Dr. Damian Ogbonna is the National Chairman of the Peoples Progressive Party (PPP).In this exclusive interview with DADA JACKSON, he bares his mind on a number of topical issues. Excerpts:
Your party has been quiet lately on the political turf, why is this?
Not really. We were quiet for a while following the illegal actions of the Nigerian government to ban Peoples Progressive Party from participating in the electoral process. We were banned from the political space on 13th December 2012 and it wasn’t until 17th December 2015 that the Federal High Court sitting in Abuja revoked the government ban and ordered INEC to relist our party in the political and electoral landscape of Nigeria. Sure, we suffered greatly in the three years that the government took us out illegally, but it also helped us greatly to sharpen our political sensitivity and party ideology. Professional politicians, opportunists and non-ideologues left the party to seek greener pastures elsewhere, while those of us faithful to the cause of “Truth, Freedom and Progress” remained to fight the gross injustice meted out to our political platform leading to the recovery of the party. We have been very active in the past year since recovering our party platform, very active indeed. Our party remains in the forefront of confronting government oppression, intolerance and illegalities that are now commonplace in the current APC Government. We remain in the forefront calling on the government to be law abiding in enforcing the laws and in staffing its administration. We are in the forefront of holding government accountable in the public domain for their intransigence, incarcerating Nigerians without due process, harassing and intimidating members of the Judiciary and the National Assembly, employing extra-judicial killings as their first resort to control demonstrations and political agitations, and the list can go on and on. These are public positions that the party has taken in the past year since we re-entered the political fray. So, it is incorrect to suggest that we have been quiet lately. On the contrary, we are active, very much alive to our responsibilities as the political opposition to ensure that the current party in government treats Nigerians with the dignity they deserve under the protection of the nation’s constitution, while following the rule of law in their conduct of matters of state.
How prepared is your party in respect of the 2019 polls, are you fielding candidates for any of the elective offices at the state and Federal levels?
Absolutely! We are prepared and will be fielding candidates in the general elections in 2019. Currently, we have begun the process of fielding our candidates for the gubernatorial elections in Anambra State due in November this year. We cannot afford to stay away from electorally challenging the elite class, given that we are diametrically and ideologically opposed to the status quo, which the elites serve. We have always maintained that the elite class in Nigeria is the same group of folks, the same families, the same circles, all serving the same self and special interests; and it does not matter where they come from, what geopolitical region they hail from, and what religion they profess. The elite class has been doing this from the days of amalgamation of Nigeria till date, over 100 years. The average citizens are constrained from political leadership, except for those who serve the corrupt and sinister interests of this elite class. It does not matter the name or nature of their political platform, for when their common interest is threatened or when a leader emerges who is not beholden to their lineage of ruler ship, they always will band together coming from different political platforms, to form a common political platform in order to ensure that the country is returned to their status quo. Take for example the case of the former President Goodluck Jonathan. Here was someone who emerged from obscurity as an average citizen, howbeit mentored and sponsored by one of the elites, to attain political leadership in the country. Then what happened? As soon as he began to tinker with the landscape of Nigeria’s political structure; as soon as he developed the guts to move towards the economic and political restructuring of the entity, the elites came together in force, created the common platform named APC just so he can be taken out. The man was demonized and Nigerians bought the lie. Today, we are witnesses to the consequences of their disastrous plan. The country has never been less safe, more divisive, less governable, and tethering on the brink of collapse since this inglorious and unpatriotic act by these folks. So, yes, we have a stake. We have a message. We have ideas to push that are diametrically opposed to the failed practices and policies of the past that APC and PDP continue to peddle. Nigerians are looking for new leadership, one that is bold and courageous; to take on the root cause of our divisiveness; to correct the structural imbalances that make us enemies to one another; to shut down unproductive union states and erect self-sustaining federating units along the lines of the indigenous nations that make up our amalgamated entity; and this is to be done via instruments of international norms, such as referendum and self-determination. We sincerely hold that Nigeria will not be released from the death grasp of the elite class and from the current suicidal march until the people’s vote take its rightful sacred place in molding a union acceptable by the vast majority of the nation-states of Nigeria. This is a unique ideology of the Peoples Progressive Party; one that no other political party is talking about. So, we do not have the luxury of staying out of the electoral fray. On the contrary, the uniqueness of our message makes it imperative and frankly a duty for us in PPP to carry our message of salvation to the grassroots. Sitting it out is not an option.
There have been agitations by the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) for self determination. What is your take on this development?
It flows from my previous response. Every agitation we see in the country today, and they are many of them, have a common thread; the fact that the masses are sick and tired of a nation that is not working and has never worked. Think about it, Nigeria started its experiment in nationhood in 1960. About the common denominator since then are division, war and death. This is the common thread. Attempts to force unity by legislation and constitutional patch have not worked and will not work. I am a scientist by profession and in that trade, I learnt a valuable lesson; if an experimentation of certain factors interchanged in a certain way fails to work, it will never work. To get a different outcome one will have to introduce other factors or interchange existing factors in a different way. In other words, to do the same thing the same way while expecting a different result is the classic definition of silliness; some may say insanity. We have agitations for political self-determination in the Northeast where some Nigerians are causing mayhem and killing their fellow citizens in a push to obtain a Sharia space in their region. In the Niger Delta, Nigerians are kicking against government appropriation of the region’s resources to the detriment of the wellbeing and welfare of the inhabitants of the region; and often and on, this struggle takes extreme diversions leading to economic sabotage and outright rebellion. In the Southeast, the Biafran movement agitators demonstrate peacefully for self-determination but are often gunned down by government forces for their troubles. These reactions stem from a common source; the inability of the elite class to address the long-standing issue of a truly federal entity. The reason, of course, being self-interest. You see, the elite class will be forced to compete for the control of the nation’s varied resources if a truly Federal Republic were to emerge. If constitutional constraints and artificial geopolitical boundaries that limit the essence of the indigenous nations of this country were lifted, the elite class will lose control or in the best scenario for them, compete against more competent leadership. This, they will not have. As a result, they have, through laws and various constitutions imposed by their military benefactors, kept the people imprisoned in a system that does nobody any good, except them alone, their families, relatives, friends, acquaintances and their many generations yet unborn. Nigeria is an orphan without a benefactor; and has been so since independence. Her leaders only come to pillage what they have named a national cake; a shameful reason for a nation-state, just sharing some kind of cake. Baked by whom, we may ask? It is for these and sundry reasons that many seek the solace, safety and security of other flags, whether it is called Biafra, Caliphate or what you will. This issue has to be addressed for this nation to move forward. You can’t coarce and force people into acquiescence forever. There is always a tipping point where the cup boils over; and Nigeria’s tipping point is fast approaching. Now is the time to do the needful, allow people-based restructuring or risk terminating this co-existence and doing so in no distant future. People do have a right to seek better lives elsewhere if the existing one offered by the Nigeria-state stinks; and sure it does stink to the highest of heavens.
How do you react to the ultimatum given to the Igbo residing in the North by some Northern Youth Groups that they should leave the place by October 1,2017?
My reaction was “here we go again”. It tells everything one needs to know about the hatred and divisiveness that the elite class has nurtured since the inception of Nigeria’s nationhood. They retain their stranglehold on the country by feeding this divisiveness and hatred. It is the only way they can keep the country unbalanced to feed their self-interest and ill-gotten wealth. Wouldn’t it have been refreshing to have the Arewa Youths ask the same questions that IPOB is asking? Freedom is God-given right. It is an inherent right. As humans, we are born free by the design of God and nature. So, when a class comes along that changes this fact and makes us slaves; second rated citizens in the land of our birth, we ought to all band together and call the bluff of that class. It ought not to be a Northern thing or a Southern thing, a Muslim thing or a Christian thing. Come to think of it, how really does the agitation for freedom by IPOB in the southeast affect detrimentally the freedom of the Northern Youths? Think about it? Are the Northern youths Nigeria’s slave masters? Are they agents of the corrupt elite class? Are they the ones holding down the liberty and freedom that IPOB is agitating against? This is quite curious and a question they ought to answer. How is it that the freedom sought by IPOB causes them to throw such tantrums? When we get the answer to these questions, we would have taken a big step in redressing the divide in Nigeria. Historically, some folks in the core north tend to react violently to ideas and political discourse; and that is not the way to go. The problem with these violent utterances is that you never know who may wake up one day and attempt to take matters into their hands to flush out Ndigbo resident in some Northern enclaves. It is my firm conviction that ideas ought to be challenged with ideas, not threats. If IPOB and others in the Biafran movement are talking up ideas of better living under the Biafran flag, it would do us far more good, if those opposed to this idea talk up their reason the Nigerian flag better protects the interests of Ndigbo. If they can’t do so, then they have lost the match even before the whistle is blown. Not too long ago, the Scottish folks in Great Britain rose to seek a better life under an independent Scottish flag. The rest of Great Britain did not cast them into the sea; rather they propounded ideas why Scots are better off under the British flag. On the day of decision, Scots voted to stay put. By contrast, Great Britain voted to exit the European Union but the entire discourse was idea for idea, pros versus cons; not threats and certainly not violence or extra-judicial killings. You have to wonder when we will learn in this country that the best tool for peaceful co-existence is respect for our varied peoples. Calls like this one from the Northern Youths do not add value to the debate. It is a knee-jerk reaction and frankly exposes hate rather than concern. It would have been much better, much healthier for them to direct their ultimatum to the Federal Government to begin the process of referendum which could lead to their stated position, which is the evacuation of those of southeastern heritage from their Northern enclaves to a new Biafran enclave. Without such due process, the Igbo being thrown out of the Northern enclaves have no other sovereign flag to return to. You can’t eat your cake and have it. You can’t live on resources of the south and then seek to force them out of the North. That is as downright silly as it gets.
Lately, there has been an upsurge in the activities of Fulani herdsmen over their nefarious tendencies. How do we curb this untoward development?
It is quite obvious that the government of APC has no interest in protecting the lives of common farmers and those of Christian communities from these armed killers. The most fundamental role of government is the security of its citizens. Any government that fails this fundamental test loses faith with the people; and does not deserve the respect and allegiance of the people. When a government fails to protect the lives and properties of the people, the people must, of necessity, come together to defend themselves. This is an existential necessity. There is no other option. There is clearly some knowledge among these killer marauders that the current government under APC will do little or nothing to stop them. They were not this brazen during the previous governments of PDP. So, something must have given them this licence to kill at will. The only way to curb this nonsense is for government to live up to its obligation to defend and protect defenceless law-abiding citizens across the length and breadth of this country. Not to do so calls for anarchy, as we see our dear country drifting into daily. In the continuing failure or refusal by the Federal Government to defend her citizens, the states and the communities that are affected should come together and implement a common defence to their collective existence. While, Nigerians have a right to move around the nation, to live anywhere within Nigeria, and to participate in commercial activities anywhere in the country without hindrance; these rights must be exercised in respect to the rights of other persons to the same liberties. It is unlawful to damage anyone’s property in your quest to exercise your commercial rights; and to the extent that the Fulani Herdsmen are caught doing this, they ought to be prosecuted, fined, jailed and made to pay equitable compensation to the farmland owners. This will go a long way in the nation’s attempt to address this problem. Of course, there are also commercial solutions, such as cattle ranching and modern livestock farming techniques that will reduce the menace of these cattle on highways, cities, villages and their attendant scenic degradation and farmland destruction.
Do you agree with those clamouring for the restructuring of the country because of the perceived imbalance in the development of the entity called Nigeria?
Yes, I agree with them. I want to add though that the imbalances are not perceived. They are real and doing real damage to our collective existence. This master-slave relationship in Nigeria must cease. It is the people against the elite class, but unfortunately ethnic and religious divide have clouded the reason of many that they are easily used against their fellow suffering masses by the architects of the thieving system. This is Sad, really sad!
How do you rate the anti-corruption fight of the Buhari’s administration, are we making any headway?
There is no anti-corruption fight, only motions and shadows. Corruption in Nigeria is an equal opportunity business. It cuts across party, regional, religious and ethnic lines. It is one area where the elite class agree completely without any iota of dissension; their hands are on deck damning and bringing Nigeria to ruination. To now limit the battle against corruption to those who oppose the President’s politics does a gross disservice to the nation. Corruption is institutionalized in Nigeria. It has become a culture; and as cultures go, corruption is not limited to the political class. In fact, corruption cannot take place without the active support and collusion of the public service. Ask yourself this, how the President’s crusade against corruption has changed the Nigeria Police, Nigerian Customs Service, and Nigerian Civil Service and so on. These are the areas that ought to be changed in order for a new culture to take hold. But two years into the supposedly anti-corruption fight of this government, there is not a dent in the corrupt practices in the public sector. That alone is the definition of failure. Yet again, we hear of sundry cases of alleged corrupt politicians, but case after case they falter and are thrown out of court or acquitted for lack of evidence. The government cries foul against the judiciary when the truth is that government investigators play to the gallery to advance the government’s anti-corruption propaganda. Arrest is made in the most crude, most brutish manners designed to harass and intimidate instead of to correct and to fix. Once publicized, the law kicks in; Government has 24 hours to charge the accused to court or release the accused on administrative bail. From that point onwards, the half-baked case unravels. Often, the corrupt, unprofessional and unlawful conduct of government agents in their make-believe anti-corruption hype renders the cases unwinnable for the government. When government excesses become the issue in court, the rights and liberties of the accused takes precedent in the court, and rightly so, over any allegation of wrongdoing. A real anti-corruption initiative must incorporate all the dimensions of the malaise and bring a holistic solution to bare. The kind of solution that will work must have various components, such as social, economic, administrative, and enforcement. The process must be backed by legislation to protect the citizenry from overzealous, corrupt and mischievous government agents, while laying out clear rules from investigation to prosecution of the accused. The current government failed in all of the above issues and so they set themselves up for ultimate failure; a situation where, as it is now, the fight against corruption is much talk, little or no result. The government’s touted war on corruption has become a mile wide and an inch deep. It has not and frankly does not have the capacity to redress the culture of corruption in the country. Let us hope that the next government in 2019 will take a better approach.
Are you on the same page with those advocating that June 12 should be declared a national holiday instead of the current May 29 Democracy day celebrations?
Both dates are important to this nation. There would not have been May 29, if the events of June 12 did not occur. My problem is that we have too many holidays in this country and no one has ever bothered to compute the economic and financial loss of these mirage and unending national holidays. In fact, we should consider trimming these luxuries than adding to them. They provide no economic or cultural value.