Kimse Okoko is a retired Professor of Political Science from the University of Port Harcourt and former President of the Ijaw National Congress, INC. In this interview with DANIEL ABIA, in Port Harcourt, he speaks on recent political developments in the country. Excerpts…
“I belong to everybody, I belong to nobody”, what do you understand by this extract from the President’s inaugural speech and what is its implication?
It is a very powerful statement if he can keep to it. It is going to be of a tremendous help to him in the fight against corruption if he can keep to it. He seems to say that, yes, I have been elected, people voted for me, people contributed money for my election but I am not going to be bound by the activities of these individuals and if any of them is found to be corrupt, for example, I will be in the position to deal with him according to law. He is saying that I am here to unite everybody, unite the country and every Nigerian. If people see him to be despotic and ethnically inclined then people will not see him as a serious person. That statement is the most important statement Buhari has ever made and I want to pray that he succeeds in actualizing the statement. He says that he will be fair in equitable distribution of appointments, fair in the distribution of social amenities and infrastructure. All the regions of the country must be equally treated and fairly too. But unfortunately, I don’t see the statement injecting fears into the lives of the corrupt people around him, knowing who Nigerians are. The battle against corruption is going to be extremely difficult. But we want him to succeed and we must pray for him to succeed. He must prove to Nigerians that he meant what he said. It will not be long for us to know the truth. It will start from the appointment of ministers and others that will work with him. The moment he takes a wrong step first time round, that becomes a huge problem. He has no choice than to implement that statement.
Buhari has promised to develop the Niger Delta region, President Jonathan was there for six years, yet could not bring development to the region, what is your take on this?
Only time will tell if Buhari himself was sincere with that promise. That is all I have to say about that. As I have said before the Niger Delta did not benefit significantly from Jonathan government. There is no question about that. Unfortunately, one of the most glaring landmarks is the East/West Road has not been completed up till now. As I drive through the road, I have not seen any work going on there again. That is a tragedy. Jonathan was doing so because he did not want to be seen as favoring the Niger Delta alone. He realized this when he said he would make amends in his next coming (second term). Unfortunately, his next coming did not come around. Niger Delta is still largely what it was yesterday and today. You can see that there is still excruciating misery in the Niger Delta. You can still see oppression against the people of Niger Delta playing out daily. While we are fighting corruption, if the country is not restructured on the line of truly federal system, we will still not arrive at the point we want to get to. If we continue the way we are, it will be very difficult to fight against corruption. The laws of the country also encourage corruption because the concentration of wealth and power lie at the center. This clearly encourages corruption. If this administration wants to succeed in fighting corruption and quickly too, it should restructure the country along true federalism. This government must also implement the report of the last national conference to move this country forward. If they think they can ignore the recommendations of the conference and they want to fight corruption, it will be difficult. The composition of this country as it stands compounds the problem of corruption.
There is a news making the round that President Buhari may make himself the next Minister of petroleum the same way Obasanjo did, will this aid or mar the fight against corruption?
Obasanjo left this country worst than he met it. He made the country more corrupt. He left the NNPC badly corrupt when he imposed himself as the minister of petroleum. Obasanjo sat over the rottenness of the NNPC. He was the doyen of corruption in NNPC when he remained as minister for seven years or so. He arrogated to himself the Czar of NNPC and left the place even more stinking than it was before. My problem with Buhari taking over the ministry is whether he will have the time to do the job that is required. NNPC requires a complete overhaul to function well. May be Buhari wants to do that because he does not see anybody who he can trust to handle it. Maybe he wants to do that for one or two years and then sets NNPC on the right path before he appoints somebody else. If it is that he does not see somebody with high integrity, then it will be a problem for him. There are still men of high integrity in this country and we know ourselves. I think he sincerely wants to see that NNPC which is one of the bastions of corruption is cleansed. But he will not have enough time with other daunting problems confronting the country to cleanse the NNPC.
Jonathan urged Buhari to extend his probe net beyond his administration to that of Obasanjo, do you agree with this?
I think it makes sense to say that Obasanjo government should also be probed because that administration was as bad and as corrupt as corruption itself. It was very evil. For people not to accuse Buhari of witch-hunting, the suggestion may be a good idea to probe the two governments. I don’t see any reason for him to want to probe the Shagari government because Shagari was a good man. I am fully in support of him probing Obasanjo because he will learn a lot about that rotten and evil Obasanjo administration. If the president decides not to waste his time probing past administrations, so be it. Let him do the right thing. That is what Nigerians want to see. They want result and positive one at that. Obasanjo was dictatorial even as a civilian president. His activities in Odi community, his activities in Akanu Ibiam, his whimsical policies, his erratic mannerisms are not in conformity with democratic norms. Democracy needs a good-headed leader. It requires a thorough examination of policies and programmes before they are implemented. It respects the various organs of government and does not require the centre to lord it over other arms of government. It requires checks and balances. These were absent under Obasanjo’s administration because of his wrong tendencies. He almost implemented his evil third term agenda. If he had succeeded, he would have gone ahead to implement the fourth term and the sixth term and so on. But he was stopped from this mad agenda. Thank God Nigerians stopped him in his evil track. These are the characteristics of military nuances that Obasanjo introduced into his civil rule. He will fail even in his attempt to surreptitiously be in power in his dark room enclave.