By JOHNBOSCO AGBAKWURU

Chief Mike Okoye is a  human rights activist and  constitutional lawyer with  over 30 years of experience in the profession. He is from Umuleri in Anambra North Senatorial Zone. In this interview, he  says  APGA members in Anambra  State will support  the re-election of President Goodluck Jonathan in 2015 and other national issues. Excerpts:

Democracy 14 years after. Are you impressed?
Let me first of all say that many of us were in the vanguard of the struggle for the democracy we are enjoying today. The late Gani Fawehinmi and the late NLC President, Paschal Bafyau, myself, among others, played one role or the other in NADECO. We played roles that ordinarily we thought then that we would not be alive today. We took that risk because we knew there was no alternative to democracy. Most of the current beneficiaries now were not in the struggle. This was at a time we were in the streets against. Most armoured tanks, when we were pursuing  Abiola’s case.

At a time, we forced Abacha to leave a meeting we had with him. The beauty of democracy is that it is a government of the people, by the people and for the people. Today, we are talking about Democracy Day. I think we should look at the heroes; we have lots of heroes some of whom are not known and some who may never be known. We have lots of people who died on the streets of Lagos and their names are not recorded. They are my real heroes and I think the time has come for us to look at them.

Fourteen years after democracy finally came, Nigeria may have been going through ups and downs, but, ultimately, we will emerge triumphant. No nation started and got it right the same day. But  Nigeria is on the right track; our democracy is on course. Politics of Nigeria has gone beyond tribal; we have gone beyond regional politics. Nigeria has come to a stage where we have national politics. What do I mean by national politics? Today, we can boast of a political party that does not belong to the east, west, north or south; and that is the PDP. In terms of governance, I will say a lot of mistakes have been made and also, a lot of achievements have been recorded, all considered, Nigerian democracy is on course.

Democratic dividends
In democracy, the greatest thing you achieve is freedom. Some of us who had been under chains and locked up because of draconian laws appreciate freedom of movement, freedom of expression. Today, every Nigerian can boast that we operate a free state. No draconian laws where people can be locked up without due process. Today, the constitution is such that nobody can be detained beyond 24 hours unless he had been brought before a court of law. Nobody is above the law; and that is the greatest benefit of democracy.

…Okoye

Apart from the rule of law, government has also provided an enabling environment. Before  democracy came, there was instability in the downstream sector, leading to the scarcity of petrol. Today, you can drive into any station to buy petrol. Government  has been able to put in place a stable economy compared to the past. There is incentive for foreign investments. The change started with Obasanjo. When he came in, Nigeria was on analogue. Most Nigerians believed we could not have phones. Today, everybody in Nigeria can call  anywhere.

From the Obasanjo era into the short tenure of the late President Umar Yar’Adua, you would see a continued movement. That continued movement was inherited by the current administration. The focal point of the current administration is transportation. You see what the government is doing in making it possible for you to walk into a train from east, west, north and south.

Jonathan’s government has also impacted in the areas of agriculture, energy, trade liberalisation. Government is all about structure. What people would say is that they don’t know the structure and they don’t know the roadmap. I think that is what the government should come out openly and tell the public that this is the roadmap. This is where this administration is going. Let it be clear that this is the focal point.

Amnesty and state-of-emergency in three northern states
The president has handled the issue of security very rationally and diplomatically for two reasons. The insecurity is political. There is a difference between insecurity that is based on criminality whereby you see people stealing, robbing and killing and the one that is purely political. If it is political, you must approach it politically. The approach the President is using is political.

He declared state-of-emergency but allowed the structure to remain. He is not attacking the political will of the people of the North but he is trying to remove the chaff from the wheat without causing damage to the political institutions. And everybody says ‘very good’. When he says amnesty, the people that perpetrate these criminalities are not the people that are the problems. They are people being used; it is not arresting those Boko Haram members or chaining them that will resolve the issue. It is those that are inciting them, those that have their children abroad; those who will not send their children there, those who will not come out to actively take part in the acts are the real problem.

As a lawyer to former Governor Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, do you think the pardon he got was necessary?

That the pardon was the best thing the president has done. You look at it in two ways. Alamieyeseigha is one of the finest Nigerians you can ever meet. He is a patriotic Nigerian. Governance is about touching the lives of your people. Alamieyeseigha as governor of Bayelsa  touched the lives of the people in such a way that he was called the Governor-General of Ijaw nation.

The whole of Ijaw nation believed in him and he is instrumental to the peace we have in the oil sector. The fact that you buy fuel, the fact that people trade freely, the fact that the economy of this country is going smoothly, the fact that the international community buys our crude oil, all  rest solely on his ability to package what he had done to hold has restive people. That is one.

Two, he is honourable. How many people in Nigeria would accept that they have done wrong? He had the right to contest the case. And, we were ready and able to fight the case as all other governors have done up to the Supreme Court. But, he said to us, “look, sometimes, it is honourable to feel where you have done wrong to accept you have done wrong and ask God for pardon”. Alamieyeseigha made peace with God.

Let us not also forget the politics of Nigeria. Those who were in the vanguard knew the political arrangement; the reason they were after Alamieyeseigha. It was not because of finance, it was not because of corruption. There were people battling to take over from Obasanjo. And, they reasoned that those people must be brought down at all costs. So, was reason to go after him.

For whatever it is, he had made atonement to the court. He has made atonement to his God. I think the president did the most proper thing and I think Nigerians should know that Alamieyeseigha has more popularity in his state than any living or dead governor since Nigeria became a nation. That popularity shows that his people like him.

The issue was not money that comes from Nigeria. The issue was money that relates to his state. And, his state says we ‘have forgiven you’. Who are you from any other state to challenge it? Power belongs to the people of Bayelsa. And the president also comes from Bayelsa, if it is the people of the state that feel that this man should be pardoned, then the president did the most honourable thing.

Suspension of Governor Amaechi
We cannot use one individual to decide the fate of millions of people that belong to the political party. Before we discuss the issue of Amaechi, let us understand that PDP is the only party that belongs to the people. PDP is the only party that is nationalistic. PDP is not a party that belongs to the north, east, west or south; it is a party of national coloration. Having that in mind, what happened in Rivers State cannot have an effect to decide the totality of Nigeria. We should not use the issue of Amaechi as if it were a national issue. Amaechi is, first, a state matter. There is no crack in the structure of the PDP.

The issue is a governor that the party feels has acted improperly. Whether rightly or wrongly, we should wait and see how it unfolds. We should not judge.  Let us get the full picture; then we can be able to see. But  I tell you that as a  governor of PDP, if we all understand the principle of governance, we would know that a PDP governor must be loyal to the president. You cannot be disloyal or speak ill of your party and still say you are loyal. If PDP has decided that this is the person who should be the chairman and PDP has the majority governors in Nigeria, it is unthinkable that a governor of PDP should be in alliance with any other political group.

You can’t have two PDPs. Let’s face facts. We are not talking about whether Amaechi is governing Rivers State. The issue is politics and politics is about loyalty. If the party says this is where we are going and this is our number, he must at all times adhere to it. You should remember he is a governor of PDP and it is PDP that won the election, not Amaechi. He should be able to distinguish his personal interest and the political interest.

Anambra politics is ironical. Most elective positions in the state belong to the PDP but the party does not have the governor’s seat. This sounds like confusion. Why?

There is no confusion. PDP is the national party and PDP is in power. The national influences the state. If PDP is at the national, it tells you that Anambra is preparing to be a PDP state. In 2014, Anambra will be one of PDP states. What you are seeing is the sign of things to come. APGA is a dynamic political party. The governor, Peter Obi, is somebody I have great respect for. At the same time, he understands the politics of Nigeria.

He also understands that what the Yoruba did when Obasanjo was in power was that they all moved to PDP to strengthen Obasanjo. They left AD and moved to PDP. And, now, our brother is in power and we will move from APGA to strengthen PDP; there is no other issue. We will move from APGA to strengthen PDP. I was once an APGA. I was instrumental to most of the things they did in APGA but we must move to strengthen PDP because the President of Nigeria is our brother. All the pillars in Anambra must be PDP to strengthen him.

If you were governor of Anambra, what new things would you bring into the state polity?

I will bring change. The governed and the governor do not understand what democracy is all about. The belief is that it is the governor that gives and decides what he does. Governance as of today is what I call ad-hoc. The governor wakes up and says this is a good project; I will build roads for you. Tomorrow, perhaps, I will demolish the secretariat that has historical whatever and I will build my own secretariat. There is no structural plan and there is no plan. Therefore, governance is ad-hoc.

We would start in Anambra to practice true democracy whereby there will be a structure created by the ideas we have and the ideas the people have as to what they want. These things will be prepared by those who are intellectually equipped. It is like a house structural plan, the architect does his job, the builder just looks at the plan, that is, the chief executive; the job of the chief executive is not generating ideas but implementing ideas generated. That is what democracy is all about; that is what governance is all about.

In so doing, Anambra will know this road map, even after Mr Okoye has finished as the governor; the roadmap has been defined. The road to your house, you know the way; everybody knows where he is going. And, it has to be adhered to; in terms of local governments, in terms of the commissioners, in terms of all the structures. The main thrust of our policy is that Anambra will be the highest producer of refined crude oil products. Now, the issue is from the evaluation: at what stage would we attain that? But, it is one of the cardinal principles of where we are going. And, now, the journey starts from 2014.

Everybody knows that Anambra state will be the largest exporter, manufacturer of refined crude oil products. So, by the time we would have left office, you would be able to see this is where we stopped. And, by the time the next government comes, he would continue from there. Merit and ability should be pressed above external advantages of rank and fortune. That is when you start thinking of an organized society. But, where you have rank and fortune exceeds merit and ability, you begin to see the situation you have in Anambra. It means that tomorrow I can steal the mandate of the people and become a governor.

And, after two years, the Supreme Court will say I stole the mandate and because I built roads and did some good things, the value that I stole from the people no longer counts. So, a man can go and kidnap so far he makes good use of it, it does not matter. We must bring back values. It is not what you did; your character becomes an issue. If you don’t have character, you cannot install character. What I am trying to say is that I am thinking about us bringing back our values. We the Ibos have values.

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