Elder statesman, Senator Anietie Okon, served in the Senate between 1999 and 2003. In this interview, the pioneer national publicity secretary of the People’s Democratic Party, PDP, spoke on the state of the nation and the way out of the political, and socio-economic logjam among others.
By Chioma Onuegbu & Harris Emmanuel
How would you describe the state of the nation today?
Today, everything seems to have failed in Nigeria. To address the nation otherwise is an exercise in foolhardiness. The president and his club of men which I call the cabal sit in absolute detachment from the realities in this country.
Governance, as far as I am concerned, does not begin and end with the narrow perceptions of the reach and stretch of the country. General Ibrahim Babangida once said that when President Muhammadu Buhari was the military head of state they tried to tell him that Nigeria was a lot beyond his concept of what Nigeria is, that Nigeria doesn’t begin and end with Katsina and a few other states in the North; that Nigeria has Lagos, Port-Harcourt, Cross River, Uyo, and other states, but as they did that they were classified as enemies. Therefore they had to remove him from office.
Even though we don’t want that type of action today because to have a repeat of that action will mean destroying all the democratic institutions and various segments that go with it, we want him to see the country for what it is: a defined economic and geographical entity called Nigeria does not begin and end within the confines of his state of origin.
And we want a return to true federalism in which rather than the states going to Abuja (the centre) to collect money with handbags in a beggarly picture they will be contributing to the maintenance of the centre because they are raising money on their own.
Why do you think there is banditry in Zamfara and some other places? Because they see the federal government interfering with their mineral resources, and exploited the resources illegally. And where do these bandits get their weapons from? There are now a lot of armed gangs essentially serving certain economic interests. Those interests are the ones funding them and that is why they have sophisticated weapons.
And you hear that Boko Haram members have better weapons than the Nigerian Army. They have chosen to call it banditry but the fact remains that they are sponsored by various interests in the mining sector, yet they still come to Abuja to collect from our own contributions which I learned has continued to yield for the Republic of Nigeria.
Why are they not allowing the proceeds from exploitation of mineral resources like gold, limestone come into the national treasury? We are saying that they have to formalise the exploitation of those mineral resources but they are trying to turn a blind eye to that. Those bandits are sponsored gangs by some Mafia-like organisations.
That is the truth and until we face the truth we can’t find any solution.
And as far as I am concerned, there are enough resources for every state in Nigeria to be able to look after itself and contribute to the maintenance of the centre. As a state you grow at your own pace; that is what federalism means. If you see that other states are growing, you find out from them what they are doing and establish collaboration with them to grow. It is a shame that in this country today we have 20 million pupils that are out of school. And it is not a question of talking, this has been confirmed by the United Nations and all world bodies.
And they said about 95% of that is essentially from the North.
Many northern leaders see calls for true federalism and restructuring as separatists’ agenda. How do you react to that?
That is rubbish, and irresponsible. Where did we grow from? We started as a federation until the military took overpower. So there is no compulsion to remain part of Nigeria under the present circumstance. And you see in the national dailies recently, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo warned that Nigeria cannot afford to be plunged into another civil war. Other Nigerians are also warning that the unity of the country is in tatters, and that if things continue this way, there is no way a civil war will be averted. If we declare that we are going, we are going, because there is no law that compels us to be part of Nigeria under a repressive circumstance in which the laws of association are not respected or given any regard. We want to return to true federalism, that is why we have said that they cannot continue to fight against restructuring.
Nigerians have reasoned that bad leadership in the country is as a result of rigged elections. Do you agree?
A stolen mandate has a way of responding to challenges of governance.
And as far as I am concerned, some of them are just there, doing all they can to exploit the country. And for all the exploitation done out of narrow interest is now reflecting on the condition of their citizens. For instance the severity of poverty is more felt in the North.
Do you agree with some Niger Delta citizens that their sons in President Buhari’s cabinet are working against the interest of the region?
Yes, that is true, and that is because they are driven by selfishness. How can you be in a government that continues to deny your people the basic rights of citizenship, the basic rights for development and you say nothing? Have you heard any of them make any statement that is in the interest of this region? I challenge any of them from Akpabio to Amaechi, to Sylva to come out and make statements that will help promote peaceful co-existence in this country while protecting our interest. They cannot because they are there out of selfish pursuit.
But that is not the issue here, the issue is to continue to emphasize the goals of federalism and the advantages that go with it and the fact that true federalism ensures for us as a people the right to develop at our own pace. And as I said earlier, if some states grow faster than the others, it is not their fault. Other states can seek for collaboration if they find solutions to their own problems in any state.
What is your take on the decision of the National Assembly to review the constitution?
If they want to review the constitution by making certain enactment, they are right, provided it is meant to satisfy the yearning of the people. But when you wake up and say you want to pass a bill or create an agency that promotes the education of terrorists and insurgents abroad, what rubbish is that? The bill is proposed to encourage terrorism. And where are they going to educate them? Is it Saudi Arabia or where? It doesn’t make sense. In any case I think that bill is as good as dead because I strongly believe that the leadership of the Senate have their heads properly screwed on their neck. They won’t attempt such.
Some Nigerians are calling for another national conference. Do you think that is necessary when the recommendations of the 2014 confab were not implemented?
No, it is not necessary. Let them begin to implement the recommendations of the last national conference. The recommendations are enough and I strongly believe that if those recommendations are implemented they would save the country a lot of problems and challenges it is going through today.
How do you see the decision of President Buhari on forensic audit of the NDDC?
It is also a build up of the attack on this region so that they will continue to deny us our rights.
Why has he not ordered investigation into his own expenditures? I am not holding brief for those who have run the NDDC because the commission had not been properly ran, it doesn’t require any audit to establish that as a fact. So it requires finding the culprits and dealing with them, not to be telling us that they are carrying out a forensic audit. And in any case a lot of monies are still being owed the NDDC.
What is your take on the call for state police?
It is beyond time. Why are people talking about state police now? It is medicine after death.
Some Nigerians have argued that adopting a regional security outfit will gradually shift administration to the regions?
And what is wrong with that? With the failure of the present federal system, everybody must look after himself. Within the laws of this country, the National Assembly can decide to create something like an ambience that could assure the people of each region when they adopt whatever they are going to adopt, of their independence up to a point, and their security. During my recent interaction with the media in the state, I made reference to people now resorting to self-help, which is a dangerous one. Of course, the federal police in Nigeria has failed. You see the outrage over the killing of that footballer, Kazeem, recently, and you can point to many cases like that. Now they said they are going after Yahoo boys.
Does that mean you support the establishment of regional security outfit?
As long as they come out and look after the security interest of the regions.
It is almost five years of the APC-led federal government, how would you assess their anti-corruption fight so far?
They are much more corrupt. How many people have they jailed so far? In the name of fighting corruption they have recovered so much money from looters, where are those recovered funds going into? Why is America now intervening in the repatriation of Abacha’s loot to Nigeria? They even had to attach conditions for them to return the over $300million loot, the money that was looted by late Sanni Abacha as a former head of state, and warned that it must not be stolen. That is lack of trust. Recently we read in the Newspapers that the US Department of Justice alleged that the Nigerian government is planning to hand over about $100million out of the money Abacha looted to Bagudu, Kebbi state governor and Chairman of the All Progressives Congress Party, Governors Forum. Did you not read the story?
How would you react to the refusal of President Buhari to sack his service chiefs over expiration of their tenure and worsening security situation?
The president has always conducted the business of governance of this country in such a way that it is to his whims and caprices. How can a president continue to encourage illegality? You see the appointment of Magu, the extension of the tenure and appointment of the service chiefs beyond what was contemplated in Law. So a lot of his actions are illegal and I am not surprised. What did he not promise Nigerians. He promised to fight corruption but corruption index has increased under his leadership. He also promised to restructure the economy of the country, has he done that? It was good enough to make the promises in order to get votes. I hold people like Tinubu accountable for the disasters that we are having today because if he did not partner with him there is no way he could have beaten Jonathan in 2015.
On killings by herdsmen in some states in Niger Delta region
There is no doubt that this development is part of the policy of the fulanisation of Nigeria. Most of those coming down here have never been resident in this country. They come in through the borders that are thrown open. They just walk across from their own lands because of the fact that there is grant of free entry mostly to Africa of Fulani extraction.
Recently there was a fresh controversy over the plan by FG to site of a Nuclear plant in your local government, Itu, what is your take on that?
We will not have accepted it. Let them carry it to where there is land. The siting of nuclear plant should be within 40 or more than 100 kilometres from where you find people. There is really no need wasting our time about that. Recently they came trying to convince us, but they forgot that for you to have a site for a nuclear plant, the government, the leadership of wherever it is to be sited must be aware of it. And as far back as 2015 we had kicked against it, we held a press conference to state our position on that. After that, a lot of professors also came up with their positions in addition to the position we took that Nigeria is not ready for it. We don’t have the discipline or competence to manage a nuclear plant and the consequences of a leak. So we cannot allow it.
How would you assess Governor Udom’s government so far?
What is the allocation coming to the state and what has the man achieved so far?. People even wonder where he gets the money to do the things he is doing. He is using market forces to ensure development in Akwa Ibom. Factories are being constructed, road infrastructure are being developed and at the same time he is managing a debt which he inherited. And when they say funding? Is it the APC, that has no area where they are performing creditably. In fact their newest scam is the appointment of an Emir of Imo. My take on this is that Udom has done well, he is still doing well and he has delivered on the mandate given to him by Akwa Ibom people.
The Nigeria of your time and Nigeria today, how would you compare?
There is no way of comparing them. We went to school, we had ambitions, and we looked up to our leaders. But can my child today, look up to a man like Muhammadu Buhari. What is there to write home about him? He has failed in his promises to reposition the economy of this country.