Military Still Runs Nigeria – Ugolor [interview] (allAfrica.com)

Executive Director, Africa Network on Environment and Economic Justice (ANEEJ), Rev David Ugolor, in a chat with our Benin Bureau Chief, Francis Onoiribholo, spoke on the implementation of the constitutional conference resolutions whether Nigeria should have a new constitution, among other issues. Excerpts:
Almost one year after the National Conference concluded its sitting, nothing has been heard about its report. What do you think is responsible for this?
We have been vindicated when some of us, prior to the National
Conference, said it was a waste of time, waste of public resources and we were branded as enemies of the state. So far, you can see that all the issues that we raised probably before the National Conference have come to reality and one of the things that is very clear in Nigeria is that because we have free access to resources, we don’t care about results whenever we use the resources. The tax payers’ money used in organising the National Conference was a wasted effort. Huge resources that were supposed to have been used to strengthen development in the country were used to organise a jamboree in Abuja.
The time that they would have used to prepare for this election, all the problems that the INEC is facing today, if we had put that resources to strengthen INEC, I am sure we would not be facing this challenge we are facing now.
If President Jonathan has been so serious and clearheaded about how to solve Nigeria problem, if those resources were put in strengthening the military and other security agencies, I am sure that the insurgency would not have got to where we are today. Rather than focusing on issues that bother on Nigeria development, we were wasting the tax payers’ money at the conference. If I may ask, is it the constitution that is Nigeria’s problem?
Even if you bring a constitution drafted in heaven to us here in Nigeria today, the operators of the constitution will still manipulate it for a negative purpose. So, our real challenge in the country is that the characters, the leaders, the political elites that run this country don’t mean well for this country.
So, whether you change the constitution or you conduct a referendum to change the constitution, it will not work until our own values, what we perceive as development, how we perceive this country, whether we want to move away from where we are today largely depends on the current political crop of elites.
Are you saying you cannot just pick any good thing from the points those wise Nigerians sat over and raised for over four months?
I do not see anything new they said in that conference that has not been said before. There is nothing new. We are talking about making good use of scarce resources. If we were to have a country where the citizens’ decision and welfare is considered above selfish interests, I am sure that no citizen would vote for such monumental wastage, for our resources to be allocated to conduct that Jamboree in Abuja. So, it is an issue of priority, it is issue of, do Nigeria citizens have the voice to say we want to use our resources in a particular project? That is what I am saying.
What is the value of that conference? At least, the heat on the President after the 2012 anti-subsidy riot was able to be diluted by that National Conference. The heat to hold the government accountable to implement policies that will strengthen our deficient integrity in the system, to solve the problem of corruption, at least that heat was diluted by the National Conference. People that were supposed to be putting pressure and holding the government accountable; they were at least all assembled in Abuja. So the gigantic allowances are the visible benefits, which is good for the ‘lucky’ ones. Then some people also died there. It was also an opportunity, it was a national honour too, instead of dying in the village.
Are you saying we should continue operating the constitution given to us by the military?
Who is the military and who are the political elites running Nigeria today? Forget this whole deceit that the constitution was drafted by the military. Is that the problem of Nigeria today? You know, we like to play with semantics. Who are the democrats? Who are the dictators? Who are the people running Nigeria today? Is it not still the Danjumas? Is it not still the Obasanjos? Is it not still the IBBs? Is it not still the Abdulsalams that are running Nigeria today under fake democracy we claim to be operating? You tell me, who are the real civilians? Is it Senators David Mark and Tunde Ogbeha? People like Olisa Agbakoba, who fought for democracy, are nowhere to be found around the corridors of power, they are not given any space. Where are the Balarabe Musas? Where are the Frank Kokoris? Is it not the same military personnel in the ‘juntas’ that are running the country today? Give me something else to talk about.
You have been invited to address the British Parliament. What is actually the point they are inviting you for?
It is our partners in Germany who organised this meeting with the European Parliament, members of the commissions, members of the European Parliament, key stakeholders, media and all. I think it is all part of the pre-election process for the Nigerian Presidential election. We are also going to use the opportunity to raise questions that will help educate the International Community so that they know what has happened in the postponement of the election.
One of the key issues we are going to be raising with these parliaments in the process, is to alert the International Community on the need to put pressure on Nigerian government to ensure there is free and credible election. Also, to alert the International Community that the Boko Haram crisis in the North Eastern part of the country should be seen as a global threat. Anywhere there is insurgency or terrorists or extreme people trying to violate any country’s sovereignty, it should be seen as a threat to the world. We will also raise the consciousness that there are other soft approaches to dealing with the Boko Haram crisis in Nigeria.
Meanwhile, I am encouraged by the step taken so far by the US, Britain, the UN and other regional governments and the UAE, particularly the multi-national groups, to deal with the Boko Haram crisis. I will also want to say that we should also look at another strategy, which is the issue of global financial system, particularly the financial system in the West African sub region. You will agree with me that most of the countries surrounding Nigeria today are high risk money laundering countries and once terrorists are able to move money around the financial system in West Africa, it is increasingly difficult for you to tackle them and challenge them.
So, another way to stop the Boko Haram from rising in the region is to strengthen the financial system in West Africa, because, particularly, countries like Togo, Benin Republic, Cote d’Ivoire, Senegal, their anti money-laundering systems and institutions are not functioning, even in Nigeria.
You will agree with me that the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit is yet to be strengthened to be able to deal with the challenge of terrorists financing in Nigeria and because of this, terrorists are able to move money around the region. So, it becomes more and more efficient for them to carry out their terrorist action.
So, my take is that there should be multi-pronged approach. While they are emphasising the military approach, they should also look at the approach of strengthening the financial system, so that those who are actually supporting, bankrolling the activity of these terrorists are also not able to use the West African financial system to move money around the region. So, this is the very fundamental issue particularly.
When as a post graduate student of the University of Sussex in London, studying corruption in the Department of Politics, one of the key things that I found out in my research, was that most of the countries surrounding Nigeria are corrupt and the money laundering situation there are very high. Because of these, the terrorists are able to move money around those regions. It is increasingly becoming difficult for terrorists to be stopped and that is really, really bad.
Once you allow terrorists to be able to move money around the region, then they are able to use that money to buy arms and the rate of the rising profile of organised crime in the region increases, be it oil theft, kidnapping, piracy and robbery and all. That also provide access to resources for the terrorists to be able to carry out their organised crime and other activities.
You seem not sure if the March 28 and April 11 elections will be free and fair?
Well, like I have always mentioned to my key partners that election rigging and whether election will be free and fair, depends on the pre-election process. With what is going on in Nigeria today and after the postponement of the election, there is every reason for us to express concern, because, it is very clear now that the subtle attempt to intimidate INEC and undermine the leadership of INEC to go ahead with the Card Reader Machine and the PVC is a subtle blackmail to undermine the capacity of INEC to move forward. This is particularly against the background that INEC was actually intimidated not to go ahead with the February 14 elections.
So, the lessons from the postponement of the elections, coupled with the recent attempt by some stakeholders in Nigeria to blackmail INEC not to move forward with the Card Reader and the PVC, one can add those together and then conclude that there is an attempt to undermine the election not to be credible and that is not good for the country.
That is the most compelling reason why we are appealing to the International Community, particularly the European Parliament, the European Union and other International Community members, to see this election as not just only important for Nigerian people, but also for the West African region and the entire continent. If the election is not organised and there is no free and fair election, there certainly will be crisis and once there is crisis, the refugee implication for the region will be unwieldy for the International Community to cope with.