Ex-President of the Nigerian Bar Association and human rights activist, Olisa Agbakoba, SAN, in this interview with Saturday Vanguard maintains that Nigeria is a sick patient in the accident and emergency ward which requires an orthopedic President who will crack the structure and heal it just as he berates the two major political parties, APC and PDP for not providing an answer to this dilemma. Excerpts:
Recent developments in the polity suggest that anarchy is lurking, what is your take on the possibility of violence during and after the elections?
There won’t be violence. Nigeria is a country that is full of sound and fury which signifies nothing. People make a lot of noise about the issue of violence during and after election. It is because we don’t have institutional memory to remember past issues. But when an issue is on the table, we focus our mind on it as if all our lives depend on it.
There is not going to be any problem. Somebody will lose and somebody will win. What I can say is that whoever wins, whether Buhari or Jonathan, there will be outcry, but there won’t be a repeat of 2011 where there was a lot of violence in the north. This is because we are more conscious of preventing violence. The awareness now is higher than before. The victory of either of them is not going to surprise us. It is not going to come as shock if any of them loses.
But there are agitations from people and inflammatory statements from politicians as well; all these put together could spring up violence if they are not checked.
We have all these merely because our politicians have this incessant lust for power to amass wealth. It is all about wealth acquisition and nothing more. So, when there is a contest for a seat, politicians incite their supporters, they become so passionate and battle-ready to get victory at all cost. Obasanjo once said that ‘election in Nigeria is a do-or-die affair’; because of the gains of the spoils of office, where every politician at the federal level will be looking at least one billion a year; they can kill in order to get there. If you are conversant with the American super bowl, they spend over ten billion dollars a year.
This year it became the most expensive public event in history. So, whoever is going in knows that he is presiding over a very important business. Here they have so much money to preside over. That is the scenario. But the question is: what can we the elites do to cut down this power? We need to create a new public order. This is why I always talk about dismantling Nigeria and creating a natural structural six geo-ethnic zones.
If we have that system, and power is being contested by at the zonal level, the pressure will not be at the center. But right now, the only office in Nigeria that matters is the office of the President. If Mr. Mbu could humiliate the person of Amaechi as a governor, it tells you that the governor is Mr. Nobody compared to the President, more so because the governor depends on the President for money. And if the president likes, like Obasanjo did, he will withhold your funds and you go to court.
So, there is really only one office in Nigeria – the President. That is wrong. We need a Nigeria that will be sustained. Not a mere change of personality like the APC is saying, but a change of the constitution and structure that will enable Nigeria to develop. A kind of structure that Awolowo and Ojukwu got right – a confederal or loose federation.
Again, coming back to your question, if any of them wins, there will only be that kind of shout, election petitions, the new government is sworn-in and then it will fizzle out. What can guarantee development is when we create a new order.
We have never had the opposition coming so strong in the history of Nigerian politics. What in your view gave rise to this and what difference does it make?
In my view, it is lust for power. Some of us who are watching carefully do not understand the reason for all these stories because virtually all the sectors of the economy are dead. Maritime sector is dead, the aviation sector is dead, the energy is not working, corruption is rife, there is incompetence; so, where is the story? I would have preferred a debate from both sides but what we hear are deafening noise that makes no sense. All I can say is that the 2015 election psyche is the same as that of the 1999, 203, 2007 and 2011; nothing has changed.
There will be a winner and the loser will go to court and the same thing goes on and on. But I think the only way is to change the structure. When Europe was scattered after a bloody civil war, then they said, they were tired of fighting and talked about a new order and that occurred in Germany. That new order is what we need now.
A typical Nigerian is corrupt, he drives against traffic, he is noisy and greedy, he cuts corners etc. We need to re-organise our nation, lest we would be a motley crowd of noise makers with huge resources and potentials that are not being utilised. Nigeria is like a coach with top players but without a strategy. Nigeria is a country of great talents but no strategy. Changing personnel for me is inconsequential. So, whoever wins should look at the weaknesses that we can all see to build a new Nigeria in the next four years.
How do you think whoever becomes the President achieves that structural change?
If I were the President, I will summon all the ethnic nationalities and leaders in all the geo-political zones for a meeting. I will state clearly that my diagnosis is that we are sick and ask what is your suggestion to redress this problem?
The national conference gives the answer which was – “crack up Nigeria, we can’t have one president, crack it up and create a regional government and let us see what will play out. Then we can decide whether the regional structure will have its own new constitution, or whether it should be presidential and not parliamentary. The Inspector General of Police cannot over see the entire nation and the commissioner of police cannot override the authority of the governor on the grounds that his boss is the IGP in Abuja.
As President of Nigeria, my key mission will be to discentralise power. With that, you can’t accuse me of not fixing the road in your local village. Look at the state of roads and traffic in Apapa which is bringing in 50 per cent of the revenue of the federation. In Abuja, they are too far to know what is happening here.
Some of the complexities of democracy are that this brilliant idea can be knocked off by the majority in both chambers, so, taking this into cognizance, what will be the alternative?
Then we will continue in that way. It is our choice. If we see a doctor and he says you have cancer and yet you don’t want a surgery, then it will be there and you will be dead. As a Nigerian President, after dissecting the problem and you say I cannot do that, then there is a problem. The only way is to have a new design whereby the 68 items of power in the exclusive list and the 30 items of power in the concurrent list will not be under the power of the federal government.
What is the President’s role in knowing the condition of prisons in Lagos and other states, why does he have to oversee the education, why should he be in airport and media as the NTA? It is the governors of the states that should know all that. The President should rather be in energy, foreign policy, defence but not how the state grows.
That is why the lust for power is increasing. When Obasanjo was there, he attempted the third term; Now Jonathan comes, he also wants to continue because it is too sweet. You can test a saint with Nigerian power and that type of power in one man will make him to go mad. It has to be discentralised.
Was that part of recommendations in the national conference?
How would you feel if that recommendation is not implemented by the next government?
I will be very sad because that is the future of Nigeria, not a change in personnel. So, my take is that the underlying problem must be addressed. Power in one man is too much.
Are you saying the outcry for a change is not well defined especially against the backdrop that there is so much criticisms against the incumbent?
It is normal when you have two-party system. Look at the American example where Obama was going against the Republican candidate. The difference is that if you run foul of the rule, you will be punished, because the institutions are strong. But here, if you run foul of the rule, you will not be punished. The difference is that you have rules and they respect the rules while in our own clime, it is a different thing. So, what you have here is a cacophony, people are shouting just to have victory. As far as I am concerned, it is the political class that enjoys the system to the exclusion of millions of other Nigerians.
Going by this your analysis, would you advocate a two-party system in Nigerian politics?
No! I will advocate the electoral market of place to choose. A multi-party system will be better. The number of the parties however will be determined by the programmes the parties are selling to the people. Clearly, in the United States, Democratic Party is on the left while the Republican is on the right. I really don’t know what our parties’ ideologies are.
What is the position of PDP and the APC on the fundamental problem of Nigeria which is the restructuring and also the contextual engagement to open Nigeria’s potentials? That is why we say if we listen to the debate by both parties; it will help us to make a choice. I am not going to vote for either of them if I don’t hear what they are going to do on that issue. I am looking for an orthopedic political president who will crack the structure and heal it; who will be able to tell me what he will do with power, the economy and other sectors.
But we have had promises in the past, why do you think promises this time will make any difference?
Already, I can’t see how both parties can meet their promises. I really don’t see it. They are making promises that are not related to the budget. Again, many things will happen. I see oil price dropping further to about $10. So, you are going to have a president who is going to have a faint budget. So, I will like to know how the contenders will take us out of oil into other areas. Unfortunately, I have not heard that from any one of them. These are the fundamental issues the parties should have been addressing.
We need to have a president who will make a new business case for Nigeria. The oil business has expired; we need to see a new model. Let it no be based on one President controlling the entire oil bloc but many presidents tapping resources in their regions. I am from Anambra state, the governor of the state is not in control of the port, but the Minister of Transport, yet it is lying fallow. This is because the man who controls it is about 800 miles away. The Onitsha-Enugu road has always been under construction because the contract comes from a man who is not plying on the road.
Then, what would you say of the Transformation Agenda of Mr. President over the last six years?
Well, there are some ideas that I like, especially from the Minister of Agriculture. What he is doing is not prominent because of the cacophony of noise in the polity. Nigeria is like a volcano and it is spewing ashes, you cannot see anything. I am not interested in the political surgeon of Nigeria in the resources; I am interested in the fact that you are bleeding because of the fracture and you are losing blood.
Nigeria is a sick patient in the accident and emergency ward in a terminally bad way. So, the first thing to do as a President is to stitch Nigeria up. After stitching it properly, feed it well and it will recover. So, that contextual restructure should not be overlooked because if we don’t get that right, we are going no where.
Maybe that is why the so-much clamour for a change?
Structural change or what kind of change?
Well, some people believe that a change in the personality could bring about a structural change?
The problem I have in answering the question is that I have not heard a word from the APC on this issue. I know at the national conference, the stalwart of the party was not in support of it. But in any case, I am not interested in any party, what these two parties will do is the same old game from what I can see so far; unless they understand the fractured nature of Nigeria. But if they understand it, they are not saying it right now. My conclusion is that it is going to be yet another bad election.
But we have about a month to go, if I have a chance to ask both presidential candidates in a presidential debate, my first question will be ‘what is your concept of a reformed Nigeria’? The answer they give will make me cast my vote for A or B. A person who misses the contextual issue will miss the solution and will miss my vote.
The election is going to be keenly contested, in which way do you think Nigeria can benefit from this competitiveness of the parties?
One good thing the APC has done is that the essence of the multi-party state is the consciousness in the ruling party that another party is waiting to take over. That is brilliant. That, I give the APC 100 per cent commendation. Beyound that, there is nothing. What would have happened is that both parties would make their manifestos sharp and clear. If the APC feels that the PDP has no programme; they would have made their message sharp and clear.
But I am not satisfied by both parties because I don’t know what they are going to do. But I do know that the APC has given us a choice. You could have a national team playing football but they are not winning anything. That is what is happening to APC. The next step that APC needs to go to make our country very exciting is to design a programme that will force the PDP to respond. Right now, people are voting emotion, ethnicity and religion. The Chairman of the National Human Rights Commission, Chidi Odinkalu said,
“Nigerian has some of a new political lexicon that neutrality is a choice.” You vote for A or B and not to vote is also a choice. You can vote Buhari or Jonathan or nobody. That is very dangerous. So, the parties need to do more to give us an answer to this dilemma.
What do you think will become of Nigeria if the election does not hold as scheduled in March?
Ah! (Shout) That will be a very serious issue. That can cause crisis and mayhem. Already, the balloon has swollen; it has come to pressure point. The only way you can relieve the pressure is to have election. If you don’t have it, you are looking at a civil war. Please, don’t contemplate this. It should not be contemplated. Anything that will cause the election to be postponed again, Nigeria will go on strike. The Boko Haram issue is not as challenging as it was before, so, why will the election not hold?
Again, we also know that not everybody will vote. Constitutional or not, we are going to blame Jonathan if the election does not hold and there will be mayhem. It is not something you can explain, graphically. The election has to hold, in my view, under any condition. Even if it means excluding par of the North East, the election must hold. The Electoral act empowers INEC to do subsequent elections, but having postponed it once, it cannot be postponed again. Please don’t push it further.
Okay, if you really look at the postponement, whose benefit did it serve?
It is difficult to know. But personally, I think INEC was not ready. If you look at the number of PVCs distributed as at that day, INEC would have disenfranchised so many people.
Then what about the ballot papers and boxes? What about the training and capacity building of personnel? The electoral body was not ready. In my view, the PDP mismanaged the matter. I cannot tell whether the military was used. If I were President Jonathan, I would have boxed INEC into a corner. INEC has cleverly used the Military alibi to escape liabilities. Like my wife said, if they were ready, why are they still distributing materials. INEC was absolutely not ready. nobody can claim not to know that INEC was not ready. Jega should not be dishonest by claiming he was ready.
Wole Soyinka recently talked about the blessings of the postponement. It has strengthened INEC to deliver good election.
I also wonder why they picked that February date in the first place because that was far from the hand-over date. A president who wants to wreak havoc will have the time to do that before the hand-over date. So, it makes sense that the transition is short. Right now, nobody is going to believe any further reason for a shift again.
How do you think the judiciary can help in dispensing justice before and after election going by the number of cases before it now as well as the possible petitions after the elections?
We need bold and courageous judges and a judiciary that is not dependent of the executive. Unfortunately, the configuration of the body of judges depends on the executive. People don’t know that the appointment of the High court judge cannot be accomplished without the authorisation and approval of the state governor. If you reverse it, it means Governor Fashola will not need the Chief Justice of Lagos state to approve the appointment of a commissioner; but Chief Justice of Lagos State needs Fashola to appoint a Judge.
When I was in the National Judicial council, I kept saying it. So, if you are talking of lack of independence, it starts from there. It is important to understand the shackles under which the judiciary works. So, when the NJC was not forthcoming, I went to court. The argument was that: Was it in the place of Minister of Finance to fund the judiciary in view of the constitutional provisions that make the Judiciary independent of the executive?
Therefore, the President cannot present the budget of the judiciary. The court ruled in my favour which was partly what led to the strike; but as you know the judges being gentlemen, cannot go on strike but the junior ones can go on strike. So, the budget of the judiciary is controlled by the executive. Only nice men like Fashola gives them their money.
There are some governors if you rule against them, they seize your money. How will this make the judges truly independent? So, we need to go back to the surgery table and create an independent judiciary. Again, a judge who takes bribe in the context of present situation, while I condemn it, I understand it.
A man who is approaching retirement, looking at himself dejected, and a client comes along with a bribe of N100million asking to be made the winner of the election petition tribunal, he will think twice; let us not kid ourselves. The answer to your question is that the judicial architecture is not independent enough to deliver decisions without fear or favour. But I do hope that what is left of the ethics of the profession will enable them to decide cases without fear or favour.