Hon. Chike Okafor represents Ehime Mbano/Ihitte Uboma/Obowo Federal Constituency of Imo State on the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the House of Representatives. He is an economist and former Commissioner for Finance in Imo State.
In this interview, he says that the trial of the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki has strengthened democracy in the country. He also says among other things that the military is responsible for the slow growth of democracy in the country.
By Emman Ovuakporie & Johnbosco Agbakwuru
Nigeria celebrated 55 years of independence, last week. Is there really anything to celebrate?
We have every cause to celebrate as a nation and as a people, if for nothing else, the fact that we are still together. I remember some stanza in the old anthem, even ‘though tongues and tribe may differ, in brotherhood we stand.’ I don’t know why we had to change that anthem. Everything that makes us a diversified nation is embedded in those few lines.
Nigeria has had crises bad enough to cause our disintegration. We talk about our nationhood in 1960 and the birth of our democracy in 1963. Shortly after, that democratic experience lasted for less than three years. There was an intervention by the military; that was a derailment. It was that coup and counter coup that brought about the Nigeria civil war, a 30-month civil war with the attendant death and destructions of lives and properties especially people from my own part of the country, the Igbo nation.
We have had Maitasine crisis in the North and now Boko Haram. We have also seen situations where some other flags were hoisted as if Nigeria is being annexed or is being conquered. Notwithstanding all that, we are still standing tall. And we have had the first experience of true transfer of power from one government to the other, after the election that produced Muhammadu Buhari as the president that took out the Peoples Democratic Party, which was in power for 16 years. A lot of people predicted doom for Nigeria including some developed countries, which said in 2015 Nigeria many no longer exist.
So, when you look at the backdrop of these crises and events, and we are still standing as a country, I think we have every cause to beat our chest and say congratulations.
We have developed and progressed as a nation. The trial of the Senate President, Dr Bukola Saraki tells you that our democracy has come to a point that nobody is above the law. The fact that the number three of this country is on the dock and Heavens have not fallen means that we have grown to a point where we can beat our chest and say we have arrived.
Where did we get it wrong? We shouldn’t have allowed military interventions. We also have allowed so much corruption, impunity to ravage our economy. But I thank this present government that is fighting corruption and all forms of vices with the seriousness that it deserves.
Another thing that we ask is where did we lose it? It is our over dependence on oil. Nigeria’s economy is monolithic. I am an economist, our over dependence on crude oil as a source of revenue is one big problem that we have. At independence and subsequently after, we were not exporting crude, our economy was doing well, our GDP (Gross Domestic Product) was at its best. Then oil came and we had oil boom during the military. I recall that a former Head of State said our problem was not money but what to do with money and we lost it. We took our eyes away from other revenue generating opportunities like agriculture.
Is the docking the Senate President not an attempt to smear the legislature?
I take it from the positive note. I hope it is a positive that we have a situation where the Chairman of the National Assembly who is the President of the Senate is docked and he made himself available for trial. That tells me that if I am also found wanting, I will also be docked and tried. it is a check on everybody. I don’t want to believe that anybody wants to smear the integrity of the legislature. I rather think that at the end of the day, our democracy will be a lot more strengthened.
On vote of confidence on Senator Bukola Saraki
That is also to tell you how independent the legislature is. There is a provision in the constitution which makes the legislature is independent of any other arm of government or interference from the outside.
Just like it happened on June 9 when we went into the two chambers against what the party and what some political leaders had wanted or had predicted and had desired. The two chambers went in there and did what the members thought was the best in the present circumstances. If you take it back to 1999 when those interferences were allowed, you probably would agree with me that they led to turn-over of presiding officers.
The vote of confidence by 83 (senators) that is over 70 percent of members of the senate shows that what is happening to Bukola Saraki as a person has nothing to do with the Senate President, which is Chairman of National Assembly, that is the point that is being made.