‘Politicians are not interested in our votes but power’

AgbakobaFormer President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) and member of the 2014 National Conference, Dr. Olisa Agbakoba (SAN), considering the engagement of the two main political parties in personalities clash in their campaigns rather than issue-based politicking, told journalist in Lagos he was not certain of change in the polity whichever political party that wins the 2015 election. Seye Olumide and Yetunde Oyegbami-Ojo report.

Possible silver lining in the political development of the country

THE only great development is the fact that we now have a strong multi-coloured party structure in the shape of the All Progressives Congress (APC). That is the only thing new that one is happy to report. 

  It does seem as if what we are seeing is a personal clash from the politicians rather than an issue clash. It doesn’t seem as if what we are seeing is a contest of personalities.

  I found one amusing, when the former Minister of Information, Labaran Maku, resigned to contest on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Nasarawa State, lost and became a member of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA). 

  That tells me that the only consideration that politicians have in this election is political power and that is not going to help Nigeria. 

  The issues are very critical; Nigeria is in low-grade civil war. There are eight conditions you review in describing how a state can be described as failed; Nigeria is exhibiting three and yet our politicians have failed to address the fundamentals.

  The big issue is the one that the late Bola Ige, former Attorney General, raised: If we don’t address our political arrangement, how do we live together? Or we don’t have a national order because everyone will agree that Nigeria, at this stage, is in disorder; there is no way 2015 will be successful for Nigerians. 

  It may be successful for the politicians, either the APC or the PDP, but not Nigerians because there will be no national order, which is the vital ingredient and element necessary to promote peace and stability, and with peace and stability, you can have development.

  I was watching a film; Half of a Yellow Sun, and in the part where Biafra refugees were fleeing, the last thing on their mind is for a politician to come and talk to them about power, roads, job. Or if you go to Somalia and there is a war going on, you don’t want to talk about job creation. 

  So, if Nigeria is unable to reverse the impending doom that Professor Bolaji Akinyemi mentioned, then the issues our politicians think are issues are no issues. 

  The issue that we have to confront — and what is causing all the problems — is how the politicians envisage how they can pocket the loot. 

  They are interested in how much can be made; that is why they are jumping from party to party. I’m finding it difficult to know who is in one party because they are just jumping up and down. I think it’s important to call their attention that those are not the real issues. 

  If we don’t ask ourselves how we want to live together, we are going nowhere. If Nigeria is unable to understand its fault lines — the ethnic, linguistic and religious fault lines, and create the political arrangement to accommodate them, 2015 will go to either the PDP or the APC and we will carry the baggage forward to 2019. 

  The only way we can develop our resources is to ensure we have peace and stability because Nigeria is a very wealthy country. But the problem is that we don’t have the peace and stability to develop our resources. 

  It is crucial that the politicians be made to understand that key discussions that we will like to hear is that if they come to power, how do they intend to address the issue that has eluded the colonial powers, who did not give us a good Constitution; the military powers, which did not give a good Constitution and civil powers that has not given us a good Constitution?

  We will like to hear what the presidential candidates think: Should Nigeria be made a loose federal system; should we collapse the states and how can we be viable political entity? 

  Those are the pressing questions, which, I think, form the fundamental framework upon which a new, transformed Nigeria can go. 

  Right now, transformation is not our problem; restoration is our problem. Restoring Nigeria in order to transform is the problem.  

  What happened in Japan in the 1600 is happening here in Nigeria. They had political shoguns; warlords that took over the country and they used their troops to pervert the national treasuries until a leader, who understood statecraft, came and led Japan to where it is today. 

  So, do we have a statesman? We will like to hear what the parties have to say? Do they have statesmen in their presidential candidates? If so, are we hearing the message? The two political parties must tell us why we have to vote for them.

Thoughts on proposed postponement of elections and formation of Transitional Government

  The call for postponement is clearly unconstitutional because the 1999 Constitution provides for a term of four years. If this proposal is to be accepted, it will require an amendment to the Constitution. And if the Constitution is amended and Nigerians agree, then we do it. 

  But to the extent that it is not even an issue, only Pastor Tunde Bakare had mentioned it; we haven’t heard the politicians speak upon it. 

  That is part of what I am saying — they haven’t said anything because they are consumed with power. From what I can see, the politicians are not interested in what type of Nigeria we will find in 2015. 

  The question you asked me, politicians are not asking themselves those questions. The reason that call has come up is because both the PDP and APC are traveling on one track from opposite ends and when they meet at the centre, there will be a collision, a blowout. 

  To avert that collision, some Nigerians are calling for a postponement, which I don’t support except it has relevant Constitution backing.

On appeal by President Jonathan for Nigerians to vote PDP lawmakers, who will incorporate the recommendations of the National Conference in the Constitution

THAT is a good idea but don’t forget that President Jonathan is not the first to convoke a conference. So, don’t focus on these two presidential candidates; that is why I said statecraft. 

  We have to go back and see that in the last 60 years, the political process has not thrown up statesmen. I can give you two examples, whether they are military or civilian; it doesn’t matter to me. 

  If the former Head of State, Gen. Ibrahim Babangida, had been a statesman, he had a very good opportunity to craft a good Nigeria by creating and bequeathing a proper legal framework for a good Constitution. 

  Secondly, if former President Olusegun Obasanjo were a good statesman, he would not have converted the National Conference he called into a ‘Third Term’ agenda. Thus, the challenge has been the lack of statesmen. 

  The question being posed to the political contenders is, do we see elements in either the PDP or APC that, when Nigerians reflect on the failures of the country, which cannot be doubted, we can then say this man or this man stands out? I think that is the broader question.

  I don’t want to get into the issue of who is a better person, but my discussion is to say in 60 years, Nigeria has not progressed and there is a reason for that. 

  First is that the way we live, we haven’t agreed on how we wanted to live together. We need that concrete agreement on how we want to live.

Perception of the approach to the elections

  The way we are going to this election, we are going to fail. We have been doing it the same way and failing. Obasanjo told us all kinds of things; that he was going to give us NIPP, but the funds were diverted elsewhere. 

  It has been a catalogue of woes and destruction stretching back but the problem with this particular election is that it seems to be the most volatile. That is the problem. 

  And the competition for political powers has been very personalised, and the impact it would have is what, I think, Dr. Tunji Braithwaite, Bakare and others have spoken about. We need to be very careful about sliding into the abyss.

On INEC’s readiness for the February polls

  INEC is not in that readiness mood to conduct the election because 75 per cent of the voters do not have the Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs). 

  If INEC is insisting that you have to present your voter card before voting and 75 per cent of those to vote in four weeks’ time don’t have it, then it calls for concern. 

  On today’s information, INEC lacks the fundamental to conduct elections, let alone free and fair elections on the grounds that the logistical framework to conduct it is not there. 

  The politicians don’t think that our votes count because if they thought so, I am unable to understand why two major political parties will launch their campaigns four weeks to the elections when, typically, the campaign should be launched two years ago. 

  The politicians are not interested in your votes; they are interested in power. Sometimes, people talk about the followers, but the followers are very hungry Nigerians and therefore, they are not in a position to make informed decisions. So, I don’t blame them when they take a loaf of bread with N20 inside it. 

  There are 40 million unemployed youths and the poverty level is at about 90 per cent. The wealth/income distribution is so bad that only about 500 Nigerians own 90 per cent of the wealth. 

  With that type of challenge and bondage, it only takes a statesman, who will say that this will not continue, to make a change.

On happenings in the country giving credence to the prediction that Nigeria will break in 2015

  I don’t think Nigeria will break in 2015. I saw the US Ambassador on the television denying such prediction. Nigeria is too strong a country to break up; that is out of the question. 

  The challenge, however, is that Nigeria would not be able to harness its full potential in seemingly little things like lack of a national carrier before we even move to the big things.

  For example, if you want to be a big country, you have to show yourself to the world whether in sports or other endeavours. Apart from Blessing Okagbare and a few others, Nigeria is gone; no potentials in sports; we have no potential in anything. 

  The one thing that always strikes me — because I travel around the world — is that I see Air Gambia, Air Mauritius, Air Zambia but I have never seen Air Nigeria. I say what a shame! 

  What they have done in the Middle East is to create enabling environment that attracts you there. So, they have their Emirates, Etihad; that is how a country is great because they are showing their flags.

  One of the most ridiculous ones I have seen is that if 10 containers come to the Central Africa, which contained about 18 countries, eight belong to Nigeria. Out of that eight, five go to other ports because they find your ports inefficient. How can you say you are a great country? 

  The reason for that, sometimes, is simply the fact that the Federal Government, being too big, owns all the ports, whereas Lagos State should own the ports. So, you can see as Apapa is, unless a statesman is prepared to say I want to reconfigure Nigeria by a redistribution of political power. 

  Apapa produces almost the equal of our oil wealth but because it is not tapped and nobody cares, it has stayed like this. The Federal Government is too far and the Lagos State Government is completely incapacitated to do anything. 

  Resources from shipping, by the way, are twice the national budget; it is about N7 trillion, and the national budget is about N4 trillion. But because it is nobody’s business, it goes and then you have foreign ship owners, foreign terminal operators operating there. 

  When you talk about unemployment, it is related to the political configuration of Nigeria. 

  Unless we found statesmen and statecrafts to deal with this Abuja problem, take the power from Abuja and spread it down, Nigeria is not going anywhere.

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