BEVERLY HILLS, May 09, (THEWILL) – Lawyer and marketing communications consultant, Harry Audu, speaks on the worsening insecurity in the country, the prospects of the 2023 general elections and other matters in this interview with UKANDI ODEY. Excerpts:
Nigeria is facing many challenges that are threatening its corporate existence. What do you think is the way forward for this country?
I am of the view that the Nigerian political elite, especially in the class of 1999, and the ‘children’ they have given birth to in the political space have actually constituted themselves into a bunch of low grade, backward, narrow-thinking persons and groups. I am speaking of a number of them who have been at the level of leadership as governors, national or state legislators, even ministers. The entire notion of enlightened self-interest seems to have affected the choices they have made, leading to the failure of our state. And because of this humongous failure, we have continued to experience the results which have manifested in insecurity: insurgency, banditry, kidnaping, armed robbery, etc.
If you look at it really, it begs the question: What has happened to our common wealth in the last 20 years or so? The truth is that the persons vested with the responsibility of managing our common wealth have failed to orchestrate or institute or administer a coherent strategy to properly manage our collective wealth as the constitution provides. So, if you ask me, we are in a state of anomie as a country. And, to me, it speaks to these failings by political actors who have had a good fortune to lead us. And at every level you find that this political class has failed; and failed us very badly.
A lot of people think that the 2023 general elections are already threatened by this growing turmoil in the system. Do you see the 2023 elections being held as scheduled?
I am old enough to tell you that when it comes to our political gladiators, every elections cycle becomes further opportunity for prognostication about how elections will be undermined or tear the country down. But we have been able to see that they are always able to rally round and ensure that every election delivers what they want; they would be able to rig or out-rig one another; the flare up you hear in the political space and all the incendiary language is just all about people looking for political relevance. I want to go as far as to suggest that this rhetoric about the 2023 elections sign-posting a collapse of the sovereign state is exaggerated. Rather, I want to take a step backward and insist that it is the very same diversionary trick of the political elite to take our attention away from their failings and what actually are our existential threats.
You will agree with me that we are actually retrogressing. What is the state of public infrastructures and utilities in the country. What is the state of health care provision? What is the state of education? The public education system is all but collapsed. Where is the justice delivery system? As we speak, the Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria is on extended strike.
The other day I read that their leadership had to walk out when the Minister of Labour kept them waiting for two hours. Is that leadership? So, when you look at it, these political elites who orchestrate the conversation about the collapse of the country in 2023 are the same people who are holding the reins of power now either directly or indirectly. And, rather than have a conversation about existential threats, they are projecting into future elections that we know have always been manipulated by their types to give them predetermined results. As a Nigerian, I would rather that we hold them to account for what they are failing to do now. The conversation should be about the now. As we discuss 2023, which is very important, my opinion is that the civil society must rise to the occasion and hold especially those of them with elected and appointive offices to deliver on their promises, especially given the fact that if you look around us, it is like “this house is falling.”
Looking at the national security architecture and the strategic security failings in recent times, the general impression is that the Muhammadu Buhari Administration has failed Nigeria. What is your impression? Do you see Nigeria recovering or rising again from Buhari’s misrule?
I am thoroughly and terribly worried about the type of leadership responses we are receiving and we have been receiving, perhaps for the better part of President Muhammadu Buhari’s second tenure. A lot of people who have been in defence of this government would argue that the first tenure was required for stability. Now, what has happened is that in the second tenure, instability has more than tripled. Therefore, I am concerned that in a particular era of the Buhari administration, we are worried about instituting a legacy of good governance, of forging and providing the welfare and protection of the citizenry that is a constitutional provision that he swore to uphold. But what is seen instead is the metastasising of crises; and pari-passu, we are seeing a seeming total absence of coherent government response to it. Yet, we hear from the Police or the chief of Army Staff from time to time different claims about security performance and readiness to respond to challenges.
Even with their verbalising, such as “we will get to the root of the matter”, “we will deal with the situation”, et cetera, in spite of all these promises, what is happening in reality to all Nigerians in different parts of the country, the security architecture you made reference to has, in all intents and purposes, failed us.
So, if the President of the country, a retired war-time major general, right under his watch, we are seeing our security or law enforcement apparatus busting at the seams, then, surely, he must stand and look himself in the mirror there in Aso Rock and ask himself ‘what am I doing wrong?’
Do you agree that this Buhari led APC government is bedeviled nepotism and massive corruption?
I do not have evidence of corruption against the government and its officials. But, I have, together with many patriots, insisted that in a multi-ethnic, multi-religious country like Nigeria and given the stage of our democratic experience, leadership at different levels must ensure that the different segments of the country have a sense of belonging and representation; that is, we must make sure we have a democratization of the different offices.
I dare to say – and I stand to be contradicted – that there is no part of this country that you will not find a competent soldier, a competent policeman or a competent whatever. So, every part of the country can certainly give its best when it comes to filling vacant positions in governance in this country. I don’t see the reason, as I have argued with many compatriots, why certain sections cannot be represented.
Come to think of it, many of these ruling APC stalwarts had accused the PDP and the previous government of the same problem. And see it now; barely six years later, rather than cure that malady, the APC and its apparatchiks have actually constituted themselves into a defense wall for the perpetration of the same nepotistic tendencies that they complained about earlier on. It speaks of double standards; it speaks of hypocrisy.
For me as a Nigerian, my argument will always be that when the chips are down, let us hold him down to account, not based on his tribe, but based on his performance. But, so far, what we have seen is that some of these appointments, no matter how well intentioned they are, have failed the nepotistic test, and have failed in terms of performance and competence.
Given the trending story of Isa Pantami, his links with terrorism, and the Presidency rising to his defense, do you see the Buhari government as having integrity and candour?
In answer, let us split the question into two. The first is the Isa Pantami angle. Of course, I have read Mallam Garba’s (Shehu) reaction to the Pantami story. I have also been fortunate to preview, in the period between 2007-2012 some materials associated with Isa Pantami’s attitude to the crises in Plateau state as at that time. The late senator GNS Pwajok was holding appointment in the Jonah Jang administration. My relationship with him privileged me to access some materials that demonstrated to me the type of person Pantami was. So, even with his appointment as the DG of NITDA, I had my reservations. Of course, you saw what played out when he went to the Senate for confirmation; the same thing repeated itself when he was appointed minister.
As I think and reflect about it, I’m wondering now, should I have filed a petition against him based on what I knew. But I am not a member of the APC or PDP. As an ordinary Nigerian, I’m a member of the Peoples Redemption Party; so I should have filed a petition. To that extent, I blame myself for that. As far as Pantami’s antecedents are concerned, what people are seeing in the public domain today, some of us have already known as far back as 2009-2012. Many people may not remember, but I was part of the delegation to the International Criminal Court West Africa Regional meeting in Accra where the Plateau issue came to the fore. With the amount of materials we had, we were able to counter some of the arguments and sensationally propagandistic materials that were orchestrated to the International Criminal Court about the issues in Plateau. So, I know a lot about this man even before now. It is a shock that the security agencies, the Presidency itself that nominated him, could overlook all of these knowing our situation as a country.
That being said, where is the integrity of government when, we give you the benefit of the doubt, and you fail to see the reputational damage that this kind of matter does to the government; two, the nation; and three, our international relationship. Even in the face of these his damaging credentials, his claims, preachment and associations and the people he admires out there in the world of terrorism, the government cannot put its foot down and ask for his resignation. If up to his moment Isa Pantami has not resigned, it speaks to his character disposition.