• Saturday, July 20, 2024
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‘Political system needs reforms but gatekeepers don’t want change’

‘Political system needs reforms but gatekeepers don’t want change’

EZE ONYEKPERE is a lawyer and Executive Director of the Centre for Social Justice. He specialises in development law including electricity reforms, fiscal governance, human rights and constitutional reforms. Called to the Bar in 1988, he has worked on electric power sector reforms, privatization, gender and trade policy and liberalization of education. He spoke in Abuja to NOSA IGBINADOLOR

It been seven years since the Buhari administration came into office and about one year left to exit. How would you assess the President’s seven years?

A. The Buhari administration has been a monumental disaster. A catastrophe of unimaginable and unprecedented proportion, considering what he was touted to be and the messianic impressions he created about himself from the beginning.

But in retrospect, Nigerians were gullible because it is not about what somebody says about himself or what those who are marketing him say, it is about an enquiry into what he represents, his philosophies of life and governance.

Nigerians might have blackmailed themselves into thinking that his first entry into leadership between 1984 and 1985 was a golden era. It wasn’t. He couldn’t manage the economy during this period and resorted to rationing and trade by barter.

I hope Nigerians have learnt their lessons, but I’m not too sure because a good chunk of the population is still stuck in a time warp

It was an era of nepotism and nepotistic governance, just like what have today. In the thirty-year period he was out of office, he never gave a lecture or wrote a treatise to espouse his life views and governance philosophies, rather, the few times he intervened in any national discourse, it was to intervene on behalf of splinter, narrow, sectional and religious groups.

You will recall that Boko Haram nominated him to represent them in talks with government. Why? Did they just see him on the street and nominate him? Of course not. There must have been a history. Those are the facts.

We were the ones who fooled ourselves, because his antecedents, his life history, nothing about it showed he had the capacity to run the country; a multi-ethnic, multi-religious, and diverse country as Nigeria.Even the security where he was touted to have more knowledge, we have seen the outcome. Failure!

Look at national unity, we are more divided today than we were seven years ago, and he started it. When you finish elections, there would be divisions in the polity. People voted for this candidate or the other candidate, and people would also feel emotional for their losses.

As a leader, you owe it a duty to bring people together, that is what a leader does. What did Buhari do? He started deliberately celebrating his victory in such a way that was offensive. In interviews he gave, he talked about the 97% and the 5%, the ‘we’ and ‘them’, and defined an ethnic group as nothing but a dot in a circle.

So, he has told a certain section of Nigerians that he doesn’t care about them, that he hates them. Clearly, he is a man without a sense of history. So, the administration has been a disaster and his leaving in 2023 would be good riddance to bad rubbish. Nigerians will celebrate the day Buhari leaves but we would survive him.

Read also: Rascality of political parties & 2023 election

Looking at the country today and the many varied depressing data, what would you identify as the opportunities the country has missed as a result of the actions and inactions of the president?

President Buhari had the opportunity to unite Nigerians. He had the opportunity to bring everybody on board to go for the task of national development in terms of his appointments into critical national institutions, in terms of even how he talks because the way you speak as a president also tells people who you are. In terms of walking the talk also.

The President claims to be driving an anti-corruption struggle, but yet, see the man who has been newly elected as the ruling party’s chairman. The president’s party is being led by someone who is facing corruption charges unless the EFCC has dropped the charges. The President actively supported Abdullahi Adamu’s election.

The former governor of Gombe state, Danjuma Goje wanted to run against the current senate president in 2019 for that seat. He was persuaded to drop his ambition by the presidency, and part of the terms for him to drop out and support the incumbent senate president was for his case in court to be withdrawn and the Attorney-General went and filed nolle prosequi.

So, they have corrupted the institutions of state. EFCC has been so politicised. There was a time in this country that when EFCC arrested people, it was seen as serious, now it is all been ridiculed and reduced. So, that idea of uniting the country was thrown out of the window from day one. So, there are the we and them.

In terms of the economy, the calibre of people he appointed to run the economy simply do not have the pedigree. Which of them is in the class of the Okonjo Iwealas? Which of them is in the class of the Akinwumi Adesinas of this world?

Which of them is in the class of the Soludos? Which of them is in the class of the deposed Emir of Kano, Sanusi Lamido? Where are the men and women of substance? Which novel idea have they brought out? TSA they are touting is a product of the immediate past government.

All the infrastructure projects they are executing were all started by the former government. Yes, government is a continuity, but you must bring something novel to the table in terms of ideas and strategy. Nigeria went into two recessions under Buhari, oil production has reduced drastically with Tony Elumelu and Pastor Adeboye telling us that we are losing up to 80% of our oil production. Has it ever happened before? Today we can’t even meet our OPEC quota.

Under the Jonathan administration, NNPC was claiming subsidy for 30-35 million litres per day of PMS and there was a huge outcry that people were simply bringing documents, letters of credit and no ships were arriving and they were claiming money.

Probes were set up both in the executive and in the legislature and affirmed, and some people were being prosecuted. So, that shows that our real consumption could be 20-25 million litres daily and the rest is nothing but money for ‘the boys’.

Enter the so called anti-corruption Buhari, and today NNPC is claiming subsidy on 65 million litres per day. This is after two recessions, factory closures, and 33% unemployment which is the highest in the nation’s history.

Do they want us to believe that our consumption of PMS has increased in an era of massive downturn of the economy? 35 million litres were tainted with fraud.Two recessions, later, unprecedented factory closures and second highest unemployment rate in the world, they are now claiming that we use 65 million litres. Indeed, in one of the months last year, they claimed 101 million litres a day.

What it shows is that corruption has more than quadrupled. Buhari is the minister of petroleum. Do you think anybody can be doing that level of fraud and the Minister is not aware? The Minister of State is not aware? 35 million daily was a fraud, so, what is 65 million then?

Our GDP has fallen heavily since 2015. Under this government we are using 97% of our internally generated revenue to service debt. We are borrowing monies to pay salaries, we are borrowing to execute projects. So, what progress are we measuring? Under this government, we can only measure progress in terms of deceit.

So, the process of electing a new president has begun and it seems nothing has changed whether in terms of recruiting leaders and the obnoxious amounts of monies spent in the process. What in your view should Nigerians be looking at when electing a leader and what kind of political reforms are required?

I hope Nigerians have learnt their lessons, but I’m not too sure because a good chunk of the population is still stuck in a time warp. A good chunk of the population has been deliberately kept illiterate and manipulable on ethnic and religious sentiments.

I am only hoping against hope that we chose right. First of all, you can see from what happened at the APC convention that there was simply an imposition of candidates and I will be surprised if their primaries will be different.

The PDP is looking like one big bazaar where everyone wants to be president. Thirty years ago, Atiku Abubakar ran against MKO Abiola. I do not know the age of his ideas but I just want you to see the picture. The usual faces are still in the race. The few new faces do not seem to have a strong hold on the party’s machinery. So, to be honest, we are likely to still end up in the same old circle.

Nigerians should ask what those who aspire to lead them are bringing to the table. I mean, you ran a state and ran it aground and EFCC is chasing you and you want to run the country. You are the governor of an oil rich state and you are owing pensioners, but you are throwing money all around the whole country and you want to do the same at the federal level. Another aspirant tells us that his life ambition is to be president of Nigeria and that is the only reason he deserves to lead us.

The system needs strong reforms but the gatekeepers do not want a change.