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Ekekwe: Big parties confusing populace, small parties offering no sustainable alternatives

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Ekekwe

The immediate past Director of Claude Ake Centre for Governance, University of Port Harcourt, Prof Eme Ekekwe, is an expert in political theory and political economy. In this interview with KELVIN EBIRI, he argued that even though presidential candidates and their parties have outlined their programmes and policies, there were no clearly designed blueprints to actualise them. According to him, both the APC and the PDP are simply shouting at each other, spreading falsehood, while the smaller parties do not offer sustainable alternatives.

What is your assessment of the policies and programmes of the contending political parties in the buildup to the 2019 polls?

My assessment of the candidates, especially the two major ones is that we have a situation of six and half a dozen; different labels, different faces, but in terms of their vision for the country, I don’t really see any difference.

Those who are in the APC, or those who are in the PDP are all in one family. They all come from the same social class.

There is nothing wrong with being from the same social class, but they have within that class the same tendency to see Nigeria as a corporate entity not as a political entity.

A corporate entity in the sense that it is something they can own; they think the country is theirs.

A political entity is one that belongs to the people and you are seeking to respond to the needs of the people. They want to run Nigeria the way an owner runs his company.

Efficiency is good and there is nothing wrong with being efficient, but when they talk about their programmes, you don’t see any planning behind those programmes.

When you don’t have plans, the degree of efficiency that you are going to achieve is very little. They do not, in my opinion, understand what the causes of the country’s problems are.

It is true all of them talk about unemployment; they talk about poor economy, they talk about poor education system, and the lack of infrastructure, but what are the basic causes and how are they going to tackle them? I don’t see them responding to that question.

The Nigeria we run, I have always maintained, is not Nigeria’s Nigeria; it is Britain’s Nigeria.

We have not yet asked ourselves how do we develop a country that will respond to the needs of the people as opposed to a country that responds to the needs of the capital. Capital is important and should not be ruled out, but you must put the people before the capital.

When you put capital before the people, what will be important to you will be mirco-economic figures, but not the impact of those figures on the people.

I really do not see any difference between the major parties in contention.

So, there is a presumption among the major presidential candidates that it is now a matter of muscles, and not of brains; this is what is going to determine the presidential race, and not your ability to convince the people.

We also seem to have this impression that certain spaces will necessarily belong to certain political parties, whereas liberal democracy stipulates that it is one man, one vote.

In other words, you have to get the consent of each individual, but once you sit in one place and say this state will go this party, that state will go that party, that is why you and I see very little activities because they have already presumed that certain political entities will belong to them by hook or by crook.

So, they don’t need to worry to convince you and I about what they will do when they are in office.

The other side of it is that, those who are outside the parties have, unfortunately nursed this orientation that we are available to be bought with dollar, rice, clothes etc.

During the Christmas season in my part of the country, I saw a lot of movement of rice, clothes, and money, but there was very little that the actors had to say about what they would do to fix bad roads; how they intend to send children back to school; how they are going to revive the economy so that our children can get jobs.

Generally we are concerned about unemployment, but what are the mechanisms for growing the economy so that employment opportunities would be created?

What are the salient issues that are missing in political parties’ programmes?

The people are missing. The political parties that we have in Nigeria are elite parties in the sense that very few people belong to them, and there are only a handful of people who make the decisions.

When they hold party congresses, they only go there to trade numbers, and not to discuss ideas, direction, possible policies and so on.

So, the people constitute what is missing in political parties’ programmes, and that is why there is very little campaign going on.

We the people have compromised because it is very easy to buy us over, even some people of my status will be interested in appointments and not ideas.

If you are running a political entity, you must be bothered about the needs of the people, and that was why politicians like Obafemi Awolowo, Nnamdi Azikwe and others went round the country campaigning in rural areas.

When a man talks to you face-to-face, you are able to assess his quality, but when he is talking to you on television or via the social media, you cannot assess those things, and we still live in a society that is based on one-on-one interaction. This is crucial to both our economics and politics.

Recently, President Muhammadu Buhari declared that Nigeria’s economy was in dire straits. Do you see any of the parties with any workable blueprint to revive the economy?

I think it depends on what one is looking for. I am happy in a way that President Buhari came out to say that the economy is in bad shape because somebody in his position would have tried to cover it up. That bad economy they said did not start today.  

When Buhari came in his first term, he said we needed to fight corruption. He reckoned that if we fought corruption, the money we will recover would restore confidence into the system.

Unfortunately, his fight against corruption has been severely limited.

The PDP does not talk much about corruption, but on privatising the oil sector and how to create jobs. All those things are generalities.

How did we get to create so much unemployment?

Unemployment did not begin under APC. We need to go back to the history of our economy. Our economy is based on a series of commodities of which crude oil is the basic.

The question should be, ‘how do we move from a commodity to a manufacturing economy? We produce so much oil, but how do you begin to process it here?

The APC is talking about privatising it, which to me is okay. But again we should ask ourselves, what are we privatising?

Are we privatising the export of raw materials, which is where Nigeria was in 1960, or are we talking about the privatisation of a manufacturing process?

PDP from their economic recovery plan and what we have heard so far in their campaign is also interested in the oil sector. They have also talked about agriculture, but how do you galvanise the population to be involved in agriculture? Is it by capitalist agriculture, which is what they are doing?

As I listen to them, I don’t see coherence in the way unemployment links to lack of infrastructure, electricity and good education.

There should be intellectuals in the parties who should have done these analyses, then sit down with the principal political actors to say these are the problems and these are the present clear alternatives to tackle them. I don’t see any of that.

Everybody talks about growth, but what are the necessary plans, programmes and policies that will bring about that growth?

The smaller parties are hardly there. Personally, I cannot tell you this is where the programmes of the small parties are different from that of the major parties.

Insecurity is one major issue plaguing the country at the moment. Do the parties have a realistic policy to tackle this challenge?

I don’t think any of them has something new in this regard. What we have been doing about insecurity is throwing more and more money, men and weapon at the problem. We have not asked ourselves what are the basic causes of this problem.

In a country where you have so much unemployment, so much injustice, no proper vision and direction that the people can look up to, you are bound to have degrees of alienation, which ultimately lead to the kind of reactions that we see.

The basic thing that is lacking in Nigeria today is social and political justice.

To bring about social and political justice, you have to dismantle the power structure that exists and re-assemble it. That means some people are going to lose certain advantages.

If you are talking about insecurity in the Niger Delta, you cannot solve it by throwing money at former militants.

In fact, doing so makes the situation worse because you are creating room for others to join, knowing that one-day when they become big boys in the business they too would also be getting contracts.

What should have been done was to return a certain degree of equity into the system, and then take another look at the issue of ownership of oil.

Why should the country make oil a natural resource when other minerals are not declared natural resource? If they are, why are we not running them the same way that we run oil? If you go to the North East, you will ask yourself where all the money that politicians claim to have invested there have gone to.

Every year we declare that we are planting trees, yet desertification is driving people away.

If you go to the South East, you would find out that despite what the people have done after the civil war, they are still seen as persona non-grata in certain offices of government.

Until you have a leader who is ready to tackle these problems of injustice; of lack of equity, they will remain there.

By throwing money, weapons at insecurity, you are creating a niche where some people make a lot of money and develop an interest that insecurity should stay.

Boko Haram did not happen over night; there was a basic cause for it. Even though the president is trying, the sad thing is that our men are dying.   

Based on the prevailing scenario, it seems the 2019 polls will not usher a new political and economic order in Nigeria?

I quite frankly don’t see any remarkable thing coming out from the 2019 elections because the major contending parties don’t give me hope that something is going to be different.

But then, I am one of those who believe that every situation has a contradictory element in it, and it is just possible that that contradictory element could assert itself.

It is possible that an Atiku or Buhari administration could just say, ‘so they think we won’t do it, lets really show them that we have what it takes to bring about a re-engineering of Nigeria,’ but if it is running Nigeria as it is now, it is very bad business and a challenge for anybody.

In 2014, I was one of those who believed that we should give Buhari the opportunity because he is a disciplined man and one that is capable of taking us in the direction that we needed to go, but between ill health and some other personal weaknesses in my opinion, we didn’t see that progress.

It is possible for a man like that to come back and say I believe I can carve my name in gold since this is the last opportunity that I have.

In general, I don’t think we have found a new party that will take us in a new direction. We need to go in a new direction if we are to get out of unemployment, bad economy and infrastructural deficit.

Nigeria is now the poverty capital of the world. Are there parties proffering solutions on the way out of this?

Not as much as I think. In the past our economy grew in one sector- export of crude oil, but the price of crude worldwide has come down and certain discoveries in the United States will even make the situation worse.

We produce oil, how do we begin to process it so that we get other products that will now create jobs and put money into people’s pocket? What the government has done, which worsened the picture and now turned us to poverty capital of the world is that a lot of slush money that were in the system is no longer there.

The basic poverty that was there has simply now become evident.

For, neither the APC nor the PDP has really sat down to say this is the basic cause of this problem, both of them are simply shouting at each, spewing falsehood, thereby confusing the general populace.

At the end of the day, it is the better rigger who can better cover their legal tracks in the process that the court will pronounce the winners when they end up in court.

Would you then say that the smaller parties offer a glimpse of hope in terms of their policies and programmes?

I have little understanding of those smaller parties save for certain individuals in those parties like Prof Kingsley Moghalu, who has been in the Central Bank, who brings a certain broad view.

Donald Duke has been a governor, if we saw nothing else during his governance, there was a certain sense of humility in governance and understanding that you belong to the people and you must work with the people.

Oby Ezekwesili has been involved in some issues and in my opinion she has not cared much for her comfort.

She has identified certain issues that she has stood up for and she also has that global economic understanding. They as individuals will tend to give me hope, but lets be honest, they have no chance in 2019. Absolutely none.

Sadly for me, the individuals in the presidential race who I thought would have brought fresh wind, that is Ezekwesili, Duke, and to some extent, Moghalu are people that, in my opinion, have not pulled their resources, their ideas and their followings to give us that kind of orientation that will set them apart in a distinctive way from the APC and the PDP.

I would have been happier if they and others including Olisa Agbakoba, Femi Falana had come together to plan not for 2019, but for the next 10 years so we can begin to do mobilisation.

Until you we get to where parties will settle for ideological tendencies, we are going to continue to have the chaos that we have now. That chaos out of which comes new ideas, we have not created or tolerated either.

I don’t think the smaller parties are in any position to offer us a credible alternative and they won’t make any impact in the 2019 election.  

QUOTE
The Nigeria we run, I have always maintained, is not Nigeria’s Nigeria; it is Britain’s Nigeria.

We have not yet asked ourselves how do we develop a country that will respond to the needs of the people as opposed to a country that responds to the needs of the capital.

Capital is important and should not be ruled out, but you must put the people before the capital.

When you put capital before the people, what will be important to you will be mirco-economic figures, but not the impact of those figures on the people.


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