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Nigeria would have made progress if we were running a democracy – Onovo

Martins Onovo, a United States-trained Petroleum engineer, and former presidential candidate of the National Conscience Party (NCP), in an exclusive interview with ZEBULON AGOMUO deplored the state of the nation, urging government to work within the ambit of the pillars of constitutional democracy. Excerpts:

We see people lament the situation of the country. Now, beyond lamentation, how in your opinion can Nigeria move forward?

Well, you cannot stop lamentation as long as things are going wrong and it is also part of democracy. You can see the protest in Nevada and in London against vaccines. So, it is part democratic rights. It is not only a Nigeria thing. You cannot say with the level of insecurity; IDPs, the level of terrorism and debts, we should stop lamenting.

We will only stop lamenting when the situation improves; but as long as the situation remains, we must lament. And to solve any problem; you must be able to understand the problem and its causative factors. That is what is called diagnosis in medicine; that is also what is called auto diagnosis in mechanic workshop.

So, you need to understand what is wrong. Nigeria by our constitution is a constitutional democracy, but it is corrupted.

Is it the constitution that is corrupted? No. It is the people; the leadership; the same thing Chinua Achebe said in 1983, ‘84. If we had honestly, not literally, accepted Achebe’s thesis since 19984, we would have taken care of this situation; but if you look, you will see that almost every ethical analyst and intellectual agrees with Achebe’s thesis. But because of the fundamentals

-dishonesty and selfishness – which have to do with the value system – nobody is working towards an authentic solution. Each person is working towards the advancement of his own interest and because nobody is working towards the advancement of national interest, national interest must suffer necessarily. So, the only way national interest can be taken care of is that we work to take care of our national interest.

There are two fundamental principles of democracy in every universal theory of democracy- the rule of law and the integrity of ballot. Once you have the two, you have democracy; the other ones are minor variations.

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The two pillars of democracy are the rule of law and integrity of the ballot.

If this were a democracy, I can guarantee you that by the nature of democracy, the interest of the people would be taken care of. We would have made progress if we were running a democracy.

The only way the national interest will be taken care of is that we must work to take care of our national interest. But because selfish interest, nobody is working towards an authentic solution; everybody is working towards the advancement of his own selfish interest. And because nobody is working toward the advancement of national interest, national interest must suffer necessarily.

The rule of law is corrupted; the integrity of the ballot is corrupted because votes have never, I did not say votes did not count since 1999; I am saying votes have never counted in Nigeria since independence. Nigeria was founded on election rigging. We have the confession of our colonial officer, Harold Smith on that; that the colonial authorities rigged the first election. So, Nigeria was founded on rigging. And that is why in each election we rig and we continue. And when you complain people say, is it not for four years, after that they will leave; then the next election the man will rig, they will say is it not eight years he will do, after this term he will go. So, since 1960, and then, if we claimed we did not understand our problem, Chinua Achebe explained it in ’83, ’84 in his book, ‘The Trouble with Nigeria’, and everybody agreed. So, we can no longer claim we do not understand our problem because we agree with Achebe. It is not because we do not understand the problem or know the solution, we clearly understand the problem; we clearly know the solution, but we deliberately pursue our own selfish interest to allow the national problem to fester. You can see that it has got worse with time. For example, if you use this insecurity everybody is talking about, as at the day Buhari took over power, Nigeria was number 4 on the world terrorism index, today Nigeria is number 3. So, it has got worse. If you look at the poverty data as at the day Buhari took over power, you would see that we were not the global capital of extreme poverty, but with Buhari we became the global capital of extreme poverty. If you look at our transparent international corruption perception index reading, as at the day Buhari took over, I think we were 136th, today we are 149th; so, corruption has become worse. So, everything got worse. If you look at the economy, it is the same data, forget the 5percent they are reporting, it is false; because today Naira is N550 to a dollar, and still climbing. When Buhari took over it was 197. Today, your total national debt is nearly 40 trillion naira and you are going to borrow more now; the request is before the Senate, but when he took over it was 12.1trillion naira. So, nothing can be more catastrophic than the kind of democracy we think we are practising now. This regime is the worst since the creation of Adam that has failed in all counts. It failed in national unity; the economy, security, anti-corruption, democracy; it failed in the rule of law, in the integrity of the ballot and everywhere. The indices are clear. I am using government indices. The figures I am giving you are from Debt Management Office; they are there on their web site. So, I am using government data. I am not a member of the board of global terrorism index; I am not a member of the board of world poverty clock.

Our constitution provides for a democracy but in our lawlessness we do not comply. We pervert the constitution and these are the consequences. The constitution is very clear. The constitution did not say anybody should rig election. The constitution did not say if you do not have WASC (West African School Certificate) you should contest.

So, the constitution is clear. If we had adhered to the fundamental principles of democracy that I have mentioned, we would be a second world power by now. It is very clear, but we refused. You cannot continue to do the wrong thing and get the right answer. We have consistently done the wrong thing; so, we have also consistently got the wrong answer. It is very simple; there is no ingenuity required here.

When there is an election, you count valid votes; (I am a politician); if you count valid votes and I win, I will know that it is the people that put me in power. Then I will recognise their sovereignty. But if I rig the election; I will know that I put myself in power; so, the people do not count and I will not serve them because I put myself in power. But if the people put me in power, which should be the case in a constitutional democracy then I must recognise that they are the sovereign and then I must comply with their interest.

If godfathers put me in power, then I must also accommodate them. These things are so simple. Have the discipline to do the right things and then you get the right result.

The religious point of view says ‘whatever a man sows that’s what he will reap.’

When can we say Nigeria has had a golden period?

There has never been golden period.

What has happened is that some periods were better, but you cannot call them golden. The PDP period for example, there was significant corruption. But now it is even more. So, we cannot say because it is more now, then, we now say, there was no corruption. We were here when they did oil subsidy; power probe and all that; but here we have 25 billion-dollar APC contract scam; and you cannot turn around also and say because there was oil boom during the Gowon era, everything was perfect. There was no way we can forget the cement armada of Gowon which was complete planlessness. But you will also have to admit that almost all the federal secretariats were built by the Gowon regime. So, I cannot say that anybody can correctly say there has been a golden era in Nigeria. There was never a golden period, but some periods were better than others.

Talking about General Buhari (rtd) his regime as a military head of state was not perfect but it was better than what we have now.

One important thing is that most of the administrations over the years were fundamentally illegitimate – First Republic, the colonial masters rigged the election according to the confession of Harold Smith, a colonial officer, and we know it is true and we have evidence that it is true; and then we have a confession. Second Republic, we knew what happened with two third. Now this Republic we also know that the military influenced and determined the outcome; and then subsequently, how Justice Oguntade nullified a presidential election as a minority judgment. We also know how Justice Chima Nweze nullified the 2019 presidential election as a minority judgment in the Supreme Court. So, we cannot continue to pretend that there was a time it was good enough. It is just that sometimes the leadership showed more scruples than the brazen impunity of the current government; where the constitution has been completely disregarded; court orders have been completely disregarded and you are talking about democracy. This is a full-blown dictatorship. How many courts released El-Zakzaky before he was finally released? How many courts have released Sambo Dasuki? Has he been released? How can you claim rule of law if court judgments are not being obeyed by government? Why do you go to court if the court judgment is worthless? So, when we say this is not a democracy; it is not to say that the rules in the constitution do not provide democratic norms, it is because the political leadership is above the law; they are above the constitution and act with impunity. So, it is not that the constitution is fundamentally wrong; No; it is because they are not complying. We know that the constitution provides that you cannot spend without appropriation; but government has been spending without appropriation. We know that the constitution provides for federal character; but Buhari makes nepotistic appointments. We know that all the arms of government are headed by Northern Moslems. We know that over 90 percent of all security forces are commanded by northern Moslems. So, it is very clear; it is a violation of the constitution. I think the media has not emphasised the issue of lawlessness which may be the root of all this insecurity, because people see political leaders acting lawless they become lawless.

The President has just sent another request to the Senate for loan approval. Many people believe the debts are becoming too much. What is your take here?

Let me re-emphasise the fact that in a democracy, the president is not above the law to start with. Our constitution gives the National Assembly the power to remove a president by impeachment. Now, the president has submitted a request to the National Assembly; if that request is considered unpatriotic, how come it gets approved? Now, if the president is deviating, why is he not impeached? We wrote a letter in 2016 titled ‘Reckless and Unpatriotic Borrowing’; we wrote to the Senate; we wrote to the House of Reps. Even though I did not get a chance to discuss it with Saraki because we posted it from Lagos; we saw that the National Assembly of that time resisted this reckless and unpatriotic borrowing. That also is the responsibility of the media in our constitution, not in my opinion; because the constitution says that the media must hold the government accountable to the people. So, you can see that the failure is not just the failure of Buhari administration; it is a failure of the system (systemic failure); because if Buhari failed, how come the national Assembly failed and how come the media failed? When you look at that, the only way it makes sense to people like us is that this failure is foundational; and what is the foundation- the value system. And because the value system has become completely materialistic- a notorious armed robber and terrorist can share enough money and get enough votes to win an election. Now, that is not the end of the road; if he shares money and gets enough votes to win; if he gets to the office and begins to misbehave, the legislature can control him; but because of the porous value system, he can also compromise the legislature, buy judges; and can also compromise the media. So, you can see that we are all failures. This is because if the legislature had done its oversight function; the political leader will not be able to deviate so much.

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