Nigeria is passing through an economic recession and political uncertainty which have kept many citizens on the edge.
Chief Dubem Onyia, a former Minister of State, Foreign Affairs, cum human rights activist, about the state of the nation, the prolonged medical vacation of President Muhammadu Buhari and the leadership crisis in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
President just returned from a prolong medical vacation. What do you think about the state of the nation or are you insulated from the despair in the land?
How can I be insulated from what is going on? You see, I used to tell people that it is better not to be an insider because what you do not know will never hurt you. But when you are an insider, you’ve been in government, you’ve been a member of the Federal Executive Council and you know what happens in the country, and you know that there are certain things we need to do to put our country in the right place in the comity of nations and those things are not done.
They are not done not because we don’t have the resources to do it, but because we lack the political will and patriotism to do it, then you can’t help but feel disappointed in your country. Let me say that I do pray for Mr. President every day. God knows that I pray for him and I pray for his quick recovery because everybody that is created by God should not wish our fellow human beings death; we should wish them well, especially when the Bible tells us that we should pray for our leaders. But at the same time, the President or the Presidency owes Nigerians something.
Those handling him need to tell us exactly what is wrong with our President. The moment you are elected, you become a public figure, you are owned by the people of the country. Because you took an oath to do certain things for the people, so, you are no longer a private citizen.
But when you put a whole nation in total darkness and they don’t know what is exactly is wrong with their President. We are forced to rely on speculations, hearsay, social media network and we don’t know which one is correct, I think the Presidency has a duty and a responsibility to tell Nigerians exactly what is wrong with our President. I think we should insist on having that information.
Having said that, it is unfortunate that our country has been on a downward slide over the years and many Nigerians will tell you that things were better even in those past years we thought things were not good. We have the resources; we are a blessed country, there is no earthquake, there is no hurricane in Nigeria, no tornado in Nigeria.
We have all the resources any country needs to be a very wealthy nation but today we are still under- developed; we are not even a developing country. Our income per capita is very low; graduate unemployment is very high that we don’t even know the figure. Certain categories of graduates are no longer employable because they have been unemployed for over 10 years since they graduated.
They are no longer employable because when companies advertise jobs they put age brackets and other restrictions that make it impossible for somebody who graduated within a certain period ineligible to apply. Inflation is now uncontrollable. This is a country where you cannot borrow to start a business because the interest rate is very high; it is in double digits. Tell me any country where they expect the private sector to thrive when the cost of borrowing is so high.
If I am produce tooth picks and I want to compete with companies in China, I need to borrow from the bank and I went and borrowed, based on the double digit interest rate how do I compete? So tell me why I should be happy? Would my children who graduate from the university be able to get job as they used to do in those days? Would my daughter who wants to start a small scale business be able to obtain a loan from the bank? What about the power challenge? Nigerians depend on generators powered by diesel to do almost anything because public power supply is unreliable. Some people cannot even afford to have three square meals. The poverty level in this country is unimaginable. Tell me why I should be happy?
You were once in government and those in government today have continued to blame those of you who were there before them for the current woes. How do you feel about this?
Yes, I was in government and remember I was among those who fought the military to leave the political stage and allow democracy to thrive. I was the Secretary General of Eastern Mandate Union. I was arrested and detained alongside Chief Arthur Nwankwo and Udenta Udenta during the Sani Abacha regime. Eventually when Abacha died, may his soul rest in peace, we came together and formed a party.
At that time, I told our colleagues that you cannot fight the military and you cannot prove that you can do better than them when you take over governance. We were determined to show the difference and if you look at it between 1999 and 2003, we went all out to do things the way things should be done.
It was at that time the anti-corruption fight began with the establishment of the EFCC, the telecommunications sector was liberalized and many other reforms were introduced to open up our economy to foreign direct investments. Remember also that at that time, you as a minister cannot fly more than business class if you travel by air.
Even if you used your money to fly first class, President Olusegun Obasanjo would ask you where you got that money. There was Code of Conduct and Code of Ethics for public office holders in the way we operated at that point in time. The common man of this country was at the forefront of our policies when we came in in 1999. So if you look at it, Nigeria did better then up to a point. President Obasanjo was a very strong, patriotic leader.
He was a workaholic. As a minister, files will not stay on your table for more than 24 hours otherwise he will ask you: What is that file doing on your table? Are you looking for bribe? Are you waiting to be compromised? The President will go on tour but will go along with his files and before he comes back, everything would have been treated. So we were working 24 hours every day trying to make sure that we put this country in the right perspective, economically and politically.
But after President Obasanjo left, ministers started flying not only first class but private jets. The common man took a second place. We lost all the grounds that we covered during the first eight years and it was because those who succeeded him did not have enough experience to carry on. They never had a grip of the government and they allowed aides to take over the duties of the President.
Last week, Prof. Chukwuma Soludo came down hard on the present government and accused it of making things even worse than they met them when they took over in 2015. What is your position on this?
I agree with Prof. Soludo to some extent. Yes, like I said, we lost some of the grounds that we gained during the first phase of our democracy after the era of the military. But even at that, things were not as bad as they have been since this current government came into being two years ago. Things have indeed gone worse and everybody can attest to that except if we want to deceive ourselves.
Your party, the PDP has been embroiled in a prolonged crisis but it appears the two warring groups are beginning to see reasons with each other. Are we expecting a full resolution of this crisis soon?
As a founding member of the Peoples Democratic Party, (PDP) I can tell you that that party was put in place to salvage this country. The philosophy behind the party is the people first before any individual. We have a party designed to work for the improvement of the economy this country and the lives of every Nigerian.
We wanted to make sure that no Nigerian will be subjected to what we went through during the military era. These were the things we had in mind when we were putting up this party. But as you know, an architect can design a house and then you call a draughtsman to come and build it and the draughtsman might not know what the architect had in mind when he was designing the house. Sheriff was one of the big boys of Abacha. He was one of those who destroyed the first all political parties summit we had in Lagos during the Abacha period.
He was one of the founding fathers if the All Nigerian Peoples Party (ANPP) and he became a two term governor on the platform of the ANPP in Borno State. He was never a member of the PDP but those who went and asked him to come and preside over PDP were prompted by those who didn’t wish PDP well. They were those who wanted PDP dead and we know them.
Who are these people?
I won’t name names yet.
So what is the way out if the crisis in your party?
Sheriff came into the PDP by chance but I do not know whether he came because he truly loved the party or whether he came in as an undertaker. But be that as it may, he found himself at the top. The court has adjudged him today as the Chairman of the party. But the Makarfi group has equally gone to the Supreme Court to stay action and decide finally who the chairman of the party is. Until that is done I am still with the founding fathers if the party who believe that the party is not for sale. We won’t allow the party to be retried by people who do not know what we had in mind when we formed the party. The party is for the people and my colleagues and I who believe in PDP did not go to Port Harcourt; we refused to go to Port Harcourt because we needed to save the party. We had our own convention in Abuja here.
I am not one of those politicians that you come and dazzle, give them money and they will go and vote for one person because of what they believe they will get. I don’t believe in stomach infrastructure but I believe in the principle of honesty.
It appears that you are neither with Makarfi nor with Sheriff. Where does your loyalty lie?
No, I haven’t said so. I am with the Makarfi group because the majority of PDP members are with Makarfi. The founding fathers are with the Makarfi group but we need to have our party back. We need to bring everybody who is genuinely a member of our party on board. We need to think about the people of this country first and foremost. It will be dangerous to have one political party or a one- party state in Nigeria. A one- party system will be going back to the military era. But I can assure you that sooner or later, the People’s Democratic Party will bounce back and bounce back stronger than ever before.
There is a school of thought that even when your party bounces back, Nigeria will still not attain its full potentials because the political structure and Constitution of Nigeria were designed by the military to consume oil wealth and not to produce any real economic development. What is your view on this?
Absolutely. I agree with you because Nigerians have never really given themselves a constitution. The 1999 Constitution which we have been panel-beating here and there was hurriedly put in place by the General Abdulsalam Abubakar’s military regime. In 1989, President Babangida put in place a Constituent Assembly which produced a report and that document is still in place. It was put together by the elected people of this country and some people appointed by the government at that time, after that, Abacha put in place a similar conference which produced something that was supposed to an improvement on what Babangida did with the1989 document.
But when Abacha died, Abdulsalam threw away everything and hurriedly put together something we now call the 1999 Constitution. Obasanjo came and put in place a National Political Reform Conference which produced a document that was thrown out by the National Assembly because of the issue of third term and the fact that the document was produced outside the National Assembly. Lastly, President Jonathan came and put in place a National Conference whose report has also been dumped by the National Assembly.
The major challenge on these last two efforts is that the members of the National Assembly were elected by the people and you can’t have a parallel assembly. If you want to get a new constitution or amend an existing one, it has to come from the National Assembly. For us to move forward as a party and as a country, we have to exhibit a high level of patriotism. What we lack today in this country is patriotism. We are not patriotic. We only come together when there is a football match and Nigeria is pitched against another country.
Some say, you also come together when there is money to share. Is that not true?
We don’t even come together when there is money to share because once there is money we share it according to where you come from. We say you are from the North, I am from the East you are from the West and the other man us from the South-South. Sometimes, when the Nigerian National Anthem is being played, some people will sit down. They don’t care. They tell you that Nigeria has not offered them anything. They’ve forgotten the slogan of President John F. Kennedy of the United States: ‘Don’t think of what your country can do for you, think of what you can do for your country.’ This slogan does not apply in this country. – New Telegraph.