Nigeria should run a two-party system —Utomi

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In this interview with ALLWELL OKPI, a former presidential candidate and political economist, Prof. Pat Utomi, speaks on the dearth of effective leadership in Nigeria, opposition parties and death penalty for corrupt leaders

Despite sustaining democracy for over 13 years, various indices have shown that Nigeria still lacks effective leadership at all levels. Why is it so?

The notion of leadership is often misunderstood and confused. There are a lot of dynamics that determine what leadership is. Sometimes the leader draws from the following. For example Hitler was the strong, crowd rousing leader but most people forget that sometimes he drew his energy from the German crowd that was supporting him. So, we need to complete the cycle. There is a collapse of culture in Nigeria. There is a weak civil society. We seriously need to build institutions. Even if institutions should work, what they should do is to restrain the use of power. What we see is that people in positions of authority in Nigeria, abuse the authority. There is extensive abuse of power. So, when you deal with the issue of building institutions and deal with the issue of restraining power of individuals, then we would come to the question of the leader.  A lot of things make up effectiveness in leadership. One is knowledge. If you don’t know, you cannot lead. Unfortunately, the nature of Nigeria’s political arrangement is such that anybody can get elected. Most of the people that came into power in 1999, stepped out because they had nothing to lose. Those who could offer leadership were not sure that the military was leaving. And those of us who fought the military, we were still enjoying the victory of defeating the military. We did not realise that we had the responsibility of moving the nation forward. So, the people who were around the military at the time took the space and in taking that space, things went wrong because they were not the really prepared ones. So, a leader has to have knowledge, a sense of service and courage of conviction to be effective as a leader, and these are lacking in most of our leaders.

The administration of President Goodluck Jonathan has praised itself for improvements in the conduct of elections in the country, citing the governorship elections in Edo and Ondo states. Do you think our electoral processes are really getting better?

We need to be careful the way we value these things. I think it is a case of a less aggressive presidency in trying to prevent more obvious abuses. But what has also happened is the expression of citizen power in some of the states where elections have been conducted recently – Edo and Ondo states. With the exception of people power, we need proper organisation by the Independent National Electoral Commission to ensure that the votes of the people really count and whatever improvements we have recorded would be sustained. I just hope that we can build from there going forward.

Are you in support of the recent deregistration of political parties by INEC and the plan to deregister more?

I have to say yes in general principle. As an individual, I prefer a two-party state. The closer we move to being a two-party state, the better for the country. But we must also be sensitive to freedom of expression. I think INEC can put a mile post that does not allow the clogging of the ballot paper with a thousand names in future elections. But then the way it is done should not restrain freedom of expression. I’ve always been a two-party state person, so I would generally support anything that will drive Nigeria towards a two-party arrangement. There are ways that it can be encouraged. One of them is what INEC has done.

Does that mean you wouldn’t protest if your party, the Social Democratic Mega Party, gets deregistered?

I’m now a member of the Action Congress of Nigeria. I would encourage all opposition parties to join the ACN. As far as I’m concerned, Nigeria should run a PDP-ACN political party structure.

Why ACN?

After the 2007 elections, the presidential candidates of all the parties got together to oppose the massive rigging of the elections. Atiku Abubakar was there, Muhammadu Buhari was there, and I was for whatever reason picked as the spokesperson. I spoke on behalf of the other candidates. I was encouraged to expect that cooperation would start and go forward from there. I said to myself, after the election, one important political role I have to play was to facilitate a major viable opposition. One of the things I was trying to promote to achieve that was the concept of a shadow government. Recognising that I had more of the energy and scope, I was ready to play a role more akin to a Prime Minister in that sense – a shadow Prime Minister. The idea I had was that Atiku, Buhari would be the elders. We were to take everything coming out of government put it through analysis, access information in government, which was one of the reasons I was pushing Freedom of Information Bill at that time. We wanted access to all the information that led to budgetary decisions. Then I began to put together a group of people – a combination of both technocrats and politicians with a strong sense for particular areas of governance. The job of the shadow team was to quietly bring the position of the opposition on every subject of governance in Nigeria. These people used to meet in my office. Someone like Leke Pitan, who was Lagos State Commissioner for Health under Tinubu, was to play the shadow role for health. We had a working group on power and we had none politicians who were leading players in the power sector, who met several times in my office to help develop a position for power which the group could use. When the meetings were still going on and ideas were being pulled together, I found the first flaw in the structure of political opposition in Nigeria. I tried to brief Chief Olu Falae, who was technically the leading figure in the attempt to bring opposition together with what we were doing and how we intended to go forward. With very good intentions, I presume, Chief Falae was worried that people could take it to mean that we had already allocated ministers. I told him that that was not the intention, that the team was just to help the opposition become more effective.  I said whoever emerged the presidential candidate will pick his team which would be different from the shadow team. But he cautioned that we should slowdown. So I began to worry about the opposition and its ability to really pull together. We seem more carried away by position and power than by the job of serving the people. The idea of a neutral political party into which all the opposition parties could end up, was then to be approached through the Chief Anthony Enahoro’s initiative which was called a Mega Summit Movement. I was in my house one day when Chief Enahoro called me and brought me into it. By then, I had already given up the opposition thing. Chief Enahoro had invited Atiku Abubakar, Muhammadu Buhari and others into this movement and they had come to meetings. Suddenly, a new one appeared – National Democratic Initiative – and the founding base was generally northern. It had Buhari and Atiku Abubakar and others. So we said, we thought we had something going. They said no, it is not different, that because the Mega Summit Movement was founded by Chief Enahoro, they may seem to their people to have been absorbed by the South. So, to make sure that that doesn’t happen, they tried to create something that had an original northern base, so that later it would merge with the southern movement and everybody would be happy that the two sides came together. However, they then appointed me and Chief Falae into the northern group as leaders. So, it became confusing. We were in both of them and the two were supposed to come together. But in the end, everything fell apart. What I found out was that people were trying hard to protect their individual interests and not interested in forming a viable alternative. So I decided that the best thing was for all of us to enter one man’s boat in order to build a viable opposition. And what seems to be the available boat with the most developed structure is the ACN.  So, I declared myself a member of ACN with the hope that others will join me.

The National Assembly recently agreed to a death penalty for terrorism, do you think that would help arrest the situation?

I don’t think death penalty solves anything. I’m fundamentally opposed to the taking of human life either by the state or individuals. Death penalty is not an appropriate solution for anything. Life sentence is better. When the person is dead, he doesn’t feel anything. You have not punished him. Don’t forget that in killing the convicted criminal, you would be encouraging those who feel like killing and they don’t mind dying in the process. What if after executing somebody and you find out that you were wrong in coming to that judgment? Even in the United States, as good as their system is, sometimes it is later found out that a judgment was wrong. If the person had been executed, what would the state do? You can imagine what could happen here where our police function is a bit of a joke. Death penalty is not a reasonable way to the deal with issues.

Would you run for presidency again, whether in 2015 or later?

It is not a personal goal for me. If people come together and they want me to run for the presidency, I would volunteer. But it is not a matter of life and death for me. I’m not driven by a desire for that title. I’m a nation-builder. I can build it in civil society or through any other means. I don’t care if I never have a title that is political. If I really wanted to run for office, the political office I desire in life is the local government councillor, because it puts you in touch with everyday problems of the people. But that is, if we have a normal local government administration. Right now we don’t have it.

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