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Nigeria Must Be Restructured

Recently, President Muhammadu Buhari, declared that he would negotiate with genuine Boko Haram members as a way to solving the menace. Do you think this is the right measure to take?

Personally, I would not subscribe to that. These people have killed a lot of people. In fact, I do not believe that they are a religious organization and I do not believe that they are fighting for any course. They are ordinary criminals who have decided to desecrate the dignity of human being. They have no objectives. And again, I don’t believe they are insurgents from Nigeria. I believe they are terrorists, not only terrorising Nigerians but also the whole world. Negotiating with them should only be based on the release of the Chibok girls. Other than this, there is no basis for negotiation. Regrettably, Nigerian security operatives have not been able to locate them or who their sponsors are and as long as that has not been done, it will remain a challenge. We don’t even know whether it is a country fighting Nigeria because if they are Nigerians, they should have a base in Nigeria from where they are fighting. When the Niger Delta boys were fighting, they were not invisible. The government should negotiate with a Boko Haram that has a genuine course and not this one. They claim that western education is evil whereas most of the technologies they use in their attacks are products of western education.

Lately, the Economic and Financial crimes Commission (EFCC), appears to have woken up although no one has been sentenced to jail, do you see the commission making headway in the fight under President Buhari?

As at today, what the commission is doing is a mere window dressing. There is real corruption in our system, endemic one, it has taken root and has consequently permeated all levels. It is not only at the top but also at the lowest levels and that is the reason it is difficult to reduce it because the ordinary Nigerian is only shouting corruption with his lips. What we are seeing now is just the result of the fear of president Buhari. We are yet to see the real work of fighting corruption. What they are doing now as far as I’ m concerned is window dressing. The commission arrested former governors Ohakim, Nyako, Lamido and two of his children and later released them, what is that? We have seen that sort of harassment in the past and nothing came out of it. What government should do in the fight against corruption is to make a law that every politician who has held public office from local government chairmanship, state house of assembly, federal legislators, ministers governors and former presidents should refund something to the government treasury for the country to take off properly and make progress. According to their levels- from local government chairmen to presidents from 1999. If anyone feels he did not corruptly enrich himself, let him publicly declare his assets. It is those ones that the government will then investigate. Generalize it because like the scripture says, ‘all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.’

The current government appears to want to probe the immediate past government of President Goodluck Jonathan but the PDP is agitating that the probe should go beyond that. What are your thoughts on this?

Whichever way, it is still going to be the PDP, which held sway for 16 years with the exception of few states under the control of other parties. The only thing they are saying is that they should not exempt the past and who are they looking for? Obasanjo, late Yar’Adua and then Jonathan. So it is also the same PDP government. So if the government chooses to probe only Jonathan’s administration, is it not cheaper for the PDP?

But it will seem as if the government is being vindictive?

No. Let me say something here, I may be wrong. Jonathan’s administration messed up the economy. If any government wants to probe it, it is a special responsibility. They bastardised the economy. For instance, they deregulated from more than N30.00 and if what they are saying is that they deregulated for the government to have more money, where is the improvement in the system. Look at the level of unemployment, and the level of poverty and hunger so much increased under that system and that is the problem. I am not fighting Jonathan as an individual but the point is that his administration was weak. Obasanjo’s government was able to save much money in both our foreign reserve as well as in the excess crude account. He left over $20billion in that account and then Yar’Adua came in. But Jonathan left about $2.1billion which reports said Ngozi Okonjo Iweala withdrew on the orders of the former president without the approval of the national assembly. Then the foreign reserve was almost completely depleted. Where do we go from here? There has been corruption in this country. In fact, I can’t even exclude myself from corruption but the government in place now should do more to reduce it so that we can have a system we can rely upon, a system that can enable people to survive not because they have a political leader that can provide for them. The system should support the people especially the weak and vulnerable. It does not have to be a system where people will have to depend on others for their survival. I’m talking about a system that creates enabling environment for people to play a part in growing the economy and such part in return will pay the individual for their survival. So you don’t have to know a governor or any politicians to survive. The IMF conditionality, which past leaders adopted over 27/28 years ago, which subjected our country to an import-oriented country to the point that we import ordinary toot pick. Is that how a country should run and survive? Every one that has stolen money from the government should return same to enable the government to take off.

What is your view on the failure of some state governors to pay salaries?

It is not all about corruption; it’s about the Nigerian system. I have said it several times, some times; it is not the fault of these governors. We have a system that runs on one commodity, oil, such that it is the federal government that is feeding the states. Every month, every state takes its tray to Abuja to go and beg. And then, when the resources at the federal level depleted as a result of the fall in oil prices in the international market, it affected everybody including the federal government. In fact, the federal government was borrowing money to pay federal civil servants. Take Osun State for instance, I was in a meeting sometime ago where Akinyemi said that Osun state would not support resource control because the state is not viable on its own, it depends on federal allocation. There is need to restructure Nigeria to a true federal system where every state/region should be autonomous and be able to fund itself without depending on the federal government. America has about 51 states and none depends on the centre for survival.

You spent about six months in the orthopedic hospital, Igbobi after an accident. How do you feel today?

I feel very great and I thank God for saving me from the accident. I think the hand of the devil was on the accident otherwise it was not a fatal one that it took a long time to heal. For me it is a demonstration of God’s love for me. God has shown me tremendous favour. I was not a staff of Lagos state civil service neither that of Osun but both governors, former governor of Lagos Mr. Babatunde Fashola, and governor Rauf Aregbesola, paid the hospital bill I incurred for six months. I am also grateful to Admiral Ndubuisi Kalu for his support. They saved me the stress and distress I would have gone through paying the huge bill. From my experience at the hospital, the government needs to do more in our health sector. Nigerians are actually suffering to obtain quality health services. Through the support I received from these two governors, I was able to support about 30 other accident victims who could not pay their own bills, I mean people who could not buy drugs. That experience provided me an opportunity to better understand the challenges in the health sector. Igbobi hospital at that time was nothing to write home about, their kind of operations is mechanical. There are no real technologies in their operations.

-Comrade Linus Okoroji, is the President Humanity Services Project (HSP), an advocacy group for good governance. Fielding questions after a thanksgiving service to mark his survival from an accident, Okoroji insisted that restructuring Nigeria to a true federal system remains the panacea to socio-economic and political challenges facing the country. Peterclaver Egbochue was there. Excerpts:

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