Comrade Rasaq Olokoba, is the General Secretary of the Coalition of Odua Self Determination Groups (COSEG), the umbrella body for self-determination groups in the South-west. In this interview with Peterclaver Egbochue, he challenges the in-coming government to roll out its programmes as quickly as possible to address immediate concerns of Nigerians, seek alternative income to complement oil, ensure restructuring of the country and other sundry issues. Excerpts:
From May 29, a new government will takeover the saddle to chart a new course for Nigerians. Do you see the new administration promptly addressing the concerns of Nigerians?
In my answer to that, we must not leave any sector and stakeholder on this matter out and the first institution that we are going to sincerely advise are the people. In building a new nation, the people have a critical role to play. When the repair of a nation begins, there are prizes that people must pay and when that time comes, Nigerians must be ready to pay that prize. When empires are falling, people make fast money but any leader that has demonstrated the willingness to repair Nigeria today has closed the door to free money. So the era of getting free money by Nigerians is over. Free money that we have been pursuing is responsible for why we are unable to fix our roads, why our refineries are not working, why there are no chemicals in our laboratories and why the power sector is failing. A government that doles out money will not be able to provide services for the people. So Nigerians must be ready to pay the prize for good governance. As for General Muhammadu Buhari, I must be quick to point out to him that the question of seeking understanding from Nigerians is over. Nigerians may not understand with him if he starts talking about giving him time. Of course, on fundamental and critical issues like the restructuring of Nigeria may take time but there are issues of immediacy. There are four leading businesses in the world today-the oil and gas, haulaging, communication sector and agro-allied. These are areas Buhari must seek as alternative means of income for Nigeria. The oil sector has nose-dived and successive Nigerian governments have not invested in any of these areas. This is the opportunity for Buhari to quickly diversify. No progressive institution in the world depends on one source of income, unfortunately, that is the primitive economy successive Nigerian governments had been running, getting money from oil and refusing to invest the money into other areas of endeavour. So Buhari must quickly come on board and take away the privatization of PHCN from the Nigerians that have been handling it. We are the people who are the apostle of taking power sector away from the government but President Goodluck Jonathan, did not demonstrate sufficient political will by giving the power sector privatization to Nigerians who are patriotic. Private sectors who are involved in power sectors today are extremely unpatriotic towards Nigerians. Dubious business agreements were signed with them and that explains why the power sector is not working today. Generation of power today in the world is about the simplest technology but this is the area where government is failing us.
How can Buhari and his team get it right from the onset?
For Buhari to get it right and for Nigerians to be able to further show patriotism and support is for him to quickly address some of their pressing needs like the power sector, followed by the question of subsidy. If we must run subsidy at all, we must run genuine subsidy. Subsidy where we have 10,000 tonnage of oil coming into Nigeria but it is escalated to transform into 400,000 barrels of oil. So these are some of the areas he has to quickly look into. Why are our refineries not working, including the security? What are we doing about state police? So these are the things the rest of the world has that make them appear as if they are human beings from another planet. Simple governance should not be mystified again, governance is about the simplest form of administration in the world. So the era of giving our president time to consolidate is over. Buhari has attempted to become the president four times, and during this period, he should have gotten his manifesto ready. So he has to roll out his programme immediately and start putting smiles on our faces. Again, the taking and handing over from the outgoing party to the incoming party should also be handled carefully. These transition committees are in no way a probe panel. But the way it is being handled, the incoming administration handled that committee as if it is a probe panel. Their role is not to probe the out going government but to ascertain the extent and the level of governance. For instance X,Y,Z of money was raised as subsidy, how much of this money has gone to the oil market, how much is still in possession of government as a remittance? So these are some of the details that the two parties are supposed to explain to each other. It is supposed to serve as a means of seeking further explanation even after the APC would have taken over the government come May 29. It is a channel both parties are supposed to use as a medium for further explanations as case may be. I read in the papers where Lai Muhammed, was saying that the outgoing government was making the transition exercise difficult for them, if you appear as a probe panel, nobody is going to cooperate with you. That platform though not a tea party but it should not function under a tense atmosphere, on what basis are you asking questions, as a minister for what? You are not supposed to ask questions. What they are supposed to do is to ascertain the extent of money, the extent of the situation and condition of governance as at that time. So the question begins for May 29, between the time Buhari will appoint his ministers, in order to prevent corrupt civil servants from taking advantage of that vacuum, that is why that transition government becomes necessary, that this ministry has up to so and so. So when a minister is taking over, the hand over note the other minister submitted to the transition committee will be helpful. But by the time you start acting like a probe panel, this information will not come out. I have been involved in this kind of arrangement severally. So whereas the delegates who are also PDP because they also have a tradition of saying ‘A’ but we discover that that figure was not only ‘A’ but ‘XYZ’. So they have a tradition, which compels Nigerians not to trust them any further. So the fears of the APC are genuine but it should be genuine to the extent that they should demonstrate a friendly disposition to be able to get whatever they want to get and not to be hostile. We know for sure that the outgoing government has a reason to be afraid; we know that the mismanagement of the economy of this country in the last six years may call for a severe action when Buhari is eventually sworn-in as the president of this country. But be that as it may, we are not only going to condemn Jonathan’s people for not demonstrating sufficient cooperation, we are also going to blame the other group because the assessment of Buhari’s government begins at that level. The assessment of Buhari’s government begins from the point where the transition committee was set up. As far as we are concern, the rating of Buhari starts with that and that is why the in-coming political party should be very careful, the era of going to the media to quickly criticize the ruling government is over, they should be the ones offering explanations now and not the one asking questions. We should be asking them now, what kind of capacity do you lack that common arrangement to extract information from the outgoing government you cannot handle it, that is the kind of questions we should be asking them and that is the question we are asking them now. These are some of the areas of challenges that they must be ready to surmount in the era to come. There is a conclusion drawn by the rest of the world that Nigeria has become a burden to humanity; we are 2.1 per cent of the world’s population and close to 50 per cent of the population of Africa. Lagos is one of the three most cosmopolitan cities in Africa after Johannesburg and Cairo. So these are all the peculiarities that the rest of the world cannot joke with if Nigeria is in disarray.
From what you have said so far, it could be deduced that focus may have shifted from President Jonathan to the in-coming government.?
I can tell you that all eyes are beginning to focus on General Muhammadu Buhari, now and I will not only join Nigerians in asking the right questions, I will also join Nigerians in ensuring the agitation to compel the in-coming government to take the right path. Over and over, we have said it that there is no guarantee of prosperity for Nigerians if this government is not restructured and Buhari has bought into that. The eras of wasteful spending are over, where you duplicate offices in all the institutions and departments. In our country today, there are serious duplications. Mention any department, you have 36 commissioners running it, you have senior/junior ministers, you have senate committee on them, you have House of Reps committee on them and we have over 500 government parastatals, if you don’t change this kind of structure, there is no how Nigeria can ever move forward. There is no country in the world that does not subsidize agriculture. We cannot submissidise agriculture because the money to do that are spent in paying salaries. There is no Nigerian university that is one of the first 20 universities in Africa and the question is how many universities do we have in Africa that no Nigerian university is one of the 20s in terms of the quality of education. So these are some of the concerns for us that compel us to say that there must be a change of government and the government that is coming in must recognize the fact that Nigeria must be restructured, devolution of power, state police and so on.
The APC government did not support the national conference in the first place, do you see Buhari implementing its report which obviously provides answers to some of the concerns you raised here?
What we should tell politicians is that they should stop playing politics with our lives. A patriot government must take a good advice no matter the quarter it is coming from whether from a friendly institution to that government or unfriendly institution to that government. Throwing away the report of that confab is like spiting your nose; it is a way of taking one step forward and ten steps backward because there are germane recommendations in that report already. APC as a political party is also part of that agitation; the one that readily comes to mind is the state police that a lot of Nigerians are opposed to that it might be an avenue that people can repeatedly use to oppress opposition in the state. The question is when was the last time the KAI or the LASMA was used to oppress the PDP in Lagos state? If you have a general misbehaviour from KAI or LASMA, it is not because APC government runs it but because of the decadence in the society, which has eaten deep in all the sectors. We have it in the Police, Navy and the Army. So you cannot isolate LASMA or KAI to start behaving like an institution outside the Nigerian society. And I have it on record the number of LASMA and KAI that have been sent to jail because of misconduct on duty. So I will be weary if the in-coming government does not see any of the recommendations in the confab report useful. The second one is that the necessity for a conference for Nigerians is more justified now than ever. We have said it repeatedly that Nigeria is a peculiar country and that we must run a peculiar system of government. That is what Buhari must be working on at the long run. The immediate issues that we have identified are the things that are possible to be handled as he is emerging as the president like the typical issues of the economy, the power sector, security, all these are things that can be handled immediately. But the more fundamental ones that cannot be handled immediately are the structural issues. It was because of the peculiarity of the Indians that today; they have four languages in their parliament, it comes out from realizing their peculiarity so also Nigeria. Nigeria is multi-ethnic, multi-religious and a multi lingual society. If you have this kind of situation, you do not run a presidential system of government following the example of America. America has almost one religion, one culture and one value and so they could afford to run a presidential system that does not take care of ethnic people. If you look at the example of Britain, for over 300years, the Scottish have been insisting that they are not English people and want to be excused from the union. The Irish and the Welsh are the English people who have been living together for a long time but are still insisting that they are not part of them in spite of the moderations in their political structure. So also Nigeria, we must take a queue from that that there is nothing criminal about what we call identity. People do not joke with their identity in Nigeria. There is no English you will use to convince an Igbo man to begin to live his life like an Houseman. I cannot live my life like an Ijaw man and so on, so if you have this kind of situation which has been recognised by the United Nations that the question of identity is important to the people, so it is important to run a peculiar government that will recognize that.