‘Sowore is an amateur revolution leader but they made him a hero’
Asks Buhari not to abandon govt to ‘cabal’
By Chioma Gabriel, Editor Special Features
A former General Secretary of the Nigerian Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers, NUPENG, Chief Frank Kokori, in this interview, speaks on issues of national importance including the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, roads in southern Nigeria, the detention of the convener of RevolutionNow, Omoyele Sowore, and Sharia.
The Niger Delta Development Commission came to be as a result of issues in the Niger Delta, but now every geo-political zone seems to be demanding for one. Is that the way to go?
Niger Delta Development Commission came as a result of the neglect of the Niger Delta. The people took to struggle and that brought about the NDDC and, don’t forget, the Niger Delta is the cash cow of the nation. It is the goose that lays the golden eggs and you don’t joke with a region like that especially with the activities of militants in the zone.
There are certain battles you don’t fight. Surely, government realised that and knew they had to negotiate. The late President Yar’Adua was very pragmatic about that.
And the North East Development Commission became a necessity because of desert encroachment which we all know is a problem there. It also became inevitable on humanitarian grounds. But the one of the Niger Delta is that they earned it. Other zones, I cannot really say but I know that so many Nigerians are lazy. Some people don’t want to work. They just want to go to Abuja and collect money. But in the case of the South-East, there is a problem of erosion in the region and that requires attention, but what the South-East requires is subsidy to tackle the environmental menace. Other zones asking for it don’t really need it. The four other zones should instead encourage their youths to work hard for their future instead of depending on the national cake that has become lean and cannot even go around.
You think our national resources are becoming lean?
Everyone knows that and we are battling corruption. Everyone knows that if you do a contract of $500 million in Tanzania, in Nigeria, that same job will cost $5 billion. Nigeria’s case is abnormal because of middlemen before the job gets to the person who will do it because of corruption. We all know that Nigeria is a fantastically corrupt country and there is nothing anybody can do about it and the man in charge, who we trusted and fought for and believed will put Nigeria on the right track, has not lived up to that expectation. So many things have happened; we know there is a powerful cabal controlling the affairs of Nigeria and nobody can say there is no cabal. I know there is a cabal and I know two people inside it. They take jobs and contracts which sometimes have been given out and give to whosoever they desire. Mine was a classic example.
What did they do to you?
I was given a job which was already announced but the cabal gave the job to someone else. I have told the President to shine his eyes but he is not doing it. He has left a lot of things to the cabal and that’s why his wife keeps shouting about the cabal.
Many Nigerians think Aisha Buhari only protests when she is deprived or she wants something and she is not getting it.
Aisha Buhari is very popular and, through her, Nigerians get to know about what is going on. People are just blackmailing her. Even southern women are not as outspoken as she is and she is a northern Muslim woman. Women like her don’t exist in the North. Aisha Buhari is the conscience of Aso Rock. Nobody can blackmail her, not even those who call her suicide bomber. She is a good woman who fights for her right and, through that, she draws attention to what is going on in government. NDDC board has been reconstituted with representatives from the nine states that make up the Niger Delta. Everybody is happy and expecting their swearing-in and I believe there is no corruption in the reconstitution of the board. We hope that this idea of one man taking all contracts at the NDDC will never happen again.
That means also that you believe in the fight against corruption and that corruption is indeed being tackled holistically.
When Buhari came in, he told us that corruption should be tackled holistically. Many people think the fight against corruption is selective but it is not. It’s just that our judicial system is so slow and the police and the judiciary are so corrupt. They are actually the ones dragging this country down. And any country where those two institutions are corrupt is gone. Look at former Governor Orji Kalu’s case. It dragged for twelve years. In other countries, they will just clamp down on you and you’re gone. But here, cases will drag on for years. That is corruption.
I said it in the presence of the President, that this country has the two most corrupt institutions. Police do nothing than to exhort people on the road. In the time of Buhari and Idiagbon, nobody dared to do that but this is different Buhari.
The Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, recently talked about Sharia law being expanded in our Constitution. What do you think?
Sharia will not survive in Nigeria. I was a member of the Constitution Drafting Committee and a member of the Constituent Assembly. People raised it and we knocked it down. Will you take Sharia to my village in Delta State? Will you take Sharia to Afikpo or Owerri? Will you impose Sharia on orthodox Christians or even other Christians and groups? It’s only in Edo North that you can talk about Sharia in the South. We shouldn’t even waste time on that.
If you say so, what then do you think of lopsided appointments going on in Nigeria? Northern Muslims are believed to be taking over everywhere, even in the security agencies and the civil service…
That is wrong. That is one issue we don’t like. Unfortunately, before Buhari, there were two Christian Presidents and we wanted them to right all the wrongs but they did not. There were talks about devolution of powers and fiscal federalism but former President Obasanjo didn’t do it. It was when former President Jonathan was seeking another term that he started talking about it but he lost the election. Is that not selfishness? What is happening now is abnormal. Buhari has ceded his powers to other people. His wife even said it. It is the cabal that is running the country, not Buhari. I’m an APC member but that is the truth of what is going on.
We blame the cabal for everything but is it the cabal that is trampling on the rule of law? Look at the cases of former NSA Dasuki, El Zak-Zaky and Sowore before the recent release of Dasuki and Sowore.
There is a cabal and there is nothing anybody can do about them because they are invisible but they are powerful. They can employ somebody and sack him even before he assumes office. I am in Labour. I was given an appointment (Chairman of the Nigerian Social Investment Trust Fund) in 2017. I was called and congratulated but, within 24 hours, the appointment was reversed because Kokori will not allow them to chop money. The Nigeria Labour Congress and NUPENG did everything. They shut down Abuja and went on national strike. But that position has gone to someone else. It’s a pity that 0.1% of people are taking over and controlling what belongs to others.
You led a revolution and landed in prison. Sowore planned to lead a revolution and almost landed the same way…
Sowore is an amateur. He is just exhibiting youthful exuberance. He doesn’t have a platform to lead a revolution. I had a platform of oil workers; I led them and they were willing to do anything for me. Oil workers in the rigs, in the terminals, in the refineries, tanker drivers and everyone in the oil business believed in me because I led them for 16 years and did not betray them. I fought for pension in NUPENG, in Chevron, in Mobil and all servicing and marketing companies. I don’t have medical pension but I fought for medical pension for oil workers. I turned the Petroleum Training Institute in Warri into something else. I was committed and the workers trusted me. 20 years after, I’m still remembered for my contributions to the improvement of oil workers’ salaries.
Sowore doesn’t have that platform. He should just have been ignored but they made him a hero. He is a great man now and the whole world knows Sowore. If I were him, I will be very happy. Just a rag-tag demonstration that has no consequence and the DSS made him a great man. He is a hero now, a revolutionary. DSS made him a hero. He is a young man and should capitalise on that.
The FG has closed the borders to enhance local production, but we heard the borders in the North are open. And the same FG that is closing borders is offering free entry into Nigeria from other African countries. Does that make sense?
When they closed the borders, I was in Katsina and the borders there were not closed. Most of the porous northern borders are open and these borders that were closed were done because of rice importation and smuggling. So they closed the borders because few farmers are making money from rice.
That is nonsense. Most of the businesses in Nigeria are suffering because of rice farmers. Are we even seeing the rice? You talk about comparative advantage and that is what civilised countries do. Is it compulsory you must produce all the rice here? So, because of rice, all businesses that have to do with import and export, you shut them down. Now, everybody is bankrupt because of rice. And some people are hailing government. Or are we now running a rice economy? How many farmers are benefiting from this? People are dying of hunger because they can’t afford a bag of rice, whether local or foreign. We now buy rice for thirty-something thousand Naira. People in Lagos buy for twenty-something thousand Naira and those further South buy for more. So, because of rice, you closed borders. What are customs and Immigration there for? They are there and petrol tankers cross the border. Petrol tankers don’t take bush paths. But the northern borders are opened and many of the northern borders take you to Niger and Chad.
Then the question of open visa for Africans coming into Nigeria, really I don’t understand that. That should only be granted to special envoys. As a NUPENG leader, I enjoyed such privilege of being given visa at the airport. I enjoyed entry-point visa. But to throw open visa-free to all and sundry, I have never heard that.
Checkpoints from Lagos to the South-East and South-South are uncountable at the moment and those travelling in this festive season are complaining. What do you think?
I travel by road within Delta and I see abnormal checkpoints. And the operatives there are not doing security checks most of the time. They operate toll gates and extort even ordinary commercial motorcyclists and I feel pain when I see motorcyclists hiding their motorcycles because of intimidation by security forces. But if you carry a fresh human head, you can pass through the checkpoints without being caught as long as you drop money.
But it appears these check points have curtailed the activities of robbers and kidnappers who operate on the highways…
I don’t know about that because I have not heard of armed robbers or kidnappers caught at these check points. But they stop women who went to market and are returning to Warri carrying garri, plantain and tubers of yam and extort them.
I like checkpoints but having them every kilometre is ridiculous. And yet there are criminals everywhere. There are bandits everywhere. There are kidnappers everywhere. I want Nigeria to work. I want security agencies to be active. I want the police, the army, civil defence and other security agencies to be effective. I want the judiciary to do their job. That was the democracy we fought for.
I had thought that if I come out and fight for freedom in my country, my children will enjoy it but look at what we are seeing. This is not the democracy we fought for. People are picked up and dumped in prison without recourse to the rule of law. If you have something against anybody, try him and, if he is found guilty, jail him. You don’t just clamp down on people and dump them in police, DSS cells without trial. What is Dasuki’s offence? What did El-Zak-Zaky do? And now you made a hero out of Sowore who does not constitute any threat and does not even have a platform to float a revolution.
Does that justify a national newspaper that reverted to addressing Buhari as a major general?
There is nothing wrong with addressing Buhari as major general because that rank is a respectful position all over the world. I was even baffled that Buhari has a problem with being addressed as major general. He earned it and should be proud of it. All over the world, generals are respected.
I address IBB as general. I still call Abdulsalami Abubakar general. It’s a big thing which they deserve. Buhari is a general and if they call him that because they see him as a dictator, that is a different thing. He is a retired general and there is nothing wrong with that. What is needed from Buhari is to shine his eyes. He should not leave his mandate in the hands of other people. He is the man with the mandate and the man that is accountable to the people. Everything stops on his table. When things go wrong in Nigeria, everybody blames him and so, he should shine his eyes. He is one of those men I respect a lot.
God-fatherism is still prevalent in Nigeria. In Edo State, we see what is playing out between Governor Obaseki and his predecessor, Adams Oshiomhole. Asiwaju Tinubu controls the South-West and, in Bayelsa State, we hear rumours about why PDP lost to APC. Why are we allowing god-fathers to ruin democracy?
Who are god-fathers? When you become a leader and people obey and respect you, you have become a godfather. But it depends on how you play your god-fatherism. When I was leading oil-workers, when there was a position, people will come and consult me. Even in the political arena, they consult me and I give my opinion but I listen to the majority.
That is how I operate. I run my family the same way. God-fatherism, yes, but it depends on how you go about it. You don’t appoint someone and control how he runs things and those to work with him. You want to nominate his commissioners, his personal assistants, and you make the man to report to you and pay money into your account. You want to handle all the contracts. Anybody doing that is a fool. That is greed. If you appoint or nominate someone, just be advising him. If he is a wise person, he will respect you. But don’t force yourself on that person. That’s the way it should be, not for you to control the person that you nominated and force your ideas on him and when he refuses, you begin to plot his downfall.