BY OLAYINKA AJAYI
Prof.Patrick Okedinachi Utomi is a distinguished Nigerian professor of political economy and a renowned, internationally aclaimed public affairs analyst with a unique leadership acumen that separates him from his equals.
In this encounter, he speaks on burning national issues, starting with the demise of the renown human right icon, Bamidele Aturu, to the impeachment of Murtala Nyako and the waste of billions of naira on the ongoing CONFAB. Excerpt:
How do you feel about the death of the legal icon, Bamidele Aturu?
It’s a devastating blow to the project of human right. One of the biggest challenges of our time is helping the voiceless find a voice. Sadly we live in a society of an extra-ordinarily selfish elite who are obsessed with themselves through nazistic culture. So when you find a few who are willing to help the voiceless find their voice, you know that it’s a gift from above. Stephen clovey said that the most important habit of the 21th century is to help people find their voice.
Bamidele Aturu helped his generation to find its voice. Much earlier, when some of us were 18, youth of Nigeria helped Nigeria find it’s voice.
Then, we were demonstrating before we know the reason behind our demonstration, but today’s youths are so focused on themselves, while the voiceless are completely helpless. So when you have a few individuals who are willing to help other individuals find their voice, it is tragic to lose them early. He would surely be missed.
What would you say about the impeachment of Gov. Murtala Nyako and the resignation of his deputy despite the intervention of elder statemen like former President Olusegun Obasanjo and his Vice, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar?
It is a very strange conversation for variety of reasons. It is a complicated politics in Adamawa. Nyako on his own, in all circumstances, has his own challenges, but sincerely, our democracy is not being helped by these kind of politics.
In some ways I am tangentially related to Adamawa politics and as part of my work with the oppressed, I have done quite a bit of work in some part of Adamawa state during the flooding. I spent time visiting those areas providing them trucks full of relief materials from Lagos. So I know how they feel about their leadership in Yola.
However, I think we are in a transition society and there are some delicate things we need to manage in a certain way to navigate that transition so that we do not create enough of a groundswell that would result into a violent storm at the end.
All these issues happening, reminded me of 1966! And we knew where the tragedy of 1966 led us as a nation. This is a period we need to be very careful.
Some people are of the opinion that the politics of cross-carpeting from one political party to another is not ideal for our democracy. What is your view?
I find it very disgusting; it’s the main reason why some of us pushed to register a political party based on strong ideals and values. It is an ideological orientation that keeps one in a political party, not the convenience of an electoral machine.
It is totally bad that people would swing from one party to the other because of an electoral possibility and making mess of the very essence of a political party. This was why I was frightened when I heard about speculation that I would still be joining the People’s Democratic Party PDP. Not because there is poison in the party but I believe that the fundamental reason for involving in politics should be for building institutions. Institutions are what preserve the future.
These politicians jumping from one party to the other are looking for their moment. Politicians should not be thinking of the moment but the future of their grand children. If we can’t build a strong institution like a strong intent political party then we are not mindful about the future of our grand children. It does not matter what anybody does to me, I would remain in the party I believe is in the progressive left to any other side.
With the split of the South and the North over derivation, do you see the confab coming up with solutions to the problems facing Nigeria as a country?
Without being temperamental, I have very little time for the CONFAB. If this group of people can recommend a 19 state for Nigeria, they have no idea of what they are doing.
How do you mean?
The reason is very simple, the CONFAB delegates were selected from yesterday and their focus is on yesterday. So somehow they cannot see tomorrow. Imagine yesterday’s quarrel being re-fired and yesterday’s sharing formula is being thought through rather than tomorrow’s bills being discussed. So they are focusing on yesterday challenges and losing sight of tomorrows challenges.
The national conference is a waste of billions of naira of the tax payers’ money. Lest we forget, I was one of those who pioneered the call for a true Sovereign National Conference but it appeared it was manipulated in a way that the wrong people were called upon to be delegates.
Although there are some good selected few among them that see more clearly but their understanding is so limited which would do lasting damage on the country. The understanding of most of those in the conference is so much on yesterday.
With all the challenges rattling our polity, do you perceive a breakup come 2015?
My prayer has always been that Nigeria will remain united and learn from her mistakes and forge ahead. I have always hoped that the generation that see the strength of Nigeria will take advantage of it and build on those strength in a way that we would all become penny wise pound foolish.
What structure do you think is most suitable for Nigeria?
More decentralisation, greater devolution of power, bigger sub national structures and something like the six regional structure instead of the malady we are facing today, where politicians want to be addressed as “Your Excellencies.”
Back then, these offices were being run by DOs who wore knickers and rode bicycles but today you see leaders flying around in private jets.
With failed leadership, do you see unity as the best solution to Nigeria’s challenges?
A bigger country is always a better idea economically. My view is that Nigeria is not even big enough. We should even think of merging together with few west-African countries.
The thought of breaking it further would not be in the best interest of the Nigerian People. Consider the United State of America, for instance. It comprises of smaller countries that came together to form a formidable nation.
Then what would you make of the contentions between the South and the Northern region delegates?
There had always been differences between smaller units in any great nation’s history.
The south of the United State fought Civil War with the Northern for a longer period, but today nobody is talking about it. Even in America, nobody remembers it, except for history lessons. In the same vain, I have many friends who hail from the North and we relate normally.
Our problem of division is just the lazy and selfish elite that are trying to share our commonwealth. So they don’t elevate conversation, they just look for how to find ways for themselves and that is the reason we are in the mess we find ourselves as a nation.
How best can we get out of these predicament?
My friend, Prince Odukumaya, once said that Nigeria is in serious need of a Nigerian Jrry Rawlilngs but I am not sure if that is the only way to resolve our problems. Sincerely, we need a revolution that will wipe out these characters.
More importantly, we need to recognise that leadership should not be for dullards. According to Bishop Coker; the brightest in our society goes to acquire degrees while the less intelligent people rule. Nigeria has reversed everything.
While in other societies, only the brightest leads. The American President, Barack Obama, is a professor in constitutional law, the British Prime Minister is typically a graduate of the prestigious Oxford University. But in Nigeria we have the opposite whereby those at the bottom runs our society.
I remember you anchored on a national TV, a program titled Patitos Gang in which Reuben Abati was a member of the ‘gang’. The program proffered solutions to national problems.
(Laughed)…I think my people are too involved now in the sharing of the cake than to think of the solutions we proffered then. But God is not sleeping.