By Jimitota Onoyume
Chief Onueze Okocha, SAN one of the country’s leading lawyers from the South-South was the 19th President of the Nigerian Bar Association. In this interview, he critically assesses the government in Rivers state and at the federal level in the last two years.
WHAT is your assessment of President Muhammadu Buhari so far?
Let me be charitable. The problems confronting this government did not start in one day. Some of the security issues, financial issues did not start with the government. They have been there even before Jonathan.
Nigeria has always had corruption. Law and order was at abysmal level following the military era because the military then tended to relegate the police because it is the civilian agency that controls law and order, they did not fund the police
When I was president of the NBA, we went to Obasanjo that he must fund the police, overhaul the place, recruit and train credible individuals for the police. And pay them properly. So things have been this bad for a long time.
Unfortunately, the Buhari government came on board with this promise of change. Sadly we have not seen this change. This is complicated by the fact that the so-called war against corruption is appearing to be lopsided, targeted at some individuals in some political parties. And a lot of them we know are corrupt, and we see it. It is obvious for all to see, it does not lie in my mouth to mention names.
But I know people who were obviously nothing before they got into political offices. But today you see them in affluence. These are people you cannot trace their sources of income. We have difficulty with the National Assembly that has refused to disclose to us their exact income. We believe some of them are living far beyond their means. How can one individual own five Rolls-Royce cars? People who had no houses are suddenly owning mansions in Abuja, how can an individual own six Hummer jeeps. We must fight corruption with seriousness.
The agencies in place are not well equipped, in fact, there is an allegation which has some veracity in it that most of them (fighting corruption) are corrupt themselves. You hear this of the EFCC, DSS, National Intelligence Agency, NIA. We saw the huge funds traced to a private residence at the Osborne Towers and the NIA said the money belonged to it.
How did you move public funds into a private residential apartment? And you heard them say it happened everywhere. Where else has it happened? Did you ever hear that CIA puts money to deal with corruption or security issues in a private house?
These are the issues that surround corruption. I have called for a judicial commission to probe that matter yet they appointed Vice President, Attorney General, and the National Security Adviser to probe the matter. That is a matter that needs absolute transparency in its investigation. If we want to fight corruption, we must show altruistically that we want to fight corruption. These are the issues that this present government has failed to attend to.
Look at our economy. We know what the dollar was when Dr. Goodluck Jonathan was President of the country and Commander in Chief of the armed forces. Look at our level of living, look at the rate of the dollar when it exchanges to dollar these days. It has fallen three hundred to four hundred times what it was under Jonathan. People have forgotten that Jonathan left office nearly two years ago. So what have you (Buhari led government) put in place to address the economic and monetary issues?
This government is not doing well at all. It should rise to the occasion and fulfill its promises. We are waiting for their promises to happen.
The federal government should sit up and give good governance to every state regardless of the party in power in any state. We are all Nigerians; we are entitled to benefit from good governance from the federal government.
With the state of Mr. President should he resign as is canvassed by some?
That is a matter only the President can determine. It is only a man who wears the shoe that knows where it is pinching him. It is a man that knows whether he is strong enough to run the country. No man is immortal but every human being believes God will spare his life and I believe God will spare our President’s life so that he regain his full health and come back healthy enough to administer.
Should the budget be signed by him while he is abroad for Medicare or be signed by the Acting President?
The acting President is now on the seat . If the mechanics for the appropriation bill has been completed. The President who is acting now can sign it. He has full powers. The acting President can perform every function the President should perform.
What is your assessment of the administration of Governor Nyesom Wike in the last two years?
The governor has performed very commendably well beyond the hopes of most of us who know what the current financial situation of the state is.
But you see even with dwindling resources from the allocation accounts, the governor has been very ingenious, raised our level of internally generated revenue and with the little he gets from the federation accounts, he supplements with the internally generated revenue. He has cleared back log of salaries, he has cleared pensions, he has paid sportsmen, and he has been able to execute the landmark projects we see all over the state.
What is your assessment of the security situation?
This has been a major challenge, no doubt. Lets appreciate that the machinery, the security apparatus for dealing with law and order, maintenance and enforcement of it are in the hands of the federal government. The federal government controls the police, armed forces, SSS, all the security agencies including the EFCC. All of them are in the control of the federal government. But the governor has reached out to them, provided them with vehicles and logistics and implemented the amnesty program to convince the young boys and girls in crime to lay down their arms, Come out from their hiding places to be gainfully involved in developing the state.
What is your message to political gladiators as the state marks 50?
If you remember when the Vice President came, Chibudom Nwuche and our former governor, Rotimi Amaechi were there. It is unfortunate that some of them (politicians) carry this their disgruntlement to a ridiculous level. It is a birthday for Rivers State that should be celebrated. As a state that has done fifty years, we know where we came from, it should be celebrated. Beyond the ceremonies we must find a reason to unite our minds, forget about partisan politics, everybody is entitled to belong to any party. Go to America, husbands and wives may belong to different parties, same in the UK but when they get home, they sink their political differences. That is what we should do, let us join hands together to build our state, there can only be one governor at a time, join hands with him to take the state to the next level.