Prof. Tam David-West is a former Minister of Petroleum Resources. In this interview with Kemi Olaitan, the professor of Virology about the 2015 general elections, the just-ended National Conference and the Chibok girls, among others. Excerpts:
More than four months after the Chibok School girls were abducted, the military have not been able to secure their release; what is your view on this?
Not getting the girls released is nothing but a national disgrace and a colossal national disaster. I am not a lover of President Goodluck Jonathan’s government because I have said it many times that he is not doing well in governance, and this is one of such. This is the first time in the nation’s history that a minority will be ruling and yet Jonathan has succeeded in disappointing the Ijaw nation. What is even more disastrous is that he believes so much in sycophants and those looking for stomach infrastructure. Even though he is the first doctorate degree holder to become President of the country, he has also shown by his governance and perception of the realities that having doctorate degree does not mean anything and does not count in governance. What is thus needed are people with mature mind and robust perception about the country.
Jonathan is President today because of the votes from North and the South-West, especially the total votes he got from the Ijaw area that he came from was 24 percent, yet in spite of this, he and his sycophants keep on abusing the two regions. Another great lack of perception on the part of his government was from one of his loudest, irresponsibly speaking supporters, Asari Dokubo, who said the Ijaw are not Nigerians. But he was to say that Jonathan should be President of Nigeria; that is nothing but a contradiction. The unfortunate thing is that till today, Jonathan has not called him to order. What it means is that he does not see the implication of such a statement. On the Chibok girls, for more than four months after they were abducted by a small insurgent group, the government of Jonathan who is the Commander-in-Chief could not secure their release but rather engaged in contradictory statements. What it means is that he is suffering from conspiracy complex and the incident alone disqualified him from being President because the Constitution explicitly states that government must protect its citizens. Rather than facing serious governance, he continued making statements as if he did not go to School. For instance, there was a time that he was quoted to have said that he knew where the girls were, yet he has not been able to secure their release. If among the over 200 School girls, one of them were to be his daughter, would he be complacent as he is doing?
One other thing that showed that he was not serious is the fact that he has failed to visit Chibok despite the enormous security available for him. When he decided to see the Chibok girls, he invited them to Aso Rock and gave them money as if money is more important than the life of the girls. What it then means is that Jonathan can not absolve himself from the hard facts of history with the way he has handled the issue. My fear is that the longer it takes to end the issue of these girls, the slimmer the chances of getting all of them intact.
A few months to the 2015 general election, President Goodluck Jonathan has not publicly declared his intention to run for a second term, but his foot soldiers are all over the country calling for his reelection; what is your take on this?
The style adopted by Jonathan has disqualified him from contesting in 2015 because come to think of it, why should Nigerians vote for a President that is not sure of himself? He has not got the courage to say he wants to contest; the question is, why is he afraid to come out? Those parading themselves as Transformation Ambassadors rather than helping his cause are doing great disservice through disinformation by comparing him with great legends such as the Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King and President Barack Obama. Saying the above is nothing but the highest form of sycophancy because apart from the fact that those mentioned are human beings like him, coming to leadership and governance, he is zero to all of them.
However, what should be clear to all Nigerians is that Jonathan has disqualified himself from the 2015 race because of many reasons such as not getting the Chibok girls released, the array of many careless statements coming from him and the sycophants around him, like Asari Dokubo said he is not a Nigerian. He is also somebody that is not sure of himself. Not only that, I think Jonathan should be prosecuted for deceiving Nigerians. While I am not a prophet of doom but as a professor that has been writing for over 20 years, I am afraid for Nigeria concerning 2015. I see dark clouds hovering over the country. If the election is not handled very well, we may need to forget about what is called Nigeria. The albatross is on Jonathan’s neck; unfortunately the way he is going about it, he is creating problem for the country. 2015 is like a delicate egg which if it is broken, cannot be put together again. As far as I am concerned, no insurgency can break the country, rather the country will be broken to smithereens by arrogance of power; corruption, leadership impunity based on the fact that they believe that they are invincible; as well as injustice. It was Martin Luther-King that said it very well that injustice to one person is a threat to justice to everybody. And it is quite unfortunate that our leaders are not doing anything to correct the injustice in the land. Indeed the situation in the country today is more critical than the period of the civil war.
When it comes to whether Jonathan can contest, it is yes and on. As a Nigerian citizen, he has the constitutional right; however, two things will disqualify him. The first is that he agreed with the North that he will serve for one term. The statement that those saying this are lying does not hold water. To me, those who are supporting him on this are inferior to those who are against him. The second is that he is not a Nigerian based on what Dokubo said and, moreover, I don’t want a lying man who does not have confidence in himself to be my President.
Do you think it is appropriate for Major General Muhammadu Buhari to run for the presidential election in 2015 given that he had contested for the position three times since the advent of the present democratic dispensation?
Yes, he should contest no matter how many times he had contested. How many times did Abraham Lincoln contest before he became the President of the United States of America (USA)? What it simply means is that a quitter doesn’t win and a winner also does not need to quit as every failure eliminates what cannot work. Thus, I believe that he has to contest for many reasons. Saying that he has contested for three times is nothing but rubbish. In the first instance, did he really fail or was rigged out? None of the elections he lost was clean and even at the Supreme Court; the minority judgment in his favour was the best. Buhari has not lost any democratic election in Nigeria; in any free and fair election, he would defeat Jonathan because he has more credentials than him. He has got character; vision and has shown that Nigeria is more important by putting his life on the line for the country. Buhari is the only leader so far in the country that Nigerians have not put tar of corruption on, till today nobody has shown us his estate; he is astounding when it comes to integrity. He has all the credentials to be the President; despite that he was a military man, he is a democrat. I have worked with all of them be it Obasanjo, Buhari and Babangida; his executive council as a Head of States was more democratic than Shagari’s parliament and all other parliaments after that.
One thing that some people have against him is that he is rigid, which to me is not true. Buhari that I know is only rigid when it comes to nonsense. If you want to approach him on any important issue, you must have your facts. If you have confidence in yourself, you must be rigid and principled. So to say that he is rigid is a compliment to him. Another issue is calling him a religious fundamentalist, to my own knowledge to be fundamentalist is a credit as what it means is that you are faithful to your religion. It is different from being an extremist. Buhari is a very liberal person when it comes to the issue of religion. For instance, three of his cooks are Christians while his second driver and security are also Christians. Talking about his age, that is nonsense. This is because what age were Ronald Reagan and Nelson Mandela when they contested? Age has nothing to do with leadership but rather with content. I think Nigerians should be grateful to him that he still wants to contest as he loves the country. To me, he has the ability to turn the economy of the country around within a year.
As a former Minister of Petroleum Resources, what is your view on the plan by the government to sell the nation’s refineries?
For any government to conceive the idea of selling the nation’s refineries could only means that such a government does not love Nigeria and its people. Rather than sell refineries, we should be thinking of building more; this is because doing otherwise is a defeatist strategy which allows for selling the nation’s patrimony to the cronies of those in government.
What should interest Nigerians is that these refineries worked during the time of Buhari and the people that made them work then are still there, even though some of them have been sent away because of politics. What is happening with our refineries and the NNPC is nothing but politics. In the first instance, it is a stupid idea and it means that those in government are not focused. In solving the problem in the nation’s oil sector; they talked about the PIB Bill which to me is not focused simply because for any bill to have 40 works, it is nonsense. I have told Jonathan times without number that if he builds at least three more refineries, his name will be immortalized but he has refused to do that. That only shows bad leadership on his part. The industry is today badly managed and worse than ever; and they have continued to make things difficult for the international operators. The way out to me is Jonathan to resign honourably as he has failed Nigerians.
What is your assessment of the performance of the SURE-P programme?
The programme is nothing but a fraudulent concept simply because there is no subsidy in the first instance. I have said this on many occasions and have challenged those in government, for example Ngozi Okonjo Iweala, to a debate on this but they have refused to do this. It is an afterthought in the sense that you cannot invest what does not exist. It is a fraudulent concept and they are not sure of what they are doing.
While defection is regarded as part of politics, what is your take on the recent gale of defections by some of our politicians?
As part of the Sub-committee on Political Matters that drafted the 1979 Constitution. I wrote against carpet crossing because as an undergraduate, the impression that we had was that the election of 1956 in the Western Region was not won by the Action Group, AG, but by the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC), but that the AG formed the government because some of the members of the NCNC moved to the party on the floor of the house. Even though my position that whoever wants to change his party must first go back to the electorate was defeated, however; it led to a clause that one can do this if there is crisis in his or her party. Thus, moving from one party to the other is morally wrong and those who do this are called harlots by Zik. It is not good for our democracy, come to think of it, have you ever heard in the USA or UK their lawmakers changing party? Instead of changing party, they will rather oppose the view of their party which they do not agree with; defection is nothing but antithesis to democracy.
However, it has its own good in Nigeria; indeed, it has two things to help our democracy. One, it allows for an individual to be free to express his or her choice and not cowed by the leaders in the party or rather it curtails the excesses of party bosses. Two, it exposes politicians with principle and those who do not have; helps to separate the chiff from the chaff, and those we can trust as politicians and those not to trust at all. What baffles me as a person is the way our politicians go about it. Take for instance, one of our politicians that served meritoriously as governor in his state for eight years, moving to another party to become a minister; where is the principle in this. I think it will have been honourable for the man to defect without getting any position. What he did, for me, is a great embarrassment, and that is not how democracy works. For people like me, defection could only but bring jeopardy to those doing it because how are they sure that their new party will embrace them wholeheartedly? What they will get at the end of the day is multiple jeopardy, losing credibility in the eyes of the public, their old party as well as the new party. My message to them is that, everything promised them in their new party; they will not achieve.
The National Conference has ended with the presentation of its report to President Jonathan; can Nigerians heave a sigh of relief that it will bring an end to most if not all the challenges facing the country?
The report presented by the National Conference to me is nothing but nonsense. I have said it from the beginning that the National Conference is superfluous, waste of money and I have been vindicated. To me, the nation does not need any conference as we have had many in the past, at least six. What Jonathan should have done is to pick not more than 20 Nigerians with unassailable integrity and ask them to go into the archives; study all the reports and come out with what is best for the country. This will have save time, less expensive and more productive. Indeed, what the 492 members of the National Conference produced could not be more than one tenth of the 1979 Constitution produced by 49 people.
The fact that each one of them was given N12 million disqualifies all of them for not loving Nigeria. In drafting the 1979 Constitution, we received no kobo, and we worked close to one year. Jonathan cannot do anything about the report presented to him because it does not exist and the only way to salvage the situation is if it sent to the National Assembly for them to make a retroactive law to recognize it. Otherwise it is dead. Jonathan has no power to accept the report with a fiat as sovereignty belongs to the people.
The Conference has made Nigeria worse than before in terms of religious animosity, succeeded in causing more division within the country. Indeed, the Conference has failed Nigeria and Nigerians, the members went to get a blueprint for a “perfect Nigeria” but at the end of the day got worse Nigeria. While some of the recommendations are good, but what transpired there have prepared ground for Nigeria’s dissolution and waking up sleeping dogs. It is nothing but a waste of time and money. Indeed, drafting a new constitution is illegal because there cannot be parallel constitution as there is an existing 1999 Constitution.
(Published by Sunday Mirror, August 24, 2014)