-Says NASS, States’ Houses Of Assembly Have Performed Below Par
-Wants Bicameral Legislature Scrapped
HRM (AVM) Lucky Ochuko Ararile (rtd.), Ovie, Umiaghwa-Abraka Kingdom, Avwaeke 1, is one of the prominent traditional rulers from the south-south who has consistently stood out for the truth. Once again, he bared his mind during a media chat with selected journalists from the area. His response to questions bordering on Nigeria’s 57th independence celebration, national and local issues make this interview a must read for everyone. He is of the opinion that the issue of bicameral legislature must be looked into, as he calls for the merging of the Senate AND House of Representatives, also scoring NASS and the several states’ Houses of Assembly as performing below par.
Nigeria is 57, how will you assess the journey so far?
It has been tough and challenging. We are not where we expect to be. But all the same, Nigerians are very hopeful people. We are hoping for the best that things will improve, hoping that we get things right and our bearings right; so that in earnest, we start the journey to our destiny.
Some have praised Buhari over his fight against corruption, while others have blamed him for the growing division in the country. What is your take on that?
The corruption fight is a good fight and a necessary one. This is what we ought to have been doing. Though this fight has been ongoing, he just gave it a new momentum and certain immediacy; otherwise it is an existing fight. The structures he inherited are still the same structures that are being used to fight the war. We have achieved some successes, though limited, which is probably because of the ill-health of the president; the soul is willing but the body is weak. He has not given it the necessary attention and vigor we expected he would give to the fight. Overall, I think we are making some progress and we are in the right direction. I think structures and institutions need to be put in place. We thought by now special courts would have been established although it has just been muted. But, by now we thought it would have been operational. Also, I think other anti-corruption agencies like ICPC are not adequately empowered and encouraged. Consequently, for reasons best known to them, they have not carried out their functions effectively. So all told, a country is always an ongoing project and we hope that as we go along he will improve the institutions. The institutions should first learn from their own experience and improve, that is our hope.
What do you make of Biafra’s agitations?
Well, I think it is within their rights. It is even guaranteed by the United Nations Charter on human and people’s rights. They are not the only groups agitating in Nigeria, neither are they the first. Before IPOB we had MASSOB. So, why did they transform to IPOB? So, we certainly are not doing things right. I don’t think the country is fair enough; people are not given the sense of equity. People feel alienated. Some call it marginalization. But, what all that means is that we do not have a sense of buying in into the Nigerian project. And if we do not do so, we will certainly have a lot of centrifugal forces that will come to play and destabilize the polity. So, they are within their rights as far as I am concerned. I am told they have been banned. But that is not the solution to the problem because from MASSOB it became IPOB and maybe next time it will be named differently. They keep changing the name, but continue with the struggle. So, banning is not the solution. The key or underlining issues must be addressed. Their sense of alienation and belief in the unfairness of the Nigerian system must be addressed. I am not just talking about the South East. The same thing must be done to the Niger Delta and the North East. The core reasons for the problems of the northeast as have been found out by research is majorly poverty. Then, there is this sense of alienation and then the handling of the Boko Haram sect, especially the killing of their leader, Mohammed Yusuf. That accentuated the problems in the north. So, in talking about Nigeria’s unity, everybody must be carried along and we must have a certain sense of proportion and lack of arrogance. You cannot talk about Nigeria’s unity and proclaim that it is not negotiable. It is negotiable. The United States are still talking about unity 200 years down the line. The British are still talking about unity. The same thing is going on with the European Union. They are sad that Britain had voted to exit the European Union and they are trying to make sure that other people do not follow suit. So, you must carry people along, it is not a question of a declaration. You cannot force unity on anybody. The Federal Government must address the political issues, economical issues, social issues and otherwise, to carry everybody along. Then, we can have peace. Unity will not be an issue, it will be assumed.
Is the Python Dance by the military to arrest the agitations for secession a good approach? They plan to do same in the South-South and North-East. Is that necessary?
Well, I don’t know on what information the military is working on. But, all I know is that they can do all the dances they want and not get the expected result if the key issues are not addressed. This will amount to us going nowhere. They will keep changing the dance steps and the stage of where they do the dances. But, the issues will still be there. At the end of the day we will still come back to address those issues.
Comparing your time in the military and now, what differences have you observed?
Well, I don’t know if I have the necessary information to do that comparison. I just see them just like you. It will be unfair for me to make comparison because times have changed. The resources and even the technology of my time were totally different. So, those static analyses will not take us anywhere. But, the fact is that they have a constitutional responsibility to defend the country against external aggression. Regrettably, they have been employed in duties not totally alien to their constitutional responsibilities, but those ancillary duties have become their primary duties. In other words, they have taken over the job of the Nigerian Police which is what I call “civilianizing the military”. You see them at checkpoints collecting bribes just like the police. It saddens me. My take on that is that gradually the military should be disengaged from doing police duties. They should focus on their constitutional responsibilities. If the police are inadequately manned then they should increase the manpower to do their job and not to take someone to do somebody else’s job. That is why we have a lot of confusion and no synergy in terms of coordination which results in competition. You see a lot of continuous creation of security agencies. If the police are not doing their job, why not make them do their job rather than create another arm like the EFCC which is still policing. The police are not doing their job, now we have the National Defense Corps struggling to do police duties, doing military’s job and carrying out the navy’s assignment. Now, I heard that there is equally the process of bringing the Peace Corps and so next time we are going to also have the Boys’ Scout involved. So there’s confusion in the whole thing and there’s no layered response. Everybody has his own legal responsibility either by law or the constitution but everybody right now is doing everybody else’s job. That is why there is inefficiency and a lack of effectiveness because you cannot hold anybody responsible.
Are we progressing in our democracy?
In terms of input and output, we don’t get value for money. In the various legislative houses (Senate, House of Representatives and Houses of Assembly in the states) are performing below par which is a cause for worry. Whether indeed the price we are paying for democracy is worth it, or are we getting the value for our money? That is why this issue of restructuring must be addressed. It is not a question of creating states or turning zones into regions, or going back to regional governments. There are lots of other key fundamental changes that have to be applied. One of such is the constitution. A lot of things that are embedded in the constitution that are inimical to development must be looked into. Bicameral legislature at the federal level should be looked at. The Senegalese just did away with their Senate. I think we may consider doing that. Because I think the House of Representatives will serve us just as well, if not better. Local government autonomy is the right way to go. We need state police. State police might not have the same powers as federal police. In the United States, for example, we have County Police, but they have specific duties. There are federal crimes where someone for example commits murder in a state and runs to another state, it becomes an issue for the FBI. So, we can copy this. After all, the 1999 constitution, as amended, is a copy of the American constitution. If we see a system that works elsewhere we can also copy it. There are structural issues to be addressed. I know work has been done by the various conferences and the last one, the National dialogue that was convened by President Jonathan. The reports are there. It bothers me when I see them go round the country seeking people’s opinion on restructuring. Some of these issues have been discussed extensively. It is just to bring out these documents and bring out the process of implementing them. All these rigmarole of going round does not serve any purpose. It is a waste of time and money. Our country should be in such a hurry and running, not crawling the way we are doing now. There is no luxury for time wastage. If you look at all the Human Development Index (HDI), it is as if we have been at war from the beginning. If it is tabulated from that of the United Nations, all the categories we fall into are categories of people at war. We have the same results with Somalia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Afghanistan. So, it is as if we are fighting a war that has not been declared. We are actually at war.
If we are restructuring, what system of government do you think would be best?
Someone once said: “Of forms of government, let the fools contend.” It is not the form; it is not actually the type. Any type you mention, there is a country operating it and they are not having the crisis that we have now. So, why are we operating the American concept, the presidential system, and yet they are not having this type of problem. So, it must show you that probably we inherited the name, but, not the spirit and the practice. So, for me any system will do. But, the basis of that system should be fairness, equity and justice.
How would you score the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari?
He has done well given the status of his health. Probably because of that, our expectations have not been met. There is deficit in performance. Sometimes, one has the impression that the country is on autopilot. He should do more and delegate more. This is a country of 180,000,000 people. He should try to go beyond his familiar surroundings in picking people he works with. I don’t want to use the word nepotism. But, he needs to trust all Nigerians. It is better to give a job to a person that is not close to you because it is easier to get such fired when he does not function well. He has already operated at the highest level. This is his second time as Head of State. So, I suppose he knows Nigerians well and so he should trust us more, give us responsibilities and whoever under- performs should be dealt with.
Do you think that the Urhobo Nation being the fifth largest ethnic group in Nigeria is getting its fair share of the national cake?
I have been asked that question severally and I think I mentioned the word too that we are marginalized. That is why it is necessary to restructure and the question is who is not marginalized in the country? President Jonathan came in from Otuoke. Is Otuoke better off now? Now, they would be shouting marginalization, wouldn’t they? They shouted marginalization and they were given the presidency and are now back to the marginalized status. So, let us put these structures and institutions that will guarantee the achievement of our aspirations. We are all marginalized. We can start from here to stop the marginalization of ourselves.
How long have you been on the throne and how have you fared so far?
I have been on the throne for 5 years now. Like other things in Nigeria as regard leadership, it is a challenge. For the traditional institution, it is even more so, because, you are given responsibility without authority and resources. So, it is not like you are given a job with resources to work with, nor specific responsibilities. No, it is not like that. It is just like an open cheque. You have to be innovative and creative.
What do you have to say about the insecurity situation in the country and how can it be addressed?
Simple! Every security agency, especially the police should be made to work. They should be given the resources to work. Procedures must be followed. I will give you an example. If someone is kidnapped in Warri now, you have a DPO in charge of that area. You will be amazed that before he can take action, he will have to wait for instruction from above. Our police are not professional enough. Why are police more effective in other climes than here? It is because of the way they operate and are funded. Here, in almost every police station you go to, you will have to buy biro, pencil and fuel in their vehicle before anything is done. So, how can they be effective? The manpower issues and the material needs of the police therefore must be addressed. The relationship with sister security agencies have to be improved because there is always this inter-agency rivalry which is not peculiar to Nigeria. The Nigerian circumstances escalate it. These are operational issues as well as structural issues that we have to be looked at. It is not rocket science. Other countries less endowed like Benin Republic here, for instance, have a more effective policing system than ours. So, this is what we must do while remembering that the principal thing is to have empathy. That this is happening to Mr. A, it can happen to me.
Are you satisfied with the state of things in Ethiope East Local Government and what is your call to whoever emerges the winner of the L.G.A elections?
Here in Umiaghwa, every citizen has the right to join any political party. It is a thing of choice; they all are my subjects. I will encourage the parties, not individuals, to, in the process of selecting candidates, not to go for people who are ordinarily jobless and whose only job they ever have done is politics. They must look for people who have the intellect and educational qualification, that have worked with some experience and have resources they can fall back on or to, should there be a change. But if that is the only thing the person knows, leaving it is almost impossible, it is not a choice he has and he would rather die there than leave. But, as a politician, when you have an alternative and you are already established, the issue of desperation dies. For example, you are a lawyer and have your own firm that can take care of your family; you will not be too desperate about elections. So, the political parties have a big role to play and specifically in the selection of their candidates. I think that is where I will appeal to all Deltans to identify these people. We know these people. When you allow somebody you know that will not deliver, then don’t expect a miracle.
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