- Says ‘Nigerians’ll not forgive him if he fails’
Chief Frank Ovie Kokori is an elder statesman and one of the heroes of the June 12, 1993 presidential election. In this interview with select journalists, the labour activist, and former Secretary General of the Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers, has charged the incoming government of Bola Ahmed Tinubu to, as a matter of urgency, reengineer Nigeria, particularly in the area of sound economic policies. He also reveals the secret of his firm grip on Nigeria’s politics. Excerpts:
What are your expectations from the incoming government of Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu?
My expectation is that he should re-engineer the whole polity of this country because for the past eight years of the APC government and the previous People’s Democratic Party government, Nigeria has not only been retrogressing but things have also been very bad for the ordinary people. So, he should re-engineer Nigeria, especially in the area of economic hardship. Nigerians are not doing well economically; the poverty level is so strong and people are always finding it difficult to meet the basic daily responsibilities to their families. And then you talk about insecurity that has become almost impossible to solve by this government and the previous governments. To me, it is a shame that Nigeria at this stage of development, 63 years after independence, still has the problems of unknown bandits killing people anyhow and kidnapping. For me, it does not make any sense when you say 300 children are kidnapped by bandits from a secondary school and they are taken away just like that without any resistance from any quarters. How can you carry 300 children from anywhere in Nigeria, especially in the North and the security is there with their acclaimed satellite surveillance and everything and you escape?
These are impossible things. And some of them have happened, like the kidnap of the Chibok girls, the kidnap of school children from Kaduna Kaduna, Yauri in Kebbi State and other places, and those kidnapped from the train in Kaduna among others and these are happening in the North where there is really no thick forest. Even the much-talked about Sambisa, there is no forest in Sambisa. So, how do these people continue to escape the surveillance of the Nigerian security? For me, these are signs of the failure of the government. The promise of security, economy and corruption, which were the three cardinal campaign mantras of the APC, was not kept.
They said the PDP could not do anything. They were so corrupt that Buhari had to come in to retrieve the country, but things have not improved at all. So, Tinubu has an uphill task in the coming government to fight all these things. And in Nigeria today, there is so much nepotism such that the ordinary person who has no connection in government does not get anything. We want a Nigeria that survives on merit. People get what they deserve, and not what they can get through connection. In our time, we go for interviews and we get jobs; you don’t have to know people. But these days, it is so unfortunate that the old generation has destroyed everything. So, these are some of the basic things that we expect from the incoming government; you can’t talk of the whole Nigeria’s problem in one fell swoop.
Do you think that Tinubu can make any difference, especially in the areas of economy, insecurity and the fight against corruption as you have pointed out?
The truth is that he is a more serious person. Tinubu is a tactician and he is a team worker. We have an outgoing president that is so secluded from the people; taciturn and you rarely can talk with him or meet him. Tinubu is a more open person and I think that is why he has been successful all through his political struggles and life endeavours. Tinubu is a lucky Nigerian and he should be grateful to Nigerians, just like people like Olusegun Obasanjo and Muhammadu Buhari who are so lucky. So, Tinubu has gained from Nigeria; he believes that this is the time for him to give to Nigerians what he has gained from Nigeria in his twilight years. Those of us who have known him for a very long time believe that he will do far better, and if he fails, there is going to be a problem. And there is this issue of true federalism, which has been on since the days of the June 12 struggle. You can call it decentralization, restructuring, true federation or call it any name, but just let the various states have real autonomy. That is what Nigerians want so that there will be competition among the states; there is no competition among the states currently. Everybody just goes to Abuja to hang around. No governor thinks of economic planning; half of them are looters. They don’t care; they just go and get money from Abuja and loot. No development in their states; most of the states are a disgrace.
How can you be leaving everything to the Federal Government and you say you are the chief executive officer of a state? We are always talking about the Federal Government; what about the money going to states and local governments? So, Nigeria should be well confederated and let us see real competition like what happened in the First Republic between the East, North and West. I think that should be one of his first priorities; we expected that Obasanjo would do that but he did not. Jonathan did not do that and Buhari does not want to hear about that either. So, if Tinubu does not do that properly, his constituency mainly, the South West will not forgive. The South West is more vocal about the decentralization of Nigeria even more than the South East. It is just recently that the eastern agitators started, if not, from the word go, it was Chief Obafemi Awolowo who really wanted decentralization and that was how he was able to do some wonders in his time. So, when the military brought Nigeria together, they destroyed the competitive spirit of Nigerians, and that is what we are suffering today. So, I know that Nigerians will watch Tinubu for the first four years. Nigerians are now wiser. Elections are fairer.
The Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) has done wonders. So, all those inflated figures you hear in elections will not be there any longer; people’s votes will count. So, any politician who wants to come back after the first four years, will always think very well this time because there will be no rigging or manipulation of elections. The BVAS has done many wonders and that is why many politicians were humiliated, including governors. So, I am a patriot, but I am disillusioned with the development of Nigeria. I am old enough; very old and I know what we went through when we were young in the 50s, 60s and 70s. I have worked in strategic places in the country and I know what working in those places and serving the public was. We were accountable but these days, there is so much cheap money for the few and Nigeria has gone to the dogs. Young people no longer think; they no longer have serious ambition. The only ambition they have is how to make money and enjoy themselves. Nobody thinks of how Nigeria can be better. In our times, we read books; we followed the trends in the country and the whole world. We were reading to know what was happening all over the world. Most Nigerian children these days don’t know what is happening outside their little, limited spheres of life. We read newspapers, listened to news and analysed events. When we were in the universities, we went to the library; we discussed and engaged in serious social and political activities. And they were all good things we were doing; nobody was thinking of cultism or killing. How can you just kill your fellow student? Some people will go and kill 60 people and say they are bandits; no, these things don’t look right. Nigerians now worship the demon; the god of money; that is materialism.
“Tinubu is a more open somebody and I think that is why he has been successful all through his political struggles and life endeavours. Tinubu is a lucky Nigerian and he should be grateful to Nigerians”
Some members of the APC have been mounting pressure on the Labour Party and its Presidential candidate, Peter Obi, to withdraw their case in court. What do you make of that and how do you see the ongoing presidential election litigation?
Political rivals will normally make moves but that does not mean they will do the right thing. The LP has gone to court. The PDP has also gone to court. The APC has also gone to court, so let us wait for the outcome. Actually, the judiciary should have learnt their lessons. I believe they will be fair because the whole country is looking at them. We don’t need to have some strange or magic decisions from the Supreme Court; we don’t need it. Our Supreme Court should be very mature. I remember the days of Justices Kayode Eso, Charles Onyeama, Chukwudifu Oputa and all those great judges. Nigeria was great then. So, we need those standards of judges, who will be patriotic enough to give right judgments. Nothing destroys the society like injustice; so if the police in Nigeria are good and the judiciary is good, we will have a better country.
To me, there are so many bad eggs in the police; but there are also the good ones. The judiciary is the same thing. Look at the cases we see, even from Britain where Nigerians are being convicted. In Nigeria, they can never be convicted. I have stayed in Nigerian prison for four years and when you go there, it is only small, petty thieves that you see there. People who steal goats, little things or those fighting are those you will see in the prison; you can’t see big criminals there. You will never see big men in prison because there is no deterrent in the country.
What is your impression about the APC’s move to select the leadership of the National Assembly? Recently, the party’s anointed president of the Senate, Godswill Akpabio visited the LP secretariat to solicit the support of the LP senators-elect. What is your impression of this?
What is the business of Nigerians in the internal affairs of a political party? They have no business really. The party actually is to organize itself and know what they want that is better for them and that is why it is a political party and if you join a political party, you must be ready to follow the rules of that political party. The day you decide that you are not ready to obey the rules of the party, then, you quit the party or you are expelled. So, if some of them don’t behave and follow the line of the party, then, they go for a free contest. Thank God the judiciary is an independent arm of government. That should not be an issue to bother Nigerians; it is an issue that should bother the APC and the National Assembly members; anybody they like, let them be appointed to lead them. All they are doing, visiting other parties is campaigning; it is all about self-interest. Why is Akpabio a politician? He is a politician because of his ambition and personal interest.
Politicians are bothered about self-interest. Ninety per cent of Nigerian politicians are not there for service; they are there for self-aggrandizement, the money they can make. And because of the long situation of military rule and corrupt government, the younger generation has now decided to follow suit. Those who grew up in the colonial era and in the First Republic, their moral standards are far higher than the present generation. The present generation can become billionaires overnight. Somebody who was a gatekeeper can just come out and in two years’ time, he would be driving one of the biggest and most expensive cars, buying expensive properties and nobody checks.
There is a belief in some quarters that Nigeria today is more divided than ever before. How would you want the incoming president to forge unity among Nigerians so that everybody can coexist in peace and harmony?
To live together in peace is the prayer of everybody. He is a president and an old politician, so he knows what to do to bring Nigerians together. And once there is justice and equity in any society, there will be peace and development. What destroys a society is injustice and tyranny. That is why in Christendom, the greatest service to God is to fight against tyranny and injustice. That is a mantra: Fight against injustice. That is what the whole country needs. You can’t just go and kill an innocent person and take advantage of the small things you have to escape justice. So, as an elder statesman, that is my advice to the incoming president.