ONE person who is not fascinated by all the talks about impeaching ailing President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua and making Acting President Goodluck Jonathan as a substantive president of Nigeria is the presidential candidate of Fresh Democratic Party, FDP, in the 2007 presidential poll, Rev. Chris Okotie.

According to the cleric, the most viable option out of the current constitutional uncertainty is for the country to resolve now to change the current arrangement and put in place an interim government which will midwife another election in accordance with the recommendations of the Justice Uwais panel on electoral reforms.

Rev. Chris Okotie
In this interview with Vanguard, the founder of Household of God Church who is also a lawyer declined comments on the issue of the impeachment of ailing President Yar’Adua describing the idea as absolutely unnecessary distraction in the nation’s march towards greatness. He also spoke on other national issues. Excerpts:

People have described current political situation as a constitutional crisis. What is your opinion?

I think what we have here is the gang of political affiliates who have no ideological connectivity, who do not understand the concept of patriotism or nationalism and have amalgamated themselves into a political contraption that is called PDP for personal aggrandizement and personal agenda that has brought Nigeria to where it is today. The problem now is not a Yar’Adua problem neither is it that of Obasanjo. It is a PDP problem.

But some people still believe that President Obasanjo foisted a sick man on the nation and today we appear stuck. Do you agree with that school of thought?

Well, it’s purely speculative. The political culture in our nation does not recognize that as an aberration because that is what transpires from the local government to the presidency. It is natural that if you are in a position of authority, you should be concerned about the person to hand over to before you vacate.

I think President Olusegun Obasanjo was surrounded with men and women he did not trust; he believed they did not have the interest of the nation at heart. Therefore, he was more inclined towards Yar’Adua, just like we see in different states of the federation. But this same cacophony of voices you hear today, are the same people who were saying Yar’Adua was a great choice. But for some reasons, within the same party, there is discontent.

I don’t want Nigerians to be confused as to the reality of the PDP miasma in comparison to the realities we face as Nigerians, because what is going on now in the country is purely a political party, disintegrating and unable to carry out its responsibilities towards the people. They are only making their political problem a national problem and we need to distinguish between the two.

Are you saying that the PDP is responsible for President Yar’Adua holding on to power, even when it appears that he is incapable to continue?

For me, I am first a pastor before anything else. The humane Christian sentiments, at this point, overwhelm the dictates of partisan politics and I will say that with a sense of great responsibility. We are talking about the life of another individual here. And I have seen that the entire process has been overplayed.

That is why I am saying that we need to locate the very source of this aberration– it is a political party. The federal executive council is PDP and the National Assembly is constituted by majority of PDP members, appointment of judges has been vested in the government. So, whichever way you look at it, it still comes down to the political party.

They are the ones who have created this situation and they have become pluralized by whatever agenda that they have; because it is a matter that can be resolved in the party. My own concern is that this is such a delicate issue that if we politicize it, it can lead to a level of disintegration that would traumatize all of us. I will say we should go beyond politics and understand that we are a nation.

At a very sensitive and critical point now in our political evolution, we need to come to a point of dialogue and try to resolve it. Constitutional interpretation is not the solution. I think we need to go beyond this personal agenda and come to put our nation first and we resolve this as Nigerians who have a stake.

What you are recommending now is an intervention entirely different from what we have presently, which will come and midwife another election? Is that not an aberration to the present constitution?

No! The constitution of any country or group is given to protect its existence. The constitution cannot exist outside of Nigeria. Nigeria can exist without the constitution. The existence of Nigeria is threatened and when you have that kind of state you take measures sometimes that are extra-constitutional to sustain the existence of the state. I would rather have an interim government in place than to have war or a state of national anarchy, civil disobedience and some of the things people are advocating now that would traumatize our nation.

The psyche of our people is already decimated as it where. You do not want to put a greater burden on the people. There has to be a conflict resolution mechanism that is accepted because there is no way the Yar’Adua camp will accept the suggestions being put forward so, they are going to take a position until it becomes belligerent that will eventually lead to anarchy.

We have been here before and what I am saying is that when you come to a point like this you abandon politics, political sentiments that will balkanize and polarize the nation and you come together just as Nigerians and say what do we need to do now to move forward…let us find a crop of men and women that will serve as mediators and hold things together until we can find a meaningful political solution.

Do you think this is possible considering the fact that we have weak opposition political parties?

It is possible. That is why I am telling you that it has to be a decision that we must make and say that we have come to the end of this road; so let us get an aggregation of Nigerians that are trustworthy and can maintain a neutral capacity in this whole conflict who can take us to the next level. Hopefully, it will be a temporary solution and then we can find a way out, because if some of these West Africa countries had listened, the pogroms and all of the genocides that we read about would not have taken place.

Men and women have to come to a place of reason and articulate concepts of conflict resolution that are outside of the purview of politics and the sentiments of personal aggrandizement because if you don’t do that, at the end of the day you loose what you are fighting for. So, I think we need an interim government. We do! Call it whatever you want; Government of national reconciliation or whatever, but a measure has to be put in place that can pacify this overheated atmosphere right now because I am hearing that the militants have called off their cease fire.

So, we are going back to the routine of chaos which never produces anything. Once the South -South begins to think that they are not good enough…because there are already stories to the effect that they are only good for exploitation; ‘you can take our oil but we are not good enough to be in position of leadership.’ All these sentiments eventually lead to chaos.

If we opt for an interim government President Yar’Adua really has nothing to loose because he is presently incapacitated. The PDP government is not making any progress. It is the government that I hold responsible for this stagnation. If they say he should step aside for the sake of this nation, and let a group of young men and women come in and take us to the next level. That is the most practical solution.

It sounds beautiful, but who will initiate it? Will it come from this same PDP government or the civil society?

I think, if the idea is brought into the court of public opinion, that by process of some metabolism or some metamorphosis within the society we will arrive there. Once the idea is touted in such a way that it is understood, the dynamism of society will work out itself to bring us to that place.

If I understand what you are saying, are you recommending a revolution?

No! It is not that extreme. A revolution is different because it opposes the status quo and introduces a new concept of governance that is almost radicalized. Well within the context that I speak, it is still much more milder than a revolution, because what will happen is that you will find different groups within the society agreeing in principle first, as to the authenticity of such a concept to assume the only remedial measure to our present predicament.

There has to be some kind of consensus. That is why I said the idea has to be promoted. Once that is done, there is a concept we call solvito abunando—that is you solve it as you go along. As day gives way to night, night gives way to day and things like that; just by a natural process, you will come to a place where you will find a solution that will not be as extreme as revolution.

Because what really happens in a revolution; is that there is a breakdown of law and order and that is what I am trying to avoid. Take for instance, during the Shonekan era, it became a consensus that the only way forward for Nigeria was an interim government and there was no breakdown of law and order. So, something was put in place that ameliorated the anger and the pain of the Nigerian people as a result of what has happened with the annulment of the June 12 election.

We must devise a methodology that will become a temporary solution because we recognize that to do otherwise is to aggravate the situation to such a point that might lead to hostilities. And for some reasons any time Nigeria come to that point, reason prevails. So far they have been thinking of a constitutional solution in the court but that has not proved a better alternative than any of the things they have been trying to suggest.

I am saying that Nigeria should go beyond the jurisdiction of the judiciary and even the constitution itself and personal agenda or sentiments that polarise us. We must go beyond the mosaic that will balkanize Nigeria and go to a level of nationalistic sentiments of being together as a nation. Once we get to that point, a solution will evolve. I believe that the solution, for now, is to abandon the current trend of finger pointing and litigation and come to a place of dialogue as Nigerians.

Should President Yar’Adua resign?

I think those are constitutional issues and only the courts can interpret the constitution of this country. Whatever we say is purely speculative and personal because the matter that is on ground now is beyond your personal interpretation of the constitution. It has to be done legally and the only place is the law courts. What I am saying is that these sentiments that are being expressed will only lead to further chaos because there is a modulus of opposition from the Yar’Adua camp totally diametrically opposed to these sentiments.

I am a minister whose responsibility is to find a rapprochement between warring factions and to find a way if settling them. You may go on the streets to protest, that is your constitutional rights. You can go on TV to articulate your thoughts and imaginations and that is fine within the context of free expression but how does that solve the problem?

It hasn’t. I am only engaged in the concept of finding meaningful and real solution and I think what we do now is not to find who is right or who is wrong. What can we do now, as the Yar’Adua camp is saying this and the other people are saying that, what do we do? The problem is still there. No matter how long you prolong it, the problem is still there and there is advantage because it is going to favour PDP at the end of the day.

If you go to the Supreme Court you will achieve nothing because in less than a year from now we will be talking of another election. I think that the basic problem is PDP. We need to disengage from the PDP machine because that is what has caused us this situation and we must evolve another political system that will engender the development, stability and growth of Nigeria which PDP has failed to do. The very root of the problem of Nigeria is the PDP and if we are going to salvage this nation we must disengage from that machine.

That is why, an interim government, as far as I am concerned is the only way out for now. And it is not just an interim government, it is a government that will become an instrument for the articulation of the Nigerian aspiration in evolving a new political order for the nation that will sustain Nigeria within the 21st Century and give us the ingredients for the nation to become a great country. Because if you don’t you will just be perambulating in the wilderness of retrogression and the PDP, because of its innate corruption it will manifest itself again. As far as I am concerned this is not about Yar’Adua, it is not about Obasanjo; it is about the fact that the system has failed and it is a PDPD system.

Why do you think some prominent leaders are silent?

I don’t know. Maybe they have information we don’t have. In my view, lending your voice to a camp in this argument will not solve the problem because legal issues are very dialectical. Ultimately, it will be decided by the Supreme Court and not all the parties will be satisfied. Maybe some of them have recognized that Nigeria has an intrinsic problem of a political system.

The fundamental problem that we have is the decadence of the political system and because the decay within the system it cannot bear fruit. So, we are not going to apply medical solution to it, all we need to do is to pronounce it clinically dead and evolve something that is new whose roots are different and will embrace the yearnings of the Nigerian people and engender a system of equality and responsibility that will augur well for Nigerian. I must refuse at this time to be a politician and become nothing else but a Nigerian.

That is why I will not lend my voice to the voices that are already polarized by arguments of either constitutionalism or partisan politics. I refuse to be drawn in to the fray that will lead to chaos. I will rather be a mediator, seek to mend fences with both camps and bring them to a place where nothing matters but the whole confederation of the Nigerian brotherhood and we must recognize that at this point in time the only definition we can have is that of being a true Nigerian.

How would you assess the almost three years of Yar’Adua’s Presidency?

We talked about it before and I called it a circle of political ineptitude. It is the best description of the government fundamentally because of his low performance. He has not been able to take full authority because he has been ill. That’s why we hear that, some times, it’s his wife who is acting with delegated authority for him because you have a common destiny with your own wife and you are sure that she will do you good.

But that is how bad it can be. There is really nothing to say about the government because nothing has been done and that is the truth. In all fairness to him, it is because of the predicament that he had found himself which is why he must be willing to accept the solution that will be in the interest of the Nigerian people.

Will you say that the incessant killings in the North is religious or ethnic; as some people will want us to believe even when worship centres have always been the targets?

I think that it has its roots in the politics of the North and that certain disorderly politicians in that part of the country, for reasons best known to them, who as far as I am concerned have anti_Nigerian sentiments, do not believe in the unity of this nation and they have predicated their vandalism on religion because that is the only meaningful and sensible way to communicate it.

Religion and politics are closely linked together because religion is the basis for the human conduct. It is what you believe that characterises your actions. This recent crisis in the North, as far as I am concerned, is politically_motivated because it will benefit certain elements for whatever reasons they have to engender a state of chaos but I think that it has been largely successful because of the apathy on the part of government.

Because it is the responsibility of government to protect the lives and security of the people and when these things happen and you come on TV and threaten and do nothing about them, then, of course, you are encouraging those acts of vandalism. If such acts are met with adequate security measures those elements will be more reluctant in engendering the situation of chaos.

So, I even think it is political because of the response of government because when you see a government that is responsible for the security of its citizens, fold its arms and make empty threats about a situation that had claimed lives, you will know that it is politically_motivated. The PDP government has again, shown its inability and ineptitude to govern Nigeria by these incessant crises we have had in the North and that is the more reason why we should have an interim government.


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