Pat Utomi exclusive: Why Nigerians should reject APC, PDP in 2023

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By Daniel Kanu

Pat Utomi is Professor of Political Economy and teacher at the Lagos Business School.

He is the founder, Centre for Value in Leadership (CVL), as well as former presidential adviser, ex-presidential candidate, and co-convener of the National Consultative Forum of Leaders of Conscience.

In this no-holds-barred interview with Sunday Sun, he raised the alarm on the need for Nigerians to look for an alternative government in the 2023 elections.

He said the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) have failed in the rescue mission.

He spoke on other critical national issues,  including zoning, failure of leadership, and pointed the way forward. Excerpt:

Contrary to the expectation that the opposition party, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) will zone its presidency to the South, the party has decided to throw it open to all zones. What is the implication?

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I don’t think that they have announced any conclusion as such; I think we are all still speculating or have they formally said anything?

The signs are there from their body language that it can go anywhere…?

(Cuts in) This is really the fundamental problem with Nigerian politics, it has never been generally governed by principles, it is often been a function of the convenience of those who have money, that is precisely why Nigeria is lying prostrate right now. Nigeria suffers from a collapse of culture, character means nothing, and your word means nothing. In fact, in the Nigerian language when your behaviour is ugly and unredeemable, all you have to do to give it a semblance of decency or whatever is to say, ‘haba, na politics naa’. I am just being political, that means, if it is politics, it does not have to be decent, and because of this cold-blooded slaughter of decency in the name of politics, Nigeria does not manage to do things that are trustworthy and so the world stopped trusting Nigeria. And this affects Nigeria in business, it affects Nigeria in terms of its reputation generally and how Nigerians are treated around the world. So, when we say that values shape human progress, there is no argument about that. There is low-value content in Nigerian character and how people make and break promises. I am giving you a general analysis of human nature and to come to the specifics of the PDP, nobody forced PDP to put that (zoning) in their constitution and they have not reviewed their constitution but they have reviewed the act because some people, somehow, think that it is not convenient for them, but you see we have principles. We play politics with everything; the two past presidents are both from Katsina and so it’s North, it was okay, but they say okay it should be coming to South and then the people from the Southeast say it’s Southeast, it’s Southeast, then any Igboman who is from Rivers is not involved because they are just bad candidates, they know that they cannot compete so they begin to narrow it so that it can reach them without their having the competence.  So, how will you have the moral courage to speak up when you are being driven without principle? And the people who are making this noise don’t know how much closer we all are. In December or November of 1983, when the F28 plane crash in Enugu took place, President Shehu Shagari when he came back went to Enugu for a condolence visit with the vice president and the delegation and when his visit was over and President Shagari flew back to Lagos, Dr Alex Ekwueme, the VP, flew in the same plane (Ministry of Transport Jet) with Umaru Dikko and myself and a couple of other people into Ibadan, the NPN convention was taking place in Ibadan. When we got to the stadium in Ibadan, Ekwueme, the great man, brought out his symbol of office and asked me to hold it. That singular act was a symbolism of something. Let me not go further with this story, it is a story for another day. We just went in briefly, took salutations and all that and we returned to the airport.  Ekwueme went into that place to symbolically claim his turn as president of Nigeria and it was a done deal. In 1987 Ekwueme would have become president of Nigeria. If that had happened we won’t be talking about this nonsense we are still talking about today. Zoning and all that would have been long forgotten, because the point of it is to really make everybody feel belonged, feel that we all are together then when it’s zoning you focus on who is the best person since everybody feels symbolically part of the project. The symbolism of what Ekwueme handed to me on that trip to Ibadan was spiritual, it was a spiritual moment, Ekwueme was simply saying to me: you are the next generation, and you, I hand the baton to.  You see, Dr Alex Ekwueme was not thinking Southeast. Ekwueme in 1983 picked a group of very fine, highly intelligent Igbo boys, brought them back from America, from all other places, and put them in government to help replace older men like my former teacher who I replaced as political adviser to the president. Those were the kind of leaders who had a pan-Nigeria, pan-Igbo view, and what Ekwueme was trying to do was find competent people to supply into the pipeline of who next it will be their turn. By general calculation,  Ekwueme would have been president by 1987, I probably would have been Chief of Staff to the President by 1987, it would have gone round to North, to whatever zones, probably come back. By now I would have been even the president of Nigeria and perhaps retired (laughs). I am telling you this story to show the foresight of someone like Dr Alex Ekwueme. Today, you get all these upstarts who are looking for power, they don’t even know what to do with power, they don’t train themselves to be competent with it, but they just want power, that is why Nigeria is prostrate, nothing is happening. They paid so little attention to how to govern and the results have come in. The chicken has come home to roost. Nigeria is not making progress; the country is on the floor. You can’t see competence in people who want power; you can’t see a heart for the people, a heart of service for the people.   

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What is the way forward from where we are today?

We are in a very unsustainable situation right now and that is the truth of the matter. If they get away with playing this game it is somehow communicated clearly that what this game is about is to exclude the Igbo man, then you will not be able to stop the irredentism and I can tell you that there may be no Nigeria sooner than we think. I have said on different platforms that the APC and PDP should be shunned in 2023. Both parties have failed Nigeria and should not be allowed to continue to rule. When you listen to them (APC and PDP) it seems they are just competing on who has done more damage to Nigeria. I think Nigerians should just discard the two parties so that we start afresh. Nigerians have spoken in despair about the politicians of APC and PDP and their actions even now show that they can do nothing about the Nigerian condition. Let me repeat some of the things I said in our last press briefing. We must now forge a consensus and the national unity team an approach to governing during this season of a yet-to-be declared national emergency which poses an existential threat to all the parties notwithstanding.  It is clear now that the democratisation of misery from the spread of insecurity, poverty, and disease has become evident to both those who think they have cornered power and those who consider themselves victims of power. There is the need for Afenifere, Arewa Consultative Forum, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Niger Delta People Congress and the Middle Belt Forum to be consulted to nominate people into this unity government forum that can walk us through the evil forest of now. The long-drawn painstaking efforts to construct an alternative political track are to avoid the errors of the APC and PDP and socialise interest into clearly values and ethics of the party and train all on the basic policy planks from the vision and grand and human development ideas of the platform party of the Third Force. Our group is calling on Faith groups, and community leaders, alumni associations to seek out the members of their community and bring them forward with a suggested position they should contest.

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How would you react to the spate of insecurity that has continued to exacerbate taking into consideration the Abuja-Kaduna terrorist attack?

There is nothing surprising again to me in all of these things, I predicted, 20 years ago that these things will happen. I wasn’t the one who did the analysis, it was an American called Robert Kaplan. He wrote the book: “The coming anarchy”, in which he looked at the progression of ethnic, religious, and economic cleavages in West Africa and predicted a systematic descend into anarchy. And the only antidote to it is good government and the one thing we have been denied is good government. So, we have not invested in our young people to get a demographic dividend out of them and so we have created a time-bomb that has been mobilised by discontent. The more we govern badly the more the discontent in society, the easier it is to recruit people towards anarchy.

When the government says they are on top of the security situation, how do you react to such statements?

(Laughs) If they are on top of it and it is like this what will happen when they are underneath. What we are witnessing is a sad commentary.

Anambra state governor, Prof Chukwuma Soludo, set up a reconciliation committee recently…?

(Cuts in) I think it’s a good idea, I think the more people can talk about what is hurting them the easier to heal. Nigeria needs a lot of healing and Igbo land needs plenty of healing and I have spent a lot of time the last couple of years, I operate fairly quietly. There is certainly no governor in the Southeast I haven’t spent time with physically, personally, trying to persuade a certain kind of behaviour and I am hoping that the Soludo season will probably help push those efforts. I only pray for the best.

Critics say that Nigeria cannot move forward, even with a good leader without restructuring? Do you share in this view?

Restructuring is automatic, it is just happening whether you like it or not, Nigeria has already begun to restructure itself. There is no way you can contain the current security problem until you go to policing and when I say policing it doesn’t have to be formal. The only people who can stop 300 men riding on motorcycles carrying AK47 are the local people who will prevent the people from entering into their community in the first place. We cannot but restructure, that is a natural thing that will come on its own.

Are you talking about community policing?

You know that there are two different views on community policing, community policing in the classic sense of it, as police and community talking,  but community policing with the community as police, a vigilante kind of it, but now designed, like in a way India organizes policing. It is a local function, funding, everything is local, but the standard, operational mode is central from the top they set all those standards and people can be promoted from the local state police into federal police service. And if things locally overwhelm local policing the federal police will come in. They are well organised.

What type of leader can tackle the Nigerian problem?

Former President Ibrahim Babangida prescribed that type of leader a few months ago when he spoke. The person must be one who cares about people, is passionate about people, he must have the capacity to think progress, so he must understand the economy and understand it well, not whatever they tell him he accept and say it is so. The person has to be well known, adequately informed and respected across Nigeria and he has to be somebody who is so well networked that he can draw friends from everywhere to work together to solve problems. 

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