Chief Frank Kokori, a fiery activist and former secretary-general of the National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG), a Board of Trustees’ member of the All Progressives Congress (APC), who has numerous awards from several credible labour federations in the world, including America’s George Meany Award to his kitties, told EBENEZER ADUROKIYA in his country home of Ovu in Ethiope East Local Government Area of Delta State that Nigeria has been destroyed.
How would you describe Nigeria at 60?
Nigeria at 60? We thank God for His mercies, for giving us freedom to rule ourselves. But it’s now clear that the Nigerian leaders, by extension most African leaders, are not prepared to bring their people out of poverty and to real political and economic freedom.
We were expecting an eldorado during the struggles for freedom, unfortunately some of us were young students at that time. I was already in secondary when we got independence. I was very abreast with politics at that early age; we read newspapers; listened to radio, followed Azikiwe, Awolowo, TafewaBalewa, Ahmadu Bello and the rest. We knew them off hand – our own generation. We were very conversant even at the age of 14, 12, we were already involved in knowing everything about politics in this country.
So, people like us were very confident that Africa will catch up with the Western countries; not even the Asia countries. We didn’t take Asia countries seriously at that time. We didn’t take Indian degrees seriously. That time when somebody came to Nigeria with an Indian degree from an Indian university, they will tell you that it’s like “A” Level. Even American degrees were not taken seriously. It’s only the UK degrees from Cambridge, from Oxford, from all the serious universities that we took seriously. Then, University of Ibadan, you can’t beat it, it’s world class. The teaching hospital was world class. So, we thought by now we should have been flying. But unfortunately, we have African leaders who have disgraced the continent.
And today, people like us sit and weep when we see black people crossing the Mediterranean sea and Sahara desert looking for green pastures in Europe. And then we now remember people like Kwame Nkruma, people like Nyerere of Tanzania, Kenneth Kaunda, the Azikiwe, the Awolowos, if these people were still here, we won’t have this type of stings and humiliations of the black people of the continent. In Nigeria, we were at a higher pedestal than countries like India, Malaysia and the rest.
When I started unionism in the 70s, when I started traveling round the world, I wasn’t impressed with what I saw in the Asian countries. I saw people riding bicycles. We were far ahead of them, but look at us today, we have become a beggarly nation. The whole problem is corruption. We were thinking that by now, a good leader must have come out to wipe out corruption, because all the problems we are having today are corruption.
Is that to say that we have never had a good leader in Nigeria?
Listen, when you say a good leader, I mean a man who is the Commander-in-Chief; we’ve never had any real Commander-in-Chief in this country. That was why Buhari came to power and we thought he would be a wonderful leader that would wipe out corruption. We were taking him on his first coming with Idiagbon, but Buhari now is a leader that is surrounded by a cabal; he is not really much in touch with the grassroots. So, the cabal surrounds him and the cabal can oppress people, openly.
Injustice that people like us were born to fight, you can see that there’s so much injustice and corruption in the country. You have the biggest billionaires in the world in Nigeria and the poorest people who can’t even earn one dollar a day in this country. So, this is the root of the whole thing.
When people today cry of fuel subsidy, it’s not that the Nigerian fuel is really high. The issue is that the people have been pauperised. The problem is that you have the super rich people and the real poverty-stricken people of this world in Nigeria.
So, my own take is that we have never had a real commander in chief that should have disciplined this country and I think we rely too much on Bubari and he could not do too much of what we expected of him. I felt that at this stage, we should have been able to have disciplined the Judiciary, disciplined the security people so that they don’t take bribes. The Nigerian judiciary, I’m very sorry to say, has let the people down. Now the judges are billionaires. How do judges become billionaires? It is corruption. If the people can’t get justice in time, Nigerians don’t get justice in time. Nigerians spend so much money to get justice and that’s some of the problem we have in this country, it’s not okay. When they say price of food is rising and the like, it is rising because we have corrupt policemen and security men on the road who collect their taxes! Policemen, customs officers and the rest are tax collectors! By becoming tax collectors on the road, how will the businesswoman sell her goods? If there’s a good government, those people should have been wiped out long ago without being modest.
Some of us were growing up to become leaders. Today, when I look back in my life I will just laugh and shake my head. I never knew I would be like this at this stage of my life. I thought by 50, I should have been a president cause I lived my life towards that, to give my country good leadership.
That is why I spent the whole of my live not fighting to make money for myself. I know how to defend and fight for justice. That’s why up till today, they have big respect for me. Because you can’t be a union leader in Nigeria at that time of the military and with the whole temptations of bribery and not be tempted. I belong to the Labour Aristocrats because I was dominating the oil industry. But the aim was not to leave a skeleton because I wanted to become something greater for my country.
So what happened to that dream of becoming Nigeria’s president?
Nothing happened to the dream; it’s just that I was born in the wrong country, that’s all. There’s too much corruption in this country. The little time I had in leadership, I had to rescue my country.
You have been hammering on the fact that Nigeria has not gotten a good leader that will discipline the country, are you trying to recommend a leader with an iron fist who will send people on the street to jail or what are you insinuating?
Do you know what they call clinical auditing or forensic auditing? Accountability. There’s no accountability in this country. How do you run Britain, France, Germany and the rest? Do they send their soldiers on the street? You don’t see their soldiers on the street. It is leadership by example; that’s all. NUPENG is powerful in the country today, because of the leadership quality I gave to them. When you are in NUPENG, you don’t go and take bribes from anybody. A German chancellor was charged for one million dollars and he would have been imprisoned because he could not account for one million dollars case of his campaign funds. What is one million? This is what Nigerian governors take to Dubai with their girlfriends and lavish it in a day. Can you compare Nigeria’s to Germany’s economy? Do you know the prime minister of UK takes commercial flight? That is discipline.
We are surprised that Buhari just sat down there and he doesn’t do anything; he does not punish people; and he has a cabal and the cabal runs the government for him. For me, I’m disappointed in him. You say you don’t make money; you are not corrupt, yet the people around you are billionaires. And they oppress people; they sell positions right under your nose. My NSITS job was sold under his nose with the whole civil society and labour fighting for me in this country, blocking Abuja everyday yet they took the job from me. The cabal took and sold it to the highest bidder. The vice-president couldn’t intervene because he was helpless. The cabal was more powerful than the vice-president. Who didn’t I meet in Abuja. I met everybody that I was being oppressed. I met Kingibe but at the end, nothing.
A good man fears nothing. Nobody can talk the way I talk in this country, because they will be afraid that they will freeze up their bank accounts and everything. You can’t have billionaires as good leaders, you can’t. I have nothing to hide and that was why I was able to survive the June 12 struggle.
In your view, at what point did Nigeria find itself in the state it is now?
It was the time of the military. To be precise, it was during the Babangida era. Babangida is a super relations man. The only problem with Babangida is that he loves money and he wanted to make everybody around him to have big money. So, the problem of the country started during his time. Like I told you earlier before now, the problem we have is the Nigerian judiciary and the police. The common man cannot get justice because he cannot fight the Justice system of Nigeria. When you have to get lawyers and a small case will last you for five years, where will you have money to pursue it?
The judiciary is an independent arm of the government and if you don’t shine your eyes on them, I mean real forensic shining eyes, then they will be corrupt. If you are a teacher, a headmaster, a police DPO, you are a judge and tomorrow they see you building a big plaza that is worth N500 million, how did you get the money? You are a customs officer, the next day they see you building a plaza of N600 million, how did you get the money? You don’t do that rubbish in civilized countries. They will monitor everything about every person. So, the whole Nigeria money has gone into voicemail. Nigeria money is in France, America London, Virginia, Dubai etc The monies are just there and some of them have been locked up there because the owners are gone. So, now we don’t have money.
You’ve painted a very grim picture about Nigeria, is there any area where there’s still a ray of hope?
No, they’ve destroyed the country. The education system they’ve destroyed it. You see people who have school certificate can’t write. The University people when I see them writing certain things, when I look at their sentences and spellings, I just shake my head, they don’t know English. They can’t construct, just few of them are good. Education has fallen badly in Nigeria. How can you run a country where you say unless you go to the highest private primary or nursery school before your child will be able to learn Mathematics and the English Language properly?
The government schools don’t teach them anything; they don’t know anything. Nigerian families, whether rich or poor, skin themselves to send their children to private schools for lessons, extra lessons. In my time, did I have to go to extra lessons? My own children did not go to any extra lessons. All my five children went to federal universities; they went to government schools. I went to a government school. Nowadays, you have to go to special coaching, special this, special that; you will spend the whole of your life savings to train just three children.
With all the things you’ve said, how can we fix the country?
Corruption is the major problem of this country. If you can fix corruption, you have fixed the country. Corruption is the root of all the problems we are experiencing. In fact, that is why Bubari even came into power– to fight corruption, but he is too weak now, Buhari is too weak now to fight corruption maybe because of his age and some other things.
What kind of a future do you think lies ahead of this country?
The problem with this country is that immediately somebody gets to the position, he forgets about the people. So, if you are in PDP and you’re in power, the people in the opposition will be attacking you each day. The day APC came to power, we thought they would be a big change. We true leaders were baffle. It now got to a stage where there’s no patronage of rewarding hardwork. It’s only in Nigeria you will see people worshipping someone who was poor yesterday and becomes a billionaire today. There’s no accountability. There’s nothing wrong in making money in a clean way.
I ask again, does this country have a future?
The future lies with the present generation. Therefore, this generation should not now rely on people like Kokori or Wole Soyinka. This generation doesn’t take risks. Nobody wants to take risks.
Are you indirectly calling for a revolution?
What do you mean by a ‘revolution?’ Revolution can come in any way. June 12 was a revolution. This generation should, themselves, believe in their country. I’m telling this generation that their destiny is in their own hands.
You are one of the advocates of restructuring, do you still believe in restructuring?
I wasn’t an advocate of restructuring, but it is now that I’m becoming one. When I saw that the federation is not a federation, but a unitary government, that’s when I now believed in restructuring. What we want is a real federation like the American federation. In America, when the president says, “I’m bringing a Federal Guards,” a governor will say “No, don’t bring in your Federal Guards, I have my own policemen.” So, that’s it.
When do we restructure?
Without a struggle, you can’t get it. The struggle for freedom and democracy is not a champagne party. I would have died when I was locked up in a prison in the desert in a solitary confinement for four years, but I didn’t die. There’s no free launch into freedom and democracy.
But you see, I don’t blame the youths; we were able to achieve many things in our time, because the country was better than it is now. We didn’t struggle to get jobs, but these youths do. There are no jobs. There’s poverty everywhere.
If you were to be the president of Nigeria today, what would you do first?
I have told Nigerians the problem of this country is corruption. If I were the president, all banks will be transparent. But now, the banks have compromised. If you show an example with some bank managers, some judges, and some security agents and they know you are clean and you read all memos, they will be transparent with you. Obasanjo should have done these things because he read all documents and memos. I don’t think Buhari has the strength to read these things unlike before. Buhari relies so much on his associates; he gives so much power to his subordinates.
What would you like to be remembered for?
I want to be remembered for being a good man. I’m a good man and I’m proud to say it, if you are oppressing somebody where I am, I will be emotional, tears will be coming out of my eyes and I will try to rescue that person.
What’s your advice to the current Nigerian government?
The government should re-engineer the fight against corruption. Nigeria has only moved about 10 per cent up in corruption from the PDP era. So, the country is still as corrupt as before. Let the government be transparent. Transparency should spread to security, judiciary and all public and private sectors. All illegal monies should be seized. Nigeria should be like Britain where you account for how you make your wealth.
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