Former President of Ijaw National Congress (INC) and Conference of Ethnic Nationalities of Niger Delta (CENND), Professor Kimse Okoko, in this interview with Kelvin Ebiri, speaks on the three years of the Buhari administration. Excerpts:
On the economy
Quite frankly this government has been an unmitigated failure for this country in terms of management of the economy. I have chosen my words carefully. If you look at all the sectors, there is not one single sector that is fairing well. Look at the economy; it is far worse than what it was three years ago. They are still paying subsidy, which they said they would do away with. The Naira has been devalued significantly. They are still borrowing even to the extent that the IMF has said they are doubtful if the Nigerian government will be able to pay the debts that are being owed. A credible organisation like that has come out openly to question the ability of the Nigerian government to pay the debts. That tells you volumes. And on top of it, this is happening at a point when the price of crude oil has been doing reasonably well for over a year now. So, what else can you say about the economy of the country? Obviously, most prices have skyrocketed and those who are bearing the brunt are the poor in the society. So, what can you point to in the economic sector to say that this government has done well? I can't see any.
And unfortunately, even in the remaining one year, it is very unlikely that the situation will improve. Look at the issue of unemployment. There is over 20 percent unemployment rate in the country now. You don't have to be a rocket scientist to see what that means for the country. You are producing graduates every year without plans to provide employment for them. You now see the relationship between unemployment, insecurity, crime and instability in the society. On top of it all you still have the problem of insurgency, which they had promised they were going to tackle within a short period on assumption of office.
Recall that we are still importing refined petroleum products. It is all part of the failure of the government. Isn't it ridiculous that we are still paying subsidy? They were denying it before and they were at the forefront of criticising the previous government for subsidy payment. But, remarkably we are still paying subsidy three years after. They promised to reduce fuel price to N65 per liter, but we are all witnesses to the fact that we had bought a liter of fuel at N300 not long ago. And just recently we experienced the longest fuel scarcity in history under a government that promised to bring down the price of fuel if elected.
At least it is now clear that Boko Haram and general insurgence are still very much with us. They can announce to the world that they have clobbered insurgents, but it is not true. Boko Haram insurgents are still attacking at will especially in those areas that they had occupied. They were driven out of Sambisa forest, they have gone back again and they are still wreaking havoc in those areas, still kidnapping at will. So, what is the difference? You can say there has been some slight improvement in the sense that the areas that Boko Haram had occupied fully in those days have been reduced a little bit, but in terms of the efficacy of the Boko Haram, it has not been reduced significantly.
Obviously we are still suffering from the insurgence of Boko Haram and to make it worse we now have the dreaded herdsmen insurgence also in the North, where they are killing, maiming, destroying lives at will. Whereas we have a government that does not say anything at all when the herdsmen insurgents are mercilessly killing scores of people. It is after so much shouting by Nigerians that you will hear them make one or two feeble comments. How can anybody with good conscience describe this government as having succeeded in curbing insurgency? For me, I am convinced that the herdsmen are encouraged to do what they are doing because the Miyetti-Allah are bedfellows with their creators from the North who are also in government. So, they are now the sacred cow. They can go to any state to kill, maim, destroy farms and property and the government is watching them. What else can you say in a situation like this other than it is the government that is encouraging them?
If the government is not supporting them, they should have gone after them, but that is not the case. Even after all the cries from Nigerians, the herdsmen are still killing, maiming, raping and burning houses with impunity at will. Nigerians are far less secure than we were three years ago. The feeling of insecurity is pervasive in the society. It is even worse in the Northeast, but as you know, the herdsmen have extended to the West, now to Delta, Edo and Cross River states to contemptuously destroy, kill and maim with more ferocity and with all kinds of audacity. In the midst of this, government is silent.
On the war against corruption
I have over the years been a supporter of the war on corruption despite the idiosyncrasies in its implementation. I supported it because we needed something drastic to be done to corruption in this country. But three years on, I have come to the conclusion that this war will fail because it has been sectionalised and unjustly applied. For a war on corruption to succeed, you must have the support of the majority of the citizen of this country. But when the majority of the people begin to see your war on corruption as deceitful, then you can possibly do everything in your power to supposedly fight it, but you can no longer succeed and that is what we are seeing in the country. How many people have been jailed since they started the war on corruption? Let them tell us how people have been jailed. They said they were going to publish the list of all those who had plea-bargained and returned their looted money. Have we seen the publication yet? Have we not been calling for the publication of those names? They know that if the names are published it will open up a Pandora box immediately. If they publish it now, you will find that the list will be doctored to maintain the partial nature of their war on corruption.
One can say that corruption is waxing stronger in this country now. The public sector is mired in corruption. When Senator Shehu Sani disclosed that senators receive N13.5 million per month as running cost, apart from their salary, allowance and their so-called constituency project in a country that is being mercilessly tortured by poverty, what did the executive say? If we have a government that is fighting corruption, they should have made the move to sensitise the nation and send an executive bill to curb this anomaly and then let us see if the lawmakers will override the bill. By then people would have seen that this government means what it is saying about fighting corruption.
But even after that authentic disclosure, government did not say one word. Instead it is one lawyer and Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) that have taken the National Assembly to court asking them to pay back the ill gotten money. On a critical matter like that government remains mute. So how can you succeed in fighting when you adopt a sectional approach, including nepotism, cronyism, sectionalism, impunity and disdain for the rule of law? That is why I said this regime is an unmitigated failure especially when I take it from the point of view of what it promised to do for the country and what it has been able to do three years after.
On allegations of nepotism
The best example of government's nepotistic actions is in the area of appointment of service chiefs and hierarchy of military personnel in this country. It is sad and tragic to see that Buhari with impunity, appointed most of the service chiefs and hierarchy from the North. Not only from the North but also more importantly, his cronies, people who are close to him and he has built that nexus within the army hierarchy. How can you do that to a country? So when you are talking about security, only a section of the country will be sitting on a table to decide the strategies and tactics on security for the nation. So you can decide to go and bomb anywhere outside your areas of interest. What kind of impunity is that?
This is what this government has done with our military in the past three years and they are still prepared to do more. How come the president has not been able to replace his service chiefs even when a few of them are due for replacement? That only one small section of the country should be in control of the army is killing the spirit of the army. With this they could just decide to come up with a policy that if you want to join the rank and file in the army you must be able to speak Yoruba, Hausa and Igbo only in a heterogenic country like ours. All these are happening under the nose of Buhari and he keeps quiet.