By Sam Eyoboka and Olayinka Latona
REVEREND Christopher Oghenebrorie Okotie was born on June 16, 1959 to Francis Idje and Cecilia Okotie, in Ethiope West Local Government Area of Delta State. He earned an LL.B. Hons in 1984, from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Enugu campus.
He has since then made a showing in the political terrain as he has contested for the highest office twice on the platform of the Justice Party in 2003 and Fresh Democratic Party, FDP, in 2007. He is currently oiling his political machines to hit the roads again for 2011. In this interview with Vanguard, he x-rayed the happenings in the political terrain, the consensus debate, corruption and the 2011 general elections. Excerpts:
Ahead 2011, Nigerians are already witnessing several anti-social problems. What is your reaction to this?
The responsibility of maintaining law and order rests squarely on the laps of government and when you find a situation like this, where safety is no longer guaranteed, it reflects the inability of the government to carry out its responsibilities. And I think that the PDP has come to its waterloo politically because of the fact that they have demonstrated, consistently, their ineptitude and the society is falling apart as a result of their gross negligence and irresponsibility. These are the symptoms of governmental irresponsibility.
The claims and counter-claims of the origin of the deadly weapons discovered at the Apapa ports continue to baffle Nigerians. Some say the consignment was intended for The Gambia, while they had their origin in Iran or whatever. Are you not scared?
No I am not! If we have that situation where the government is not in touch with reality, these things transpire on a daily basis. It is just because they revealed this that they saw these things. I am almost certain that things like this have been going on. The security mechanism that government has put in place has failed and it shows how porous that network is and how unprofessional they have become.
I think that it’s just indicative of the fact that the PDP has lost its hold in the affairs of this nation and it must do the honorable thing, by bowing out so that a new government that will guarantee the safety of Nigerians can be put in place.
Despite all the threatening situations in the political arena, you still came out recently to declare your intention to contest next year’s elections…
These are the reasons why it is imperative for people like me to step forward because you can not operate in a vacuum. If we say that PDP has become totally irrelevant in the political affairs of this nation by the inconsistent ineptitude that they have demonstrated, then we must provide a viable alternative. That is why people like me come out. The only thing they have now is the machinery of government, the incumbency—a divided house.
And like I have said often they don’t have anything to offer this nation ideologically. My position is further corroborated by their disarray and this very disjointed approach to solving the problems of this nation; not realising what is more important; whether it is the politics of the day, the social contract they have with the Nigerian people. This is a good omen for change.
Do you foresee any positive change in the current chaotic atmosphere?
They have every reason to be that way, but we must look beyond the natural in to the extra-terrestrial. There is a terrestrial atmosphere that is superimposed on the terrestrial and only those who have eyes can see. I belong to the ilk of what, is called the ponderous volume, and we understand these things that when change is imminent, the first sign is really found in the celestial realm.
When Jesus Christ was born, the astrologers were the first to see him, outside the realm of religious. They saw the sign and it was very clear to them that something unusual has happened. We are seeing things that God is showing to us that change is imminent; that PDP has expired. So, it portends good things for the nation. Like the former Head of State, Gen. Muhammadu Buhari, this will be the third time you’re coming out for the highest office in the land and some Nigerians think you’re really not serious. What is your response?
I don’t know what they mean by that. If a man can risk his life, invest his money in venture that is perilous and can deplete funds so quickly that you wonder if you will ever had any; I think that, to my mind is an indication of seriousness. Maybe what they are expecting me to do is to join PDP or one of the big parties. If we do that then we shut the avenue for change.
When change comes, it must be people who have not been contaminated by the virus of PDP or some other political party that has not really demonstrated any commitment. I think that my constant re-emergence in the political scene is a political attestation to the fact that I am determined that victory is the only solution to our situation. Maybe because your platform which is Fresh Democratic Party has refused to merge with other known and big political parties because some of your admirers would have wanted you, Pastor Tunde Bakare, Mr. Femi Falana, Prof. Pat Utomi et al, to go to the Senate and develop your political wings from there…
They are entitled to their opinions. This is a free country and I can accommodate that. But this is the way I see it, each man has a calling. Some might be thinking the way to attain a certain position is to be in a certain place, I agree with that but that is not my calling and the modus operandi that I received. There was no indication that President Olusegun Obasnjo would come out of prison to become Nigeria’s president.
Same goes for Dr. Goodluck Jonathan. He did not show any sign that he had the grace to attain to where he is today. I believe there is a divine hand that is arranging things for this nation and when the time comes, He will orchestrate things in such a way that whoever He has exalted will emerge. The most important thing is that I have consistently maintained my position. Adherence to principle evokes respect. If this was not commitment or tenacity I would have joined another political party and moved on to build a political career; but mine is not a career but a calling that is targeted and to that extent I cannot change it.
There are rumours that your closeness with retired General Ibrahim Babangida might develop to a working relationship between you and him towards the 2011 election….
Where did they discover that there is a closeness between me and Babangida?
Perhaps, because the ex-military president endorsed your candidacy in 2007 and Nigerians feel that there may be a merger of some sort or a kind of affiliation…
My philosophy is malice towards none and charity for all. I have often said that people like Gen. Babangida and Gen. Obasanjo are living ancestors of our political genealogy. They are men that have been called upon at critical moments and periods in the history and evolution of our nation. I respect them a great deal. Babangida is probably the greatest political mathematician we have in the nation today; it is just unfortunate for him that he had certain misadventure in the process of articulating his political philosophy in the past and only the Nigerian people that can determine if they think him worthy or not.
I believe that they represent the older generation and for Nigeria to move forward, we must go for a generational shift. We must adopt a paradigm shift and I will be glad to have their support, because it is in combining the past with the present that we can sensitise the future of the greatest possibilities. So, it will be a welcome development if any of them consider Rev. Chris Okotie to be their president. That is the only position for me. I am only seeking to lead this nation because I believe I have the answers to the problems.
Peradventure Babangida gets the PDP ticket and wants Rev. Chris Okotie to be his running mate, will you accept the offer?
My answer will be negative; not because I do not consider him worthy enough; but because he is antithetical to my vision. If my vision was that of penultimate leadership, I will join him or any other party. I would have taken that kind of responsibility a long time ago. I have had overtures made to me at that level.
But this has nothing to do with power; it has nothing to do with a political career, rather it has to do with the salvation of the nation. It is very critical that a man like me should take a position of responsibility for Nigeria to become what it must become in the 21st Century. I will wait. Like Abraham Lincoln said, I will study and wait perhaps my time will come. That is what Lincoln said; but I will modify that to say; ‘I know my time will come.’
Lets us assume, for instance, that on account of IBB’s age, he is unable to run his full tenure which automatically will make Okotie, the next president. Won’t that be acceptable to you?
On what platform?
Any one, because as things are now, he may or may not get the PDP ticket…
That is unpredictable. It’s only the PDP that will determine that, but I am just saying that if he wanted to run under another platform he would go through all the trouble with the PDP. I think that if he ever emerge on the platform of PDP, I would not have been in that political party, not because I think my party is better, or some political xenophobia but because of the fact that the ideology and philosophy of that party is oppressive to the Nigerian cause. So, I cannot be the one, saying that my mission is to save Nigeria and align myself with the very enemy of Nigeria. Very, very unlikely! Although, when you are a servant of God all things are possible.
Will you work with Mallam Nuhu Ribadu?
I will work with anybody if it will set Nigeria free in the spirit of a pan-Nigerian philosophy. The only fear the people have is that he is being traumatised by what happened to him when he became a victim of the law. And when that happens except you re-examine yourself, there is the tendency to come out with a certain level of vengeance but I don’t think Nigerians need that now. What we need is reconciliation and amelioration.
The elections are around the corner and there are attempts to amend the electoral act and part of the proposed amendment states that any political party that does not win, at least, one seat at the local government level would loose its licence. How do you react to that?
It never ceases to amaze me the level of parochialism that people will degenerate to in an attempt to secure political longevity. It is amazing that, we call this a democratic setting and yet we are even tolerating and accommodating laws that are totally antithetical to that philosophy. What right has a body like INEC to decide for the Nigerian people which political party they will belong to. How can you judge a political party by its success at the polls.
It takes years to develop a political philosophy and ideology; particularly in a nation where free and fair election are alien to the political culture. It is this irredentist philosophy of PDP wanting to make Nigeria a one-party state that is causing this kind of medieval approach to democracy. If INEC or whoever that is making such a law, is sincere they would have said they were not willing to financially support any political party that has not shown or demonstrated a certain level of support.
But for you to say that you would deregister a political party just because it has not acquired enough votes at a given period, to my mind, defies any logical reasoning; because most of these parties are young parties. I think that it is biased; because it makes no sense at all. How much has INEC given to us?
In a period of one year, INEC gave probably about N12 million maximum. It cannot be argued that political parties are established because of the money they get from INEC. That cannot be true; because INEC requires that each political party should have an office in Abuja; and the rent alone takes half of that; then think of the staff and all others you have to do. It cannot be motivated by pecuniary motive. I think that is a very presumptuous thinking and it would be challenged in the court. It is an infringement on our fundamental human rights. We will wait and see. Do you have confidence in Prof. Attahiru Jega’s INEC to conduct a free, fair and credible election next year?
I think he is capable, given the right circumstance and that if he is not pressured by government. The confusion that we have seen so far, no matter what they say, has come from the PDP. And they definitely will blame the chairman for it, because that is the way they operate—the signs are there already. President Goodluck Jonathan has shown the same commitment to his party than to the nation. It is government of the PDP, by the PDP and for the PDP and not the Nigerian people.
His prevarication when it came to signing the law in the first place…how long it took him and he was just delaying; the usual filibuster when they are not really decided at to which way to go. It is characteristic of PDP and it surprises nobody. The Nigerian people have woken up and we are going to see something new in the coming year, God willing.
How do you see the current hoopla over consensus candidate ahead of the PDP convention?
I think it is a very healthy development because PDP is too strong as a political party to be dismantled by the Nigerian people. It is hydra headed; it is an octopus. It must implode from within, because it is only a divided house that cannot stand. So, when you begin to see these cleavages then we can breathe a sigh of relief that finally this political monolith is being dismantled.
That is what is necessary at this time. If Nigeria will become a great nation in the 21st Century and make an impact—and all the conjecture that I see on how we can become a great nation before 2020—-the beginning of that journey must be the dismantling of the PDP.
Because as long as they are in government, it will be a retrograde journey and Nigeria will be perambulating in the wilderness of retrogression. We cannot take a step forward. I believe it is a good development that there is internal wrangling within it. It is a very good sign for Nigeria and I pray that it will be carried to its logical conclusion, so that they can be fragmented and pluralised become free.
Talk about freedom for Nigerians, won’t you see recent legal decisions that upturned PDP electoral victories in some states as the needed tonic the nation is clamouring for?
No! That is the judiciary. The Nigerians spoke from the beginning that these are the men they voted for, but the PDP, as a political party, ignored them, hijacked and disfranchised the Nigerian people. And it is only because of the judiciary that we are seeing a ray of hope that democracy is intact.
But I am saying that terminologically, democracy by itself deals with the people and I believe that power will go back to the people when PDP is dismantled. It is not a question of personality; it has to be done from within and the entire structure of the party must be pulverized. They are the ones who have held this nation in the place of political transition and they do it with impunity. I believe that judgment has come and it will begin in the house of PDP.
Is it healthy that we have over 60 political parties in the country?
It can be million! What it means is that the democratic space is open to all and sundry. A political party is a gathering of men and women who have a certain ideological posture and when such posture is codified and formally registered by the enabling authorities, it is christened a political party. When people say we have so many political parties, I say why is it a problem?
In a country of 150 million people and the political parties are just 60 why is it a problem? In a proper democracy you can have three political parties ruling in a state like Lagos—when you have one party controlling the south, another central and yet another controlling the north, depending on what is it that appeals to the electorate. But because the current situation is a threat to the octopus that desires to consolidate power in the hand of a few, who have hijacked the entire democratic process. It doesn’t make any sense. If we don’t have money to support them let the parties support themselves. So. It is not an issue.
What is the FDP’s blueprint to tackle the nation’s economic problem?
Each time people ask me that question, I tell them that my father was a polygamist. At the time that I was in the primary school he was earning something about 740 pounds a year and he had several children. We never lacked one day.
He managed to cope even though he was not an accountant. We all went to school and there was food on the table. The problem of our nation is not an economic issue, because there are various concepts and theories in all our universities. It is dependent on our leaders to decide on the one that will soothe the nation. But the greatest motivation for the well being whether it is economic or political is empathy, concern, compassion for the people. Once you are concerned about the people, then you will evolve a concept for the economy that concerns the people.
I have often said that our philosophy is Messiahnicism, meaning sacrifice.
It is a concept of political government that sacrifices for the people. In other words, we will never engage in concepts like austerity measures because then you are asking the people to make further sacrifice; but once you prioritise the people above everything else then your economic policy must target them in their pursuit of affluence.
When I attended a town hall meeting in 2007, I listened to then minister of finance and I was impressed by the presentation but they didn’t have the political will to pursue it. When CBN governor, Charles Soludo indicated that the naira was going to be deregulated, President Yar’Adua took offence, even though it was handed down to him by his predecessor. We are not interested in academic concepts of how to tackle the economy.
To my mind they avail nothing. We are going to show in practical terms that we care for the people; and organise the forces of demand and supply to enhance the living standards of the Nigerian people. That is what we are going to do. The reason why past economic blueprints have failed is because the Nigerian people have not been given proper priority.
If you ask the initiators of such economic concepts, they will quote some academic dissertations which will explain what they are trying to do. The bottom line is that they are not concerned about the people. If they were they would do otherwise. We are different. We have said from the beginning that human capital development is our priority because that targets the people.
You have to elevate the development and motivation of the people to a level of strategy. It must be cardinal to us and if that is so, you will deal with the things that concern them like education, healthcare, social security as a safety net, revamping the pension scheme, transportation and housing. These are the things that affect the people directly. The Fresh Democratic Party had had difficulty in aligning itself or getting into any kind of coalition because we feel that there is an ideological discrepancy between us and most of the political parties. When I become president, the difference will be clear.
The PDP has led us and has taken the nation to the precipice, the doldrums. They have failed the nation consistently and so we cannot afford to follow PDP and expect anything different from what we have today. Isn’t that a classical definition of insanity?—doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result? The time has come and change is inevitable and I believe that the God who took Obasanjo from the prison to the Aso Rock, who made it possible even for Dr. Jonathan to be where he is today, that same God will orchestrate things so that Okotie can deliver Nigeria permanently. We will certainly declare a state of emergency in the education and health sectors. How will you approach the power sector?
That has been a perennial problem. You can’t even take one step without finding out what is wrong in the area. The important thing is that we don’t really know what is going on there. Nobody can tell you exactly what is going on in the sector because the statistics that they give are all fictitious. So, we have to look in there and find out what is going on and tell Nigerians the truth.
In the first six months, I think we will be able to identify the problem because if you don’t investigate a problem you can’t solve it. Towards the end of Obasanjo tenure he awarded contracts and Yar’Adua did not care about these things and till today we don’t know what is happening there. That is why I say it has become so mysterious; why is it so impossible to generate enough power for a nation like this? It is a conundrum. We have to find out why, because it cannot be money. We have enough money and only a thorough investigation can reveal to us the demons that are involved in the power sector.
When we find out, we will cast them out. As a reverend gentleman I thought your priority would have been how to deal with corruption or you don’t see it as the monster that has militated against meaningful progress of this country? Definitely, but corruption is not something you can deal with even in the first three years. You cannot eradicate corruption by punition alone. Punitive measures are the last resort.
For you to eradicate corruption, you have to change the entire environment. To take a wicked man or a sinner to heaven; he can’t operate there. You take a fish out of the water, he cannot operate. There is an element that is conducive to this aberration and until you deal with it, ordinary punitive measures would not solve it. For you to see the death of corruption, it must start from the beginning or the bottom and not from the top. First you have to create an enabling environment for Nigerians to pursue their dreams and aspirations and a level playing field for them and there is a mechanism of the law where everybody is equal.
Because when you have double standards you can’t deal with corruption. When a minister can steal and gets away with it but the truck pusher steals and you take him to prison you cannot solve the problem. So, it has to begin at that level where the standard of living has to be enhanced in such a way that it is above subsistent level.
When people are now entitled to a house, food on the table, provided with basic amenities by the government, then they can build on these things themselves and then you started working towards the eradication of corruption. Punitive measures will be the final aspect of the battle.
It is something we have to do gradually, changing the psyche of the Nigerian people. This re-branding thing they are talking about is totally misplaced. You cannot re-brand something that is already corrupted. To re-brand is not an outward thing, it is an external thing. It begins with the abstract, because as the man thinketh so he is.
Telling Nigerians they are so, so and so, when their reality is contrary to what you’re saying makes the whole thing absolute jocularity. We are going to address corruption from a more practical perspective so that we can actually transform the Nigerian from within and connect him back to his government, so he can trust his leadership. When the connection is there, the resourcefulness of the Nigerian will begin to manifest, because the Nigerian is very resourceful. They just have not been inspired.