Air Commodore Idongesit Nkanang (Rtd.) was the first indigenous Military Administrator of Akwa Ibom State and National Chairman, Pan Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF. In a chat with Lovina Anthony, our correspondent in Uyo, Nkanang gave an insight on how Nigeria had fared in its 21 years of unbroken democracy. He gives reasons why there is the need for restructuring. He speaks on marginalisation in the Niger Delta and the urgency with regard to signing the electoral bill into law.
D.P: How do you rate 21 years of unbroken democracy in Nigeria?
My rating is that Nigerians are ready for democracy. Nigerians have been ready for democracy because they saw the yoke with the colonial masters and when they had independence, they all embraced democracy. Unfortunately, the military came in and democracy was thwarted. They saw the pains of dictatorship, so when democracy came back, people were ready for it, that was why Nigeria had unbroken chain of democracy for 21 years. However, I can say the tenets of democracy have not been upheld by successive governments. Rather, they still have the dictatorship, unitary system of government and I’m afraid these traits do not go together with democracy. I will describe democracy for the past 21 years in Nigeria as 21 years of having government where civilians have been in-charge not necessarily democracy in the real sense because in democracy, rule of law must prevail, but we have seen breaches on the side of the managers so that is why we are where we are today.
D.P: President Mohammadu Buhari gave a speech marking the democracy day, was there anything you had expected but was not contained in the speech?
On the president’s speech, I had expected to hear some landmark achievements like signing of the electoral law to see how it can help the nation, but I never saw such.
We have the electoral bill that has not been signed into law, and we have elections coming up in Edo and Ondo States. That means that we are still going to use the old one which gave room for rigging and other electoral malpractices. The bill the President used for campaigns in 2015. Five years after, he is still withholding assent, even though there was enough time for the bill to be signed into law, yet nothing of such was there.
D.P: Why has it been difficult for leaders to sign the bill into law because even Goodluck Jonathan who had time to do that, did not?
That is to show you that the leaders are not ready for democracy. They are living in denial. They know what the truth is, but simply don’t want to do it. They enjoy the skewed system which help them to amass power and do things the way they want to do, but I tell you that these things are not enduring, at some points, they will give way.
D.P: One of the things you mentioned as very important in democracy is the constitution; are you not worried that no constitution has been written by civilians?
Let us be very honest and very clear here, no constitution has been written by soldiers either, bring out any of the constitution and tell me the people who sat down and wrote them.
D.P: (Cuts in) but they supervised them…
The way Nigeria has found itself, the honest thing to do is to say you are guilty. I am guilty, we are guilty and from there, we mend our ways. I tell you when Nigeria got her independence, the founding fathers knew what was good for the country. Awolowo suggested federal system of government, they saw ahead, the North was not ready for independence until they were assured that they will develop at their own pace, and they adopted federalism because of the multiplicity of our ethnic group and religion. They did well in the first republic before the military came in. There were true federalism and fiscal federalism in the first republic where 50% of whatever a region produced was for the development of that place, 30% sent to the distributable pool and 20% was used for the development of the federal capital which is Lagos; immediately the military came in, they suspended that and enacted a unification decree and it was that unification decree that took him, the then military president, Aguiyi Ironsi to his death because the North thought that the East wanted to lord over them. But when successive governments came in, they felt that the unitary system was good, one person will be at the centre and be a father Christmas that gives whatever he likes even if you don’t contribute. That is why they don’t want to restructure and not as if the president cannot do it.
D.P: On corruption in Nigeria, is there no way to reduce corruption?
Corruption kills the enthusiasm of people because you cannot contribute what you would have wanted to contribute. If we really want to curb corruption, unemployment should be addressed. The highest thing government can do is to make law. For instance, the punishment for armed robbery, kidnapping and murder is death sentence and there is nothing one can offer beyond his life, but has that stopped kidnapping, armed robbery? No! Legislation does not change the heart, but can restrain the heartless. What changes the heart is education and religion. When we capture those two, corruption will be reduced. If we don’t, no amount of legislation can stop corruption.
D.P: What is your message to Nigeria as it marked its democracy?
My message to Nigerians is that players are ready but the umpires are still in the dressing room. The umpires should come out of the dressing room and match this democracy forward in truth and sincerity. Let us be fair to ourselves. If you are running a government and you are favoring some groups and marginalizing others, that means democracy will be stifled. If you look at our coat of arms, we are talking about peace and progress, what about justice? If justice is in the system, peace will come, if peace is in the system, development that is progress will come. If you talk only about peace and progress, to actualize democracy will be difficult.
D.P: You talked of marginalisation and government trying to unbundled the NNPC. Is it part of the marginalization?
We have talked about NNPC board for a long time, what they just announced few days ago was a clear indication of marginalization. They announced board of nine, the Act itself talked about six, one from each geopolitical zone which to me is not right. When the contaminants and other environmental hazards come, will they share it among the zones? Some people are bearing these hazards while some are not feeling it. The last board had nine, six from the North and three from the South. South East did not even have one person even though there is oil in Imo and Abia. That is not fair, even the one they rearranged few days ago and gave five to the North and four to the South. They will say that Timipre Sylva is a member of the board. No, he is just the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, the Minister is President Mohammadu Buhari. The highest Sylva can do is to stand in for Buhari if the later cannot make it to a meeting and that does not make him a member of the board. In fact, if you want to talk of Niger Delta marginalization, it will take a whole day.
D.P: What is the way forward in Nigeria?
Way forward is for both the players and the managers to imbibe the tenets of democracy. To be ready for the rule of law. The electoral bill should be signed into law and the justice system strengthened.