Chief Chekwas Okorie is the national chairman, United Progressive Party (UPP). In this interview with PATRICK ANDREW, he says only those with soiled hands have issues with the manner the President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration handled the fight against corruption in his first tenure. He also speaks on sundry issues.
Would you say the first four years of this administration have impacted positively on the lives of Nigerians?
The APC-led administration in the last four years has performed tremendously well.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has been given a free hand by the federal government to prosecute those suspected to be corrupt. There has been great deal of work in the fight against corruption notwithstanding the constraints with the judiciary.
High-profile cases were handled by the EFCC under this administration and people, hitherto, thought impossible to arrest and prosecute were brought in to face the law.
Besides, despite low revenue earnings, the country was able to come out of recession faster than anybody had anticipated and so growth has resumed though at a very slow pace.
The president has given a general freedom of expression that was not there before. This president has not reacted with high-handedness on scathing criticisms that he was associated with when he was military head of state.
So, the media have relatively fared very well in terms of having the freedom to do their job; and the citizens have expressed themselves more freely than before.
However, I can also tell you that the major setback was his ill health which haunted him for most part of his first tenure resulting in low productivity on his part and low supervision. It also resulted in him being out of the country for a very long time.
In fact, he spent almost one hundred days in one fell swoop and that definitely affected service delivery and he was generally touted Baba go-slow as a result. But within the period he regained his health and was back on steam, a lot of activities picked up.
Infrastructure development in Nigeria has never been so pronounced. In fact, tremendous amount of money has been invested in capital projects which have impacted on the national economy.
One of the most important things that the president has done well is not embarking on new white elephant projects, but rather trying to complete projects that were ongoing before his administration came on board; projects that would impact on the lives of Nigerians and the indeed the economy. These include the major highways that are being reconstructed throughout the country; the second Niger Bridge that had been a political issue has become a reality and there is tremendous construction work going on day in day out. These are some of the pluses of the administration.
On the negative side, there is the lingering security challenge. Even though I will agree that Boko Haram has been largely degraded to the extent that they are not occupying any territory or reasonable land space in Nigeria, other forms of crimes have become rampant in most parts of the country.
The issue of banditry, herdsmen, farmers’ clashes, kidnapping in some very disturbing proportion are worrisome and it seems the federal government has not been able to find a solution.
But I must admit that the new Inspector-General of Police (IGP), Mohammed Adamu, has given the police a new image and restored confidence in the Nigeria Police Force (NPF). Besides, he has demonstrated by action that in the absence of funds a leader can still make an impact. I have not seen an improved funding for the police, but I have seen policies of the new leadership of the police that have resulted in the substantial harvest of arrests of criminals and a large cache of ammunition retrieved from them.
I think in the case of the military, the performance has been somewhat dismal to the discomfiture of many Nigerians. In fact, most Nigerians think there is a dire need for the military architecture to be reviewed, especially the heads of the various arms of the military. People desire change that will bring in people with fresh ideas and new vigour.
There is still so much to be done in the areas of job creation, strengthening the economy and in fact in uniting Nigerians and ensuring that every tribe has a sense of belonging in this entity called Nigeria.
There are many more, but these are the key areas I like to touch on.
Some people are of the opinion that the administration’s fight against corruption has been selective. What is your take on that?
Well, the opposition will say that and I am also from an opposition political party. But I can tell you that corruption is not something that will expire overnight.
Somebody must start from somewhere and the administration is just four years and government is a continuum. I think what is to be commended is the effort made. So, should another person come the person will continue with whatever that has been left out.
This is by way of a general statement, but to be more specific I can tell you that our people say that a river can only drown somebody whose head is covered; so, if you don’t go near the river you will not be drowned. The fight against corruption is only targeted at people who had access to government treasury, had access to all sorts of things that belong to our common patrimony and they helped themselves rather generously and they were displaying the ill-gotten wealth to the annoyance and provocation of many Nigerians. So, the government’s fight is taken to those whose hands are soiled.
In fact, if your hands are not soiled you won’t sleep and wake to think that either the EFCC or ICPC will be after you. Those who had helped themselves to public funds must be the ones complaining that the fight is against a particular set of people.
I am glad that in this particular case nobody is adducing religion or sectionalism, instead what they are saying is that people that belong to a certain political party are not being brought to book as against people that belong to other political parties. That one I can confirm.
I am only get worried when issues of religion and ethnicity are brought into play. I hardly feel comfortable because those are quite emotive things that if not well handled can distabilise the country. But if it is the one of some people being brought before the law on the issue of corruption, the question is did the people do what they are being accused of or not?
It is not the question of whether it is lopsided or being partial, rather it is a question of whether the person did it or not and it is the court that decides. This government has not used any other means to bring people to book except the judiciary which is what the law prescribes. So, I don’t know why anybody should complain of high-handedness or lopsided prosecution of corruption cases.
President Buhari started his second term on May 29, a third missionary journey so to speak. What do you think Nigerians should look forward to?
Nigerians would want to see an economic team dedicated and more committed to not just rejigging the economy, but ensuring that it comes alive and impacts positively on the life of the generality of the people.
We would like to see changes in policies in the energy sector and an improvement in the onslaught against insurgency. The increased banditry in Zamfara and Katsina states must be confronted head-long to curtail the high rate of illegal mining activities in these areas.
It amounts to economic sabotage that must not be taken with kid gloves because of its grave implications on the Nigerian economy. So, there should be re-focused onslaught against banditry and all other crimes in the country.
We cannot sleep with our eyes closed because of the spate of kidnappings in major parts of the country; this is highly disturbing and the federal government must bring its full might to bear in tackling this hydra-headed monster.
Besides, President Buhari must review the security architecture, especially the service chiefs, because a situation where one region is denied representation in the security architecture in a multi-ethnic country like Nigeria for four years is worrisome.
The service chiefs have been on the saddle for four years and it is obvious that we need people with fresh ideas, who have the vigour to tackle the resurgence of Boko Haram head-long.
The federal government should do more to create employment because unemployment has provided a ready factor for all sorts of socio-economic vices. When our youth are gainfully engaged, banditry, kidnapping and other criminal activities will drastically reduce.