‘Buhari has saved Nigeria from disintegration’
Politician and elderstatesman, Chief Ralph Obioha, in this interview with LAWRENCE NJOKU, spoke on Nigeria’s democratic journey so far among other issues. Excerpts:
Assessment of Buhari’s two years in office
Before you can make any assessment of the last two years of Buhari’s administration, the assessment can only be made if it starts from what was inherited from the dysfunctional government of the last administration. It is a miracle that Nigeria has not disintegrated considering the rot Nigeria found itself, the rampant corruption, the total absence of functional state institutions, the state of economy etc. Without mincing words and if we should be fair to Buhari’s administration, credit must be given to him for holding the country together. If you take a critical look, we were at a point where we were at a lost about our future, where the level of corruption has thrown the country into a near failed state and where nearly all the institutions were broken. Nothing was spared; the once standing judiciary was also corrupted. The fight against corruption was implemented with no spectacular results but the exposition at least, gave hope to Nigerians that some measures were being taken to arrest the situation.
The administration’s signature policy of war against corruption earned it a pass mark. The economy escaped a free fall to meltdown and is being gradually restored; the exchange rate is gradually returning to normal, economic activities are showing signs of recovery, confidence are gaining currency and hope for a better future is taking hold. We as citizens have to give the administration room and time to continue the corrective measures being put in place because the country was at a miserable crossroads two year ago. For those who may not be aware, Nigeria was literally broke financially two years ago. The main source of foreign earnings is oil revenue which price fell drastically and threw the government budget and expenditures to dive straight resulting to massive failure in meeting critical payments. The reduction in foreign earnings put a heavy burden on the naira. Much credit must be given to the Central Bank for implementing a levelheaded policy to restore stability in that sector.
The assessment is not without some drawbacks because we are not there yet and much is yet to be done. The war against corruption is losing steam. It seems that it is not vigorously pursued. The economy is still gasping, the power sector situation is still epileptic, state institutions are still dysfunctional but all in all, we are beginning to see hope again. Personally my support for Buhari was not misplaced. To the administration’s deficit are things left undone, and much development is needed to move the country forward. Admitted, with reduced revenue earnings, meeting government responsibilities are impossible to accomplish but the government must restructure to ensure fiscal responsibility in all expenditure areas. The wastage is still rampant; corruption is still ravaging the society to the extent that SGF Babachir Lawal was recently exposed. The states and local government councils are in this rot. Any fair-minded person will completely write off the third tier, which is totally in the pocket of the state governments.
When the majority voted for Buhari they did so because they wanted a transformed leader, not a leader of business as usual. The startup was spectacular and in spite of the hardship in the land, the vast majority was happy that things would change. But Buhari himself did not know the depth we had descended and the exposure of what was on ground may be one of the reasons for his current health condition. Vast majority of Nigerians are praying for his quick recovery.
Has the economic transformation made positive impact so far?
In my opening remarks, I pointed out that the vastly reduced revenue accruing to the government has eroded its abilities to meet obligations. In such circumstances the government should immediately come to terms with such development and restructure its priorities, cut wastages and drastically maintain a strict fiscal supervision. That did not happen and one sees zero change in the wasteful habit of still promoting heavy recurrent expenditure at the expense of capital expenditure. The result is a continued run down of our capital assets in the infrastructural decays in roads, hospitals, schools, institutions etc. Nigeria may be the lowest per capita expenditure in Social Services, with the highest per capita expenditure on recurrent personnel costs. No wonder the country found itself in a serious recession and for the first time in our history, real mass hunger manifested in the country. This phenomenon was made worse by the behaviour of our officials and even elected individuals, moving in convoys of expensive exotic cars in the face of the critical mass.
On Buhari’s health and call for his resignation
We have constitutional democracy and any call for the President to resign on account of his ill health is morbid, unpatriotic, mischievous and completely insensitive. The constitution provides for measures to be taken if the ill health leads to incapacity. Besides the same constitution took care of any eventuality by the provisions of a Vice-President to act in the absence of the President and Vice President Osibanjo is acting excellently in that position. Credit should be given to President Buhari for picking the level headed Osibanjo to team up with him to pilot the affairs of Nigeria with a steady compass to reposition the country. Comments from most sectors in Nigeria reveal good things about the performance of the acting President. Good or bad the credit belongs to President Buhari.
Are you satisfied with the state of the nation?
There are many rooms for improvement. Moving forward, I believe that there should be an overhaul of actors in positions of authority. There are no super humans in the world not to talk of Nigeria. So it makes no sense that one man is saddled to oversee three critical ministries of works, power and housing. It is a gross mistake on the part of government to allow this situation to persist knowing full well that the lack of power is a serious and devastating drawback to the country. In fact the government should declare a state of emergency on power because the lack of sufficient power supply is directly impacting on the joblessness, lack of opportunities insecurity and hardship in the polity.
On agitations for Biafra
It is a big mistake on the part of the government to arrest and unlawfully detain the agitators for the creation of Biafra. Nigeria is a Sovereign democratic state being run on the basis of constitutional democracy. Therefore, many provisions abound in that constitution for individuals and groups to freely express themselves provided they do so lawfully and peacefully. No extra constitutional or even judicial measures should be adopted to stop them. At times the actions of government promote the agitators to unearned notoriety and give them relevance they do not deserve. Biafra is a very sensitive issue for easterners and it is like honey attracting a swarm of bees. The easterners have not come to terms with the outcome of the disastrous civil war and make a complete closure of the sad experience. Some individuals exploiting the fancy of the Biafran dream make the matter worse. What is needed in Nigeria is a transformational leader adopting what great thinkers and leaders in other climes were able to accomplish for their people. It was the emergency of Mao that transformed China; India was transformed by the sacrifice of Gandhi. Martin Luther King elevated the status of the blacks in America; the democracy in South Africa was made possible by sacrifice made by Nelson Mandela. These individuals were transformational and showed no primordial instincts to play on prejudices but rather, had the wisdom to forge progress for the good of the masses. Scotland, Britain adopted constitutional means to break up with England, Wales and Northern Ireland. They went via the route of referendum and democratically it failed but after ten years they may try again. My advice to my brothers and sisters who are agitating for the creation of Biafra is to do so via constitutional means.
They should first organise the people of the affected areas to agree for the creation. When that is successfully accomplished, the representatives of the affected areas will move for a referendum to ensure it is the will of the majority of the people affected. This is the lawful and peaceful way to accomplish the agitation of Biafra. Nation building is a painstaking venture and organised by patriotic individuals. Hustlers and speculators never undertake it. America is so vast yet no part is left behind. It was designed that the East Coast was not envied for its dominance of Capital, Banking, Finance, and Press. The West Coast concentrated on entertainment producing movies and technology. In between the middle of that nation is the agricultural belt where food production and industrial manufacturing held sway. Even desert Nevada was transformed into the gambling capital of the world. Every part is allowed and encouraged to play with their relevant advantages. Nigeria is begging for transformational leaders to come to the aid of that potentially, well-endowed country. If we as a country look at restructuring to highlight where we have advantage and maximally exploit them, it will bring growth to the nation.
The 2014 Constitutional Conference
One thing about the actions of former President Goodluck Jonathan is he did not complete most of the projects he started. When he invoked that constitutional conference, he should have seen to it that he put in place the necessary laws or secured the passage of the necessary laws to back the outcome of the conference and its resolutions. He failed to have those resolutions passed as the laws of the land. That gathering was then described as a jamboree probably organised to take care of select group of men and women. An appeal can rightfully be made to this government to take a critical look at the recommendations to see what can be derived from them for the good of the country.
Mass defection to the APC by politicians
It is not healthy for the country. It has manifested over the years and it is a big shame. It exposes us as a people without principle and lacking in political culture. We need to have discipline in politics that could move our democracy forward. Those abandoning their parties to jump into APC are no leaders; they are jobbers, speculators and hustlers. APC should accept them with extreme caution. The greatest asset Nigeria has is her evolving democracy but the country needs to work out the modalities that will enable that democracy work for the people. It is not achieved by running from one party to another, but by striving to do what is right for the good of the society. Our memory in this country seems to be very short. Only few years ago, PDP was referred to as the largest party in Africa. That so called largest party is now a ghost and yet Nigerians cannot draw any lesson from that. Democracy is strengthened by a multi-party system, not by all actors joining the ruling party. Their actions expose those joining the ruling party as individuals lacking in character and principles. If as they claim, PDP has failed them, the logical thing to do is to be a part of a new movement to put together a new mega party that will redeem this country.