By Chinelo Obogo
CHRIS Maduka is a seasoned public affairs analyst and commentator. In this interview, he spoke on happenings in the country especially the recent validation of the election of some govenors by the Supreme Court, the forthcoming Abia North Senatorial reru. He submitted that former Abia state governor and candidate of Progressives Peoples Alliance (PPA) canidate , Dr Orji Uzor Kalu should be voted by the electorate because he posses uncommon qualities and clout that will be of great benefit not only to Abia South but South east generally .
The Abia North Senatorial rerun is coming up soon. What would you advise voters to consider in the candidates before casting their votes?
Those from that senatorial zone are at the threshold of history because everyone wants to know what is going to happen. Unusual situations call for unusual actions. All the candidates for that election are qualified to go to the Senate, but there is a catch. From my perspective, my appeal to the zone is to do something that would incorporate the entire South East zone and unify the Igbo. If you examine Senators from other zones, you would realise that this is not the time for the South East to send people to the Senate just because the person is gentle or a nice person. We must be strategically driven. We should find out someone we can send to the senate and other people from other regions would weigh their words before they utter it. The only person that can do it is clearly Orji Uzor Kalu.
I am one of those that criticized him when he first left office, but that was in 2007. From that time till now is enough time for someone to evolve positively. This time around the South East must put their emotions and personal interests aside and think in a holistic manner of what other zones would do in a similar scenario. They would not send someone that would go to the senate and be worried that his utterance may be misconstrued. In humanity, there are males and alpha males. All of them are all males, but there are people that have outstanding drive. This time around, Abia and the South East need a strong personality. Kalu has evolved over the years and he has the courage and wherewithal to be at the Senate.
Would you say that we have had the best representation from the South East at the Senate?
I am usually reluctant to make a general statement, but the political situation in Nigeria makes it difficult from some South Eastern leaders to be assertive. Given the unique political experience and marginalization of the South East, I do not think some of them have been forceful and assertive enough to address the issue affecting the zone. Instead, what we have had is a situation where the emphasis is only on winning reelection. That is why I insist that Kalu is the man for the job. He is not going to the Senate to be popular or rich because he has all that already. What he wants is a good legacy and I am curious to see what he would do in the Senate. We are at a critical juncture in our national life. We do not want yes-men. I do not want to sound patronizing, but I have researched and have asked myself that if there is a decision taken that is not in the interest of Ndigbo, how many Senators can pull the strings? How many of them have the reach outside the South East? Kalu would help strengthen and energize the South East base. We need someone that would reach across the aisles and build consensus and only Kalu can reach out and galvanise people. Who can other regions respect and defer to? Abia State came first in WAEC and this is because of the foundation he laid while he was governor. People like Peter Obi, former governor of Anambra State, would continue to be celebrated because he put money in the development of people just like Kalu.
Recently, the Ohanaeze Ndigbo endorsed his candidature, which has led to some sort of controversy…(cut in)
There have been different reactions from different people, but the issues still remain that these Igbo organisations should re-strategise and start doing things in a pragmatic way. There comes a time when you must do things in a way that would reflect the interest of the people. Some of these organisations have been compromised to the point that other regions have lost respect for us based on the activities of some of the members of these organisations. What we should be looking at right now is who will move us forward. We should stop the condemnation. Some individuals among these organisations have turned themselves to political tollgates, and such things should be done away with. We must find a way to look at our collective interests and choose someone that can get us what is lacking right now. People should stop condemning what Dr Promise said in support of Kalu as a comeback kid. He has done a lot as far as Igbo leadership is concerned. What is important is to get the person who would best represent the Igbo in the Senate. Kalu has so much experience and the most pragmatic thing to do is to support him.
What do you think of the Supreme Courts’ judgment as regards Governor Okezie Ikpeazu’s election?
The reactions so far have been very selective. But people should know that the Supreme Court is supreme all over the world and we do not need to criticize their judgment. They are privy to pieces of information that we do not have, and when they make a decision based on the information at their disposal, people react. I believe that the Supreme Court must have rendered judgment based on what is in the best interest of Nigerians and our growing democratic experience. So, as much as people may disagree, I see it as a way forward. Both Ikpeazu and Otti are qualified to govern Abia state, so, I am okay with that as long as we move forward.
Does saying that the judgment was given because it was in the best interest of Nigerians not negate the fact that sufficient evidence was presented before the Appellate Court?
I did not mean that the judgment was political. At some point, there ought to be an end to frivolities, and the business of governance has to move forward. In my response, I tried to indicate that the judgment of the Supreme Court was based on law and facts. That is why I said that they had the information and relevant fact of the matter that we do not have. When I said that the judgment was in the best interest of Nigeria, I meant that there had to be an end to the disagreements.
Some persons openly accused the Supreme Court Justices of bias in their judgment. One of the candidates of the parties involved was reported to have said that the judges should be probed, what do you make of that ?
I have heard all sorts of things, but so far, the reactions have been selective. It is a dangerous precedence for citizens to try to vilify the Supreme Court. It is unbelievable that people pick what they like about the Supreme Courts’ decisions. This same appellate court makes decisions and people cheer and dance, and then when the decisions are against their political interest, they start reacting. It does not work that way. People should weigh their utterances very carefully, because if we politicize the judiciary, then this country would be headed towards anarchy. If we analyze it from a neutral point of view, how come all the states that are in contention are Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) states abinitio? The All Progressives Congress (APC) is in power now and there is this bandwagon mentality where people would want to make statements that are politically correct, so that they would not offend the powers that be. The Supreme Court should be judged based on the decisions that they have made over the years and not just on the decisions they made recently. The Court made a decision because they have information that we do not have.
The Supreme Court also recently made a decision that the Senate President would go on with the trial at the Code of Conduct Tribunal and that judgment was cheered by some people, even though they didn’t cheer so loud. Those castigating the Supreme Court for the decisions on Abia and other states are doing so for their parochial interests.
How would you assess the judiciary from 1999 till date? Would you say it as been sufficiently independent?
If anyone was around during the military era he or she would know that the judiciary has come a long way. What they military did was to kill the judiciary and suspend the constitution. We are not there yet, but we are getting there and that is why people react the way they do. If the Supreme Court as we have it is not independent enough, the natural inclination is that they would tilt towards the powers that be, but what we see is the opposite. What I would agree on is that there are conservative judges and there are liberal judges. Even in the Catholic churches, there are conservative popes and there are liberal popes. It is the same thing in the judiciary because if you have a bench that is conservative or liberal, it would reflect in their opinion. In their decisions, I believe that the interest of the nation always come into play. That is why we must not make permanent decisions especially through our utterances because of temporary inconvenience. We allow things to evolve and grow. Some people think that they can make noise and the Supreme Court would buckle. If that happens, it would be dangerous for us as a country.
What is your take on the free fall of the naira vis-à-vis the policies of the Central Bank?
The issue of the free fall of the naira is not a local content affair only. We think that the President can perform magic and stablise the naira. Up till now, we have lived a carefree life. Other societies plan for the rainy day. A lot of people don’t know what weakens or strengthens the naira. Your currency gets stronger if there is influx of currency coming into your economy. If there is money flowing out so much without much inflow, then it becomes weak. There are countries like China which make their currency artificially weak because they are export oriented. China would normally dump billions of dollars in American bonds and treasury bills, and America spends it which makes their currency weaker and the dollar stronger. But this is usually artificial. In Nigeria, what do we have? We have a mono rent based economy. The oil companies only pay us rent for ‘drinking’ our oil. If you check the oil majors, you would be surprised at how much they are making. The factor that is aggravating our problem right now is the crisis of confidence. When there are such crises, foreign investors hold back and watch. These investors do not have confidence right now in our economy because they do not know where we are going in terms of economic policies. The Central bank is in charge of monetary policies, but such policies alone are not enough to drive an economy or strengthen the currency. Fiscal policies are also very important and this is where the government comes in. For instance, Innoson produces automobiles in Nigeria, but as I speak, many Nigerians do not want to believe that it is true. Even if they know that it is true, they are not willing to encourage it. Lagos State just bought hundreds of automobile, but not one is from Innoson. What do you think such decisions would do to our economy? Remember when there was a tussle between governors and the former Federal Government administration over the excess crude account. The governors took the government to court and the money was shared, but how did that impact on our economy? The governors were given a free ride and were not accountable to anyone. But there has to be a long term attitudenal change .
Is the approach that the Federal Government is using in the form of increasing taxes not a case of robbing Peter to pay Paul?
This situation is like the egg and the chicken, which comes first? What the government is trying to do is to establish a stream of revenue and when that is done, they could work with the private sector and strengthen industries. It is because of what have happened in the past that it seems we are lagging behind. When the past is mentioned, people just narrow it down to Jonathan’s administration and I disagree. From our past, there has been an established dysfuntionality in the way we do things in Nigeria, so we need to change our ways. There has been controversy surrounding the 2016 budget. What is your take?
As regards the issue of the budget, this may have been happening, but had never been discovered. There used to be what they called padding which did not start with this administration, but the good news is that it has been exposed and all of us are participating in it.
Do you believe that the anomalies discovered in the budget were made possible because the federal government wanted it so, or would it be attributed to the vigilance of Nigerians?
I am not giving anybody credit for having the budget abnormalities exposed. What I am saying is that it is good it happened at this time. Nigerians have begun to realize that it takes one person to start a movement. One of the issues I have had since the government came into power is the pretentious stance of ‘we against them’. If you are APC, you are innocent, if you are PDP, you are guilty. In the case of the budget, the President had made his speech and applauded the budget. Many of the ministers now disown it, but if these errors were not spotted out and the budget was approved and signed, everyone would take it and run with it. The credit of the exposure of the errors in the budget goes to the Nigerian people. We gained so much in the last election because public scrutiny has been taken to the next level.
By Chinelo Obogo