A chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and former General Secretary of the National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG), Chief Frank Ovie Kokori has hit hard at President Muhammadu Buhari, saying the ship of state is drifting under the president.
Kokori, while analysing the problems confronting the nation, blamed Buhari for the consistent security crisis in the country. He said a cabal has held Buhari prisoner in the Presidential Villa, adding that his party, the APC, has disappointed Nigerians.
While admitting that President Buhari is not corrupt, he alleged that the president is surrounded by corrupt officials. He said Vice President Osinbajo has been sidelined and has been turned to an administrative clerk in the State House. He spoke on several other issues in this explosive interview with TUNDE THOMAS.
Your party, APC promised change in 2015. Six years down the line, some Nigerians are saying that the effects of that change are yet to be felt. Do you agree?
Obviously APC has not measured up to expectations. Nigerians expected more from the party. Even we the members, we expect far, far more from APC. But I have always been saying it that PDP is not an alternative. If the APC can re-jig, and put its acts together, the party will be in a better position to deliver the dividends of democracy to Nigerians. We expected too much from President Buhari but unfortunately he could not meet the aspiration of all Nigerians. We expected too much from him.
What are those expectations?
We never knew that he was not going to be the same Buhari we knew between 1984 and 1985. Buhari is actually like a prisoner in Aso Rock. He has become a prisoner of a cabal. He doesn’t reach out to Nigerians, and Nigerians can’t also reach him. It is only powerful people that can reach him through the cabal. It is not Buhari that is in charge but the cabal. Buhari is not in touch with the people. All other leaders we’ve had in this country were more accessible than Buhari.
The most inaccessible leader we’ve got is Buhari, and that is one of the major problems we have in this country. Most people that want to reach Buhari reach him through the cabal, and members of this cabal are trading with Buhari for pecuniary reasons. They just drop his name, and do whatever rubbish they want to do because the man is not accessible. We need an accessible leader after Buhari must have completed his tenure. Buhari can’t change more than what he is at the moment. Although Buhari is not corrupt, everybody around him is corrupt, and in that case they have dented his image. One thing I noticed about Buhari again is that he doesn’t carry the Vice-President along. The Vice-President is an important position in any country but here in Nigeria, the Chief of Staff, and some aides are more powerful than the Vice-President. This is not acceptable in any ideal democracy.
The Vice-President of Nigeria, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo is like a clerk to Buhari. But this is not supposed to be so. The Vice-President’s position is a powerful one. He is the alternative president. The fact that the man is gentle doesn’t mean that they should cheat him. Buhari should be consulting more with the Vice-President, and take decisions jointly with him, and not all the time with the cabal headed by the Chief of Staff. The Chief of Staff is just a political appointee while the Vice-President is not only democratically elected but he is also the number two citizen in the country. It is sad that Osinbajo has been turned into more or less an administrative clerk in Aso Rock. The Chief of Staff is supposed to take orders from the Vice-President but unfortunately they’ve relegated the Vice-President to Mr. Nobody. Osinbajo know that he is being cheated badly but he is a gentleman, he doesn’t want to rock the boat.
You said the PDP is not an alternative to APC. Can you elaborate on that?
PDP can never be an alternative. Members of the party should be ashamed of themselves. For 16 years PDP was in power, what did the party achieve? Corruption was rife. The party couldn’t account for billions of dollars of oil revenue. As for frugality, Buhari and APC are far better than PDP. But then the choice is left for Nigerians to decide whether they want the party back or not. Let me say this again: I found it amusing when some people are saying that younger people should be allowed to take over power; that the old generation should step aside. These people, do they have money? The type of constitution we are operating, which is the American Republican system, is only good for a place like America, not for a place like Nigeria. It is too expensive but the politicians in Nigeria are enjoying it because they are making money from the system and there are no checks and balances in our system. But in America, there are strong institutions to check corruption and dictatorship. In Nigeria, those institutions you expect to act as checks and balances, like the police judiciary, they are very corrupt. They are not strong institutions. In Nigeria, we will be shouting that we are practising the American system but in actual fact we are not yet ripe for the American system. If you don’t have strong institutions, you don’t have a strong country. Look at what happened in America recently with Trump. It was strong institutions that saved America. He couldn’t bend the American institutions, so he had to bow.. Trump wanted to turn America to a banana republic, but the institutions just refused to do his bidding.
The present state of insecurity across the country has become a major national concern. What’s your take?
It is an unfortunate situation. Very sad and embarrassing. We are in a very bad shape, and to make matters worse, Nigeria has been rated as the 4th most dangerous country to live in, in the world. We are in the same rank with such countries like Iran and Afghanistan. Kidnappers and bandits are now having a field day, operating almost unchallenged. But for me, the blame for all these should be put on Mr. President because anybody that is the President of the country has the responsibility as the Commander-In-Chief to secure lives and property of the citizens. But sadly, Buhari is not doing anything about it.
The security challenge has now been on for more than four years and the government is not doing anything about it. Nigeria has become a lawless country, and like I said earlier who do we blame for this development? It is Mr. President. It is unfortunate that Buhari accepts responsibility every time but he seems not to be doing anything to address the problem. And these criminals, the bandits, the terrorists and kidnappers are getting more daring. Nigerians should hold no other person responsible except Buhari for the present state of affairs in the country. The President should rise up to the occasion by taking the necessary action required to restore Nigerians waning confidence in government’s ability to secure and protect them. With the present state of development, some Nigerians have been expressing diverse opinions. Some are even saying that Nigeria may become a failed state. But if Nigeria should become a failed state, we should hold the President, the state governors, and members of the State Houses of Assembly and the National Assembly responsible. Although we don’t want to become a failed state, Nigeria is already drifting towards that direction. Nigerians are resilient people, otherwise this country would have collapsed.
What do you think is the way out of the present situation?
It is very simple. The President should rise up to the occasion. No room for excuses. He should do the needful. Whatever that is required of him as the Commander-in-Chief, he should do it. He should remember that the buck stops at his table. Enough of excuses. Buhari should take the necessary action that will stop the drift towards anarchy. Nigeria is drifting but I believe that the situation can still be brought under control if Buhari acts decisively.
A group of Niger-Delta militants recently threatened to resume bombing of oil pipelines, and installations over alleged failure by the federal government to implement the 16-point agenda for the development of the region. What would you say to that?
That is not the solution. The militants should sheathe their swords. It has not come to that level again for militants to resume bombing. They should keep their gunpowder dry. They should not go into sabotaging anything for now. We are not at war. But my question to the Federal Government is this: why do you sign agreements you can’t implement? They did the same thing with ASUU so many years ago. Why do you sign agreements you can’t implement? At times, they signed agreements that they don’t know the implications of. A good government should always look at the implications of any agreement they are signing. You sign what you can afford, and negotiate what you can negotiate. If you have the ability to negotiate, you should also have the ability to implement. During my time as a labour leader, we have good bargainers who negotiate both at the union side, and on the management side, and when we get collective bargaining, it is sacrosanct. My advice to the Federal Government is that whatever needs to be done now should be done. We should not allow the situation to degenerate or get out of hand before they will now start looking for a fire-brigade approach or solution.
Following the worsening state of insecurity, some prominent Nigerians have suggested that Nigerians should be allowed to carry arms in self-defence. Do you agree with them?
There is no problem with that, but all arms should be licensed. But the Federal Government should be blamed for allowing illiterate, lawless herders to carry arms without being licensed. That is why those making that suggestion are saying so. How can you give an illiterate herder an AK-47 rifle to roam about the township and rural areas unchallenged, with the police and the military out there? This is why we have all sorts of crimes thriving. There are procedures for getting the licence to carry firearms, and anybody that meets the criteria should be licensed. Nigerians should have the right to protect themselves but they should do it in a lawful way. They should follow law, and order. That’s why I disagreed with the Inspector-General of Police when he said recently that all arms are banned. That’s like day-dreaming. You can’t just ban all arms. People who are licensed or qualified to carry arms, you can’t just seize their guns in a lawless country like Nigeria.
Concerns are being expressed that Nigeria may become a one party state with way people are defecting to the ruling APC
What is happening in Nigeria today is that we no longer have people of integrity. If a man is honourable, and if he is a man of ideology, he stays in his own party, unless he is pushed to the wall. What you have playing out today all has to do with money. All these defections are not about ideology. They have to do with monetary inducements. A case of what is in it for me. But look at a man like me. I’m a man of principle. For about 21 years now, I have been in opposition in my state, Delta. My state doesn’t even recognise me, but because I’m a honourable man, I have been staying where I am. I just make sure I speak the truth, and I don’t mind whether I gain or I don’t gain. For more than 21 years now, I have not gained anything from my state government. But I don’t care about that because I believe in politics of principle. It is unfortunate that most people in politics in Nigeria today are there for what they can eat or gain, and not because of any ideology.
People are saying that members of the human rights community have become docile and their voices are no longer heard on major national issues. How do you react to that?
Poverty. Simple. So many years ago during my own time when everybody was employed and was earning a living, it was not like that. But today, the situation has changed. There is high level of unemployment, and that’s apart from other challenges. Then in those days, the trade union was very strong, the media was also vibrant, and you have such human rights group like Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO), Campaign for Democracy (CD) that always keep government on its toes. But the story has changed today, and that’s why you have the docility. The present level of poverty has affected so many people, and even members of the human rights community are even looking for money to survive. They even go about begging for money.