Prof. Pat Okedinachi Utomi, a political economist, is a member of the All Progressives Congress (APC). In this interview with GEOFFREY EKENNA and OLUWATOSIN OMONIYI, Utomi states that Nigeria is not doing well. He strongly believes that until there is a genuine electoral reform and proper elections, the country would continue to move in circles, short of economic and political developments
The last time we spoke with you, you said something about Nigeria being captured by the 1966 class. It appears that six years after your party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), assumed office, nothing is different with the PDP or it is even worse now. The PDP now has the courage to criticize your party every day?
Well, that is the beauty of the democratic process because if it runs well… What the democratic process is meant to do is to help prove that these people don’t know what they’re talking about.
Then, if you can get rid of the bad guys, you can get a new set until people start to understand what they’re doing. Unfortunately, democracy is not working in Nigeria. You and I know and I can prove this anywhere that elections are a farce in this country. They are a complete farce. President Muhammadu Buhari did not win the last election. You know that.
Yes! He didn’t, just like Olusegun Obasanjo did not win in 1999. So, that’s my point about the class of 66.
The state capture that was faced in Nigeria makes democracy impossible. Until we have electoral process reforms, all these things we call democracy is a bloody waste of everybody’s time because the person whom INEC will announce has no bearing in what the Nigerian people really want.
So, we ‘ve got to ask ourselves: “What do we really want?” People get away with all sorts of things here until at a point. But when you go back to history, when the problems of Louis 14th, in France were coming and the misbehaviour of the French elite were carrying on, it was like ‘these stupid ordinary people, what did they know.’
By the time Louis Catorce, (Luis 16th) came the ordinary people were so completely fed up that the revolution happened.
They killed those nobility in the streets. It will happen in this country and they will kill these bloody politicians on the streets of Nigeria.
You believe that there will be a revolution someday?
It is going to happen if no sensible thing happens. It is not a matter of conjecture; it is obvious. I mean, how can a country be run, so badly run as Nige ria is run today? You have 33 per cent unemployment and politicians are still buying cars and still doing the most stupid things. It means these people will be killed on the streets of Nigeria. I know that.
Do Nigerians have the cohesion for a revolution? I don’t see northerners pouring on the streets when their man is there?
See, it does not necessarily come in an organized form like that. It is one day, one driver is quarrelling with another person; he slaps this one and says why would you kill… and it starts.
Nobody will tell you. I remember one day, many years ago, during Ibrahim Babangida’s time, when things were especially bad, and I was sitting in a car at Eko Bridge.
The traffic was so bad. You could see the anger on everyone’s face and someone said something to me, ‘See this useless people.’
All it would have taken was for somebody to hit somebody from what I saw that day. I drove straight to Gen. Ike Nwachukwu’s house. He was a minister then and I said to him, ‘See, you people will be here and this country will burn.’
So, if you think it will wait for the Igbo and Hausa man to agree on how to burn this or that person’s house, sorry, but that’s not how it happens. It happened with the ENDSARS; young people tried to organize…
That is where I am going. ENDSARS was very strong in the South but in the North, it was not. It wasn’t weak in the North either, and again, that is part of the things they try to create in this country – the impression that we are divided; have this impression that we cannot work together.
They are always creating the impression that we’re different, which is exactly what they want. The North has the highest level of abject poverty; poverty in the North is so terrible that, when it breaks out the way it will break out, it will not be the same pattern as in the South.
And it is already happening. There is anarchy already in the North. Everywhere you go, people are angry. In Katsina State, did they not demonstrate against Buhari and called him all sorts of names in his home state? So, what are you talking about?
We seem not to have a fair system of justice to warrant such…
Revolutions don’t look at justice systems. In fact, they destroy justice systems. My big fear for Nigeria is that instead of a structured revolution, we will just have a descent into anarchy. That has been predicted. That has been written about.
There is a book written by Robert Kaplan, called “The Coming Anarchy.” It predicts Nigeria or West Africa’s descent into anarchy. And you think that these people will be smart enough to see it coming and therefore take proactive measures to prevent it from coming.
But they are not just smart enough because of the fundamental error which took place in 1999. All of us are responsible because we thought that traditional politicians would come back and seek glory through politics.
They made a mistake and they too did not think that the army was going anywhere and they stayed in their homes and a bunch of criminals came out and took over the political space in 1999 and Nigeria is still hostage to them. So, they will continue because they don’t know any better, and it will happen.
They won’t know any better until that thing that happened to Luis 16th happens. And it will happen unless something saves us before then. What do you think can save us now from that revolution? You and some others are now organizing a new political alliance… We are organizing to see if we can avert that revolution from coming.
You referred to those who captured Nigeria before as anti-intellectual. They seem not to allow people like you to come near government…
Yes. They are anti-intellectual. They want to spend $1.5 billion to refurbish a refinery that is already dead. Do you know where such people can lead you?
What is wrong with that?
Spending $1.5 billion on a refinery that will not even work? No matter the experts they bring, it will yank out 40 per cent output for one to two years, and then it will be over.
The Minister of State for Petroleum, Timipre Sylva says after he spends $1.5billion on the refinery, he will then sell it.
For how much and to who? Bring your prospective buyer, let us begin to interview him now and know how much he will be willing to buy it after you spent $1.5billion.
You see, the way God will punish many of us eh… And what do we do with all this money? Buy a car for one stupid girl? Rent a flat in London. We have no sense.
It is just waste of resources. And you ruin a country, just to massage an ego that doesn’t have anything? Nigeria is a fantastic example of a country made poor by stupid people. They cornered the country.
In 2015, there was so much hope, so much hype. The expectation was so high that it appeared chasing the PDP away was the new dawn. What went wrong with your party?
You don’t want me to start talking about things I want to write in my memoirs now. That’s not a good thing but I want to give you some ideas. I was not deceived. I can tell you my own interpretation. Let me be honest with you.
By 2014, I knew that the choice that was about to be made was a wrong one. I said so too to a number of people, including Asiwaju Bola Tinubu. And he said to me that they won’t do that; that they just wanted Buhari to nominate someone else. I didn’t know that Tinubu was trying to be Vice President.
It was a kind of double whammies. Let’s live that for my memoirs. I am still working on the book. I was not a Buhari supporter until the influence of Chief Olu Falae. He said Buhari has this unthinking following in the North.
He has no capacity to govern this country but Buhari likes chasing away thieves. ‘So, why don’t we give him the chance?’ So, that’s when he is chasing the thief as President, we will run Nigeria.
Sir, the economy of Nigeria continues to go down South now. What exactly is the problem?
The problem is honesty of intention. There is a writer on organizational performance called Patrick Lencioni. He has written a book titled, “The five dysfunctions of a team.” At the top of it is what he called inattention to results. The whole system is not focused on results.
This is the result we are looking for. And we are holding you accountable for this whole result. This system is not designed for it. The level of nepotism that we have now experienced is such that most of the people in the position of decisionmaking are thoroughly incompetent, relative to the job that they are holding. So, are you going to blame them when our power trumps purpose?
The most important thing for them is what they can get from the job, rather than what the goal of the job is because, first of all, the guy is not competent for the job. Secondly, he is not there because he is going to get certain results but because we put you there to go and enjoy. His focus is on how can we enjoy, not on how can we get the job done. So, what do you expect?
In essence, the incompetence and nepotism are responsible for how things have turned out?
And there’s very little thought for the people.
Because the statistics don’t look good…
It cannot look good. We are talking of 33 per cent rate of unemployment and you are talking of using $1.5 billion to repair a refinery? Do you know what you can use $1.5billion to do in terms of job creation?
And I don’t mean the Festus Keyamo’s 774,000 jobs. That is a total waste of time, just sharing money. You can use the same resources to really get production to take place. But there isn’t the capacity to do that and there isn’t even the disposition. They will say, ‘oil prices have gone up and we have something to share.’ Then oil prices will go down again.
Does it mean that $1.5 billion is too small or too big to repair the refinery?
The refinery is dead. There is nothing you put there that would make it work.
What do you think that can be done to have our refinery working?
Let’s start with the base. How much petrol do we need to refine in Nigeria? How many litres do we need? How much will petrol be used 10 years from now? I am not talking of 100 years from now. I mean 10 years from now. I want to put it that 60 per cent of cars in the world will not be using petrol in 10 years.
Twenty years from now, what will happen? So, if you are going to invest $1.5 billion in anything that will not be used after 20 years from now, where are you going to recover the investment? That is the first logic that falls in your face. The Minister says that people are saying NNPC cannot manage refineries. ‘So, we are going to bring people to manage it, after which we sell it.’
So, why not bring the people that are going to buy it first? Like I told you, fossil fuel will be out in 10 years. So, who is going to buy what they know in five years, will be of no use? No logic there. We can’t think through these kinds of things.
So, assuming you realize that we have a problem with this kind of thing, what is wrong in saying to a company in Italy, who are good at these kinds of things, let’s sell it to them. ‘Repair it.
Just make sure that you employ about 10 per cent of those who are currently working there.’ You know! Just tell them- ‘take it for N1.’ When Rolls Royce saw that in technology and everything, they can’t compete, Britain decided to sell Rolls Royce for £1.
They sold Jaguar for £1. Indians bought Jaguar; put new technologies into it and are now selling Jaguar. Oga Minister, please sell Port Harcourt for N1. Labour will shout employment; we want employment, the government should not leave employment.
Tell them, ‘Labour, take Port Harcourt refinery, free of charge; employ all the people you want to employ. We are not even charging you one naira. Find money, refurbish it and get it working.’ Let us see where Labour will go. You see, how a country can be deceiving itself and all of us are smiling. It is a dangerous thing.
And our children will so hate us because you see all these things, they are the ones who will pay for it o. Our children are the ones to pay for these debts we are accumulating.
When the decision making was taken, why were economists like you not consulted?
Who told you that anybody was consulted? Everyone in Nigeria heard it when Timipre Sylva announced penultimate week that the council has approved of it. That was why I said on television that this is a democracy, where we have different levels of government.
That’s why I thought if there is still democracy, they will go to the National Assembly, house committee and explain that they want to spend $1.5 billion.
So they will have a public hearing; then eventually decide whether it is going to work or it is not going to work and you don’t to do that. The next thing, you just woke up and announced that the cabinet has approved it and now the contract has been signed.
After six years of APC being in office, is there any difference between the PDP and APC?
This is not a fair question. You know the reality. Nigeria needs a political process that will evolve. Some of us thought we were creating something new that will be different when we were fighting to build this opposition party but it is clear that the PDP people moved in-Ameachi and Co- and what emerged became a new PDP.
There is no difference between the current APC and the PDP. You knew that. What they did was to reinstall PDP as APC. I have never been invited to one meeting of a party that was writing its road map in my house.
Not even once since the party got to power. In fact, I was invited more by the PDP people to contribute to national conversation; more even by former President Goodluck Jonathan’s people. The last president I had interaction with was the late President Umar Yar’Adua.
So what is the way forward as we go into 2023?
We must have electoral process reform. If people are not convinced that there is reform, that there will be an election that matters, it is a waste of time and an election in Nigeria is a coup d’etat. So, we will just wait for the coup that will finally out class the coup.
Will there be a good election?
It is a pity because the children of this country deserve better. Yes, it is a weak generation. They have not done enough. When I was 17, 18, if there was anything going on in this country, I was on the street before they finished making the decision. I was just not any ordinary kid. As a 15-year old, I read Time Magazine cover to cover. I was informed.
I took on a Head of State and a Minister at 18 and when I saw answers, I said thank God. They were concerned then, of course. These guys who wanted to show them that they are more powerful, they said ‘let’s go and kill those kids and show them we have power.’
They did what they did and the kids allowed what they did to overwhelm them. In this year (the kids) can run them down from the internet, from all over the whole world. They can bring these governments down and reduce the country to pariah without getting themselves killed or risking their lives. We did it to Abacha without technology.
How do we salvage our economy?
We have to produce local government administration that have to become economic development units and now they just sit and share money and nothing happens