Kokori: This democracy allows graft everywhere
• Legislature, A serious Drawback
Former General Secretary of the Nigerian Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG), and a prominent figure in the struggle to re-validate the June 12, 1993 presidential election, which was annulled by Gen. Ibrahim Babangida, Chief Frank Kokori, in this interview speaks on the country’s democratic sojourn. He spoke to SEYE OLUMIDE.
It does appear that Nigerians are not getting their fair share of democratic dividends. Do you think otherwise?
WHAT can we do? Most of us who participated in the June 12, 1993 struggle that led to the enthronement of democracy, and the exit of the military from government are already disillusioned with the way things are going.
Nevertheless, we still give thanks to God that we saw an end to military dictatorship in Nigeria, which from my point of view is a big gain. What else can we point to apart from that? The country is not running, as it should principally because of corruption. If we can kill corruption, every other thing will fall in line in this nation, and all institutions of government would function properly. The type of democracy we have today allows governors to steal, likewise ministers, local government chairmen, lawmakers and civil servants. Graft is just everywhere.
This is not the type of country we imagined when we participated actively and staked everything we had in the struggle for democracy. This is never the type of Nigeria we had in mind. It is very painful.
We were thinking that President Muhammadu Buhari, would be able to tackle corruption and at least free the country to move ahead, unfortunately his frail health condition has not permitted that. Now, the president is handicapped by both his state of health and by the cabal surrounding him. I strongly believe that if we are able to kill that monster called corruption, this country will thrive. That democracy is not working as expected today is due to nothing other than corruption.
How would Nigerians get their fair share of dividends of democracy when corruption is mopping up the benefits and gains of the process? Is it that Nigeria has not been making money, or there are no resources both natural and human? No. Corruption in every facet of our national life is the bane of our struggle. We thank God the country still exists and there are hopes that one day we will recover and progress.
Any regrets over your participation in the June 12 struggle?
Yes and no. Regret because this is not what we hoped to get when we were in the trenches fighting to ensure that the military leaves government. But I am also happy that we succeeded in getting the military out of government and democracy is still on 18 years after. I wouldn’t have been happy if the military had returned to power as that would have meant that we struggled in vain.
On the whole, June 12 was a good struggle, but it was truncated because of greed; it was destroyed because the country has always been ruled by self-centered people. I am disillusioned and disappointed because I started the struggle for good governance in my 20s and today I am above 70. What can I point at? But whether anybody likes it or not, June 12 is still a watershed in this country.
It is obvious that our institutions are not strong enough to help deepen democracy.
Let me start from the judiciary, which is the last hope of the common man in any democratic setting. There are good and bad ones among our judges, but the activities of the bad ones, who collaborate with other arms of government and politicians appear to have overwhelmed the good ones. Therefore, that institution is not performing as expected. We need to do something drastic to free the judiciary from corruption. Imagine the implications of having a corrupt judicial system in a nation?
On the side of the executive, former President Olusegun Obasanjo did all that was needed to tackle corruption in the country. He started on a good footing when he established the EFCC and ICPC, but he was dissuaded by his ambition for third term in office. That notwithstanding, we must commend Obasanjo because he did his best.
Erstwhile, President Umaru Yar’Adua, also made some efforts but he could not sustain it. At 56, he became president and we placed a lot of hope in him to do something concrete, but he also suffered ill health and died midway in his first term. It was an unfortunate scenario.
But for former President Goodluck Jonathan, those around him capitalised on his weakness to plunge the country into a deep mess. We supported Buhari in 2015 because we felt he could do it based on his antecedents, but here we are again. The circumstances surrounding the executive arm have always been unfortunate.
So, in summary, Buhari’s ill health is affecting his fight against corruption; Obasanjo could have done better but failed; Yar’Adua died; forget Jonathan.Coming to the legislature, there is no difference. To me those that constitute this arm of government are only interested in appropriating things for themselves. I am not saying they are all bad, but no matter how good you are when you get to the National Assembly, you get disillusioned.
Among the lawmakers, we have lawyers, journalists, human rights activists and labour people, but what impact have they made? The truth is that our National Assembly is like a cult where even the good ones are indoctrinated. The legislative arm is a serious drawback to Nigeria.
Lets look at other institutions, like the security agencies, anti-corruption bodies, health and education institutions and the rest. Which of them can we boast is corruption free? Even the electoral umpire is affected by corruption. If the electorate is not guaranteed that their votes would count, what then are we talking about?
Lately, we have been hearing of hidden billions of naira and dollars in buildings, septic tanks and all such irritating things. All these are not encouraging to democracy. If you also examine the activities of our governors in the last 18 years, you will find out that majority of them were busy doing what they want to do.
Do you share the views of those calling for the restructuring of the country, as recommended by the 2014 National Conference?
I agree totally that some good points were raised in the 2014 National Conference recommendations. That notwithstanding, we still need political will to implement whatever was recommended. In fact, Obasanjo ought to have convened a national conference in 2000, but because of his interest, he didn’t do it until 2005 when his administration was winding up. At the end, the entire efforts was wasted on the altar of his third term ambition. Jonathan too had the opportunity to call for a national conference earlier, but he waited till 2014, a year to the general election, that was after five years in office. It would be good if the current government can at least take a look at the recommendations of the conference. However, I don’t think that restructuring will solve all the challenges in this country.
So, what is the way forward?
All arms and tiers of government must sit tight, including the media, civil society groups and the rest. We have struggled to achieve democracy and terminate military incursion into politics. We therefore, need to go back to the struggle for good governance. Let me also add that elections in the South South and South East have been compromised since 1999, particularly in Delta State.
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