Pat Utomi is the convener of the National Consultative Front (NCFront). In this interview, he speaks about the proposed merger between the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), the New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP) and the Labour Party, why a formidable opposition political party is needed to deepen the country’s democracy, among others. INIOBONG IWOK brings the excerpts:
Is it too early to begin to talk about the 2027 general election rather than talking about building a formidable opposition in order to check this present administration?
I think it is inappropriate to even talk about the 2027 general election because we should be talking about governing and a working democracy. Nigeria is not a working democracy and part of the effort of building a strong and viable political party is for us to make our democracy work first and foremost before we begin to think about another election.
The problem with Nigeria is that we talk much about elections and we are always talking about the next election but that is not how countries grow and develop.
Countries grow and develop first of all by founding political parties and I can say without any feeling of wrong that we don’t have a political party in Nigeria today. What we have managed to couple together since 1999 have been platforms for machine politics where the gain is about grabbing power rightly or wrongly and sharing spoils.
What is wrong with Nigeria’s democracy is that in 1999 somehow the politicians managed to build a kind of coalition that enabled them to keep out the military but essentially put themselves in a position to share the spoils and did not think of Nigerians and governing to make Nigeria better.
So election after election, we kept the circle going and the politicians have been able to go and share spoils but Nigeria is getting worse and Nigerian people are so unhappy. And the effect has been violence all through. If you do a remarkable comparison to the opposite which is what has happened in India.
If you look at India in 1999, there was a lot violence in terms of rejection of ways the country was being managed but a developmental state has emerged in India.
And the coalition is about making India work for Indians. Since India did that the country has become wealthier, more stable and violence has reduced while it is rising in Nigeria. One of the major reasons why this is happening is that Nigeria did not manage to build a political party. What we have built is a coalition of politicians trying to share spoils in a ruttier state and it has neglected the people of Nigeria and development.
So, the first thing is for us to have a real political party and that is where our conversation should begin. How do we build a political party that is clear in its sense of where Nigeria should be and the role everybody would play in getting Nigeria there?
How political parties recruit, socialise people and mobilise the whole populace to focus on this idea of how progress comes to everybody and that then leads to the true progress of the country.
I have spoken very frequently about the simple difference between a Nigerian political party and the African National Congress (ANC) in South Africa because the Nigerian state is still in a developmental stage. It is just a coalition of politicians trying to share spoils of office and because of that they neglect development in Nigeria.
Look at how South Asia has now emerged, overtaking even Southeast Asia in terms of economic development and growth.
How do you analyse the administration of your very good friend, President Bola Tinubu and do you still speak to the President?
I have not spoken with him in five years and that is my perception of many things including the way the All Progressives Congress (APC) evolved. The truth of the matter is that what is happening in Nigeria is inevitable because the Nigerian state is not constructed to serve the Nigerian people.
It is constructed to serve politicians looking to share the spoils and because that is what it is, you will have all these corruption cases. It is like you have taken your own and you don’t want me to take mine and the Nigerian people don’t matter in these conversations.
It is easy for you to say that we put all these together and we lost the election but I still completely reject the idea that we lost the election because that is not true.
But Nigeria is what it is. There is a legitimacy crisis in Nigeria and I know what the world thinks of what happens in Nigeria and that is not a disputable matter. I have cited continuously what the European Union Mission said about the election and I don’t want us to go back into the 2023 election because that is not the issue for now.
I’m just trying to make the point that the last election, talking about Peter Obi, the Nigerian people have become so frustrated with the nature and way Nigerian politicians carry out that when Peter Obi said the right things it resonated with them and drove the emergence of a movement that generally got called the Obidient Movement.
Nigerians in Diaspora rallied very strongly around the fact that this gentleman is saying a few things right and a campaign like Nigerians have not seen for a long time happened and it was deliberately sabotaged. The point remains, how do you go forward when you know this? We have to realise and take advantage in trying to save Nigeria because the majority of this country’s population is young.
A significant part of our population is under 25 years and they are looking for something new they are also trapped and that is the most dangerous thing about where we are. These people are trapped in their values.
If our politicians are constantly cheating at every turn, they cheat at elections and they cheat at using public resources, when that is the state of affairs, what do you expect to happen with how to move forward with this population? Look at the track we are travelling, we are travelling to Somalia when we should be travelling through India or somewhere else right now.
A lot of your critics say that you are just theorising because you supported the evolution of President Muhammadu Buhari and APC but the theorising does not solve the problem.
Are you not seeing it happening? One of the points of theory is to see it lead to action. I played a role in the founding of APC with the expectation that we could create a difference but we just absorbed some of the other people from the People’s Democratic Party and created the worse PDP and I walked away from the very beginning. I have never been active in APC in any shape, form or position.
But you tried attended APC governorship primary in Delta State and they showed you politics?
They didn’t show me any politics and by the way that story going round is not actually true. The correct story was that there was a meeting called and one retired general was chairing the meeting and it was a premeditated scam and I said it to them. I literally walked away from there. We have been to the venue and it is not a question of changing the venue.
I was even going to go back there but some people said I should not make a fool of myself by going back to the place. The retired general was a disgrace to the meeting and I will say it in public and that was what happened. There was no plan to have an election and I wrote letters to the party to show what happened even Adams Oshiomhole said he would tell me one day the truth of what happened.
But you see, Nigerian politicians don’t believe in democracy. That is what I prove and I need to prove it. Once I proved it, I just walked away completely and I wrote a book about it.
In the event that the proposed merger to form a strong political party works out, who should be leading the party?
I think it is too early to be talking about who will lead the party. Let’s talk about how and what we can do to make Nigeria work. When the time comes, the people and that is why it is called democracy will determine who.
I can tell you with a good sense of satisfaction that in the last week or so, I have had significant conversation with Atiku Abubakar, Rabiu Kwankwaso and Peter Obi and my view is very clear on this matter, let us build a great party that can build Nigeria.
When we then build it, the people who form the social movement that come together in addition to the political parties that come into this merger, subscribing to certain values and ideologies on how you make a nation happen, those people will determine who among those who seem interested will go forward.
This is what our country does need and this is what we must have. It should not be about some individuals advertising that they are the one