In Nigeria today, there is no gainsaying the dwindling fortunes of the economy. Nobody is spared the economic crunch bedeviling the people as even the rich also cry this time. In this interview, Chief Mike Ozekhome(SAN) faults the leadership style of President Muhammadu Buhari.
What are your reflections on the state of the nation today in Nigeria especially in view of the recession in the country?
The state of the nation can be seen even by the blind; can be felt even by the deaf and dumb; can be experienced even by the so-called elite not to talk of the common man and common woman. The economy is on a nose dive; Nigeria is on a precipice; in a terrible quagmire. The naira is somersaulting like an acrobat on a daily basis, now averaging about N490 to N500 per one dollar from the N195 it was in May last year. Nigeria which only in 2015 was the fifth most developing economy in the world and the first in Africa with over $500 billion received by World Bank and IMF has today come as number three in Africa and 137th poorest nation in the world.
So, you don’t need a Professor Peller or the oracle at Ile-Ife to let you know that things are very, very bad. There is mass disinvestment, there is capital flight, companies are closing down and relocated to nearby Ghana, Republic of Benin. More importantly, some major airlines have since closed shop in Nigeria and relocated to nearby countries and the few remaining like Emirates, British Airways, Delta, Air France, they don’t even allow you to pay now in naira; you now buy your ticket in dollars. So, that is a national calamity, a national calamity of cataclysmic proportions.
Now, the anti-corruption war as I’ve always said is not an anti-corruption war against corruption which is systemic in Nigeria but against individuals because as we are moving against the last crop of individuals, the present individuals who are there are having a field day because the root cause of corruption itself has not been removed. APC, the ruling party is the reverse side of the coin called the PDP. So, you can’t separate the two parties. To attempt to separate them is a futile attempt to separate six from half a dozen or to separate hamlet from the Prince of Denmark. You cannot. They’re one and the same. The major players in the APC today, the ruling government were all major players in PDP. As soon as they decamp to APC, some of them on the eve of elections due to quarrel of primaries, some of them after the elections, as soon as they decamp to APC, then they become free of their political leprosy like Neman the leper in the bible that was dipped into river Jordan seven times and became cleansed of his leprosy. Once you move from PDP to APC, you become St. John the Baptist, you become a pope. For as long as you stay within the rank of the PDP, then you are a betrayal, you are tried in the media, you’re detained without bail, you’re held even when bail has been given to you. Opposition is being decimated, so that if we’re not careful, we may end up having a one party state in Nigeria. Whereas the past government allowed the opposition a free reign that it even allowed itself to be defeated in a free and fair election. We’re not having that in Nigeria today. So Nigeria is actually in a total complete mess.
What do you think is the problem with President Buhari’s style of leadership?
The problem Buhari has with his style of leadership is the one of exclusivity rather than inclusivity. He has surrounded himself with either people from his tribe, of his ethnic group, or from his religion, or from his classmates, or military background in such a way that he has promoted cronyism and nepotism to a dizzying height. So, capital voices of the society, in the academia, in the private sector, in the professions that would have helped him through plurality of ideas to manage the economy and to move Nigeria forward are all damaged. Everybody is afraid to speak because when you speak, he will move the EFCC or other anti-corruption agencies against you. So, even businessmen, Nigerians who have a lot of money who could have invested are now afraid to even invest. Although it is their money, they’re afraid that one day they will ask them how did you get this money? They’ll say if you have money in your domiciliary account, you are in trouble. So, a lot of businessmen, a lot of captains of industry, a lot of foreigners who would have brought money into the system, they’re not bringing it in, rather there’s capital flight and there is what we call opaqueness in governance; there’s no transparency and accountability. Priorities are not set right. If you are suddenly saying that the change begins with me, I can tell you like most Nigerians are saying today that change cannot begin with me because you promised me change voluntarily. I did not ask you and it was based on your promise that I decided to vote for you. So, you can’t change the narrative and say that change now begins with me.
If we’re having about eleven aircrafts in the Presidential air fleet, due to pressure and national outcry, the president has said they should sell two; why are you selling two out of eleven? What are we doing with nine presidential jets when the British Prime Minister flies Virgin Airline? Even Obama, how many apart from their Air force one. How many aircraft does even America have in their Presidential fleet that Nigeria is maintaining aircraft with over N5 billion in their system? We don’t need more than two to three aircrafts in the Presidential fleet. One for the President, one for the Vice President and Senate President and Speaker, then one for the Chief Justice of Nigeria and some critical ministers who hold critical positions. Rather than sell them off, you can use them to start a national carrier. How embarrassed I am anytime I am travelling and you see Ethiopia Airlines struggle with British Airways for passengers – small Ethiopia. Their airline is one of the best in the world. Nigeria has no official carrier. So, you can use those ones to reformat and re-customize them to commercial ones but if you must sell them, you sell them and pump the money back to start a new airline. At least, for national integrity and pride and if it is true that you’ve succeeded in your anti-corruption war, then we can be sure that the people who will now be in charge of that commercial airline won’t fail like before. So, there is wrong prioritizations, there is lack of good economic, fiscal and monetary management of the economy and there are many round pegs in square holes within the government itself. So many Nigerians are not believing in the system and that is why he’s finding it difficult in the anti-corruption war because many Nigerians are not buying into it. They feel it is lopsided, they feel it is targeted at some selected people, they feel it is not all inclusive because a lot of people within the government have themselves, been accused but none of them is put on trial. Within the ruling party itself, there is no cohesion and that is a call for distress because when the ruling party lacks cohesion, then there is a problem. There are problem tendencies within the ruling APC itself. The National Assembly is virtually on its own; the CPC tendency is on its own; the AC tendency – the driving button is on its own; the ANPP tendency is on its own; the new PDP that moved into APC tendency is on its own. They have this fragmented party that is actually not cohesive even up till now. So, there are a lot of problems, a lot of issues.
So, what do you see on the road to 2019?
With all due respect, the President appears to have lost a very golden opportunity to galvanize the nation.
The first year has gone and a government actually usually performs within the first major two years. After that, it is politics. So, by May next year, politicking and politics have already commenced alignment and realignment, election distraction such that the President will not even have the time again to concentrate much on governance. So, I personally feel that if care is not taken, he may have lost it and that the earlier he recaptures it quickly, very quickly, as urgent as yesterday, the best. So, I still mention political realignment, with the Tinubu faction and the Oyegun faction, the Atiku faction, the Saraki faction, the PDP faction; so, with all these factions, it will be a miracle, maybe the great wonder of the world if APC will stand as one cohesive political, indivisible party that can fight the 2019 Presidential election. I stand to be corrected, I don’t see that happening. You can see that AD (that is Alliance for Democracy) is already being revived by the two factions in Ondo – the Akeredolu faction and the other man that they said he won, the man from the Tinubu faction; they have already vowed that they will not support Akeredolu faction and they have already approached AD to revive AD to use it. So, AD itself will come onboard. I see another thirdforce coming onboard both in Yoruba land, within the middle belt, and in the core North and in the South-South. So, let us watch and see.
What is you impression about the just concluded governorship elections in Edo state?
If you watch me generally, I don’t discuss Edo politics at all and it is a personal deliberate policy. I will rather say that the elections have come and gone, there are ways and means by which post-election grievances can be settled. I will urge the aggrieved parties to take those constitutional means because even the present governor himself, Adams Oshiomhole, when he was voted for did not get the job; he had to get it through the tribunals and courts of law. So, I do not support violence generally, loss of lives unnecessarily; that is my biggest respect for former President Jonathan when he said no Nigerian blood was worth his ambition and that is why he is being celebrated across the world today. So, I do not believe in violence, I do not believe in unnecessary loss of human lives. I will personally advise all aggrieved parties to take constitutional means to redress grievances and that is why the judiciary, the third arm of government is there, to monitor closely and supervise the executive and the legislative arms based on the 1748 theory or doctrine of Separation of Powers ably espoused by that great French philosopher, Baron de Montesquieu.
Do you think it is proper for another electoral committee to be setup when the reports of other committees especially that of Justice Uwais has not been implemented? From your vantage position, is there new things you think the new committee headed by Ken Nnamani should focus on?
Let me start by saying that Nnamani is a distinguished Nigerian that I respect and he is my good friend. If he had mentioned this to me before his appointment, I would have advised him against it because it is an assignment that is as nonsensical, that it is otiose and superfluous. There’s no need for any other electoral reform committee because the Uwais committee has a detailed report; they are still today in the archives, not used and all its beautiful recommendations which would have made our electoral process credible, believable, fair, and trustworthy, with integrity. The report has never, ever been looked into. Now, I was in the 2005 National Reform Conference, all the beautiful recommendations we made were put away in the archives by Obasanjo. I was in the vision 2020 of 2009, all the beautiful recommendations we made were put away by the Yar’Adua administration.
I was in the National Conference of 2014, all the beautiful recommendations that were made were put before the National Assembly and they’ve not seen the light of the day and in fact, President Buhari came out and said that he has never even had time to look at it and that they’re better in the archives. So, if you ask me, I think the President just wants to be seen to be doing something.
Now, the problem is not with electoral recommendation; we already have more than enough. The problem is the political will to implement them. Whereas under this present government, all elections have either been inconclusive or brazenly rigged. That has nothing to do with electoral reforms. So, it has everything to do with the attitudinal disposition of the average Nigerian politician whose mission is win or kill and die. So to me, the electoral reform committee is a total waste of funds, total waste of energy, total waste of resources, total waste of time, and a major distraction from the very, very parlous state of affairs in the country where the common man and common woman cannot even eat and they’re dying of starvation.