t know that is restructuring. For some people any talk about restructuring, you are just going to what we call fiscal federalism. They don’t even look at any other benefit that accrues to them when the country is restructured. What we really need is true federalism, but they have zeroed it down to this restructuring. True federalism means (I don’t say perfect federalism because there is none anywhere) is said to be true if it is evolved and practised in a way that it suits, to a large extent, the needs of the immediate environment where it is being operated.
For instance, Nigeria’s federal practice should be different from what is practised in Southern Sudan. Why because you have to take the peculiar characteristics of Nigeria into consideration. For example, our multi-ethnic religion and other diversities and strive to ensure some level of equity not equality, where to some extent almost all the ethnic nationalities have some sense of belonging. That is what we are talking about restructuring. So, for us to have that there has to be sincere effort of reviewing the constitution. The recent Executive Order 10 of Mr. President, I don’t hail it; we should not be ruling a country through that. We don’t need presidential orders; we need a constitution. American has a constitution that is well over 200 years old and it has never been changed. That is because the founding fathers were sincere in putting in paper what they know would sustain that democracy for a long time. You should know American practised confederalism for eight years before they converted into federalism.
So, what we need is a working constitution, a constitution that would be realistic and addresses the peculiar nature of Nigeria’s state. That is why when I pick up the constitution and look at the area that says ‘We the people of Federal Republic of Nigeria,’ when did we Nigerians make this constitution, because the nearest I could remember Nigerians made was the 1963 constitution. All other constitutions have been either colonial fiat or military imposition. If we can have a genuine federal constitution all this glamour you are hearing now, all will fizzle away.
Will you advocate the adoption of the recommendations of 2014 national conference?
It was a national conference that was intended to review the constitution. But they killed it; that Obasanjo did not get his own when he did doesn’t mean that the bath water and the baby should be thrown away. Fortunately, we have a volume, whether they like it or not, it is there. The only thing that we couldn’t agree then was the sharing formula. Apart from that, there were many other useful suggestions that have been made, which if brought into practise, most of these agitations would be things of the past. The issues of cheating and marginalization will not be there.
Today, how do you have more than 80 per cent of the service chiefs from one region of the country? No, let’s be realistic; we are talking about human sensibility now. So, I hope as bold and forthright as Buhari is seen to be, in some areas, especially on this issue of presidential orders, he can also be bold to say, ‘let us go back and work on the content of 2014 national conference.’
Recently people have asked, why is 80 per cent of hierarchy employment done into NNPC from one section of the country? And people are justifying it. How do you use that to create a sense of belonging among those who come from the oil-bearing communities and states? And those are the people that would take control of the industry in the next 10 years. These are middle managers; only one region has produced about 80 per cent. Is this a good idea? We are still waiting and hoping to see a de-tribalized, altruistic leader who will say, ‘what was done in 2014 was a fantastic work; we cannot just throw it away, let us revisit it, pull it out and see how it could be infused into the system’.
But I still insist that the permanent solution to these problems would be a genuine constitutional review that is not tele-guided by any person, group or region.
Why has Nigeria not succeeded in diversification of the economy?
It’s not a plague that started in 1999. It started since independence; it got to a peak in the 1980s and early 1990s that took us to General Ibrahim Babagida’s Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP). The mono nature of our economy has to do with countries that depend almost wholly on finance that accrues from natural resources, not only oil. Any country that has not made effort at moving from agriculture to manufacturing is plagued by that disease, because no material at its raw form gives you the best price. A raw material can only be useful when it has been refined, and that has been not just the problem of Nigeria, but the whole of African till date. We have not invested in technology; we have not even decided to improve upon our cultural technology. A lady has done a research using modern irrigation and refined traditional irrigation system. She discovered that the traditional irrigational system produces yield 500 per cent times more than the modern one. She is somewhere in Eastern African.
What has that got to tell us? For too long, we have depended on this product and I tell people that it is a useless product, a product that makes you a renter economy. For instance, no Nigerian government can tell you they know the exact barrel of oil that is produced in this country. I even heard that people have come up with technology that would help us measure, but they have been sidelined by those who profit from the illegal deals that take place in the oil industry.
So, the mono product economy is never a thriving economy. It is always a dependent economy. What we are waiting for is true leadership that would agree that oil is a non-replenishing resource. One day this oil will become useless. Countries are producing cars now that depend on solar; some are only using gas and here we are still talking about oil. So, the oil economy; yes, it has brought in a lot of petro-dollars, but again, do we feel the effect of this petro-dollars? The few who find themselves in the corridors of power siphoned the money back to the source of the money. Yes, some governments have tried since 1999 to 2020; even the Emmanuel Udom government in Akwa Ibom is trying to draw people’s attention to say, ‘let us diversity, let’s go into agriculture, industrialization.’ I was just asking a rhetorical question, why are people calling for the opening of churches, but no one is calling for the opening of industries? Nobody is saying, ‘open the factories in Kano, Kaduna where we used to have textile mills; open factory in Delta, Sapele where we used to have AT&P Plywood, Calabar and so on. Nobody is talking about anything production. But they are shouting, ‘open the church, we are dying.’ It still boils down to this mentality of depending on one product, because we are sure the monthly allocation will come through oil.
But I can assure you that someday when reality dawns on this country (this generation may not be here), but one day Nigerians will pay tax; one day you will know that the London we all glamour has no natural resource, but they have developed their system in such a way that people from every part of the world want to go there – is it tourism, hotel, universities, name it and you want to come from any part of the world; they will encourage you to come. They have seen that the way they can service is that there and then you pay tax. You don’t dare not pay tax in Great Britain, Canada, or even in the America. When Africans go to America, they don’t complain about tax; our argument had always been about adequate infrastructure. Over there, yes, but Rome was not built in a day.
So, don’t let us get to that boiling point; we still have window of grace to salvage the dangers some of us are seeing ahead. We can re-pump the resources coming in through oil into those other avenues and diversity the economy. Most times we point fingers at the government, what about the citizenry? How many of the youth are ready to learn trade, to become apprentice with a wielder, how many are willing to sit with the plumber and learn the trade? Where are Teachers Training Colleges, Technical Colleges, where you trained the craftsmen? Even the oil industries, those they need most are the craftsmen. Not Bachelor in Engineering where you have not even seen wields head before.
My summary is that it is a dangerous trend; we have to change. It is not all about the government; it is about the people. We have to agree that, ‘look, this holiday we are enjoying will not last forever, that a day will come that, like every other nation, we have to resort to another source of income. Let us go back to the farms; let us revive and build more industries. Let us encourage the craftsmen and women; let us encourage people to use their hands. Almost every day I pass by Uyo village road, and I see the waste that is supposed to be wealth wasting there. We look away from these things. Even from waste we can derive energy. So, we are pleading today that our economy should be diversified. A time will come it will not be a plea; it will dawn on us that either we go to the farms and industries or we perish.
What is the way forward for Nigeria?
Our leaders should think Nigeria first. This mentality of trying to grab money (the primitive culture of accommodation), even your fourth generation will not exhaust and at times they don’t even have access to it because the foreign banks you keep them, when you die, the password is gone. The Nigerian leadership, please try to be altruistic for once; they should be posterity-conscious. If you go to America and others, they are not thinking about 2023; they are already in 2050. That is what is called generation cars. No body there is thinking about how to pack money and stash it somewhere. The other day I saw where Boris Johnson lives; journalists went to visit him, he brought out tea by himself and served them. You can see his house; it is the same life. You don’t need a bulletproof vehicle to be relevant.
Let our leaders please engineer our governance style. So many people who are in government today yesterday had no business being in government. People can join you to campaign, please let governance not be used as avenue for political settlement; we should have gone beyond that stage by now. That is one thing I give to former President Olusegun Obansanjo, to some extent. Once he heard that a Nigerian was shining somewhere, he would bring them in; that is the mind of a leader who sees tomorrow, not a leader who just sees now, because whether you like or not, you are just there on a transit; very soon you will leave that office and whatsoever you do in that office would be counted either for or against you.
Seriously, we want to also plead that the recruitment system should change. Leaders should begin to think of bringing square pegs into square holes. This issue of compensation should stop; let’s set out criteria for leadership. In America today, there is no way you can be American president, where you are not a graduate of Economics and Political Science, Law, where you have not proven your mettle in one field or the other. I used to say we are grieving. This country is 60 years old, but democracy is 21 unbroken years. The time is ripe; I don’t mind when one George Bush Jr., four years prior one George Bush Senior was president. What I am looking for the future of our children is having square pegs in square holes so that these leakages we have being having will stop.
I hope someone will not take offence about that; politics should no longer be seen as a career, but as a game where those fully engaged in one career or another come to serve the nation and then go back. This issue of moving from local government to House of Assembly, to Representatives, back as governor, then go back as senator and then president. This is wrong. This is part of the problem with Nigeria. And you see them sitting in the Senate for four years, nobody hears your voice, no bill; you are only credited with seconding motion, of being a member of a lucrative committee. That is not a good record. We have come to a place where we are now global players and to be effective in the global economy, you must put forward the best eleven, if not it would be the same vicious circle as it has been from the beginning.I want to wish our democracy well, our leaders well. 2023 is around; it is time for social cum political re-engineering. We must change the method we use to float and bring about our political leaders.
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