Political economist, politician, governance and public policy analyst, Prof. Pat Utomi, who played huge role in enthroning the current administration, is clearly unhappy with the direction the country is heading.
He Speaks to JOHN SILAS of Authority Newspaper, declaring that the country is not being led properly and stressing that Nigeria is more divided today that it was two years ago. The meaning of that, according to him, is failure of leadership.
What do you make of the state of affairs in the country at the moment, is Nigeria moving in the right direction?
I am not sure that right or wrong direction is the appropriate word to use. The process of change is not a straight line graph. It is chaotic; it is not all that straight. Obviously it is understandable that Nigerians are disappointed with the way some things are going. I think it is something that helps us to reflect on how we guide and guard change and how we understand the process. To be quite frank with you, my understanding of the change process that will bring lasting solutions to our problems, it has to be very principles-based.
It has to be methodic. It has to look at the institution that will make things happen effectively rather than people, Nigerians looking for a messiah. The messiah complex is a very dangerous one. You know Barack Obama on his first visit to Africa, the very first speech he made in Ghana, he repeated the point I made the day before in Lagos that what Africa needs is strong institutions, not strong men.
But very often we turn around looking for strong men. Strong men are traditionally disruptive of progress in the sense that even when they manage to get some progress to take place, because they did it as strong men, the next strong man would want to put his imprimatur on progress. This may mean discounting what the strong men before him have put in place. That is why we have weak institutions. We need to progress with strong institutions.
I had a small debate on the platform on October 1, last year with my friend, Bishop Hassan Kukah. He was saying that strong men can help bring about strong institution. I was making the point that it is not whether we need good leaders. We need good leaders. A strong leader doesn’t take away from strong institutions. When you don’t institutionalise, you have a problem. Our experience is that the trouble with Nigeria clearly is leadership.
Nigeria is still not being led rightly. For me personally, 2015 was a huge disappointment. This is because what I had hoped for, what I expected that it was a classic opportunity to lead Nigeria, to bring everybody into a boat, saying this is the direction we are travelling . And with every body’s energy in Nigeria we will move towards that.
Was it not what happened?
I don’t think so. I think Nigeria today is actually more divided than it was two years ago. The spirit of Nigeria is much challenged today. That is simply failure of leadership. But Nigeria came out and aligned with the opposition and for the first time, an incumbent was removed…That was why I said it was a classic opportunity for good leaders to bring everybody into the house. But that did not happen. What happened was the old hegemony game started. People cornering something, excluding that person, pushing that person and they just couldn’t get it together.
So everybody was pissing into the house and the house smells. But if everybody was inside the house, pissing out, we would be erecting an edifice going forward. It was purely a case of leadership failure.
Would you blame the opposition leaders for the failure you talked about? Was that simply a case of the opposition only being interested in kicking out Jonathan without first charting the direction and path that should be traveled?
Well, it is not a matter of blaming people. People cannot give what they don’t have. If people understood leadership, understood their responsibilities they will behave differently and the outcome will be different. For example, the great leaders of this world, when the moment of history comes, they know yesterday, but they forget about yesterday and focus on tomorrow. They know who their enemy was in the last fight. But what matters now is not who insulted you yesterday or who your best friend is. What matters is our country, where it must go.
So you bring friend, enemy, everybody who can to move in one direction. I don’t think the skills were available to those who took power in Nigeria.
You were part of the whole thing.
You played a role. At the time you and other key individuals were mobilising people, mobilising resources. Did you also come up with advice on how things could be done?
Again, that is why change is not a straight line graph. You have goals. People buy into certain goals. One important goal for me and for a lot of people was for Nigeria to establish that power can change hands from incumbents. That goal itself was a very important goal. And achieving it was huge. But sometimes, when you achieve one goal, it might be possible that you miss another critical goal.
I will give you a classic example. I was involved in a big mission to push out the military from power in Nigeria. We founded all kinds of groups, including the one we call the concerned professionals. And we battled the military. When the military decided to surrender in 1998, we declared victory.
Some amongst us say we must now take power and show Nigeria what we have been talking about. Among them was a fellow called Waziri Mohammed who died in the Belleview crash. And some in the group said we are professionals, we must go back to our businesses. They argued that we did a citizen duty of saving our country. I have to admit that I was one of those who took that point of view. Let the politicians now go on and do what they know how to do.
But what we did not anticipate is that the real politicians, the traditional people who followed Awolowo, who followed Okpara, Sarduana, Zik, people who knew that politics was about service, sacrificial giving of self for the greater good of the community; many of those people did not trust the military from their experience. So they did not come forward. The bad men of the soldiers, their contractors became the new politicians and Nigeria has not recovered from it. By the time we realised our error, it was four years into the Obasanjo administration. That was how that idea to be involved came. That was how I ran for office, it wasn’t because of anything. That realisation: “oh my God. We made a mistake”.
So, in the same way in 2015, the goal was let us establish that power can change hands. That if you can push out an incumbent that is not doing well, then democracy will lead to a better government. That was the main focus, at least for some of us. But I think there is a fundamental problem with the character of the Nigerian state through which the agents operates. Until we can change the character of the Nigerian state progress is going to be difficult in Nigeria.
First and foremost, I have just been engaging in some reflection. In the last couple of months, I have come to the frightening conclusion that government does more to prevent progress than to advance progress in Nigeria. The evidence is just there and around me. Government does more to retard Nigeria than to move it forward.
I say so be because of the nature of the people, who play in the so-called political arena. There are two, three or four strands you can find. There are people who want power for self aggrandisement. People who think they can make money, enjoy the sound of siren or whatever pecuniary thing they see in power. There are people who want power to revenge on their enemies. Then there is a certain kind of elite, you call them AGIP (Any Government in Power). They just want the room to make their money. They don’t want to be disturbed by power. They just want to be accommodated. There are a huge number of people who just feel powerless, what can we do? Let’s just survive.
Very critical for progress is a group of people who say look there is a certain tomorrow that we see for our children and for our children’s children. We are willing to sacrifice whatever it takes. Usually, they are people who have found success in other things. They have probably been successful as academics, successful as businessmen or whatsoever. These are the legacy hunters. They have the courage of conviction to be able to lose whatever it is – access to power, access to money so that ultimately the society will be different. That group is still too small in Nigeria.
That is really the trouble with Nigeria. Those who dominate are those who want power for their aggrandisement and those who want power to revenge on their enemy.