Renowned intellectual and founder of Lagos Business School, Professor Pat Utomi says the kind of democracy being practiced in Nigeria is terribly flawed and that we have continued to move down the path that ultimately leads to collapse. In this interview, Professor Utomi describes the political class as lazy who see politics as a means of amassing wealth. He argues that Nigeria can never make progress until our public life becomes our public morality Excerpt:
Recently, prominent opinion leaders from the northern and western part of the country expressed divergent views on Governor Nasir el-Rufai’s support for power shift to the south in 2023. What is your take on it?
It will be a good thing for Nigerians to focus more on governance than power. There is too much talk of who has it, who is exercising it rather than how Nigerians are governed well. I usually find this discussion of power rotation, this people or that people, a little tiresome; if we have a working democracy where the effect of who is in a position of authority is marginal, these issues will not matter. But because we have a politics-dominated society in which politics takes away from people’s freedom to live decently, it seems the only way to make progress is to profit from the game of politicians.
However, in terms of the immediate, you have said that some Northern politicians said it must go South and some said, it should be open to those most capable and qualified.
Well, all those expressions are just personal opinions. Many years ago, I was sitting with a prominent northern businessman from Kano, a former president of Chamber of Commerce, at the airport, and he was expressing grave anxiety that people were critical of Obasanjo’s third term then, but he said he would prefer power stayed away from the north for at least 16 years more after Obasanjo left office.
He also said his feeling was that once a northerner returned to power, his compatriots would just wear ‘agbada’ to Abuja, collecting contracts from office to office and that will further set the north back. But with Obasanjo in power, the northerners will join others to do other things to make progress.
He said he would rather wish Obasanjo continued to be in power such that power would rotate between South-West and South-East, and not the north for 16 years.
This is one’s opinion. Mamman Daura and Nasir el-Rufai have also expressed their opinions, but what matters in a democratic process is the process that works for the people, and is seen to be free and fair and seems to be expanding opportunities for Nigerian people to live peaceably and progressively, and at their own pace.
And the thing that can guarantee this, is an economic and political system that is more decentralized, or what people may refer to as restructuring—i.e the system that does not concentrate power in few hands in Abuja. That system has guaranteed that Nigeria is not governed, it is just the field of plunder; personal and legal plunder, sometimes illegal plunder with public power.
Some people insist that they don’t want that kind of system that is decentralised, they feel that they can continue to manipulate the system, game it, and they can only push Nigerians to where we have come to; where the people feel so out of it, that there is nothing else except self-help. That self-help is what we are seeing everywhere whether it is banditry, Boko Haram, kidnapping in the northern divide and South-south, these are pieces of evidence of ineffective governance. So, those who are looking for what they will get can continue the argument that whether power should rotate or not. If you are to take it from the face of it, so the most competent people should come from the north, but our politics does suggest that is the case.
So why do people get worried and bellyaching about Mamman Daura’s statement? Anybody who thinks, should ignore his statement. If he wants to dominate others and he thinks he can intimidate them, well, we live in post 1948 world. United Nations (UN) came up with the international declaration of fundamental of International Human Rights, and with the UN declaration of human rights, a new order began to emerge in international relations that focused on self determination of peoples. Daura thinks that the nonsense that happened in 1966 and 1967 will happen again. He is joking because when you want to dominate others because you think you can invent strange things like population, others can sue for self determination and get a right to independence and if people like Daura continues to talk like that, it will lead to disintegration of Nigeria, and already people are agitating to leave.
So, people like Daura should be careful because if they do unjust things, they will suffer more for it. People need to recognise that respect for others and tolerance, and we-live -and-let-live political structure and political cohabitation is the way to build great nations. That’s all that is available to us; if not we will just become like Sudan and South Sudan, it will keep going.
I love Nigeria because the country is the small opportunity the black man has that can redeem the dignity of a Negro race that has been dragged down for more than half a century. But if political actors do not have enough self respect to optimize on that, then ‘To your tent oh Israel!’
Why are some of these political leaders against power shift?
The political class is lazy. They see politics as a means of amassing wealth, and they want to bully people for the purpose of personal abuse. What they don’t seem to realise is that they have ruined the country. The country is a joke in the eyes of most people because of their greed. If they continue this way, there are people who want a better life who will say, enough of this nonsense, if we die, we die. So, it’s in their best interest for this nonsense to stop. But there are people who are understandably afraid that if Nigeria disintegrates that they will be at a disadvantage.
Any human being that applies himself into this world, whether he is in the desert or anywhere, could manage to build a significant, strong, decent economy. Decentralisation will not do any harm unless you are lazy and want to take advantage of the hard work of others; that is when you have a problem and the current political class is like that. Nigeria’s real issue is how to get rid of them, those people who have enjoyed easy life which politics has brought to them.
There are competent men and women all over geo-political zones in Nigeria, why can’t they be given opportunity to rule?
Five hundred years ago, Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince, said nothing is more difficult to bring about than a new order of things because those who profit from the old order would do everything to prevent a new order. That’s all we are dealing with in Nigeria. The current political class has amassed so much wealth but they don’t have the capacity to build wealth and that’s why they are desperate for power, to continue to steal because any day they stop stealing they will be broke.
Are we practicing democracy in Nigeria?
There are democracies everywhere but ours is terribly flawed. To begin with, I don’t believe vote counts in Nigeria. I think what we call democracy is a farce; It’s a civilian coup d’etat carried out with the pretence that we are going through a democratic process. So, we don’t really have a democracy; and instead of us to work together to see if we can create a democratic order through electoral process, reforms, improving the nature of political parties through which countries exist; machine politics is what we have, we don’t have political parties. We have continued to move down the path that ultimately leads to collapse. What will become of Nigeria? I don’t know
What is the way forward?
The tragedy of how Nigerian has evolved is that the country is worse today than it was 50 years ago; we seem to be going backwards. One thing I bet is that Nigeria can never make progress until our public life becomes our public morality. There is corruption everywhere. In other climes, culprits are punished adequately to serve as a deterrent, but in Nigeria, it is a different kettle of fish, the innocent suffers while the guilty goes free. Corruption is not a joking matter because of its effect in the society.
A murderer kills one, but a corrupt person kills thousands. The person who commits murder will be convicted, while the corrupt person is free. Everything about politics is about public morality. But we are in a state of primitive accumulation and primordial sentiments and they don’t know the damage they have done to this country. We must change through education and political socialization and have genuine political parties that are focused. Every society strives towards increase and significant development. In the sixties, Nigeria was comparatively better than Indonesia, but today, Indonesia, South Korea, Malaysia, Singapore etc are far ahead of Nigeria.