Senator Chukwuka Utazi (PDP, Enugu North), Chairman, Senate Committee on Anti-Corruption and Financial Crimes. In this interview with CHUKWU DAVID, he speaks generally on the unfolding political developments in Nigeria and the impact the recent gale of defections have on the 2019 elections
The nation is witnessing a peculiar period in its political history. Few months to 2019 general elections, major defections are taking place from the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), the opposition, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). What does this Potend for the country?
I see a clear picture of a new Nigeria that is emerging, that will take the challenge of leadership seriously; unlike what it used to be. I see a new Nigeria come 2019 that will correct from itself the repeated mistakes Nigeria has been known for, that has made the civilised world to give up hope on Nigeria, that we are beyond redemption.
The Nigeria I’m seeing is one that will get it right in 2019 in leadership recruitment. If you go into political philosophy and you go into the platonic eugenics in leadership recruitments, you talk about “the philosopher kings”, you get it right. From the inception, the people who thought about democracy had in mind that you have the best material to give the best of leadership for the populace that will guarantee the greatest good for the greatest number of our populace. They never had in mind that you go and recruit a thirdeleven to play a first-eleven team for any country.
They envisioned that you’re supposed to get it right in getting the best material that has the pedigree, the qualifications, the knowledge of the political landscape that he or she is going to traverse, going from one place to another, campaigning. From the first day, he would have hit the ground running about what he wants to do for the country. Before even aspiring; he has a clear idea of where Nigeria is and where he is going to take Nigeria to.
That person will have the credentials in terms of public service, in terms of the interest of Nigeria, somebody who will come and unify the country that is fractured along ethnic and religious lines, a Nigerian who will come and take Nigeria as a single and unified constituency, and not here for his people. We want a leader who will emerge following these defections, to get the best of the materials from all the political parties, not only from the ruling APC but from all other political parties that are amassing themselves into this movement under the PDP. You get the best materials that will come and work for Nigeria so that Nigeria will stop being the laughing stock of nations. I have always said it that America remains the model of democracy in the world; so everybody looks up to them.
It takes them time to recruit a leader. I have also given example of our son here, the immediate past President of America, President Barak Obama. America swallowed their pride in that recruitment and looked for the best material; top dog for the top job, not underdog for the top job. America swallowed its pride and allowed a son of African immigrant to become their President. Nobody believed that America of all nations would do such.
Smaller nations around them cannot do it talk less of America but America did; not only for one term but the full terms of eight years. If America can do that, Nigeria should learn a lot from that experience, and ensure that this harvest of defections, this political tsunami we are having, this storm that is gathering will turn out for the betterment of this country, that’s what I am looking up to.
Are you not concerned that it is the same set of politicians who left the PDP in 2014 to join the APC, leading to the failure of the party in 2015, that are returning to the same party now? Does it not show that these politicians are operating without definite political ideologies and also not in public interest?
Well, you see, everything is in a state of flux in Nigeria. Nigeria is in a state of becoming; we are working hard to get there, and it takes time. Nationhood is a process, and being a process, it takes time to get it right. I am aware that many people are moving from one place to another; I’m aware of the challenges that are facing this country because we are a country of multifarious countries. In Nigeria, we have the Hausa ‘country’; we have the Ibibio ‘country’, we have the Igbo country; we have the minorities country. These ‘countries’ are yet to become a nation in the true sense of it. That’s what we are doing.
These movements to and fro you have been seeing, centripetal and centrifugal forces that are playing here are all showing that we have problems and moving round trying to solve the problems. And I am still looking forward that people are getting experience from these movements here and there. The people who left the PDP in 2014 with a lot of enthusiasm are returning crest fallen. They have got their fingers bitten and burnt. They have learnt that you have to stay in a place and make a name for yourself. They have learnt that all that glitters is not gold.
They have learnt that the fair-weather friends can never be better than people who have shared experiences for over 16 years. If you look at the statement of the Senate President, Senator Bukola Saraki, you will get what I am saying. He has learnt his lesson, and he is coming back to PDP with experiences.
Atiku Abubakar has also run from here to there and he is back humbler. So, with these people coming back now being sober, it is going to help in forging the new leadership we are going to have in PDP that is going to produce the next leadership. So, it is very important. Sometimes you tell a child don’t do this or that but he will refuse; if a child does not craw and fall and wound himself, he will not have the experience of walking. So, you have to allow people to go out there, have the experience, both positive and negative, by the time the person comes back, he will be a better person. Then when you are telling him what will happen tomorrow, he will say ‘no I have had it before.’ This is the experiment we have done, and this is going to be a good omen for this country.
It has been observed that in spite of the mass exodus of politicians from the ruling party to the PDP, President Muhammadu Buhari appears to be unruffled, just as he publicly says that the defections won’t affect his re-election in 2019. What do you think is giving him this confidence?
Well, I will tell you, if PDP that was there for 16 years with the arrogance and strong headedness that they were going to make it in 2015 failed, what makes somebody who has spent three years to have the bravado and then talk the big talk he is talking? PDP even boasted that they were going to rule Nigeria for 60 years, yet when it mattered most, like cookies it crumbled. I don’t see the difference in APC of three years that could not even reconcile internal contradictions. Those from the ACN, CPC and the ANPP, the three major political blocks that formed the APC, they could not reconcile them. Their unity was that of the frozen fish and the ice; when the heat comes, the ice will melt and the fish will remain itself. It was never a complete mixture; it was an amalgam, they just met like stone and concrete and all that. When you break it, every component goes back to the state it was before. That was what APC had.
Now that the people that formed the party are moving, one has left; they were standing on three legs, now the party is standing on two: that is the ACN and CPC. I will not be surprised also that even some few people in ACN there may pull out of the APC in the dying minutes and join the moving forces of the PDP, so that they can form a government of national unity that can win. The government is saying that it is not ruffled, by the time we get to the bridge, we cross it. We don’t know whether people are going to be ruffled or not. It is the outcome of the voting in 2019 that will determine who is ruffled and who is not ruffled. But in the mean time, everything on the ground is showing that this country is taking another trajectory that will take us to a better Nigeria where everybody will feel at home.
Today, many people are not comfortable in certain parts of the country. The Igbos for example, are like the vultures; anywhere you go and you don’t see vultures you know that something is wrong there. Today, you see Igbos only in state capitals; they are no longer in the hinterlands of all parts of the country particularly in the North where they do their businesses because of fear. We want a leadership that will come and say anywhere you are, this country belongs to you.
We want a leader who will come here and will not have a preference for his own religion. He will be accommodative of everybody because this is a secular state. We are looking for a President who will come and tell cattle herdsmen look, you don’t have to run riot. We have always had these cattle herdsmen in this country but in the last three years, they have assumed a dimension nobody ever imagined. The people who were friendly are no longer friendly; people who used stick to handle their cattle are now using AK-47. It never happened before. We want such a leader who will make cattle herdsmen to be cattle herdsmen, and know that they have to coexist with anybody in any part of the country they want to be; not to move around with bravado, challenging people, killing people in any part of the country they find themselves. That’s the type of leadership we want.
There is concern among Nigerians that the 2019 general elections may not hold because of the way the polity is being heated up by the activities of politicians and those in positions of authority. What is your take on this?
You see, any time we approach the elections, the preparations to elections are usually characterised by apprehension, and you see many unusual things happening in the polity. It is part of it. It was even foretold that Nigeria was going to break in 2015, that we were not going to have elections, and that we were not going to have a nation beginning from 2015. But Nigeria was able to go beyond 2015. And I see that Nigeria is going to go beyond 2019.
You see, Mr. President is expected as the leader of his party and the leader of government to call to order those people who are working with him and around him. A situation where the agents of states are being used to further political expectations of a particular political party is not good for this country. The police are working for the country, work for the Nigerian state, not a vanguard of a political party, APC. The DSS, the Army and others must know that their loyalty is to the state, not to a political party, not to a President because a President will come and go and the state will remain. That’s where their loyalty should lie, and that’s we expect of them. Anything short of that means that they are falling short of the best international practices expected of every nation.
America conducted elections about three years ago; the Police or the Army did not go and become a wing of the Republicans. Ghana very close to us here did elections the other time. We never heard that the Ghana Army became a wing; even a sitting government lost; a political party in leadership lost to opposition. It happened twice in Ghana; so Nigeria is not different. So, people who are in politics and government should know it that the only way they can sustain themselves and be in government is to do the wish of the people. Once you are no longer doing the wish of the people, you will be prepared to accept the outcome of the election; not to go and do otherwise because it is not going to work. Nigeria is very big here. Nigeria expects the agencies of government to respect themselves and work within the limits and the confines of the acts that established them. Going contrary is causing trouble for themselves which is uncalled for.
How do you see the current relationship between the National Assembly particularly the Senate and the Executive, whereby security agencies are frequently laying siege to either the parliamentary complex or residences of its presiding officers?
What I want to tell Nigerians and the ruling party, the APC, is that they must learn to respect the laws of the land. They must respect the grand norm which is our 1999 Constitution (as amended). That is what the President swore to in 2015 when he assumed leadership. You don’t expect people to be robots. You don’t expect people to have slavish followership. He has to know also that the loyalty he enjoyed in the Army is not the same in a polity of this nature now. In political activities, if you appeal to people they follow you; if you no longer appeal to them, they leave you. If you had appealed to them before and they came closer and discovered that you are not what they thought, they have the freedom and right to leave and join any political party of their choice and vote for any person they want. Everybody must not be in APC. We are not in a unitary form of government here.
This is a multicultural society and we have several political parties here playing, canvassing for opinion; that’s what we expect. I also want APC to learn from experience. The experience we had in the past was that in 2014 in the build-up to the elections, Aminu Tambuwal was the Speaker of the House of Representatives when he defected. PDP didn’t call for his head. President Goodluck Jonathan didn’t ask anybody to go and cut off the head of Tambuwal or other people who defected along with him. In the Senate, our present Senate President defected, he was the leader of the senators that were defecting; nobody went for his head. He was allowed to ventilate his opinion and express himself. He left for a party of his choice. Today, he is back; that is democracy and that has to be respected. Nobody should push anybody to the wall. People’s opinions should be respected. We have to follow the rule of law; nobody should be persecuted or prosecuted because of his political beliefs. Nobody should also be intimidated because of his political beliefs; nobody should be witch-hunted for his political beliefs. If you want the person to go with you, you appeal to him.
The major plank in democracy is dialogue. Everything you do in politics is all about dialogue: listen to me and I listen to you. If I convince you, follow me, if I don’t convince you, follow your own part. That is what we expect in the build-up to the 2019 elections. The experience we had recently was uncalled for, where it was noted that there was an attempt to effect change of leadership in the Senate because those people are not amenable to the whims and caprices of the APC. That should not be so. Nobody came to remove Tambuwal; he was there. And Tambuwal became the Speaker of the House of Representatives against the wishes of the PDP. He was there for four years and nobody witch-hunted him. He was not taken to any court for a trial. He was there with Emeka Ihedioha. They were not in the picture of the people they want. Where Tambuwal came from was not the area the PDP zoned the speakership to and he was there for four years. I don’t see how that of Saraki’s case will be a different ballgame. If they loved him so much for the votes he gave to APC to win, they should allow him also to ventilate his opinion and express himself anyway he wants.
He should not suffer for such. That is totally wrong. Yesterday, they were there with them in APC, today they are back here, who knows the new realignment that will come that will not even make the President be with other people tomorrow? So, this fleeting movement of the politicians should not worry anybody. Let us look at what we want to do for Nigerians. Let us see what impression we are going to create in the lives of people. How do we make life meaningful for Nigerians today? How do we create jobs for the teaming population that is moving and almost hopeless because there is no job for them?
How do we create a level play ground for business to thrive in this country? How do we solve the problem of infrastructure in Nigeria? How do we make the problem of electricity to be a thing of the past, that you will have constant power on a daily basis all year round? How can businessmen do business with small overhead, how do we stop this gas flaring? If you want to do any business you have to have a generator set; how do we end the issue of multinational corporations running our country here while we are working for their companies overseas?
They make fortunes from here while Nigerians are disadvantaged. We create job overseas and then our people are unemployed here. These are the things that should bother Nigerians. How do we unify our people here so that they can live in any part of the country? What do we do to ensure that I can remain in Abuja here and run as a senator? How can I run as a governor if I am living in Lagos or living in Kano for years and I have acquainted myself with all the people there and I want to run election? Those are the things we should be thinking about. We should think about how Nigeria can be home for all; anywhere you are you will be comfortable and welcome, not where you go they tell you that you are a visitor and not an indigene. We have not yet gotten to nationhood; that’s what should be bothering Nigerians and the leaders. That should be the focus of 2019 elections.
How do we restructure to give a comparative advantage to everybody from anywhere you are coming? Agriculture is the mainstay in the North here. Why won’t they have a cooperative advantage to enjoy themselves; restructure to ensure that they produce and sell to all parts of the country? Why can’t the Easterners have free rein to move at their level ICT wise and all that; build manufacturing companies to match their expertise? Why shouldn’t the Yorubas also in the economy they are in control have free rein to do what they want to do in the economy? These are the things that need to bother us here.
The APC and the Presidency have been accusing the National Assembly of frustrating programmes of this administration by not approving the request of President Muhammadu Buhari on virement and INEC budget for 2019 general elections before embarking on annual recess. How do you react to this?
You see, when the unexpected happens, the unusual follows. When the Senate adjourned to come back and continue with their normal legislative process on Tuesday July 24, nobody envisioned that there was going to be a semblance of civilian coup, and that our two presiding officers would not be there, and a new proposal of people are going to take over and elect new leaders. So, it was the unusual thing that happened that made the National Assembly to recoil in its shell and sit down to reassess what is happening.
The big baboon says that why he moves and looks back is not a sign of cowardice but to know where the challenge against him is going to come from. So, we were not prepared for the event that happened recently, and that made us to adjourn. But if there is any issue of urgent national importance, of course, the leadership of the National Assembly can always call the members to return and look at such issues, and that is why you can see that the Senate and the House joint Committee on INEC has been meeting with the chairman and commissioners of the electoral umpire to address the issue of the budget for the 2019 general elections.
The leadership we have is one that has the interest of this country at heart. If the people in the Executive were as cooperative as the leaders we have in the National Assembly here, I think things will go well for this country. The dog says that the sign of friendship is when I fall for you, you fall for me.
But if I keep falling all the time and you keep standing there looking, it means something is not working well. So, that’s the matter. The reciprocity we expected in a democracy is not working. There is still time for people in the Executive to think twice and drop most of what I term dictatorial tendencies and open their minds to a situation that is on the ground for them. It is give and take. If you sow whirlwind you are going to get a storm; if you also sow good actions, the result is also going to be there for you. People must learn how to correlate and cohabit with each other. You don’t expect people to rubber stamp whatever you say; that’s not going to work.
You appeal to people, you dialogue on it; discuss issues. If you do so, everybody is going to be on the same page with you. But once you want to dictate to people what you want to do, you are not going to have it easy, and that’s not the practice of democracy we have envisioned for ourselves and which we are practising. We must not say it in words but also demonstrate it in action; that is what democracy is all about. If we do so, Nigeria will be better and the people we are leading will also be happy that the leaders are responsive and responsible to expectations they placed on our shoulders.
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