Obasanjo chose May 29 democracy date to spite Abiola – Kokori
A former General Secretary of the National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers , Chief Frank Kokori , was instrumental in the enthronement of democracy in 1999 after a succession of military juntas . He speaks with FRIDAY OLOKOR about President Muhammadu Buhari and his All Progressives Congress- led government
T wo years into the All Progressives Congress administration of President Muhammadu Buhari , how would you rate the party ’s performance so far ?
There was so much rot when ( President Muhammadu ) Buhari was elected and sworn in . I am one of those who believed seriously in Buhari . I have great confidence in his ability to turn around the country , but unfortunately for him at this stage, he is weighed down . It is not even his age at 74 , he can still do much but the challenges have weighed him down seriously and that is the pain we are going through today . If it were the old Buhari , a lot of things would have happened . The judiciary too is not helpful ; members of the National Assembly are not also helping matters. Nigeria’ s problem , apart from security , is corruption . No other Nigerian leader has the type of credentials that Buhari parades . He should have been able to lift Nigerians out of its crisis . He would have humiliated the very corrupt ones , prosecuted them and read the riot act to the judiciary to come out of their slumber because the judiciary has actually contributed so much to the corruption and the pain in this country. There are some very bad judges and the few lawyers who have access to them know how to channel their cases through their courts .
You said Buhari ’s health is an impediment to fighting corruption . Is that also responsible for his alleged silence on the activities of herdsmen?
On the herdsmen , I will score him low ; but he tried very well to tackle the challenges of Boko Haram, which was initially overrunning the country. The boldness and the impunity of Boko Haram have been curtailed. We give him kudos for that . The Acting President , Prof . Yemi Osinbajo, is a gentleman . He is very careful not to step on toes, so he is avoiding things that will annoy the cabal around Buhari .
Will you then advise Osinbajo to go ahead and step on toes of the cabal?
Obviously , yes . That is what he should be doing now. Nigerians (Buhari ) have confidence in him and all he needs is to consult his principal. The man has given him ( Osinbajo) a lot of leverage and power ; forget about what the cabal is doing to strain their relationship . But Buhari is wise ; Osinbajo is a good man . Osinbajo is a very active , brilliant, and intelligent man who has all the technical know -how to make Nigeria great. Nigerians voted Buhari because they believe in his ability to fight the monster called corruption , which is killing this country. You can imagine the kind of loot being discovered . It doesn ’ t happen in any part of the world – only $ 1 m can bring down an American or European president ( leader ). But concerning ex – President Goodluck Jonathan , there were reports of $ 50 m , $ 500 m and $ 1 bn which they couldn ’ t account for .
Even our judges were involved – yet , people will be talking about human rights . What human rights? A strong leader , which Nigeria needs now , must be ready to step on toes. Osinbajo should step on toes. He should step on the toes of corrupt judicial workers . He should call the National Assembly to order as a great leader because Nigerians will support anybody who is prepared to correct all the anomalies in the country.
Having suffered for democracy in Nigeria , would you say Nigeria has been kind to you ?
I know the pains and the deprivations that I went through . However , today , I am in my village . Nigerian leaders have obviously not been fair to me . They have phobia for rights activists . People like ( former President Olusegun ) Obasanjo have a phobia for people like us who are committed and transparent . They don ’ t want us around them. No matter what they say in public , I know them very well . I was close to Obasanjo but throughout all those years ( he was in government ), he was just deceiving me and some other committed activists .
Between May 29 and June 12 , which of these dates do you think should be declared Democracy Day ?
We know that Obasanjo unilaterally made May 29 Democracy Day to belittle the late Chief MKO Abiola and others who fought for freedom and democracy . He did it because he always wants to be at the top . His intention was to spite Abiola and those of us who fought for freedom and democracy . If not , what was the basis for it? Was it because he was sworn in on that day , May 29 , 1999 ? What role did he play ? Obasanjo did not do much for the struggle for democracy . He only went to prison because he was charged with treason. I worked for him at a stage, but after some time we parted ways. Nigerians wanted June 12 to be a symbol of our democracy . That was the date we were really liberated after October 1 , 1960 when we got our independence . The other major battle which was even bloodier was June 12 1993 , because during the 1960 freedom , Nigeria got it on a platter of gold – unlike countries like South Africa , Angola , Algeria . It was only June 12 struggle that removed the military completely from governance in Nigeria . That was when the real struggle to take the government machinery from the military junta began . Obasanjo unilaterally fixed Democracy Day for May 29 in collaboration with his military clique and former dictators who are still behind the problems of Nigeria – because they are still dictating to our leaders .
Buhari was to dismantle their grips on the nation but unfortunately, his health challenges can ’ t allow him to do much for now. So , we pray for his quick recovery. He is a man I trust and I believe he could have changed this country. It is not a question of age but health challenges which can happen to anyone even at the age of 40 . If you have a serious health handicap, you cannot perform optimally . That is the problem we have . But we are happy we have a vice president that is very competent . So , let us hope for the best and pray for our leaders . Nigeria is coming out of the woods; gradually , we shall make it. I want those people who brought Nigeria to this level to be properly prosecuted and jailed to serve as deterrent to others. They have taken Nigeria for a ride for the past almost 18 years . Unfortunately , the judges are dragging their feet. I give my support totally to the Acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission , Ibrahim Magu. He is doing a wonderful job and he should continue with it. Nigerians are behind him and his team, they should go ahead .
Some think that the Department of State Services do not have prosecutorial powers and have accused them of impunity . What do you think ?
The DSS is like the (American ) Central Intelligence Agency . They have powers but whether they prosecute or they don ’ t prosecute , they pass it through the EFCC , the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission , and the police . They can do that because most times , impunity goes too far . We should not raise dust over that . Most Nigerians don ’ t know what institutions like the American National Intelligence Service and Scotland Yard do . The DSS is a secret police and the secret police can do anything especially when they suspect you to be a thief or a saboteur . So , they should leave the DSS , EFCC and ICPC alone . If you are not a criminal , the DSS will not go after you . I have been in this country and in this struggle since I was in my 20 s , the DSS had arrested me many times . They detained me because they felt I would endanger the country.
They have a right to do so . I was abducted by the secret police at that time during the government of General Sani Abacha in 1994 . Then , we made Babangida to step aside in 1993 . In our first revolt against him , Abacha tricked Abiola and others when he assumed power . From there, he clamped down on us when he could not buy us over . The oil workers were the only people who resisted him at that time . The Nigeria Labour Congress betrayed us ; they were bought over and so , it was only the National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers and Petroleum and the Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria that fought to the last . The leaders of NADECO ( National Democratic Coalition) were the moral factor to the struggle. They were doing the propaganda for us across the world but the real foot soldiers were NUPENG and PENGASSAN .
Politicking for 2019 elections is gathering momentum . What do you foresee ?
The Independent National Electoral Commission is becoming more transparent and because of the technology it uses , most of the rigging that was taking place in the South -South and South – East and some parts of the North will be eliminated . The South – West has advanced further ; they can’ t rig elections much there. But the South- South and South- East are very susceptible to rigging of elections . Obviously , some governors will be swept out. However , in the South – South , it will be very difficult . But we will see what will happen. Some of the governors will go . Politics in the South- South has become so rotten because of the money- politics they play .
The APC itself is having its own share of internal crisis ; do you see APC surviving 2019 ?
APC will survive because Nigerian politics today is made up of two blocs : the APC and the PDP blocs . Anybody going to a new party will just be wasting his time. Those two parties will remain and I think it is the best option for Nigeria so that when we advance this democracy , we will just have two parties like in America , where you have the Democrats and Republicans . It is the same in the United Kingdom and Germany . So , you just have other small parties. I think I am happy with what I ’ m seeing. I was one of the founding fathers of the Social Democratic Party – specifically , the national financial secretary during Abiola ’ s time. That was the position zoned to the defunct Bendel State . The two parties were supposed to be the Republican and Democratic parties in Nigeria . Babangida did well with it but at the end he scuttled it because of his inordinate ambition to rule Nigeria forever .
Those two parties did very well and that was why the elections were free and fair at that time. If those parties were allowed to continue, it would come to a stage when the SDP would be upstaged by the NRC because they were running neck and neck just like the American Democrats and Republicans . But IBB started shifting the goalposts until when he annulled the June 12 presidential election . That was the end of the SDP and the NRC . But now , Nigeria is going towards that again , the PDP is like the NRC and the APC is like the SDP of that era . So , let us experiment on these two big parties for now because in Nigeria today , you are either in the APC or in the PDP . You can see the other small parties like Labour Party and All Progressives Grand Alliance are struggling for survival .
Are you predicting doom for LP and APGA before 2019 ?
Labour Party is virtually dead , because the people who handed labour to us – those who founded the real LP in 1990 ; who merged with the SDP – were different from the present LP . The people who are leading the present LP are traders . What they do is that any politician that fails in APC or PDP primary , defects to the small party to get a ticket .
President Buhari , against public outcry , travelled to the United Kingdom for medical treatment. Shouldn ’t he live by example and take his treatment in Nigeria ?
That is very petty on the side of Nigerians who are talking about that . Most African leaders go abroad for real medical treatment because most of their past leaders had messed up the health system in their various countries . Apart from South Africa where their heads of state take treatment at home , in all other African countries , even Third World countries , they always go to Europe for treatment . How much is President Buhari spending to treat himself ? It is a small amount compared to the huge money looted from the country. The President must be taken care of ; if you work in any organisation like Shell Petroleum Development Company , they take care of you ; not to talk of a President . He can get the best medical treatment ; the money is too small . Every president in the world is given the best health care . Nigerians should forget about that . What we need is the money looted , which is running into billions of naira. How much is the President spending? $ 2 m , $ 10 m or $ 20 m, or is it $ 500 , 000 ? That is not an issue. Agreed that African leaders have let their people down , they are not providing good health facilities but Buhari has just come in . So , they should leave him . Every other Nigerian leader goes abroad for treatment ; his own is not a different thing .
If everybody travels abroad for medical treatment , who will fix the broken health system in the country ?
But these things take some time . As we know , Buhari actually stepped in but his health is not very okay . I remember during the campaign , he was still rushing to the hospital . But as for me, I am grateful to God that God used him to remove the octopus called PDP . I am okay because there is more transparency in Nigeria now than before and impunity is becoming less . Look at the kind of money that military chiefs were stealing . Who can take them to court apart from Buhari ? So , leave the man ; let him get the best medical treatment he can get. Nigeria will come to a state where we will have good hospitals. If Buhari cannot complete another two years , the person who will take over will know what to do because Nigerians are getting wiser every day .
Do you think Buhari should resign if he is sick and no longer fit to rule ?
Osinbajo is the Acting President ; forget about those people who wrote that letter , describing him as coordinating the country in the absence of Buhari . There is nothing like ‘ coordinator ’ in (the constitution of ) Nigeria . He invoked that section of the constitution of which everybody is in line with but Osinbajo is working as the Acting President ; forget about the nomenclature or what the cabal had written . Actually, the President is the coordinator of the country. That was the writing of the cabal . Good enough , the Senate had clarified it. Calling on the President to resign because of ill- health is a sensitive matter for now. Nigeria is a fragile country and operating a fragile democracy . There are certain issues we can ’ t flog.
What do you think of people saying the presidency is the North ’ s birthright ?
Northerners were saying the presidency was their birthright during the military era because they were always holding strategic positions in the army . But in the present democratic dispensation , there is no question of birthright . In the last 18 years of democracy , Obasanjo ruled for eight years , Jonathan ruled for six years . Yar ’ Adua , because of his ill -health , spent just two years and a half . The Buhari administration is just two years . So , there is no question ( about having the birthright to rule ); if anything happens to Buhari now , if God says yes it is time for him to go and rest, obviously, the next person will be Osinbajo who will rule for the remaining two years . The cabal cannot do anything ; forget about them.
They can only do that once he ( Osinbajo) wants to behave like Jonathan – if he says he wants to contest again . Obviously , he ( Osinbajo) will be short- changing the North . So , to guard against that and to ensure peace , my suggestion is that he should complete the remaining two years . That was what caused the downfall of PDP. Jonathan was greedy . He completed the remaining two years of Yar ’ Adua , came out and wanted to contest again after a lot of struggles even from the South – South . They gave it to him . He was greedy again and wanted to do another four years . He was greedy and that was why everybody went against him including people like us who supported him initially to come to power . Fortunately for the country, we have a decent vice president who is loved by all sections of the country.
Interview culled from The Punch