As political parties galvanise ahead of the 2015 general elections, former presidential candidate and foremost professor of political economy and management, Prof.Pat Utomi, in this interview, declares his hope in the emerging All Progressive Congress-APC- and also faults President Goodluck Jonathan’s competence. Utomi, it would be recalled, was a presidential adviser in the Second Republic’s government of Shehu Shagari. He had entered full-time politics in 2007 when he joined the African Democratic Congress under which he vied for the presidency. After that, Utomi formed another party, the Social Democratic Mega Party- SDP. Following the unimposing performance of the SDP at the 2011 elections, he heightened his gospel of a two party system, thereby joining the Action Congress of Nigeria which recently metamorphosed into the APC.
Why did you suddenly withdraw from political and public scenes after the elections in 2011?
I don’t know how that perception came, but it’s not correct. I gave so much in 2007 to trying to create an agenda for political life in Nigeria. In 2011, my effort was at a single objective of bringing together the oppositions. Though, the egos of individuals got in the way of letting that happen. I did not give up on political life. I simply thought I should focus more on grassroots activities. So, I went back, taking some of my civil society roots, to continue work with the poor and the weak at different levels. For me, returning to my root, the grassroots, has been the new emphasis. From public life, I never withdrew. In fact, I’ve been more active.
Many interpreted your said activeness in 2011 for the subtle execution of the South-South agenda, and that your actions were to ensure that Jonathan had a smooth platform…
People can run to any conclusion that they want to. If my actions were to ensure Jonathan had an easy way, have you ever seen Jonathan and me since he became president? My goal was to help bring together a merger, and I slaved for it. Part of my anger is what I sacrificed to make that happen. We took up a hotel in Abuja for a meeting with all the candidates, and we thought we had narrowed it down. The idea was for everyone to stay in that room and decide who will go and who will be the running mate. In the final evening, one person did not show up after he had set the day. I felt so bad because they had the resources and I was spending my own hard-earned money to fly back and forth. When I came back to Lagos, I decided to endorse Shekarau and to let him step down for any other person if he so desired.
Now that you’re in a more influential party, what’s your plan for 2015?
I tell people often that my favourite desired position is that of a local government councillor because it is closest to the people and would really afford me the opportunity of affecting people’s lives. However, it was important for me to help set the tone when the political arena was completely bereft of ideas. That’s why I got into the arena, playing some of the roles that I have played. I’ve just finished discussing my Widows’ Support Centre. The centre was actually set up nearly a quarter of a century ago, to help very poor widows. Whenever I look at the impact it has had on the lives of those widows who have passed through it, I’m thankful. So, the centre of my passion presently is how I could affect the weakest, poorest and all of these people who have been denied justice in the society.
You are one of those promoting the ACN, CPC, ANPP and APGA merger. How powerful enough is this merger to unseat the ruling PDP in 2015?
I’m hopeful that the APC will be strong enough to move Nigeria in a different and more fulfilling direction. You see, the problem is not the people in the PDP, but its structure. The nature of the PDP is such that it cannot bring progress no matter how some people may want to try because the fundamental essence of the PDP is “let me get my own share”. So, their results will always be bad outcomes for the progress Nigeria will make. So, it’s in Nigeria’s fundamental interest to have a change so that the PDP will have a reason to sit down and have a rethink. That shift in power is what will make Nigeria develop in a new way that will lead to progress.
You’ve been a proponent of merger and alliance. What’s the difference between what you were trying to do with the SDP and the APC that is emerging now?
I always wanted the different parties to fuse into one. I’ve also always expressed my views that we should have two major political parties. This is not to say that anyone who has a different view cannot create his own party because parties are a way for people to express their dissatisfaction. Everybody knows that such will help raise our understanding of those issues of dissatisfaction.
Would you say the APC is the kind of merger that you anticipated?
The most important thing is that political parties get together and create a difference in the lives of the people of this country. This happened in Zimbabwe’s politics and in Senegal. If we really want to save this country, we must see power change hands. It’s not a matter of the PDPs are bad and the APC guys are good. No. It is the movement from one to the other that leads to progress and learning.
Is the SDP dead?
I do not know. It’s not in my place to pronounce life and death. What I do know is that after 2011, I said very clearly to all my partners that since people are not willing to come under a new umbrella, all of us should go back and join maybe the biggest one around us. I tried to persuade everybody and I set the example by joining the ACN.
Are you in support of INEC’s deregistration of parties?
Yes. I am in full support.
But why is the SDP not in the list of deregistered party?
I don’t know! I’m not the one registering or deregistering.
Are you saying you won’t have contested it if SDP was deregistered?
I won’t have! I was not a member of SDP at that time, anyway. Remember I told you I left the SDP immediately after the 2011 election. Let me tell you about my political background because I don’t believe in changing parties. The first party card I carried in my entire life was the ACN, and that was in 2006 in Asaba. I contributed to the finances of the ACN both in Delta and Edo State in 2006, 2007. When it became obvious that the structure of the party was not going to allow regular primaries, I thought my whole purpose of entering the political arena, which was to frame the discussion of the primary process, would be lost without the primary process. That was how the idea of going to take over a small party that will agree to merge later with the ACN came up. That was how the ADC initiative started until Chief Enahoro called me and we decided to come up with the SDP.
You said you left the ACN for reasons that had to do with the primary process. How sure are you that those short-comings no longer exist in the party?
In a way, that’s a myth question because what we’re now trying to do is to create two major political groupings. That’s the most important fact for now.
There are rumours that Buhari would be stepping down; will you be running for the presidency?
I am not running for anything. Whatever my party says I should do, I will do; even if it’s local government councillorship, I’ll be happy about that.
Recently the PDP Governors’ Forum was carved out of the Nigerian Governors’ Forum, how do you view this?
It comes down to the same problem that we’ve always had; the pursuit of power over purpose. We’re very clever in pursuing power but we’re very limited in the pursuit of the purpose of power. The Nigerian Governors’ Forum, I would say, has become a threat to democracy in Nigeria, and I think it needs to be disbanded. It has become a bully and has not been used for what it was created for; finding ways of making governance better. Now, it is used as a powerful block in the fight between the centre and the body. The thing is a bloody failure, and the civil society should find a way of forcing its dissolution because it has prevented politicians from serving the Nigerian people well.
How would you assess the performance of the federal government?
Pretending that Nigeria is not making progress in any direction is a flawed argument. But the question is: “Is it the result of governmental action?” Nigeria is in a position right now to become one of the greatest economies in the world because of a number of natural developments, part of which is the youth bulge(which we should sensibly take advantage of) and the demographic dividend. In two critical interventions- education and healthcare, the federal government has been a total and complete disaster. But there’s progress taking place despite these; ridiculously, there’s the triumph of politics where we are focusing more on politics than on policies and delivering the things that would bring a better quality of life for Nigerians. Given the resources available, I will say the performance of the federal government has been very poor. Given how much money we’ve poured into power supply, it still is a challenge! But one good thing is that the continued failing of government elicits to a situation where it is deciding to withdraw from arenas like power supply in the name of privatisation. Ultimately, I believe a private sector that is enabled will bring Nigeria the progress that it deserves.
Recently, the court declared that Jonathan can run for a second term; how do you view that?
It’s of no consequence to me. We are in a democratic society and people should be able to do whatever they want to do, as long as it is not against the law. So, I don’t know why he had to take the matter to court.
Based on his performance, will you, if given the chance, let him come back?
I will not vote for him. I did not vote for him the last time, and I will not vote for him tomorrow. With complete respect for his person, I don’t think he has the capacity to move Nigeria to where it should be going. He doesn’t have the capacity! What you need is competence, character and commitment. I doubt his competence, I’m not sure about his character and I’m worried about his commitment.
Is this just him in person or the PDP?
I’m talking about both.
Do you believe there will be elections in Nigeria in 2015?
I hope that there will be. However, I advise we have a national conference before then. Nigerians should sit down and determine our modus operandi as a people. Then, elections will make sense.