BY LEVINUS NWABUGHIOGU
He veered off his practice in Pharmacy and joined politics. And like a determined politician, he has continued to grow. Between 1999 and 2003, he was Special Adviser on political matters to Vice President Atiku Abubakar. Between 2003 and 2007, he was elected into the Federal House of Representatives. Afterwards, he became the National Secretary of the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN).
In this exclusive interview with Saturday Vanguard, Dr. Usman Bugaje speaks on the backwardness of Nigeria after 53 years of existence,submitting that President Goodluck Jonathan has failed woefully.He therefore says that the move to convene a National Dialogue by the present administration is an indication that Jonathan is grossly incompetent. He warns him not to dare contest the 2015 elections. Excerpts:
It’s been 53 years of Nigeria’s existence. In your own view, how has the journey been?
Well, it is been tough but this is what you expect in nation-building. Look at the history of big nations, successful nations; they have all gone through different types of difficulties. Nation-building by its very nature is a very tedious, slow process and nations come about in different shapes, forms and paths but at the end of the day what is most important is where they end up. I think it is normal path of nation-building. It is difficult. Some go through wars.
We have gone through a civil war, at least once and we succeeded because of the determination of the people to come together and resolve the issues that face their nation.
We have had our own fair share of that kind of struggle and I think that spirit of working to make Nigeria one and working makes Nigeria to work; I think it’s still there.
It is consistent with the history of other nations. In fact, other nations had gone through some other experiences than we have seen so far and therefore, it is not anything too different. We are on the path that we need to become far more determined, far more resilient to be able to overcome these difficulties. Yes, we can overcome and we shall overcome.
With the clamouring for this and that by the North, the South…
I will rather start this way: the issue of identity has been properly resolved in this country. If anything, at some stage, it has been aggravated by a number of other factors. That was, in a way, what led to the civil war; our inability to resolve some of the issues. After the war, there were efforts made, policies to bring the country together and to actually create a kind of foundation for the unity of the country. The National Youth Service Scheme (NYSC) is one of those.
The Unity Schools are one of those. So, we have identified some of the problems. There are policies taken to resolve some of these problems and that is the way to go. These issues of identity, ethnicity, religion and a mixture of a lot of these things are too often in the hands of the elites that compete for power and the benefits that power often bring.
So, it is not as real as it is often made up. Yes, people are conscious of their identity but if you go to the market, any market, you will find people of different ethnic groups, sitting together, transacting business together. They don’t fight or quarrel.
Some of them are the best of friends. So on the whole, it is the elite that often magnify and use the issues of identity especially ethnic and religion to get access to power. So, I appreciate that there are identity problems which only a gradual process of nation-building where policies are put in place to bring about cohesion and national sense of belonging to the nation which comes up gradually in all nations of the world.
But here, we have not done it with the same consistency as many nations had done and too often we have allowed the elites to hijack that process to their own benefits and too often they slowed down the process of national cohesion and nation building.
These issues that you hear about the West, the North and the East have a touch of reality but on the whole they are magnified by and often appropriated by the elites who use it to gain access to power.
But we realize that even for the elites, it may give them a very short term gain because what it does is to delay development and take the attention that the nation should focus on those real issues of economic development into self-serving elites’ interests and that tends to slow down development and of course, when you slow down development, you create conflicts and a lot of the conflicts you see today in Nigeria are conflicts arising from those kinds of games of exclusion that the elites play, that one group grabs power and excludes the other. You discover that every conflict in the world today, you discover one form of exclusion or another.
That will perhaps lead us to comparing the characters of the leaders in the first and second republics and the ones we have now. Looking back, how would you compare them with the crop of politicians we have now?
Well, I will avoid the kind of run-off- the-mill analysis that must be made to say that, yes, the people in the first and second republics were better in character than the ones at the helm
of affairs at the moment. I would rather look at it in terms of the kind of unfolding interplay of values.
You see, in the first republic, I was in school at that time when the coup that terminated the first republic took place. I was in the secondary school. I may not have been a participant as such but of course, we were old enough to watch and listen. You see, the very foundation of what happened had a lot of values, honesty, dedication, hardwork, contentment that have been inherited from the indigenous values of the people not minding whether the people were from the East, West or North.
There were some inherent intrinsic values that have to do with honesty, dedication and hardwork. With time, these values became eroded. Now, you may argue that the erosion of these values came through the attempt by the colonial masters to continue even after Independence to impose western values in a wide society where the socio-culture environment were essentially non-western, I mean African whether it is a Muslim or non Muslim, it was essentially African kind of values.
Basically, what that means is value of sharing. In Africa, as you know too well, sharing what little you have is a very important thing. Any traveller will be welcome in any home. You will be given food to eat. You will be given full hospitality.
People take pride in sharing. Our families are large families where people spread what they have and because, everyone shares, there is some level of social insurance that comes with that. But with western economic values which is geared towards accumulation, these values were eroded and we have come to a point where people see themselves as the focus of their lives and therefore they want to have the biggest cars, the biggest houses and the fattest bank account.
I think that kind of shift or the gradual westernization of our values may have been responsible. But there are other views. But there is need for us to identify those values that re-energize our society and bring the kind of peace and development that is required. That is one of the responsibilities of those who govern us.
Was there so much corruption then?
Well, I think in terms of comparison, I will use the popular phrase, “the difference is clear.” It is very clear to many people who have lived through and seen what was before and now. I think what should be helpful and more useful is to understand why these differences are there and what we need to do to correct the situation. Young people were nurtured. So, it is not entirely their responsibility to be what they are.
Those who are older and who are responsible for nurturing them; who they look up to, it is what they see the people do that will inform their values and behavior. So, I don’t think that it is by their own fault they are behaving the way they are behaving now. We as fathers, people of my age especially the elites who had the opportunity to reorder the society and to tell them the right kind of values and to demonstrate them,because the thing about values is not something that you discuss or give lectures on, you have to live it.
It is in living it that you demonstrate it, that people around you who are nurtured by that environment now acquire those kinds of values.
There was a prediction by CIA that Nigeria risks disintegration by 2015 and contemporary events points to that. What is your view on that?
First, it was not a prediction by CIA. CIA doesn’t do this. It’s a particular institution, a think thank in the United States that does this future analysis not only with Nigeria but other societies and it helps planning. When You look at societies that you do business with, you look at what they are likely to become in the next 20 to 30 years. You extrapolate them in the context of a dynamic world and then when you see this kind of thing, it allows you to think to see how we can avert some of the problems. So, it allows you to prepare for some of the consequences that might come.
So, I think it is useful but it is not like to say, well, this must happen. Basically, it is to alert Nigeria and its own development and business partners that there is a time things can go this way and it is important that you push back and see how you can resolve it. So, it is not like a prediction, not somebody wishing Nigeria bad. I think it is important to correct that particular context.
Now when you come to the issue itself that had been raised, they look at issues: the level of violence associated with our elections, the level of violence associated with so many other things in our society and they look at the corruption that had engulfed the nation, it is actually suffocating governance. They look at competence or lack of it of our leaders, they look at a number of factors and they now extrapolate them and realize that no society can sustain development, peace in this kind of circumstance for a long period of time. The value of that study is for us as Nigerians not to insult those who have done it.
We should actually appreciate those who have done this. We should actually thank them. We should now ask ourselves what is it that we need to do to now stop the disaster from taking place. In that particular report, they identified some specific areas where we need to improve. One of the areas, I remember correctly is that we have got to tame corruption. We have got to find a way of including everybody to stop exclusion.
Exclusion can be economic, political or social. We have to open the political space for others to come in. We have to ensure the equitable distribution of wealth. We have also got to ensure that level of literacy, education is much higher than it is now. All these are some of the things they identified and the key thing is accountability to fight corruption.
But if you don’t have accountability, then you really cannot run government efficiently. And if you can not run government efficiently, you cannot be equitable, you are bound to exclude people and conflict will grow because you are not resolving it.It doesn’t matter the number of soldiers you put in place. It doesn’t matter the number of people you kill. Infact, the more you kill, oppress, the more the conflict grows. The deeper it becomes. So, these are the issues.
How would you assess Nigeria’s general development in the last 53 years?
I can tell you straight away that Nigeria made tremendous progress between Independence up to 1966. Even after the coup and the eventual civil war, Nigeria still made a lot of progress because it helped development plans and we executed them diligently. The politicians in those days were people who lived modestly. They lived within the community. They interacted.
They were part of the society. They were contented with what little they had. They were conscious of their responsibility to society.
They were far more dedicated to their work. You look at their lives,these things are documented,they were far , far responsible. But of course, at some stage especially during the military, situations started getting out of hand. Leaders became very greedy.
They started accumulating. They started abusing their offices. They started being ethnical and started excluding others, that was how we came to the point where, may be you can say, up till 1999. The country was really in bad shape. Luckily, democracy came back.
And that would have given us the opportunity to rearrange and redesign and recover from the losses that we went through during those years of the military. But unfortunately, all these hopes and dreams became shattered.
In 1999, we had may be about 2,000 to 4,000 megawatts of electricity. Fifteen years after, with the huge amount of investment, in my time in the parliament, we calculated 15 billion US dollars, there was no a single increase in the mgwts.
We are still between 4,000 to 5,000 megawatts and since then more money had gone into power and yet we have not increased our generation, distribution. We are still where we were. Now, that in itself has a lot to tell you about the quality and type of politicians we have in this country.
This is just one small area, of course, it is key to development. Now, when you look at the very important area of poverty because you measure the progress of government by looking at the quality of human lives, what is called the human development indices. You look at, for example, maternal- mortality, you find that in 1999, it was far better that what it is today.
Today, we are in the class of Afghanistan, Pakistan and these other war-ravaged countries, meaning that all the resources that we have acquired have not been deployed in the direction they ought to. It has actually ended up in their pockets.
The point is, you look at all these indices, you find out that we have actually deteriorated. Poverty has more than doubled during this period. Polio is being eradicated everywhere in the world except in Nigeria. Now, when you count these terrible things, it is commentary to the incompetence of the political leadership that we have had during this period starting from Obasanjo himself.
Even after a year it has doubled, he still wanted to continue for third term. And to be fair, you don’t blame just President Obasanjo because there are people around that tend to give him legitimacy, that tend to give him the kind of cover, laundering. So, this is where we are. And of course, every body is suffering now from Boko Haram, from so many things. We created them.
Some people are of the view that President Jonathan should not run in 2015. What is your take on this?
Well, I wished President Jonathan has a mind of his own. And I wished he really has the courage to come out and say exactly what he wants. For me let me say, I recognize that by law any Nigerian can contest. So, you can’t really say, there is a legal barrier. But it is not just by law.
Common sense suggests that Jonathan should apologize and simply leave because ask him, if you ever have the opportunity, what is it that he has achieved since he came to power? Recently a group of 21 civil society organizations dealing with issues of corruption reacted to only one of the claims he made that he is working hard to stem corruption.
They gave a lot of different reports of corruption that are waiting to be acted upon but nobody acted on them: the subsidy report, the Malabo Oil business, the Arunma Oteh case, they gave a list of concrete cases. The reports are there. All you needed to do was to implement them or take them to court, let the courts deal with them. But none has been done.
Now tell me, you have not done this and you still want to continue. Continue to do what? What is it that you have solved. You have not been able to solve the Boko Haram issue.
Things have deteriorated beyond measure even after you have acquired one trillion of Nigeria’s money, nothing to show for it, then you want to contest. Contest to do what again? Kill the country completely? I think it is irresponsible of Jonathan or anybody who is encouraging him to encourage him to run. It is not about whether he comes from wherever. No. Look at his own records.
They are there for everybody to see. What is it in there that he can take and say, yes, I have done this correctly, therefore let me run? And corruption is only one out of many issues. Security, the economy itself. They have talked about SURE-P, they have talked about this and that. But look, they have not been able to address the 300billion at the NNPC. When people are languishing in poverty. So, it is so difficult for me to understand. What does Jonathan want to do again?
The President on Tuesday decided to call for National Dialogue. So many people are saying it is not going to solve the country’s numerous problems. What is your take on that?
If you want to be fair to Jonathan, you will say that he has done these things to divert attention from his gross incompetence. He is totally incompetent.
He has failed to achieve a single thing. And he wants to take peoples attention away to get them to start talking about these issues of who gets what, what ethnic group do you belong to?
But these issues have always been there. People have been clamouring even before Jonathan.
No. These issues are always accentuated by bad governance. Go back and check starting from Babangida through Abacha, Obasanjo now Jonathan.
Consistently, any time this issue comes up, the President is in trouble. Check your human indices, you find they are the worst. Leaders take away attention. These inequalities they are creating accentuate these feelings of equality. But the ordinary Nigerian is not asking Jonathan to correct it. Give people good education. You can’t settle the issue of ASUU, now, the doctors are on strike. Others are going on strike and you tell me you are contesting?
What are you going to do again that you cannot do before? If you want to be fair to him, if you want to be more critical which I think we should be, I think he is realizing that the enormity of the opposition is so much that he cannot contest unless he wants to set this country on fire.
Let’s look at the events around the opposition parties, the new PDP and the old PDP so to speak. What do you make out of the whole thing with regards to 2015?
Well, it is up to the PDP people. I don’t really know what they are doing. I can’t comment on what they are doing about 2015. It is their business if they decide that they are going to allow Jonathan or whoever. For me, PDP is not a party. It is a rigging machine.
If Nigerians allow them to continue rigging, fair enough. They are the ones to suffer.
But for APC, it is a new party, it is crystallizing. It is an opposition party. It is made up of governments that have shown commitment to the delivery of the real democratic dividends, meaning that we have governments like Lagos, Edo, Imo, OsunStates. They are really delivering.
Go to their own state and see what they have been able to do. This is the kind of stuff that the government of APC is going to be made up of. And every Nigerian knows that we want change from the terrible condition we have found ourselves.
I don’t see any body in their right senses who will vote for the PDP even those who rig for the PDP, I am sure they will not do that in 2015 because people are angry.