Political-Economist and former Presidential Aspirant, Professor Pat Utomi, on Monday stepped down for Mr Peter Obi, who went on to emerge as the presidential candidate of the Labour Party, LP, unopposed in Asaba, Delta State.
Obi, a former governor of Anambra State and 2019 vice presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, left the PDP last Wednesday, joined the LP on Friday and won the ticket on Monday. In this engaging interview, Professor Utomi spoke on the state of the nation and why he stepped down for Obi among others.
Why did you step down for Mr Peter Obi?
We have to look at the bigger picture. Our country is in a desperate situation. Nigeria is on the verge of collapse. From the point of view of finance, Nigeria is purely bankrupt. States are not paying salaries. Ostensibly, we have spent over 400 billion on so-called subsidies this year and very few people are willing to lend to Nigeria. The corruption in the system is frightening that every part of that so-called subsidy is corrupt. We don’t have the political courage to do what should be done so we are rotten in that territory. And as a country, we are economically crippled.
When we come to security, more people are killed in Nigeria every day than anywhere in the world. So Nigeria is in a rolling civil war even though it pretends that it’s not in a war.
In terms of moral order, Nigeria has collapsed. The Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, has been on strike for months and students are out of the universities. All the money these lecturers are asking for to fix the system is a small fraction of what one man stole.
If you treat issues as ‘business as usual’ and make party conventions where they exchange dollars, you are essentially inviting a bloody revolution.
In other words, the political class is inviting a bloody revolution. They are not smart at all. They can’t even see that if things continued like this that they would be slaughtered in the streets of Nigeria.
So, seeing all these problems and then thinking about me or my ego is madness. My entire life in politics has never been about me, it has always been about how to better the common good of all. I don’t know about others, but I am probably the only one who has put everything into politics and probably lost so much but I don’t care because history is the judge that matters. We did everything to bring the All Progressives Congress, APC, to power but the night after the election, they considered us dangerous because we can ask questions. That was the last day I heard from President Muhammadu Buhari’s Administration. No government has ever excluded me from even listening to my ideas in Nigeria’s history more than Buhari’s government. None!
It shows how afraid they are of the truth. See what they have done to Nigeria. We fought for an anti-corruption government but ended up with the most corrupt government in Nigeria’s history.
So, when you have that level of crisis, you need to make desperate choices. The first choice before us is how to liberate Nigeria from Nigerian politicians. The second is how to save Nigerians from the dollarisation of their politics. These are what we need to stop.
In stopping this, you have to accept the idea of a man who said, ‘sorry I am not going to use Dollars to go to party primaries.’ So, my recognising of Peter Obi was because of the statement he made. And that is a worthy statement to make.
I have been in this struggle for nearly 50 years, next year it will be 50 years since I have been organizing students to topple the student union. I have struggled for 50 years to make Nigeria a better country and I am not complaining that I lost continually but I am more worried that despite my efforts, Nigeria is about to go under. So what is bigger than one more effort if that would help turn Nigeria around?
Peter is younger than I and he would have more energy to do more of these things than me. Secondly, Peter respects my opinion. He comes to me, and calls on me even when he was the governor of Anambra State. I thank God I can pay my bills, and have a roof over my head, which is the most important thing about life.
Nigerian politicians are yet to discover the beauty of a simple life. Politicians are not supposed to be rich men. They are supposed to be people who humbly give up themselves to advance the common good. Ghanaian highlife musician Ben Brako made this immortal statement: “If you see a country where their politicians are richer than their businessmen, you see a country which is about to collapse.”
Nigeria is a classic example of a country where its politicians are richer than their businessmen. Businessmen have to go cap-in-hand with the politicians so that their businesses can continue to exist. That is a country that wants to collapse and we want to pull out our country from that brink.
For me, if Nigeria is to have any hope of progress the starting point is to stop the APC and Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, from being relevant in Nigerians’ lives.
So, I felt we should pull energy to achieve the same goal rather than forcing it. I have invested over three years of my life trying to proclaim the Labour Party and make it a platform for workers on how Nigeria is governed. Peter Obi has been able to catch the attention of young people. So I choose to take on the position of the leader of the party. Like I said in Asaba, I chose to become the Group Managing Director and Peter is the Managing Director, MD, because he is younger than me, he has more energy and in my role as GMD, my job is to build the big tent to get the other parties to join us so we can redeem our country through that.
Some still believe the forthcoming election is a two-horse race between APC and PDP because they have structures. Do you think LP has the structure to match them at the polls?
For me, I don’t call them two parties. I refer to them as one party. They are two wings of one party. We have a single-party state structure in Nigeria. Some of their members can be in APC in the morning, PDP in the afternoon, and back to the APC in the evening. The movement is very fluid.
The single-party structure has managed Nigeria to the grave. Look at power. In 22 years, we are worse now than we were in 1999. In Cote d’Ivoire, Alassane Quattara has fixed the problem, why were these people unable to do something for 22years? It is because there is a fundamental character flop in the DNA of the PDP and APC.
God said in the scripture, ‘I set before you life and death, choose life that you may live.’ It is clear that what these two parties have offered us is death. What is being said to Nigerians is to choose the life that you may live. That is a fundamental philosophical issue. That is the reason that I pursued the labour movement. The Labour movement has a big structure covering workers across the country in the Nigeria Labour Congress, NUC; Trade Union Congress, TUC, etc. With the labour party fully in, we have a national structure.
Secondly, we have an initiative called the 40 million ballots initiative. The idea of the initiative is to invite 40 million new voters. If we succeed in registering 20 to 30 million new voters, and these people (riggers) manage to take money from the government treasury to give them, if there are 30 million new voters, they won’t find enough money to give these new voters.
How do you fancy the chances of Peter Obi contesting against Atiku Abubakar of the PDP?
If we want to rebuild Nigeria, I fancy his chances very much from many perspectives. First, he articulates the right issues, shows clarity of thinking, shows the depth of concern, and knowledge in terms of service. Secondly, he has captured the imagination of young people who constitute the majority of the population of Nigeria. Also, his fairness and decency in this process are not only superior to all the PDP contestants, he also happens to come from the part of this country that deserves a first shot at the presidency because it has been shut out for so long. He is Igbo and if fairness is to exist, Nigeria needs a president who is Igbo.
What is your message to Nigerians as we approach the elections?
Nigerian politics have been fought for many years as do-or-die but the 2023 election is die-or-live.
Do-or-die is about those who want power, while die-or-live is about the people whose power has been suppressed and oppressed. Nigerians must seek to live and put everything into this. Every Nigerian must register to vote; they have a moral obligation to do that. If Nigerians can vote this way I know that the banditry of APC and PDP would come to an end.
In the last election, we saw voters’ apathy partly attributed to violence. What are the plans to stop it from recurring?
If you are desirous, to be honest, it is likely to be much worse not just because of politicians using soldiers and thugs to do what they did last time, this time around violence has spread everywhere. The streets are violent. There are 12 million small arms in the streets. 21 years ago, an American called Robert Kaplan wrote a book which predicted this. The book was titled: “The Coming Anarchy.”
The time of ‘The Coming Anarchy’ is here with us. So, the elections next year are already under threat from this looming anarchy. The State has lost the monopoly of the use of violence and that is a more frightening state we are getting to in 2023. Can we reclaim the Nigerian State? Can the Nigerian state return from where it is right now? Some northern states are ungoverned. You can’t go from Abuja to Kaduna.
I made a call some weeks ago before Afe Babalola did. I didn’t think that the election was going to be sensible, that what we probably need is an interim government for a short period, dissolve the Buhari government now don’t even wait till 2023. It is of no use anymore to Nigerians. Put an interim government in place, begin a review of the Nigerian constitution then based on the input and plebiscite have a new government in place next year or the year after.
I said that before Chief Afe Babalola’s suggestion because of the realities I saw. However, we will continue building the alternative party because if you don’t have it in place and you are waiting to have what Chief Ayo Adebanjo keeps saying that there should be no election without restructuring, you will be waiting and they will just do anything they like and cite any funny constitution that gives them the authority to do what they have done.
So, we are preparing to challenge them on their own terms and I am suggesting that this is a better way to go. We are preparing to beat them in their games.
I hope that to avoid the violence that could erupt countrywide in 2023, we should think more cleverly about what to do. My ideal position is that we retire Buhari to Daura, let’s forget the constitution, the 1999 constitution is a fraud. Legally, the Supreme Court should have dismissed it so that we can start afresh. It’s being used as an excuse for encouraging the banditry that is going on now in the name of the government.
You fought seriously to see President Buhari emerge as president obviously you saw something wrong in former President Goodluck Jonathan. How do you feel now?
I have always tried to prove that I am not an iconoclast. I try very hard to put forward views that are forward-looking. I am both incorporated and at the same time retain my clarity. Because of that pragmatism that I struggled with, it has been painful work. When General Olusegun Obasanjo wanted to run in 1999, he sent for me as the head of his policy team. We fought every day. My fight with him started from when Obasanjo was head of state in the 1970s. I came back, I was appointed in President Shehu Shagari’s government, before we could say jack, there was a coup d’etat, and the Army created many problems. I joined in the fight against military rule, led the struggle against June 12, and we were faced with a major strategic dilemma. What should we do? Our group of concerned professionals met in my office at Idowu Tailor, some said we should allow the traditional politicians to take over, while some said we should go back to our businesses. We later went back to our businesses but we found out that we made a mistake, an error of judgement. If all of us had gone with Donald Duke, who contested and won the election as Cross River State governor, maybe Nigeria would not have been this way.
So, I take personal responsibility for that error of judgement. Now we have come all the way to a point where delegates are going to conventions and carrying truckloads of Dollars to go home at a time people can’t eat one decent meal in a day. Abomination has been committed in our land and we need atonement. Now I feel like Biblical Jonah. Some of us have been running away from speaking the truth, we will be vomited from the belly of that fish. We must speak and shout the truth to the people of this country. If we don’t, very soon, the only people who can be elected in Nigeria would-be drug dealers, 419ers or people who have stolen government money. At that time the Nigerian state would be a full criminal enterprise and if the Nigerian state become a full criminal enterprise, one day you will be sleeping and you will hear that one big power have landed in Abuja and taken your head of state to go and put him on trial as they did to Manuel Noriega of Panama. It will happen in this country the way we are going because it seems that almost all our politicians are criminals.