June 14, 2009

Why Niger Delta leaders must begin to behave like true leaders, by Audu Ogbeh

Former national chairman of the People’s Democratic Party, PDP, Chief Audu Ogbeh, now a chieftain of the Action Congress, AC, and a farmer, in this interview with Sunday Vanguard in Abuja, speaks on 10 years of democracy in Nigeria, the Niger Delta and other issues.  He says Nigeria is yet to achieve full fledged democracy because of a failed electoral system.  In his words:  “I believe that we must keep putting pressure on our leaders”. Excerpts:

DO you think there is the need for Nigeria to   celebrate democracy at 10m judging from   what we’ve seen so far?
Well, we will celebrate hope. I hope, knowing that if we give up, then we will sink. It could be a lot better than it is. We are still not moving well as fast as we should. We are still not submitting ourselves to the dictates, the moral dictates of democracy because there can be no sound democracy in the face of this malignant immorality which we all engage in – especially the leadership. We foul up elections, we cheat, we do everything wrong and yet we expect everybody else to do it right, that can’t lead us all anywhere. That is what is responsible for the great deal of the feeling of despair among Nigerians, but we must keep hope alive. My belief is that this country will wake up. Lagos is awake for now.

Then what is the way forward?
I believe that we must keep putting pressure on our leaders. A docile nation will never find good leadership. We don’t talk, we don’t complain and whenever something goes wrong, if an individual stands up, his relatives and friends will tell him “which one is your own inside, are you the only Nigerian?” As long as we carry on that way, let’s not complain then; let’s continue to suffer in silence. The democracies of Europe, American and India are not growing because the people are silent; it is because the people are watchful.

You used to be in the main stream as a former chairman of PDP, now you are in opposition, but the opposition seems to be a little bit quiet, why?
To be opposition in this country is extremely difficult, extremely costly and tedious. We are a little quiet because there is a certain sense of despair among the opposition people. It’s like the state sometimes tries to use every force it has to simply push you down and say this is it, and there is nothing you can do about it. Besides that, the cost of opposition is extremely high too.

People are re-organising and re-strategising, but we are hoping that we will see the day when there isn’t this visible, clearly identifiable insistence – that what is must remain as it is. If it is so what can you do? If INEC can’t be trusted; what’s the point contesting an election? Where in the world has the umpire become a competitor? People were arbitrarily disqualified from contesting elections in 2007 and INEC was the one going to court on behalf of government to fight.

If that is it, we will have no force to dislodge INEC because democracy can only work where people have a fair mind and the courage to say sorry this is the rule, I keep by it.

The Niger-Delta issue, what would you say about the presence of the military there?
Two things: I am sad because each time there is state conflict, women and children suffer most. It is unfortunate. The other tragedy though is that, if people take up arms the way they are doing over there, they are not really militants, they are at war. If they are firing Bazookas at the troops and at aircraft and blowing up boats, you don’t expect the military to look for them for a handshake.

The army is the army. It is a pity that the thing has gotten this far and this is bad. The Niger delta has suffered a lot over the years. Their terrain is bad; unemployment, poverty in spite of all the wealth, there is a lot of poverty there. But it appears that government is trying to redress the situation but the people should also look on their own governors and their own leaders. Why is it that when a Niger-Delta person is caught with corruption, what we hear is that “it’s our money let him chop it”.

Now if corruption is allowed there, fine and don’t look at somebody else as the enemy. Your own people, some of them have enough money to do what you want, but they are stealing it and you say nothing. I would want to see the situation resolved quickly because it doesn’t do us any good to hear that one child has been killed. We don’t need people dead, we want them alive, and Nigeria needs them. But let some leaders in that zone not also speak in glowing terms of the militants as if they are their official agents. That cannot be acceptable.