Senator Anietie Okon, an elder statesman, and pioneer national publicity secretary of Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, served in the Senate between 1999 and 2003. In this interview, he argues that the time is ripe for Igbo presidency but decries the lack of unity among them.
Besides, he reignites the call for restructuring as the solution to the myriad of problems bedeviling the nation. To him, there is nothing tangible to talk about in the nation’s 21 years of unbroken democracy. However, he scores Governor Udom Emmanuel of Akwa Ibom State high, describing him as pragmatic and futuristic in his approach to governance.
There have been calls for a new Nigeria, for a return to the parliamentary system as the presidential system has failed the nation. What is your take on this?
That is not the answer. The answer is straightforward: restructuring. The return to what we inherited from the colonial masters which were the regional system through the federal system in which the states which have become the integral parts of the country maintain the center rather than the center doling out funds to the states, both deserving and undeserving.
It is the concentration of the reversal of the federal system in the center that has allowed the structural malfunction and obvious malfeasance and clear abuse of public conduct by people from various axes.
The recent being Ibrahim Magu (suspended EFCC chairman). He was overwhelmed by the discoveries he made and he got so confused that the criminals and tendencies took him over. We can say that that is merely a representation of what is happening. If we beam the touch-light on all federal agencies and security agencies, we would see the same level of corruption that is now evident as perpetrated by Magu.
Even the one given to us, the NDDC is at the moment wallowing in total confusion and corruption charges being traded at the National Assembly, and that is not addressing the issue of inadequacies and social challenges, which require instant address by this agency. So, I am full with Chief Olusegun Obasanjo in asking for the return to a completely federal state in Nigeria, otherwise, we can all be looking at our own different ways. This warning is dire and must be taken seriously.
How do you react to the spat between the Minister of Niger Delta, Senator Godswill Akpabio, who is from Akwa Ibom State, and the former acting Managing Director of NDDC, Joi Nunieh and the role of the National Assembly in the whole saga?
It is already very disgraceful and we are much more concerned about the forensic audit taking place so that we can see a rebirth of NDDC without any shadow or strings of the past
I don’t want to say whether there will be anything good or bad coming out of the audit. The firms that are involved have to be professionals and they must protect their professional integrity. So, I cannot now say or foretell what would come out of it, but if it is forensic investigation or audit, it must live up to expectations and its definition.
The National Assembly is supposed to represent the interests of the people of this country. Therefore, they have the responsibility to do whatever they are doing and to do it neatly and properly. The most important thing is that the spat between the minister and the former managing director is disgraceful.
There is no place for Interim Management Committee, IMC, and we want a proper reconstituted board managing the place so that people would be answerable. All the big sum and looting, and counter-accusations of looting between officers and the people who are supposed to be in IMC and it’s not to be forgotten that the president has inexplicably withdrawn the earlier management board and instituted a dubious nomenclature called IMC and since then we have had all these revelations.
What is the meaning of an interim management committee? I think the major reason was the need for an independent body to oversee the forensic audit.
So, IMC is independent. What is the makeup of the IMC? What is their character ratings? So the question is why didn’t we hear about all these things until the breakout in hostilities in the IMC? The IMC is an unnecessary creation with no role in terms of accountability to the people and the government that sent it. This half measure does not mean anything. There should be an accountable board of directors and they should be a forensic audit by a professional body. PANDEF has said that we want to have a forensic audit done under proper management so that there will be credited to their report. Therefore, IMC can be defined as a contraption.
The agitation for the presidency by the various zones is gaining momentum but the Igbo think it is their turn for the plum job especially against the backdrop of equity. Do you think the time is ripe for Igbo presidency?
The time is ripe for the Igbo to aspire to the presidency as conceded by none other than Chief E.K. Clark being the indisputable leader of the South-South but the Igbo are disgracing themselves. How are they at this time when they should be united inciting fifth columnists, and betrayal pops up and talks about factions and so on in the much respected and universally accepted Igbo representation called the Ohanaeze? It is in keeping with them and I hope they are not going to give us or the general accusation that when the Igbo confront a situation, one of them or any of them may come to the beckoning of saboteurs against Igbo interest by thinking selfishly.
Recently, a northern Emir decried the worsening state of insecurity which he said was akin to a civil war. What is your reaction to the insecurity in the country?
He is experiencing it first-hand. He was saying that some people from some parts of the world, not just Nigerians declaring war on Nigeria and our people, and security agencies are finding it difficult to cope because the strength of this group is being drawn from the local population that has been deprived of very basic education and social amenities, and it is very easy to mislead such innocent or uninformed groups or persons into acting against the state. So, he is right that Nigeria is facing a war situation. But who are the managers? The question must be asked.
They have been running out of time and they have been proven incompetent to address the issue and yet the Head of State or President or whatever he calls himself still keeps them in service and the superstructure, the security architecture of the security services can only yield what you have. Brilliant and forthcoming officers from other parts of the country have been denied their rightful positions in the Armed Forces, and most of them have been forcibly and inexplicably retired. So, what we have now is just mediocrity moving beyond their levels.
How do you react to the continued keeping of the service chiefs beyond their terms of office by the President?
I have just said that they have gone beyond their constitutional and normal terms of office, therefore, have fallen short of demands of the office, but particularly because much more energetic, brilliant, and competent officers from other parts were forcibly frustrated out of the system. Most of them retired without real reasons, retired at the peak of their careers and so on. The consequence is what is facing us. And the cry that the country is at war may be true to a large extent as a self-inflicted war.
How do you see the nation after 21 years of uninterrupted democracy?
It is nothing to write home about. And unless Nigeria restructures nothing can be achieved.
What is your take on five years of Udom Emmanuel’s administration in Akwa Ibom State?
He has done very well in addressing and showing proficiency, capacity, competence and completely living up to expectations. Look at the way he is dynamically managing the state in the aftermath of the COVID-19 threat. And he has been futuristic and forward-looking, redefining and setting up a first-class new economic direction for the state. Not even Nigeria has done that. Nigeria at the center has only realized that they should revise the budget and so on, and that’s the quality of the sick leadership we have.