Former Secretary-General of the National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG) and chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Chief Frank Ovie Kokori, in this interview with EBENEZER ADUROKIYA, identifies reluctant leadership and bad leaders as factors militating against the progress of Nigeria.
NIGERIA is 56 years old and it’s quite disheartening that the nation is still unable to feed its citizens; how do you feel about?
To me, it is a shame. Like you said, at 56, we should be able to have put everything in order in our country; actually 50 years of independence is enough for us to have drawn a thorough road map for our people and we should have been following that road now and prioritising our needs instead of going into frivolities which has been the hallmark of governance for these 56 years.
It is unfortunate Nigeria has not been blessed with good leadership and the fact is that the good leaders never ruled this country. People who were not prepared for leadership have always had the opportunity to rule this country, which is the way of God that nobody can really question or comprehend.
The Awolowos of this world, the Azikiwes of this world, they wanted to give Nigeria a good start, they dreamt of leadership; they had ambitions; they had aspiration for the country, but they could not gain power with their political parties to govern this country. So, those who were not really prepared for leadership became the leaders of our country, that’s what we experienced in the First Republic when leaders were not really prepared to become or had the aspiration to govern, God placed them there so they took the country like that and unfortunately, that experiment never worked.
The army came and did what they did and scuttled democracy and after that, we had to wait till about 20 years from 1966 to 1979 that’s about 15 years or so before democracy came back to Nigeria. Again, in that process, we had Shehu Shagari, a very good gentleman, decent man, but I think that type of man shouldn’t have been our leader at that time because he hadn’t got the type of guts and charisma to lead a country like Nigeria, but he became the president, so what can we do?
The Awolowos and Azikiwes too became sidelined, so the progressives could not gain power in this country, it’s only the conservatives and the feudal north leaders of the NPC, the NPC is a feudal party, it’s a very conservative party and the Action Group or the UPN of Awolowo, they could not, those are the progressives people, but they could not gain power in this country, so that has been the bane of Nigeria’s leadership and we have been groping on that. First, Second, Third republics in between you have a very reactionary military and the final straw of the military’s despotism and destruction of this country came during Babangida’s era, so during the interregnum, another very conservative military, that is the Babangida, Abacha era, so that’s how we found ourselves in this stage and those were during the golden years of the oil boom where oil was $120 per barrel.
Nigeria had a great windfall, but we could not make use of it so that is what we are suffering today. Then we had this Babangida and Abacha era of great looting that led us to this level. We never saved, we never did anything. People never really had any real ambition to take Nigeria from the third world level to even the second world level so instead of progressing, we were retrogressive, those are part of our history. Fifty-Six years of no action, 56 years of a standstill, 56 years of leaders who, instead of being patriotic and nationalistic, were more concerned about themselves, self-conceited leaders, leaders who preferred self-aggrandisement instead of nationalism.
You could see too that most of our electoral processes have not been free and fair; any country that talks about democracy without free and fair electoral system; an electoral system that is bogged down with corruption and shenanigans, cannot go anywhere and this has been what we have suffered for all these years and most of the elections have been fractured with violence, murder, corruption, so that has been our lot all these years.
Let us hope that this last election that has brought up a new government of change led by President Buhari, a man of steel, who has struggled actually to become a president, will do it right, because one of the problems we had all these years are leaders who never really struggled; reluctant leaders who were just picked and they would tell you they never wanted to be president.
The nation’s economy is in recession and one of the proposals being bandied around to pull it out of the woods is the sale of some national assets. What would be your suggestion on how to revamp Nigeria’s economy?
The question of selling assets for a short term relief is out of the way, because it’s just a suggestion by certain individuals. The Senate or the National Assembly has not passed any bill or motion and it’s in the public domain and I think it will be blown off and I know the president will not take that and the public opinion on that issue is against it, so I would just say it’s dead on arrival and you could see the reaction of the big pressure groups on the country and the organised labour.
My view is that it’s not realistic; it’s dead on arrival. It should go; nobody is going to consider that. Solving our problems is just through discipline, diversification of the economy and little sacrifice, that’s all. Nigeria is not in real or serious depression, Nigeria is not a failed state so it’s just we taking our destiny in our own hands and that’s what we are doing now. So, obviously we will surpass this little recession we are passing through by discipline and what we are trying to put together, all the stolen, looted funds we have in this country and bringing them back in safe hands.
The APC national leader and former governor of Lagos State, Senator Bola Tinubu, recently lambasted the APC national chairman, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, accusing him of entrenching corruption in the party as regards the APC primaries in Ondo State and it now appears the party is divided. As one of the leaders of the party particularly from Delta State, what’s your take on this?
Normally, the issue is in public domain already, so we are all aware of it. I don’t know the facts, the disposition of Tinubu about corruption, but as a respectable party leader, he knows his stake in the APC. Oyegun the same thing, so it’s a matter the party will take up; I know they’ve already stepped into the matter and it will be resolved amicably. The media is overblowing the matter. I don’t know the facts about the disposition of the Asiwaju himself, but at the end of the day, the APC is a very respectable, disciplined party, it’s not like the PDP. So, they will come together and we will resolve the matter.
Following the resurgence of militancy that is taking its toll on the economy of Nigeria, the Ijaw national leader, Chief Edwin Clark, came up with the forum he called the Niger Delta Coastal Stakeholders. But you were not at the inaugural gathering in spite of your status in the South-South region. Do you think the forum would be able to mediate between the Federal Government and the militants? Or what’s your take on the forum?
My take is that we should bring peace to the Niger Delta, so anybody who is doing anything to bring peace to the Niger Delta, I should be happy. The fact that I wasn’t there is because that body is more of a conglomerate of sympathisers of PDP, but there is another organisation which we now called the South-South Peace and Development Stakeholders Forum. I was at the meeting in Abuja last Saturday [September 24] and it was coordinated by Rotimi Amaechi and the Clark group will tell you it’s not partisan, because you have traditional rulers there, you have distinguished people there, former ministers, governors; so I think the decision we took on that now is that there is going to be collaboration.
Do you think it will be better for Nigeria if it is divided than remain as a single entity?
Obviously, Nigeria will not divide; no commander-in-chief will allow Nigeria to break up. Even as well-intentioned as [Emeka] Ojukwu was, because the Igbo were provoked at that time and pushed to the wall and they had to take up arms, yet Nigerians did not allow them to go. These are not serious agitations; we can’t break up; nobody will support breaking up of this country. I know it’s a wild goose chase. They [the agitators] are seeking attention.