Mr. Ifeanyi Okonkwo is a rare Nigerian, who did not study law but has defended more than 22 cases up to the Supreme Court. In this interview with KENNETH OFOMA, the governorship aspirant spoke on the state of the nation. Excerpts:
President Buhari recently kick-started his re-election bid ahead by re-appointing former governor Chibuike Amaechi as the Director General of his campaign organisation; what’s your reaction to this development in view of the prevailing socio-political, economic and security challenges facing the country?
It was the Minister of Communications that said, very soon they would put up machinery for the re-election bid. The most important thing Nigerians forget is Section 221 and 222 of the 1999 Constitution. The only way anybody can participate in government is to join a political party. How do you understand the way a political party operates? We are operating a presidential system of government.
The basic strength in the presidential system is that the interests of the constituencies are paramount to party’s interest; because it’s the constituencies that can recall a representative. In the presidential system, the parliamentarians are more powerful than the president. These are fundamentals. When you understand this, then you can juxtapose our situation.
The parties have no programme, the president is the sole administrator; the National Assembly that is supposed to cage the president is aloof. So who are you blaming? You are blaming the level of debt of political education in Nigeria. The elites do not vote in this country, they are not interested in government but interested in the fruits of bad governance.
So the issue is that Buhari is running the government without his political manifesto. The political machinery to checkmate Buhari which is the parliament is on auto drive, they are supposed to call him to order or remove him.
The power to impeach is in the parliament. Buhari is just running the government the way he likes; his party does not even know the next programme. You saw the National Chairman of APC, John Odigie- Oyegun, denying that he never saw the list of those who were appointed.
Tell me who the appointing authority is, does he know the people he appointed? It is the political party that knows the members and their contributions. So these are the problems we have to look at and resolve by ourselves.
Apart from the party’s manifesto, is the President not supposed to have a programme of what he wants to do, more so as somebody that contested four times before becoming the president?
Buhari retired and went home; he did not participate in any discussion whatsoever. The books that are attributable to him now were written by people when he became president. And that is what he could not have done as a president. So the problem we have is that you become president on a platform, on a vision. What is the vision of Buhari for Nigeria?
The party is disconnected from Buhari’s vision. Buhari is talking about anti-corruption, where are the institutions? He has not been able to strengthen one institution, not even his own administration. So he doesn’t have a transparent government, he is a very poor communicator of the programmes of his party viz-a-vis the government.
You can organise and begin to understand that Buhari himself is running the government in a cabal; he went and spoke to members of the Council of State about how to withdraw money without remembering the constitution; that any money must be appropriated by the National Assembly.
So that is the problem, we have a sick democracy; the National Assembly has not cautioned the president and the governors decided to allocate money outside the appropriation law, which is the supreme law, our constitution.
Do you think Buhari should seek an-other term in office?
The first huddle he has to deal with is to get the nomination of his party. That is why I am telling you about Section 221 and 222 of the 1999 Constitution, he has to run under a party. If the party decides to put him up and he becomes the candidate, then I will tell you what I feel about Buhari; because it’s the party that will look at him and see if he is electable.
All I know is that APC has failed woefully; they are not a government, they are not a political party, they have no programme, they have not been able to even look at the ways and means of creating the first contract they had with the people; which was what they told us, that they will restructure Nigeria. Restructuring Nigeria was to make Nigeria a workable federal state.
And they have denied in broad day light that what they meant by restructuring is in their own technical mind. That was their committee’s recommendations headed by Governor Nasr el-Rufai. These are people who are now all of a sudden becoming our leaders.
But the President addressed the issue of restructuring and made it clear in his New Year message that the process and not the structure of Nigeria is the problem. Don’t you agree?
You are giving the president the power he does not have. One basic thing I am giving you is that the parliament is bigger than the president. But the president now begins to show you that he is superintending over policies in Nigeria; but the laws are made by the parliament. If the parliamentarians through their political platforms have been able to go through their party caucuses, not sectional caucuses and tell us that PDP as a political party believes that Nigeria must be restructured, they will bring the necessary policy bill to that effect, they can’t wait for the APC.
Don’t you think that The National Assembly is also an interested party, with the lawmakers having vested interests?
Where does that leave Nigeria? So we have a bad case. You don’t talk for talking sake; you talk so that you can bring ideas.
Former President Olusegun Obasanjo started the political conference by 2005/2006, but he later threw it away because of third term clause…
No, the National Assembly threw it out because they are bigger than the president. Now that one failed, former President Jonathan also came with his own National Conference, which came out with far reaching recommendations, well, many people said because he was pursuing second term in office and a new constitution; he failed to implement it during his short time because he possibly never imagined he would lose the 2015 elections. He handed that to President Buhari. But that is not why he failed, he failed because he never took the route from the National Assembly.
The money Jonathan appropriated for the National Conference was not appropriated by the National Assembly, there was no law backing it up. But a document was generated… No, an illegal document was generated; no friend, no foe, we have to look at the issues objectively.
Do we have to throw away the baby with the bath water?
We have a parliament that is not interested in how to resolve our national question. The parliament is bigger than the presidency; they will superintendent the activities of the president. If the National Assembly and their political parties today decide that Nigeria will be what every Nigerian had been praying for, Buhari cannot stop it.
If he does not sign it into law, the parliament will override the president’s assent. The provisions are there in the law. So we should not be begging issues, Buhari is not the problem; the problem is the political parties and the parliamentarians who have given Buhari the powers that he does not have.
Considering that the current structure we have gave weighted advantage to a section, can’t they veto anything?
No, no, no. Have you ever heard about filibustering in parliament?
What about it?
That is what they will deploy, nothing goes, we close the parliament. You must decide which way to go. Don’t you see how people fight in parliament for what they believe in, except you compromise? That is the centre of power; the power is in the parliament. If the sections that feel alienated are not getting what they want they filibuster, nothing moves.
How would you assess Buhari’s New Year comment on fuel scarcity and how do we get out of the problem?
Buhari is the President of Nigeria, he ran on a platform. What is the policy of the APC for energy and our petroleum industry? That is the first thing you have to interrogate, they must have a policy, it’s not Buhari’s policy. So we have to begin to make this distinction. APC has no plan, no vision. If they have a plan that is what Buhari will implement, it is not his personal agenda. Members of the party in parliament will help him to put the plan on track so that he succeeds by the necessary laws. Buhari came and made NNPC sole importer, APC told a lie that they have removed subsidy and Nigerians went home, you know the first item of subsidy is on distribution. Petrol cannot have a fixed price if you have removed subsidy. It’s the seller and buyer arrangement that fixes the price.
You go to Kano from the source of the petroleum, even if you are importing you deposit it in the wharf, which is in the South and you buy it at the same price as in Kano. Who are you fooling? We have a problem. Why is NNPC in charge of distribution? Because that is the engine room of the corruption.
The party should have a policy; if you have a policy you must learn how to drive it. Part of the problem we have in Nigeria is that we are a very emotional people, we are not looking at things to resolve the problem; the problem is that the political parties in Nigeria have no agenda for governance. So they will wait for the people in the bureaucracy to tell them how to continue with their corruption.
APC should show Nigeria their plans for the petroleum industry. We keep talking about refinery, if Dangote can build a refinery, what stops the states from building one? These are part of the critical political, structural problem, not process as the president was trying to allude. We have a serious problem of thinking.
Why is Nigeria always thinking of refinery, go to other smaller African countries; are they talking about refineries? This is the only country where we depend on Indian mobet for transportation. Must every Nigerian put a car on the road to go on vacation?
Where is the mass transit? Where is the rail system? Where is the water way transport? Where are the policies of government for the next 10 years? Who are you even planning for? Everyday, we keep talking about the people in the rural areas; how they will bring out their garri and the rest of them.
Where is now a rural area in Nigeria? So the problem we have is that we have not sat down to plan, because it now bothers on the structure of governance. Before independence petrol was distributed, there was a franchise system of selling petrol, the major marketers had a franchise, they were responsible; not when an individual will buy trailer, put one name and then depend on somebody on tank farm.
Do you share the views of those who said the government lacks political will to rein in the rampaging Fulani herdsmen?
Nigerians are very weak, they will keep on kneeling for somebody who has kept them down. We are in conflict of cultural domination. 70 percent of our dining table is controlled by the people you are talking about. We stopped farming for commerce. They are in charge of distribution. These cows you are talking about are not bred in Nigeria, they are imported with foreign exchange and no letters of credit are opened on it. It’s a cultural domination, you cannot ask the Fulanis to adopt a new way of life, they will tell you that you cannot enforce it.
What is the response of the people who are being dominated? Have you ever heard of the word ‘boycott’? I blame the governor in Benue, he made a law that he cannot enforce. Now he is crying to the same people who have turned the other way.
The structure is the problem, he doesn’t have a police force, they don’t have arms, they can’t confront the people, you depend on the federal police. By the way, this grazing, is it the only way you can confront the dominance of the Fulanis in animal husbandry and controlling our protein on our table? We must think of another way to punish them. This is war of survival. It’s not something that you keep on throwing your hands up and complaining.
But some people are insinuating religious undertone.
It’s a cultural thing. Religion is when you are forced to take a particular way of worship, but what is going on now is a cultural domination. They are enforcing on the whole of Nigeria their way of life, that that is the only way; that they will not take to modern farming method which we now call ranching.
There is another way you can punish the person, by boycotting his goods, by doing so many other things. Where are those cows going to? The same ship and cows are imported into Nigeria from the Sahel Republic. Right now, China has the biggest abattoir in Southern Sudan, they are exporting beef from there. Are they complaining about herdsmen? Our leaders must start thinking.