Professor Chris Nwaokobia Jnr, Director General of Director General, Change Ambassadors of Nigeria, a former Presidential candidate of the Liberal Democratic Party of Nigeria (LDPN), has been a renowned personality in the human rights community. Today, he is deeply involved in partisan politics and a staunch member of the All Progressives Congress (APC); perhaps, this has relatively altered his world view of state/citizens relations, essentially, the political economy framework in determining who gets what, when and how much from the commonwealth. Professor Nwaokobia declares his unreserved support for removal of petrol subsidy as well as the fight against corruption. He advocates that Nigerians should support President Muhammadu Buhari to ensure that what is proper and right is done. In an overview of significant political events of the year 2015, SUNDAY ODIBASHI met him in Lagos.
THE prosecution of retired Colonel Sambo Dasuki, National Security Adviser (NSA) to former President Goodluck Jonathan, and others over $2.1 billion arms funds misappropriation, does it indicate strong signal of President Muhammadu Buhari’s fight against corruption?
First, the DasukiGate is a troubling testament to our collective journey as a country. It is perturbing for three reasons. One will think that the office of the NSA should be about advising the President on how to protect and secure the country. Tragically, the things we hear are baffling. That simply shows that the office might have, perhaps, become that of Naira Sharing Adviser portfolio. Perhaps, Dasuki was former President Goodluck Jonathan’s Naira Sharing Adviser (NSA). What we hear is sickening. Facts coming by the day, they are all coming out in droves. Names are being called; people are coming out to say I got this money for so reasons; I didn’t get it for this reason. It is a slap on our collective sensibility. Secondly, it reveals that corruption has become so endemic that the office of the President under Jonathan allowed the sharing of our collective patrimony among himself, his cronies and political followers. The third is the low morality in governance. The moral margin of that government was thin and short. So, that was why they see no wrong in sharing our collective patrimony. Unfortunately, they did not know how to hide the monumental corruption. In one of his presidential chat, former President Jonathan expressed that stealing is not corruption. Perhaps, he knew that the day will come when they will ask them to account for what they stole and how they stole them. Essentially, it is important that we must support President Muhammadu Buhari and the new administration in the fight against corruption.
Some have said that he is selective but they turn blind eyes to the fact that the former administration obviously shared our resources among themselves which they are now confessing to. They should be investigated and handled but some are worried that it is selective. What is wrong is wrong. Wrong at all time should be punished. What is important for us is to encourage the government to investigate these cases, handle them pro-actively. Ultimately, the fight against corruption will become a claim that will engulf both friends and foes. President Buhari said during the Anyiam Osigwe lecture that he is ready to wage the fight against corruption even against his friends. So, those who are beginning to sectionalize, sentimentalize it are being prejudicial. Anybody who has a conscience and who has a soul, this gamut of guile of who stole and who didn’t steal, who shared, who didn’t receive should be a slap on our conscience, a slap in our collective morality. We must all congregate at the place where we will say never again with corruption. We must all join forces with the fight against corruption; we must align, support the fight against corruption and insist that the President ensures that which is proper and right is done.
Don’t you think those saying it is selective and even agitate the investigation be extended to previous administrations have information the public does not have that need to be exposed as well?
The question as to whether they have information is not a problem. We have information about a certain corruption and corrupt people that took place in this country before independence. We have information about the Willinks Commission that indicted almost all our founding Fathers for corruption. We have information about Abacha and the Abacha loots. But in our present case, somebody handed over power to you; somebody handed over files directly to you. Naturally, if you want to fight corruption, you start with the one you have full records and details. Subsequently, it will dovetail to other regimes; it will get to other administrations for as long as the fight becomes consistent. In all, the books you have to review are the books that are immediately available. Those politicizing it, saying it is selective are doing so because they have partisan sentiments. With what we hear now, the past administration obviously turned governance into a bazaar. With what we hear today, it is almost obvious that if care is not taken, they will end up being the most corrupt administration this country has ever had. So, Nigeria should go to Shagari’s era before addressing the immediate rot. It doesn’t make profound sense. So, if the President is starting with his immediate predecessor, it is proper, right and trite; those who are faulting him are not fair. For the sensibility of the average Nigerian or children watching this spectacle, the immediate administration must be fully and pro-actively investigated and probed. Those found wanting or indicted, should be charged to court, and if found guilty, they should be handled according to the law. I do not subscribe to those saying that we have to go back to 1960. The truth is that what is right must be done, then, it is always right to do right.
The revelations from the Dasuki trial indicate that the money was shared to those who provided presidential campaign services, is the PDP not right to agitate that President Buhari should probe the presidential campaign funding of both the PDP and APC?
Again, it is always right to do what is right; the time is always right to do right. To probe the campaign funding of the APC, first, raise your petition. Let them raise their petition. Here we have substantive issue of money sharing. People have come out to admit, yes, I received money but for another purpose. So, if the PDP wants the campaign funding of the President probed, let them begin the process, let them raise the issues. There were issues, petitions that were raised that led to these findings in the DasukiGate. APC will not simply get on to say because the PDP wants its house checked; it will pull down the house. If you have particular information, bring them to the public domain, nobody has gagged the press, nobody has restricted the media space. Raise the issues, the EFCC will take them up; the ICPC will handle them, even the Police will look into them. It is wrong to castigate the President the way they are doing.
Those attacking the President and the fight against corruption are doing so because majority of people indicated are in the PDP. However, at the level of this investigation, Nigerians have also heard names of those who are even loyal to the APC. So, ultimately, it will bite people in the PDP and people in the APC and Nigeria will be better for it. It is saddening and sickening when you look at the spectacle and you find that people who should otherwise be our fathers, people who should superintend over our collective conscience and morality, decided instead of building for us strong moral margin, decided to steal and loot our collective wealth.
You have been among those in the vanguard of advocacy for populist policies, recently, the World Bank told the Federal Government to remove petrol subsidy and government has succumbed to that, how do you reconcile this with your belief?
Well, for the benefit of Nigerians who will say but you were one of those who stood at Freedom Square, Ojota, Lagos, and addressed that rally, saying no to removal of subsidy, the time has changed. The first day I went to Ojota for that protest, I had to discharge myself from hospital against the doctor’s advice to address that rally. We stood against the removal of fuel subsidy because the government did not engage the people effectively before the decision. If you want to remove subsidy, the onus is on you to inform the Nigerian people why you are asking them to tighten their belt. Unfortunately, rather than engage the people, Nigerians woke up on New Year day to find that they will pay more for petrol; that the price of petroleum products has risen, that government did not even think of giving us a good New Year. We resisted and protested it based on the facts available. We were not angels, we were not clairvoyants. Now, that the facts are there for the people, we must accept it. My mentor, Mahatma Ghandi of India said: “the time is always right to do right and I will continue to learn as a human being even until I die. If I find superior facts, I will take these superior facts and discountenance the ones I have before this.” Nelson Mandela also said: that “at some point that the human mind is a flux, seeking superior knowledge and superior information and when it finds superior knowledge and superior information, it will naturally take them.” I have found superior information in the fact that subsidy is not only a fraud; it is a scam, not only a scam, the Nigerian novae riche, the few Nigerians who “import” petroleum products have used it to rip the Nigerian people dry, to rape the economy. To sustain that paradigm will be to do greater injustice, do greater harm, injury to the people. So, I have joined the government in saying the time to remove subsidy is now. Interestingly, what we must salute is the fact that the government has resolved that subsidy will be removed but petrol will not sell above N97 per litre. Government is not only saying that subsidy will be removed, government is being realistic that, indeed, even when we remove it, we can still sell fuel at N97 per litre not like the N127 per litre that we were thrown into in 2012 when Jonathan was in office. There is difference now. Here we have a government that is saying we can handle it with a human face and the government is saying we will not allow t\\he few importers take us for a ride; we will import it ourselves. Now, what we have in our hands is encouraging. The government is committed in ensuring that the change mantra for which our electioneering victory was predicated will be sustained not only in ensuring that there is better life for the Nigerian people but in responsible leadership and ensuring that at all time, Government considers itself servant to the people. Again, I am in support of the removal of petrol subsidy because if you remove it, the over N250 billion per month that you are saving the Nigerian enterprise can do the Second Niger Bridge, more schools, hospitals and better infrastructures for our country. We don’t need SURE-P, we need developmental projects.
Do you realize that subsidy connotes basic economic realities, listening to your arguments in the past and the present, what is that superior information you now have, what has changed or have you compromised your belief?
The only consistent phenomenon in the universe is change. The only consistent index in God’s word is GOD. In policy analysis all over the world, regimes change their policy analysis. Even incumbent regimes changes based on superior information and facts. My position today is congruent, consistent to the extent that it cares about developing Nigeria; it cares about building new roads, infrastructures, etc. Therefore, to support removal of subsidy is only being consistent with what I stand for because what I have always preached or stand for is the development of the Nigerian enterprise and making life better for the people. The time has come for us to do what is right.
Why not consider priority in building refineries, is the trust there; have you considered the spillover effect on cost of production in the economy?
Interestingly, what government has said is that they will not sell petrol above N97, though, the Minister of State for Petroleum, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu, said last week that they will not sell fuel at N97/litre next year.
But is that not the same price the Jonathan administration reduced it to N87 per litre?
The realities at that time were that government first took it to N127 per litre but when we protested, the government brought it down to N97 and later N87. Now, what we are saying, the regime I support, the regime fought for and fought with against the former regime, is that the time to do the right is now. I am proud to that I am one of those who sent my own brother back to Otuoke because Nigeria is ultimately going to be better and the Nigerian people will be happier for reasons that are profound.
Now, whether government will ensure they refine petroleum products, the Group Managing Director of NNPC, and Minster of State for Petroleum, Ibe Kachikwu, has said repeatedly that not only will new refineries be built, if the old ones are not functional, they will be sold off. Then, government has said that if the independent marketers will hold us bijogular into ensuring that they continue with subsidy regime, then, government will be compelled to import petroleum products in an exchange routine where they will take out crude and bring in refined products to service the people.
The fear of the people as whether government will be true to its promises is neither here nor there. It is when you marry two wives that you know the difference between the wives in terms of pretences and loyalty. We have just married a new wife, teat is President Buhari. We know the wife we had before, we know how much bazaar they turned governance to, we understand how much looting that became the order of the day and how the profile policy of government was sharing our collective patrimony. We know that this government has told us repeatedly that not only will it fight corruption; it will do it well in ensuring that Nigeria is safer and to create jobs. It is just about eight months into that union, it is too early to score that wife poorly, it is too early to turn your face on that wife and say she is riotous or unfaithful because your former wife was unfaithful. You will need to find out to what extent this new wife will be faithful and loyal. The body language, the nuances and SoundBits and commitment of this new wife is sign that a better Nigeria is coming.
Some stakeholders have argued that governance is more than corruption, or corruption Nigeria’s primary problem, how do you asses Buhari’s management of the economy?
Sentiments abound. There is no country in the world that is successful today that did not make corruption at the point we pull the string that did not make up to its reality, make it a primary target, a primary fight. Singapore Lee Kuan Yu said that his major agenda to Singapore will be tripod. He said to fight corruption with your body, soul and spirit, you shall be able to free resources necessary to improve your economy and make your people happy. Just imagine that you are to fight corruption frontally, recover the stolen trillion from public treasury. Statistics has it that over 44 trillion have been stolen within the past 20 years. Imagine that government get back 20 trillion, that way government will be able to do much more. The highest budget that we ever had in this country is about the one this administration has just presented to the National Assembly this week, that is about N6 trillion. If you were to recover N20 trillion from all those who stole our money, you will in 10 years turn this country into a pride of this continent. And you will recreate our people, jobs will be created, roads will be rebuilt, and our railway system will be revived.
Again, if you were to fight corruption, you will build a new moral margin in this country. Stealing will be treated as anathema where stealing will be treated as prevalence. When you fight corruption frontally, people who are in government will find out that you can only aspire to leadership if you are committed and passionate, not just for the name but for service. That way, you will have Nigerians aspire to leadership who are truly patriotic and passionate, that way, you will be able to grow the Nigerian project and make life better. If you are to fight corruption, the Nigerian people will have a new tendency in leadership which is dedication to duty. If you were to fight corruption, patriotism will grow and you will find that serving the country is primary. If you were to fight corruption, the Nigerian people will ultimately aggregate at a point where the country will come first. So, the greatest agenda of the state, particularly, with Nigeria at this point, is to fight corruption. So, those who say the fight against corruption is too over flogged, over hyped, are unfair, not only to Mr. President, but also to Nigerian child, and unfair to posterity because we must at this point in our history create monuments, references.
Some stakeholders have also expressed that APC appears not to know how to manage power, essentially, in the INEC handling of governorship elections in Kogi and Bayelsa states, is this also part of the change agenda?
Unfortunately, those who make those allusions do not understand the anatomy of the problems of governance. Nigerians have become too critical that they find it difficult to draw the lines. First, INEC is independent; who was Jega, an appointee of Jonathan who superintended an election that Jonathan lost that took him away from office. That means that INEC is independent. How do you blame the President for decisions of the INEC chairman? Those who are critical of the government are losing facts. They are finding it difficult to engage in fundamental issues, they will soon begin to dictate whether the President wears white of black kaftan. The fundamental are what we must deal with, which is that INEC in Kogi and Bayelsa states are trying to stick to the rules. How we feel about those rules is left for the National Assembly and those who make laws to address those fundamental issues. The APC was not responsible for Audu’s death. So, if an intervening circumstance led to confusion, we had our different opinions as to whether the election would have been declared conclusive or inconclusive. But if the intervening circumstance, act of God, occurred in the Kogi scenario, why blame it on APC.
The second scenario is simply that which makes me laugh. If the result from Southern Ijaw Local Government had been accepted, the APC governorship candidate, Timipre Sylva, would have won. So, why blaming the APC for not insisting that INEC releases the result, it just shoes that this government in power is fair, just and equitable. In both elections that were running, if they were allowed to be concluded would have produced APC governors. If INEC had declared Kogi election conclusive on day one, Faleke would have been governor. All these political gymnastics and brickbats would not have come. If the result from Bayelsa had been accepted from the facts that we have, Sylva of the APC would have been declared governor, yet, Nigerians are still blaming APC for not having the INEC do the right thing. The INEC has done what is right, what they consider right and its shows that the INEC under this administration is truly independent. What happened in Kogi and Bayelsa are testaments of the pro-activeness of the APC.
What is your view on the Biafra agitation; is it justified and at the right time?
Interestingly, my people were deeply involved in the agitation for Biafra. I share a strong sentiment over the need for justice and inclusivity in the running of the country. The Nigerian project can be fairer that it is today. Government can do justice and give the Ibo man a strong sense of inclusion. I am not talking about the power diaphragm, not about making the Ibo man President of Nigeria. I am not one of those who believe in such sentiment wrongly. I believe that the sentiments that are good and they are sentiments of justice and equity.
We have three major ethnic groups in this country located in the three geographical zones and the least of those six geographical zones is the south east in terms of number of states. It is inequitable. Some of the regions have six and another seven states. Then, the south east, the third major group has only five states. Secondly, the Nigerian enterprise should deal with issues about ‘no victor no vanquish’ preachment that attended the end of the war with sincerity. The Ibo man should be seen just like he is, a man who has accepted Nigeria more than any other group. Graphically, every part of this country, after the indigenous tribe, the largest in terms of population is the Ibo man. So, he in truth, has accepted Nigeria as his own. If he is the one saying that he wants to go, then, you must understand that actually certain injustice have been done to them. So, the Nigerian enterprise must wake up to that reality and address those injustices. Ascertain from them what those injustices truly are and the struggle in the country. Go to the North, on Kano, if the indigenous population is 100, the Ibo population is perhaps 40; in Lagos, the same population ratio exists. This shows that these people believe in the Nigerian enterprise. They believe that together we can make Nigeria great. Now, the Ibos are saying, some elements in the Ibo land are saying they want to go, it simply means that those elements have found injustice. But I am one die-in-the-wool believer in the Nigerian project. I believe in it more than I believe in any other philosophy because I believe that Nigeria is a cord of three. The cord of two, it is said, is not easily broken but the cord of three who can brake.
This is the pride of African greatest country, this is the country that will show the world art of responsible leadership. We are troubled because God knows how great this country can be if things are right. I so believe that the issues of Biafra agitation must be treated with strong engagement. Not in terms of warfare but in terms of orientation, dialogue, pro-active developmental engagements. That way, our brothers who insist on Biafra because they felt their egotistic tendencies will lose sale. That why those who are fanning the embers of segregation because they feel their egocentric tendencies will lose follower ship. Because what massive of our people want is sense of belonging and true brotherhood. Once that is given, once that is assured, the Biafra call will die a natural death. The majority of Ibo believe in Nigeria only a few. If you notice just recently, MASSOB broke up and that Biafra independent Movement (BIM) and they have MASSOB. Then, same thing is going to happen to the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPB). They will break up. Majority of those who are singing this song are egocentric and self centred. With majority of Ibo people and the Hausa, the Yoruba, we can make this country truly great.
Sooner or later, the Nigerian project will really satisfy the expectations of the people. I am unreservedly optimistic that this journey will be successful, that President Muhammadu Buhari will help is lay strong foundation for this flight and my generation will take this flight to its full potentials.
The 2015 General Elections were epochal; the coalition you belong, APC, made history, President Goodluck Jonathan also made history in the way he conducted both himself and the election; now of all the social forces, who made greater history?
Sincerely, those who made greater history in the General elections are the Nigerian people. However, this is the first time in history when a coalition that was not two years old came in and took away a government that prided itself as the biggest party in Africa and boasted that it was going to rule Nigeria for 60 years. That is providential. Leaders of APC humbled themselves by allowing the process mature and then, the coalition emerged and we had the APC that presented President Muhammadu Buhari as its candidate. Buhari preached the gospel of hope and the message of change and that resonated. Our former President Jonathan was notched down by those who were profiteering from that administration even in the face of seeming defeat they almost subverted the rules. Ultimately, when INEC verdict was made, he simply accepted defeat and congratulated the winner for peace to reign. That is commendable. The greatest respect and commendation should go to the Nigerian people who made it happen. That is why it is incumbent on the APC to make real the promises of change.