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‘If we don’t fix our politics, it would be difficult for us to fix Nigeria’

Pastor Bamijoko David Okupe has walked great paths in marketing communications from LTC Advertising through Insight Communications to branding and nation building. He shared insights with LEO SOBECHI on Nigeria’s socio-political situation, especially his experience with Mindshift Advocacy for Development Initiative.

As the build-up to another election cycle gears up, how would you assess the performance of the Buhari administration from 2015 to date? 
There’s a statement that says, “when the good king rules, there’s joy in the land and when a bad king rules, there’s pain in the land.”

When we talk about the Buhari (President Muhammadu Buhari) administration, like I keep telling people, although we have to describe the administration by the leader, but whatever an organisation becomes is not solely the function of the leadership as in the helmsman. It is as much a function of the people around him that work together with him. If you heard that the President of a country has been successful and has run a good government, it is because he has surrounded himself with good people, who are able to deliver on the premise of the administration.

So, if you look at world administrations in history, you’ll find that apart from the leadership, the people that formed the engine room, the decision makers, have to be at the same tempo with the leadership. One of the challenges that I see in the Nigerian nation, and I stand to be corrected, is that many administrations have failed, not only the Buhari administration, but also many administrations have failed in succession.

If you remember 2015, when then the clamour was on by the then APC (All Progressives Congress), to kick out PDP, so that PDP doesn’t ever rule this country again. That presupposes that the PDP administration had failed the people, rightfully so. Having kicked out PDP and now APC has come in, if you look at the indices, it’s not quite much better than it was. To now locate the blame, to now decide where we locate the blame of the administration, we talk about all the key players. I will talk about the President, I will talk about the Vice President, I’ll talk about the ministers, everybody was involved and everybody is still involved.

We all know that the tree doesn’t make a forest and because we have what is supposedly a balance of government, you have the executive arm, you have the legislature, and then you have the judiciary; intrinsically, these three arms are supposed to form government and make government work effectively and deliver. We see the charade and the mess that is going on at these three levels and so, if we’re to be honest, I will not say that it has been a good journey largely.

Less than 12 months from now, another election will hold and the way the country is, the preparations and so on, do you think the political parties have shown some shining lights of excellence?
There is no political party in Nigeria with any shining light of excellence. None, as we speak today. There may be tomorrow, because what makes a political party a shining light? Let us take one very, very critical component, an ideology. There is no political party in Nigeria today that is based on any ideological principle.

I work with a couple of political candidates; they are largely a visionless people. When you talk about nation-building or when you talk about running a country, I hear contestants or candidates of political parties talking about infrastructure, talking about doing stuff about education, talking about a lot of activities, but we all know that activities are not visions. Activities evolve from visions.

Do you know of any political party or any candidate of note at any level at all, whether presidential, whether governorship, whether whatever, who has come out with a clear, concise vision to say that the vision of my administration is XYZ and ABC and that on the basis of that vision these are the things that we are going to do? What we hear them talk about mostly are activities they are going to engage in. And that is why we find that even when those activities are done, that is if they are done, the environment does not experience meaningful growth and development, because houses and bridges don’t make people. They can make people’s lives easier, but they don’t make people.

So, you know, there’s a time there was vision 2020; 2020 has come and gone. So, the visionlessness of leadership of the political parties in question makes it very obvious that there cannot be any shining light.

If you look at most progressive nations of the world, the political parties that vie for positions in those countries have clear ideologies that are driving them. Now, if you look at the Nigerian situation, APC came and said PDP was no good to Nigerians, so Nigerians should come out and vote PDP out. As we speak now, a quantum of the number of the exPDP now form the APC and we are seeing a lot of cross carpeting going on now; some people crossing over. Of course, it is easy for them to cross over, because there is no ideological basis driving anything. So, you can really be anywhere at any point in time.

Unfortunately, if we don’t fix our politics, it would be difficult for us to fix any other thing. To the extent that we have structures, no political parties that I know in Nigeria consciously, intentionally and deliberately, galvanises membership. If you know any, tell me. Because there’s nothing to offer, nobody can say we want you to come and be part of this party, because this is what this party stands for. I don’t know what any political party stands for.

So, there cannot be any shining light, we are not yet there, our maturity as a people, and even the politics that we run, is not mature enough to be that beacon you’re talking about.

A contentious issue defining this build up to 2023 election year is zoning between the North and the South. How has this leadership selection conversation come to revolve around zoning?
Well, this zoning thing, it’s a very tricky concept and I will say it exactly the way I see it and no harm intended. Zoning and power rotation has dominated public discourse and I keep on asking myself, what does it matter where a good president comes from? What does it matter? Whether he’s a northerner, whether he’s a Southerner. With all these zoning things, where has it really landed us? Where has it? I’ve tried to go through the constitution; I don’t see any zoning in the constitution. I think the whole zoning concept came about as a result of the amalgamation.

At the country’s independence, if we didn’t practise federal character, then we may not have the trajectory of a lot of people from the North occupying very sensitive positions, because at that time, the North was supposedly disenfranchised; there was gap between the educational standard. So, the federal character, which was actually introduced by the colonial masters, became a basis to have some inclusiveness, to give everybody some sense of belonging.

But, the federal character, the way it was intended, is it the way that it’s being practised now? If we look at it very objectively, the disenfranchised people have taken the federal character thing to levels that I do not believe the originators intended, because now, it has brought about a lopsided arrangement and nobody is asking questions.

If we look at the issue of zoning as we are discussing it now, I think it’s just mischief; it is just mischief for some part of the country to cleverly hold on to power, because if you look at the history of zoning across the two ruling party divide, it’s as if the two parties have discussed together to say that, ‘oh you know this is the way we are going to go.’

I will not be surprised if in the zoning or no zoning agreements that we have, we still have two prominent candidates from one part of the country. So, the citizens really have no choice but to choose from them. In 2015 and 2019 election, it was between Buhari and Atiku Abubakar. Now, you can do all the Northeast, Northwest, North central, but typically, there was no candidate that was as prominent as those two candidates; whether the party zoned it or not at that time. Now, what is going on is also not likely to give a different outcome to that.

So, I think the zoning thing is just a mischief used to hoodwink the rest of us. For me personally, and we need to go to the point as a people, where we do not think of leadership in terms of ethnic divides or religion divide. But, it goes down also to the ideology that we’re talking about. Because there is no ideology, we have a largely illiterate and uninformed citizenry that can be manipulated and hoodwinked, to go in particular ways all the time. The combination of all of these things makes citizens themselves to take uninformed positions that are not informed by any clarity of knowledge. So, I think we need to outgrow this zoning and non-zoning arrangement.

Now, looking at the political behaviour of the people and politicians, what do you think makes the Nigerian voter incapable of holding the elected representative or leader to account?
It is a combination of so many things. In Nigeria, we have a subservient culture and I’ll explain that. Our culture tends to give too much respect to people that are in perceived higher positions, whether materially or anywhere at all. If you look at it in some parts of the country, whether you are a young man or young old man, once you make money and you control money, you become a factor. In fact, if you are just 35, they will wait for you to arrive before they take decisions, even if they are 60, 70 years old men, because for them, it’s money that dictates, right?

Now, if that factor remains as it is and the culture of the people remain as it is, wherever that rich boy, man, whatever directs them to go, it is where they’re going to go, because the money controls their brain, and they cannot think. So, when people get into political offices in Nigeria, there’s a lot of hero-worshipping by very hypocritical people; we’re patronising people, we have so many wrong mind-sets.

A member of your family becomes a political appointee, and you place a congratulatory advertisement for him in the papers, what’s the rationale behind that? The mind-set that somebody in our family has become a public officer, the mind-set is that it is our time to chop. So, if you look at that, there is a cultural dimension that is not productive. There are many parts of our culture that are not productive that if we must move on as a people, we have to jettison them.

For example, I feel pained sometimes, the average elites in this environment that has a structured business, that is very savvy in what he or she does, that is a recognised authority, in a lot of situations, have just on the average three very productive working days; Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday. What happens on Thursday? There are some functions somewhere, maybe some engagement somewhere, where he is made chairman or something. On Friday, there’s another burial somewhere. On Saturday, the engagement that he attended on Thursday is becoming a wedding. And when you look at these social gatherings, you see people of immense capacity just wasting away in the guise of socials.

In most developed environments, people like that are busy thinking of how they can increase their capacity or how they can come up with new inventions, or how they can come up with new thinking for that area of expertise they have. Here, we waste it away under the guise of enjoyment and whatever. Now, take that away, the hours that are not wasted in those frivolous activities, are wasted in man-hours on the roads, in traffic. So, you find that for a highly productive Nigerian, he is not able to fully actualise the capacity that he has as a result of these things, culture. We have a culture of waste.

Thank God for COVID-19 and other things, but we are just a wasteful people; we waste resources in the names of whatever. There are many components of our culture that does not make us progress, that is also affecting our politics.

I was at a political rally a couple of years back when the people were singing that the PVC they have is a source of material prosperity for them, because with the PVC, they will send their children to school, with the PVC they will buy houses, with the PVC they will enjoy. What they’re actually saying is that with the political affiliation they have, those are the things that they will get and you hear all these songs in political gatherings.

The songs that people sing in political gathering, is a function of the ways their minds work. So, politics in this part of the world is seen as a transaction, is seen as an enterprise, where if I put in money, I will get money, something like that.

Thirdly, you will discover, every year before elections in Nigeria is usually characterised by extreme hardship. I think the political class deliberately orchestrates it that way, so that there will be more poverty, there will be more hardship. By the time they do that, the little inducements that they give, appears to be very, very big and lures the people to do the things that they want them to do. So, the weaponisation of poverty in itself does not make the electorate to think straight and if the political class must continue to hold on to people like that, they have to keep them at the level that they are so that they’re not able to think otherwise.

We are talking about holding people accountable. The average Nigerian, even those that went to school, that are educated know little or nothing about the Nigerian constitution. They don’t understand what executive does, that it is different from judiciary, judiciary is even clear, legislative and executive they don’t understand. So, if somebody turns his tap in his house and the tap is dry, he will say this Buhari’s government they have not given us water. What has the federal government got to do with providing water in your tap, when you have a local council that is there? Now, because the citizens don’t have an understanding of the limits of the power of government, they don’t have an understanding of the expectation that they should have on government. They don’t have an understanding of their own rights as citizens, how can they hold anybody accountable?

So, the ignorance of the citizens, the lack of enlightenment of the citizens, some of the very backward cultural limits that we have, and the weaponisation of poverty, for me, are major reasons why what you’ve talked about is difficult to happen.

Could that be why some eminent personalities called for a moratorium on elections, so that there will be a government of national unity, an interim government to look into the constitution, to reappraise, recalibrate governance? 
A government of national unity, you said? Honestly, I don’t know what that means. How can an interim government be a government of national unity, how? What are the parameters that make it qualify as a government of national unity?

Let us state the truth. The Nigerian situation, to an average man and an average person, is hopeless; there are too many complexities. We cannot keep sweeping things under the carpet. There are some parts of this country that feel hurt about some things that have happened and rightfully so. There are some parts that feel marginalised, rightfully so. Now, you cannot say that a person doesn’t have the right to feel the way he feels. His feeling may be wrong, but he has the right to feel the way he feels.

Before we get to the point of saying we want to set up an interim national government, and what have you. What happens to those fundamental issues that form the divides presently? We think that we will look at those issues and we form a supposed interim government of national unity, and we think it will solve the problem? There’s too much injustice in this country that needs to be addressed. There is a breakdown of the rule of law that needs to be addressed. The situation that we found ourselves now, we just didn’t get there overnight; there’s no smoke without a fire.

So, if we do not face the brutal issues of this country and we swallow our pride as a people to address the issues we need to address, we will just keep postponing the doomsday really and truly. A government of national unity… who qualifies it as a government of national unity?
Whenever people talk about Nigeria, they talk about three major tribes: Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba. It’s a fallacy, because by the time you put the minority tribes in Nigeria together, they are either equal or more than the so-called majority types. And we think that they can be marginalised and nothing will happen? We just behave as if nothing has happened and we go on with business as usual. You know, if people are hurt, if you are members of a family and some people feel uneasy about the family, there is a need for us to, number one, if we hurt them, let us accept that we have hurt them.

Number two, let us find out what we can do to people to make them comfortable, to ease their pain. Number three, let us find out how we can keep them in the fold, what is required to keep you in this family for us to be together as a family. Then number four, there has to be a consideration of everybody, especially with the injustice in this country. Injustice from one class to another, injustice from one tribe to another… we cannot close our eyes to those things and pretend that they don’t exist; it is the ostrich mentality.

I think Nigerians believe in a lot of magic and even the government sometimes believes in magic. How do we think that we just swing a wand of interim government and it will solve all the problems? How long is the interim government going to be? Is that going to address the issues that we need to address for us to have the kind of stability that we want? We’re talking about bandits; we’re talking about kidnapping. Some of these activities happening are actually a way of some people expressing their own grouses and we think that it doesn’t matter. These things matter and we must look at them.

So, I don’t think an interim government will be necessary. What is going to form the basis of the interim government? Anybody that has reason to be in power has one political affiliation or the other; we are a country that has lost objectivity on so many directions. For any country to do this kind of thing they want to do, there has to be a sense of objectivity in doing things, for some people to have some comfort. So, in Nigeria, whenever government does anything, whenever some people come up with anything, there is a suspicious mind-set already, ab initio that we have to suspect this person. We are two suspicious as a people, those are habits, mind-sets that we need to drop if we are going to make any headway in making things happen for the better.

Could this suspicion be as a result of this lack of credibility, the fear that the election is not going to be credible?
Well, in the history of this country, I’m not as old as Nigeria though, but there are facts of history, and there are records. In the history of this country from 1959 to date, only one election can be said to have been credible and that is the 1993 election. Now, every other election has had issues, contentions, going to court. You may say, ‘oh you know they’re just fermenting trouble,’ but for somebody to contend with an election result and to be willing to go to court, he must have his reasons. After all, we have sat down in this country and we’ve witnessed a government that ran one and a half administration before it was declared not to have been valid and the evidence was there that it was not valid, but the government had run from one and a half term or perhaps even finished the two terms, right.

Again, the politicians themselves are not credible; they are saying one thing and they are doing exactly the opposite. So, the people have a right to be suspicious, because there are antecedents that have happened over and over again that makes it logical for them to suspect anything that anybody says. And then, of course, we still have the inter-tribal suspicion; the Yoruba man feels that the Igbo man is this; the Igbo man feels the Yoruba man is this; the Hausa people feels this is this… whatever.

For us to become a better country, let me not say nation, we need to become better individuals. Even family people suspect themselves. A brother is suspecting a sister; if he gives his sister N10,000, she will pocket N5,000 out of it and you don’t know what she will do with the money, how much more on the larger scale. So, whatever is causing those suspicions, if we begin to embrace fairness and equity, for example, if you begin to embrace transparency as a core value of the way in which we do our things, then this suspicion begins to die down.

As a stakeholder in the democratic process, what essential qualities do you expect or should voters expect from prospective leaders? 
As Nigerians, we don’t exist in a vacuum. Although sometimes, when I look at the way we do things, I think maybe we feel that we are actually in another planet, we are not part of the rest of the world. Because, there are matters of major concern to the world that we are not even discussing this country; issues of global warming, for example. You will notice that in the last five years, there has been more flooding in Nigeria than has ever been recorded; even areas that didn’t use to experience any flooding before. There’s deforestation, people are cutting trees all over, erosion. All of these things are fall out of the climate change that the whole world is clamouring about. We’ve not even started that conversation talk less of doing anything about it.

So, going back to this question, in the world that we live today, there are fundamental metrics of good governance and the simple question we need to ask ourselves is, how much of those do we possess or do our leaders posses? The United Nations, for example, measures good governance by eight basic metrics. The first is accountability, the second is transparency, the third is responsiveness, the fourth is equity and inclusiveness, the fifth is effectiveness and efficiency, the six is rule of law, the seventh is participation, and the eight is consensus oriented.

Now, when the world assesses governments of nations and their leaders, the simple question they will be asking is, these leaders that are in position of trust, how comfortable are they? How transparent are they? How responsive are they? How equitable are they in terms of fairness and justice? How do they administer themselves? How effective and efficient are they? Because when you sit on top of an institution, ultimately there is no way that your persona will not influence what goes on in the institution.

I remember when Buhari was sworn in as president in the first couple of months, everybody sat up, because of the antecedents that they had. What is the level of observance or adherence to the rule of law by those in leadership? How participatory is the government and how consensus oriented it is? So, when you ask the questions of what we expect of good leaders, these are the basic things that we need to look at. Accountability is a key requirement for government.

Now, like I said before, when citizens don’t even know what the responsibilities of government are, how are they going to hold the accountable, because somebody comes to you, makes promises, goes away; he does not do anything, all the promises are not fulfilled and he comes back 4years after to come and say the same thing and you are not asking him any question? Something obviously is wrong with you.

So, for me, those eight parameters are the parameters that we should look at. If you look at transparency, a good leader should be transparent in dealings. Everything in Nigeria is hush-hush. Mostly, things that people hear are from the grapevine. When government does not communicate, you give room for people to begin to cook up all things by themselves. Responsiveness has a lot to do with planning, because when you do not plan well, you cannot respond.

A lot of what we have in Nigeria is reactiveness. You see a lot of fire brigade, sometimes just wait till a problem becomes crisis and then you begin to run around; you begin to run about like headless chickens. But, if there’s some measure of good planning, you could have anticipated that some of these things may happen. So, if you don’t plan well, you cannot be responsive. And then, even when the unexpected happens, how do you respond to it? 
Sometimes when things happen in Nigeria and you see leaders busy with other things, you really wonder whether the lives of the people mean anything. A crisis that just happened, lots of lives have been lost and there’s another celebration going on in another part of the country and you are saying people are suspicious? Obviously, the only message that those people can get is that, although we are mourning here, our mourning doesn’t matter to our leaders, because they are going ahead, doing some other things. There are disasters that happen, there are very painful things that happen, and you just don’t get any response. We think people forget, people don’t forget.

Now in terms of responsiveness on the governance level, what kind of preparedness do we have?  There are some things that happened in some parts of the world that must never happen here. If they happen here, we are done for, because we are not even prepared for them.

How equitable are you? If you are a leader and you believe in equity, you take each person on his strength and you do the best that you can for each person. Whenever anybody begins to feel cheated, begins to feel underplayed, begin to feel marginalised, something is wrong somewhere. It means that there’s a feeling that ‘I’m not deserving what I deserve, I’m not getting what I deserve,’ and it all starts from the heart.

So, how fair and how just are we as leaders? Most people when they get to positions in Nigeria, although Nigerians have voted for them, it’s not unusual. We’ve had situations in Nigeria where people become governors and he says that people in this local council didn’t vote for me, so forget about them; all that noise they’re making forget about it. They will deprive them of roads, they will deprive them of infrastructure, and they will deprive them of any attention. Just like it is that some Presidents also come and become President and say that, ‘well, people from this part of the country did not vote for me. So, forget about them, withhold their allocation,’ it’s what we’ve seen happen. If that happens and people now feel uneasy, they have a good reason to.

People forget that once they get into those positions, they have become for the people; you are no longer a party person, you are now a national person. Whether people voted for you or no, they deserve to be treated right.

And then, effectiveness and efficiency of governance, how are we faring? The driver of any government is well functioning public institutions. Most of our public institutions are not well functioning. They are deficient in very many ways, and we cannot be hoping to jump to advancement when those basic things are not in place. And then what kind of consensus orientation do we have in ensuring that whatever decisions we take are good for everybody? It’s not that it doesn’t matter what these people do; we just take the decisions.

We are still struggling with gender issues, participation of women in politics. Thankfully to God, that is changing, because some women, especially in private sector, have been able to prove that they have better stuff to deliver, even than their men counterparts. But who now says that a woman in some sensitive position in government will not do well?

Let us take a general rating of some of the women that we’ve had in leadership position in Nigeria, some of them did very well. So, what stops them from being President? If you have a governor who feels that women are trash and they are not important, no matter what anybody tells him, he’s going to stick to his guns and do whatever he wants to do. So, in terms of looking at the features or the attributes of leadership, let us just walk a few steps backwards and look at what makes good governance and then we can begin to ask ourselves, because what you don’t have, you can’t give.

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