By Dapo Akinrefon & Charles Kumolu
NO DOUBT this is not the best of times for Nigerians. Before now virtually every aspect of the countryâ€™s life has beenÂ dysfunctional. But capping this quagmire with an â€˜offshoreâ€™ president, has become a nightmare. Hence the nation seems to be drifting to doom.
In this interview with Vanguard, Kenneth Gbagi, a former Chairman of Legal Aid Council,LAC, lampooned members of the National Assembly for their reluctance to address the recent abnormalities in the country. He also regretted the actions and inactions of the Attorney General, regarding the Presidentâ€™s absence and spoke on other national issues.
By Dapo Akinrefon & Charles Kumolu
For over 60 daysÂ President Umar Musa Yarâ€™Adua has been away for medical treatment. And his absence has created a vacuum that is overheating the polity. What is your view on the apparent pranks being played by the presidency to prevent the Vice President Goodluck Jonathan from taking the seat of the president in acting capacity?
The question is, would there have been any vacuum? The constitution is clear on situations like this. Why we have this ugly situation is because the members of the Senate and House of Representatives do not know their onions. If they actually merited being members of the legislature, they would realise the economic implication of leaving the nation in this situation. Oh God , its quite bad.
I pray that they realise that they are toying with the future of about one hundred and forty million people. Some of those ministers donâ€™t know what they are doing. They lobbied for their position that is why they are more interested with ravaging the nation and protecting their job. They could not question why the president wasÂ not able to authorise the Vice president to act for him.
And this is a nation that is not their private property. These people were able to get the man sign an appropriation bill, while they were not able to tell him that the nation is grounded.Â So, everything about the country is going down. Unless good people are on board we will not have it right.
We need people, who are ready to take responsibility for this nation. These are people who are ready to abide by the constitutional provisions on leadership. The problem here is that we have not been called to questioning and it is about time we bring to book the leaders that have failed this country. And those that have tempered with the treasury of the country, as well as those who have become lame ducks should not be spared.
Does it mean that you support the calls for popular revolution as a way out?
We need good leaders like the few we had in the past. If you remember Alex Ibru was made a minister, Onagoruwa was a minister and they never lobbied to become ministers. The question is those, who lobbied throughÂ mallams and other means, did that because they believe they can loot the treasury.
If not why would they go extra length to be made ministers. If you go back to their backgrounds, you will discover that they are nothing. They have neither been captains of industries or have employed anybody before. We call them white colar job seekers.
There is a recent article by a former United States Ambassador to Nigeria, which in a way spelt doom for this country, if the present leadership lacuna is not addressed. What is you take on it?
With the Mutallab situation and the way these people are preventing Dr Goodluck JonathanÂ from acting, there is no personÂ charged with the instrument of authority that can take Nigeria serious. There was no body PresidentÂ Obama could speak to. It is unfortunate that the few good leaders we have are always rubbished. I hope you know what happened to General OluwoleÂ Rotimi, Nigeriaâ€™s former Ambassador to the US.
He was among the two people cleared by the Murtala administration to be honest and descent Nigerians. He was found not corrupt as a former governor of the defunct Western Region. In fact one of my closest friends blamed him accepting that post. The person questioned how he could accept the post from children, who will later mess him up. He told Gen Rotimi, that, when he(Rotimi) was a military administrator, most of the people in the upper and lower house were not even in the university.
From the account we got, Rotimi did not allow them to steal money which they wanted to loot from Nigeriaâ€™s purse in America. That was the inside storyÂ why Rotimi was removed. The president himself had apoligised. In fact he did not know what happened when they brought the papers for Rotimiâ€™s recall.
Do you think that the Ministry of External Affairs has performed very well before and during this period of leadership vacuum?
With due respect to my learned colleague, Chief Ojo Maduekwe, who is the Minister of External Affairs, that ministry has suffered a tremendous setback. And Nigeria has been brought to the most disrespectful state of affairs. What I am trying to say is that we must holistically look into the state of the nation. The way we are going and the speed at which we are running into destruction callÂ for much concern.
Some are seeing this refusal to allow the Vice President to actÂ as a northern ploy. It is alleged that the North is not disposed to a Southern president following PDPâ€™s zoning system. What is your view on it?
Let me use this medium to sound a serious warning that we have a constitution and those who do not believe in it abinitio have the right to secede. When you go back to history, you will discover that the constitution was forced on us by a Northerner, who was then a military head of state. That constitution was the legal frame work upon which Yarâ€™Adua was sworn in.
And he swore to defend it honestly and faithfully. To me I donâ€™t believe in anything called northern oligarchy. People of various tribes and ethnic groups came together to submit to the constitution of this country. Therefore, speaking as a lawyer, I would say that the constitution is clear on who succeeds the president. Whether any oneÂ likes it or not, the constitution remains supreme.
And it remains the legal framework to which we all operate. Our constitution made it clear about what will happen, in the event of incapacitation. If it is the Vice president that is also the incapacitated, the President is empowered to appoint a vice. If there is anything like northern angle to it as people claim, I must warn that Nigeria must not be taken for granted.
A singular irresponsible act can bring Nigeria to an end. And I say with caution that Nigeria is a fragile republic that does not deserve what is happening now. We should be seen to be going forward in this fragile arrangement we inherited from Britain. We need to stop talking about north, south and west dichotomy. Any attempt to neglect the constitution, as we are seeing now, would have an unpleasant consequence for this nation.
What then do you think Nigerians can do to avert the present crisis?
First, we should understand that the state called Nigeria belongs to the citizens. The people gave the power to lead to the President. How long shall we continue in this servitude and slavery. We cannot continue with this lawlessness. All these people have houses abroad. In the event of chaos, they will run away and the masses will suffer. And I am saying that it is about time the masses stand up for this nation.
In America the law is respected and if you disrespect it, you will be brought to book no matter who you are. We should even thank God that the military boys are calmÂ now, because we have never had it this bad. What I am saying is that we should not have disgraced ourselves in a manner we have chosenÂ now. And the masses must stand up because the nation belongs to them even more than the leaders we have today.
The actions and inactions of Nigeriaâ€™s Attorney General is believed to be inimical to the current situation. In fact many have alleged that the nationâ€™s saddest problem is the minister of justice.Â Do you think the attorney general has actually helped to address this issue?
If you recall the Attorney General met me as the Chairman of the legal Aid Council. He is among the recipients of the awards I gave then as chairman. Any body who has attained the level of a senior advocate of Nigeria, has some level of expectations from the public.
I took over as chairman from the current chairman of NBA Rotimi Akeredolu as chairman. What I sawÂ when current,AGF, came in was not encouraging. If you look at how he became a minister, you will not be surprised with what is happening now. He came in destroyed the greatest achievement of Nigeria, which is EFCC.
Through his actions EFCC ceased from being what it used to be. Those who foisted him on Nigerians knew that EFCC would go after them. That is why he was planted there to protect the interest of his masters. Today Aoandooka is playing with our intelligence, but I am sure he would pay a price for all these. He will pay for the destruction of rule law. He would also pay for letting those, who had access to public funds loot the treasury. With this kind of conduct, some people are asking if he is truly a lawyer or SAN.
All the attorney generals in the world are questioning his conduct. It is a shame. This country is bigger than any individual and its high time we put this nation before personal interest. Aoandoakaâ€™s time will come. Do not forget that we lawyers will always be there for this nation when every system failed.
Having said all these where do we go from here?
We are in a democracy. According to Fela ours is demonstration of craze. EvenÂ in a situation like that, there is need for decency. It is unfortunate. It is bad that no sane person can be proud of neither the president, governor or local government chairman in Nigeria. It is from that point thatÂ I suggest that we either retire ourselves to God. I know that Nigerians have so much trust in God.
We either retire ourselves to God for him to plead for us, because a lot of us have sinned and come short of the glory of God. And that is why we need Godâ€™s forgiveness and grace. This is the time for the people to seek the face of God so that our land will be healed. If we donâ€™t do that this country will go into extinction.
People should run to God to bring back Nigeria into the committee of nations because we have become irrelevant among nations. It is bad that we donâ€™t have a grip on things that affect us. The education minister, I believe does not know how many schools we have in Nigeria. Same applies to other heads of prastatals, who donâ€™t know the number of their staff. That is the problem with Nigeria. I am even sure that the minister of health does not know the number of AIDS patients we have in Nigeria. That is the situation the country founds itself.