A former Corps Marshal and Chief Executive of the Federal Road Safety Corps and ex-Minister of Aviation, Osita Chidoka, speaks to GODFREY GEORGE about the presidential primaries, the raid on Rochas Okorocha’s home and the clamour for Igbo presidency, among others
You described the recent arrest of the ex-governor of Imo State, Rochas Okorocha, as a display of weakness of the Nigerian state. Can you shed more light on this?
I think it is a major failure of the Nigerian state. It reveals the deep weakness of the state. It is shameful for a lawmaker to be arrested in that manner by a law enforcement agency. Whether they have a warrant or not, the reasonable thing for any lawmaker to do is just to dress up and follow them. Once you confirm their identities, you follow them. This is because the law enforcement agency is an embodiment of the Nigerian state. Nigeria is a creation of the mind and it is a creation of law. The most visible embodiment is the law enforcement officer. He is the one wearing a uniform and has appeared to you saying, ‘This is the order of the state’. He is the most visible representative of the state. One of the major functions of the state is the monopoly of violence and as an arbiter in quelling crises between individuals. So, when a governor or a former governor sees a law enforcement officer, he/she is supposed to honour the invitation of such an officer.
One of the key implications is that Nigerian law enforcement officers have lost their respect in the eyes of the public. If you noticed the people in front of Okorocha’s house, they were confronting the police. In any other civilised place in the world, once a police officer appears on a scene, it can only be one or two of them, everybody pulls back. If you notice, even at the moment the police officer was kneeling on the neck of the late George Floyd in America, nobody went and touched the police officer. People were making videos and making comments – it was a terrible thing he was doing – but because he was a law-enforcement officer, nobody went to confront him physically. Now, we see a situation where tanker drivers do not stop for law enforcement agents, taxi drivers do not stop for traffic enforcers, and convoys drive against the traffic with policemen in the cars. In fact, policemen are in the convoy of governors where number plates are covered. This is against the law. The idea that the law enforcement officer does not obey the law is one of the visible outcomes that have made people lose respect for the law enforcement officer. Therefore, what played out in Okorocha’s house is a very dramatic display that something is fundamentally wrong with the Nigerian state.
There were insinuations that, perhaps, the time of the arrest was odd and it could be some kind of witch-hunt against the former governor, who has ambition to be president on the platform of the ruling All Progressives Congress. Do you think this may be the case?
All of that is nonsense. The police commissioner of Israel launched an investigation on Mr Benjamin Netanyahu in an election year. Netanyahu cried witch-hunt, but the police commissioner told him to mind his business, that he was there to perform his job. By the time he got to the election, he had opened three different investigations against the Prime Minister. There was an election. If you remember the famous case of Hilary Clinton and her email palaver. The FBI opened an investigation, which many still believe influenced the election one way or the other, but the truth remains that, whether or not it is a witch-hunt, the respect for law enforcement agents fears no qualification.
If Okoroacha had followed the EFCC with his lawyer, he would have been granted bail before evening to attend his screening. If they had refused to grant him bail for 48 hours, they would need to have taken him to a court as the law stipulates. The law is clear. Nigerians are totally missing the point on the idea of the law enforcement officer. It is at his/her discretion to choose the time to open up an investigation on anyone. It could be politically motivated. I don’t deny that. Whatever the motivation, the issue is that a crime was alleged to have been committed, an investigation is on, and until the court clears you, you are subject to that investigation.
The Gestapo style employed by the EFCC was horrible. I don’t think they should have broken into his house. They have been quoting the Administration of Criminal Justice Act that allows them to forcefully gain entry. For me, that is the maximum case. It is okay in a case where you have a violent criminal, a murderer in a house, who is a danger to lives and property; in the case of Okorocha, there was no such danger. All they would have done was to lay siege in front of his house and wait for him to come out. So long as he is inside that house, he is going to come out at one point. If they had disconnected the utilities to the house, he would have no choice but to come out. I don’t think there was any reason for a non-violent man, who is not in a life-threatening situation, to be treated in that Gestapo style. What if anybody had lost their lives in that process? It would have been a fundamental breach of rights. So, I think that our law enforcement agents are damaging our social capital when they use that kind of method. They ought not to use this method. It is despicable.
It is being rumoured that a presidential cabal is supporting your former principal, ex-President Goodluck Jonathan, to succeed the President,Muhammadu Buhari What do you make out of this?
No comment please.
The state Houses of Assembly and senatorial primaries of the Peoples Democratic Party and the All Progressives Congress have been marred in violence across the country. What exactly is responsible for this? What does this portend for the presidential primaries of the parties?
Again, it goes back to the first issue we talked about, which is lack of respect for rules. So, once there is a free and fair process, all these will not exist. I just went to Kogi State to conduct the primary for the three senatorial districts of the state. At the end of the primary, all of the aspirants shook hands. Senator Dino Melaye accepted his loss to T. J. Yusuf. They tied on the first day, and I told them that we would conduct the rerun the second day. I spoke to both candidates, found out the timing they both wanted and if they were okay with the rules, and they said yes. In the central and eastern parts of the state, we conducted the primary very peacefully. There was no single protest. All those hoodlums shook hands with the person that won. What is the cause of that? It is because of the transparent nature that I followed.
The party rules are clear. I had a list; I shared it with them and told them that it was the list I was given from Abuja. I asked them of the time they wanted to start. We agreed in principle. The whole country was watching Senator Melaye’s contest. There was a level-playing field, voting came, and whatever happened backdoor was not my business. My own business was the process, which I ensured was free and fair. I came back and submitted a report, which the person collecting the report in Abuja said was the best report they have got. This is because it is about the process and following that process.
I don’t even see the reason why we have this hullabaloo about primaries. I don’t see why we have this drama. All that is required is for the parties to maintain digital registries and allow voting to happen at the local levels. There is no need for people to gather in Abuja to elect the presidential candidate. They should stay in their state headquarters and vote. Why gather in Abuja? Why come to a place where there will be trading? This is the process of the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. We should do away with it.
The caucuses of the parties should meet in their various states and at the local government levels and vote. It is as simple as that. This carrying of ballot boxes, bringing people together, the whole logistics, travels are very unnecessary. It is a challenge that they are not developing. They are not developing technological platforms. They are not following the internal processes. They just see this period as a money-making period. For me, it is totally archaic. I am hoping that by the next election, the PDP and the APC will have to see that the process they have in place is not compliant with the modern world, and I hope they will make amends. First, in electing chairmen that can modernise the parties. The fast trackers of the parties are too archaic from where even INEC is today. INEC has made a lot of progress in this wise and I think the parties should follow suit.
Some aspirants in states, who allegedly gave money to delegates, have begun using crude means to retrieve their money. Senator Shehu Sani even claimed that some used hunters and vigilantes to get back their money. How healthy is this for Nigeria’s democracy?
It is not healthy for our democracy at all. It is actually disgraceful. I salute Sani for his stance not to give money to any delegate. Two people voted for him, and that is the future of Nigeria. It is disgraceful that candidates are being tagged as strong by how much money they are going to give to delegates. The reason is simple. If there was no huge payoff when one gets to the position, nobody will invest that kind of money. What we are seeing here is a clear indication that access to government is access to wealth. People are now investing to recover the money later. The greatest challenge is that Nigerians are not calling these people out. Most of the people, who are touted as strong candidates, are people who are serving as public officers.
How does it happen that people pay N100m for a party nomination and then walk away from the nomination, that they were no more interested? What is the salary of a minister? What were their tax returns last year to show that they had N100m to invest in a party’s nomination and primaries, and then walk away from it? It is high time that we checked this. This is where the EFCC has failed the country. It is high time we reviewed the country’s access to the personalisation of public funds. That is what is showing up in this election. Everybody is willing to invest money because the returns are huge. If you put N100m in a fixed deposit, it will yield about six per cent per annum. If you leave it for four years, perhaps, you will make about N60m. so, nobody wants to do that.
They invest N100m and other sums and get three times returns on that sum in a short while. So, the person who invested N100m in a business is only making 30 per cent profit, while the person that invests N1bn in politics can recoup more than four times the amount in a short time. Why money politics is not stopping is because the payoffs are high. Once the payoff reduces, nobody will have any need to invest his hard-earned money. We will all become fundraisers who are willing to donate to the campaign, willing to keep credible records of the donations and all that.
INEC should help Nigerians by setting up a campaign funding mechanism whereby they will mention the type of account campaigners must open, how all payments must be remitted to the elections from the campaign account, how the returns to INEC must be made, showing how much came into that account and how much is spent. Even though people will go hide and spend that money, let us have the beginning of a complaint process. The candidates will begin to watch themselves if this is done. The regulatory framework for campaign financing is too lax in Nigeria.
There have been cases of serving governors imposing their preferred candidates. Should this be so in a working democracy?
If there are no payoffs, no one will invest his/her time and energy to impose anyone on the people. Beyond that is my worry – why do people continue to do the same thing over again even when it has proven not to work? Governor Wike was Chief of Staff to Rotimi Amaechi and he became governor. Today, they are not on talking terms. Governor Udom was nominated by Godswill Akpabio to succeed him. They are not on talking terms today. Why are people repeating something that doesn’t work and expect their cases to be different? I think it is some form of optimism bias in humans. Humans are generally optimistic that their case will be different from others. It is an unfounded bias. It will not be different.
The nature of power abhors control. It is like an electric cable. You can construct high-tension cables, law the wires and towers, and connect them to the grid. But once you switch it on, you cannot touch it anymore. It becomes dangerous. This is the same thing with power. Anyone who tries to control power sooner or later comes to grief. The governors have all got it wrong. If we minus the case of Lagos, where Asiwaju Tinubu has been in control for years, where has this worked? Look at Kano. Former governor Kwakwanso and his deputy, Ganduje, are not on talking terms. This is the way it goes. I don’t know why everyone is investing in something that has clearly been shown to be ineffective for the past 22 years. I don’t want to go into specific cases; but I think every governor will attempt it in Nigeria until the electoral process and internal party mechanisms grow, and party officials become less of the financiers of political parties in their states, which is a fundamental problem in Nigeria.
Some northern elites have said they do not trust an Igbo man to lead Nigeria. With the issue of unknown gunmen and agitation by separatist groups, sit-at-home orders and counter orders, how do these look for the image of the South-East as regards the call for an Igbo president in 2023?
My worry is how the rules change whenever the issue is about the South-East. At the height of the Boko Haram war against the Nigerian state, General Buratai, who is from Borno, was the Chief of Army Staff. The National Security Adviser then was also from Borno. The Chief of Staff to the President, the late Abba Kyari, was also from Borno. Nobody questioned their credentials to work for the Nigerian state despite the fact that for the past 12 years, Boko Haram has wage a war against Nigeria, killed army generals, bombed churches, destroyed police stations and all that. We considered it a separatist fundamentalist group and nobody has held it against the Borno people.
My attitude is that; why are people not talking about the millions of Igbo living across Nigeria going about their normal business, everybody, serving in the army, police and Department of State Services? How many Igbo officers have been killed in the course of the war in Borno? How about those killed by bandits in the North and unknown gunmen in the South-East? The Igbo have lost their lives too. I don’t see why a gang of people who have decided to levy violence against the state becomes a defining narrative of the people. All terror groups are terror. Nobody plans with them. So, the fact that a group is using violence to achieve its aim has been a global phenomenon. I have been against this issue in the South East.
I have argued against using violence as a strategy. Everybody is free to use whatever means they like as a strategy in a democratic setting. But, they must follow the democratic process. It is this feeling that the democratic process is rigged against the South-East; it is this sense of powerlessness that is fuelling the arguments of those saying they cannot follow the democratic process, because we will be outnumbered and nobody cares about us. So, I am saying to the Nigerian state to show the Igbo that those who are contributing to the country are an integral part of Nigeria. It will show that there is no conspiracy against the Igbo. I don’t know why Nigerians don’t want to see it from that prism.