Opadokun: Our expectations have been dashed
Former General Secretary of the Yoruba socio-political group, Afenifere, and one of the frontline activists in the fight for the actualisation of the June 12, 1993 presidential election, Ayo Opadokun, in this interview with SEYE OLUMIDE, speaks on how politicians have pauperised Nigerians in the last 18 years.
After nearly 20 years of democratic rule, has the country fared better under politicians?
Unfortunately no. Those of us who struggled for democratic government thought that if we succeeded in getting the military to return to the barracks, there would be an opportunity to build a virile nation, and to transform the misfortune, which the military class and their collaborators brought on the country. Our thinking was that we would be able to revive the country socially, economically and politically to improve the standard of living of the people, but that has not been the experience 18 years after the struggle for the actualisation of the June 12, 1993 presidential elections. I can tell you that it is very painful, worrisome and frustrating, and we regret the wasted efforts and sacrifices. Right now, we have not been proven right that what we struggled to get was the best, and our expectations have been dashed.
Socio-economically, we are not yet there; in terms of human services, we are behind. Health, education, security, food security, infrastructure are all in a very poor state. Imagine the billions of money Nigeria has wasted on power supply and yet we are still not getting power. What the Nigerian state offers today as power supply is a deception.
The elite in our society no longer send their children to public schools because of the challenges in the education sector. They rather send them abroad while the masses languish back here. Our human resources are very poor and low because of poor quality education. No nation can develop without viable human resources, and to get that, there must be sound and quality education.
In 18 years of democratic rule, medical services in the country have collapsed and our elite now travel abroad for medical services, where they pay through their noses, while the Nigerian masses are left to their fate. Food is in short supply. When crude oil was our largest and most profitable export, the military mismanaged the profit and neglected agriculture, which is the main stay of our economy. Now, we are still watching the activities of the present government, which is trying to turn our agriculture around in its diversification agenda if it will work.
The greatest undoing of this country is the pervasive nature of corruption, which has affected every sector and institution in the country. The first 16 years of democracy in this country were very traumatic.
All the years of erstwhile presidents Olusegun Obasanjo, Umaru Yar’Adua and Goodluck Jonathan, under the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) were worrisome. At a point the price of oil was so high in the international market and the country was exporting millions of barrels of oil daily with humongous profits, but all that were wasted.
In the power sector, we need to calculate the billions of naira that the different PDP governments spent on power throughout the 16 years yet the story is same today. Thanks to the efforts of the present administration in revving up the power sector. We only hope these efforts would yield the expected results at the end of the day.To sum it up, our democratic journey has not been fair to the people, as the justified expectations from the June 12 struggles have not been met.
Many people are blaming the President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration for the country’s travails, but it will be difficult for me to blame him in any significant manner for our current woes. The country had gone extremely bad before he assumed office. His government inherited bad economic policies, which could not be corrected just like that.
How has the executive has fared?
In the executive arm, the first person to rule from 1999 to 2007 was a retired military general, Olusegun Obasanjo, and he resorted to military approach in his style of governance. He could not tolerate opposition views or constructive arguments. His attitude towards governance was something like an order is an order, and it must be obeyed even when there were better views. Remember, under him, the PDP changed its national chairman almost five times at his behest.
He initiated a programme called palliative measures for the poor, which gulped over N9 billion then and there was nothing to show for it. The poor in Nigeria became poorer.
Obasanjo’s administration took steps that really undermined democracy. For instance, there was a time he ordered that those agitating for restructuring in the South West should be shot at sight. Even the international community, especially the United States was alarmed and had to question the rationale behind the order.
The administration also frustrated the views, moves and strategies of opposition parties using security agents, and Obasanjo ensured that those who took over from him were his nominees.
Perhaps, if the principle of democracy were allowed to determine the presidential primaries of the PDP under his watch, Nigeria would have had a different successor when Obasajo left office. After President Goodluck Jonathan left office, what do we have again, another retired military general? Although, Buhari has been trying his best, but the fact remains we are not yet better. There is still poverty, poor infrastructure and obvious lack of gains of what we expected democracy to yield when we fought for it.
Are we making efforts to deepen democracy?
I would say that democracy has not deepened neither has its institutions. This is not encouraging enough to facilitate citizens’ participation in democracy because the country has really suffered from military hangover.
Whenever the military staged a coup against a civilian administration, they always give reasons for doing so, but I put it to the military that there is nothing that these civilian regimes did that they (military) did not do worse.There are several grave and unpardonable errors that the military committed in government and nobody sent them away. The military even staged more coups against itself than the civilian administration.
Unfortunately, most of the current political operators were military surrogates, loyalist, sympathisers and confederates. They are the core people who made stupendous money from the military.
The electoral umpire or whatever name it has been called since we returned to democratic rule is another terrible institution in the country. This institution has never guaranteed free fair and credible election. I imagine if the electorate could not use their votes to determine their representatives, then whose interest would elected officers serve when they get to office?
How about the judiciary? Has it been doing its best?
The judiciary comes in when politicians use their stupendous money to bribe the election umpire. Politicians sometimes also go ahead to induce the judiciary with money to seal their victories, which in many cases do not represent the wishes and desires of the electorate.
The judiciary has been a disappointment. Once upon a time, it was an institution of glory and that was the reason the Commonwealth struggled to get the best of our justices like, Sir Udo Udoma, Akinola Aguda and the likes. The story is different today as the judiciary is another clog in the anti-graft war.
For instance, the recent instruction by the National Judicial Council (NJC) asking some justices to return to the bench despite the allegation of corruption against them is capable of creating judicial anarchy in the country. I support the position of the Ministry of Justice, which says no.
Would you also say the legislature has not impressed you?
The legislative arm is the greatest disaster that has befallen this country since 1999 when it returned to democracy. This Eighth National Assembly, led by Dr. Bukola Saraki, has failed to live up to expectations of the Nigerian masses. It has abandoned its role of checks and balances on the other arms of the government and is engaging in frivolities, and on issues that are of no significant relevance to the needs of the electorate.
I will trace the flaws of the Nigerian legislative arm to the era of Gen. Murtala Muhammed and Obasanjo. The duo imposed the American system of democracy on Nigeria, but failed to guarantee the essential practice of presidential system that would suit our situation.
We copied the American system, but the United States Congress is an effective check on the executive and the judiciary. Ours is the reverse. Activities of the legislative arm in the last two years have been most worrisome and destructive to our value system.
Under the presidential system, the legislative arm is supposed to be the eyes, ears and the mind of the people. It stands in the gap for the people. For instance the idea of asking ministers and ministries to come and defend their budget has never been done in the interest of the people, but for their own selfish purpose.