Ayo Dada of Mataz Arising on Friday, May 20, 2022, sat with Prince Emmanuel Okotie-Ebor for a chat about where Nigeria is today, and whether there is a future for the multi ethnic nations to peacefully co-exist to form a successful country in view of all that has gone on and going on, especially during the present administration led by Mr. Buhari. The erudite son of Itsekiri was able to share his view about the country and her leaders from 1960 to date.
Prince Emmanuel Okotie-Eboh. Emmanuel is the son of Chief Festus Okotie-Eboh, Nigerian first minister of finance . He is also the Chairman of Itsekiri Cultural Renaissance (ICR), a publisher of one of the leading online newspapers in Delta State, Delta Trumpet and also the immediate past Regent of Warri kingdom.
- What was Nigeria like 62 years ago?
Then the politicians and others who lived in that period were not as selfish as the ones we have today. Also those in government then were younger unlike what we have today. Most of them were below 40 years. Some of them did not go to the university unlike what we have today but they were more intelligent and wiser than most leaders that we have today, there was respect. Our leaders back in the day appoint only the best brains to man sensitive positions unlike what we are having today. Today if you want to appoint someone into political position, you will not want to appoint someone who is more intelligent than you because you will want to control him. If you are very intelligent the leaders of today will not want to put you in position of power. They want someone they can control. Also appointment into political position today is like compensation. As long as the person had any relationship with you, it does not matter whether the person is qualified for the position or not. They give it to their cronies.
Look at our schools today, boarding house which used to instill a lot of discipline in our children is no longer functioning properly. Today children don’t have respect for their elders anymore. This is a very sad situation which we need to change.
When we got our independence, all eyes were on us as the most populous black country on earth. Then Nigerians were high flyers in intellectual and educational endeavours, business, international diplomacy, and in military and political leadership. How do I mean? Back in those days, Nigeria provided leadership and enormous support to the United Nations peacekeeping missions in Congo and other countries. In the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, you can see that Nigeria’s influence in the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries was so monumental that it rose to the leadership for decades. The country’s economic muscle made it more politically relevant in Africa and by the mid-1980s, its voice was always sought on resolution of intra-state conflicts. The African Union and Economic Community of West African States regarded the country as their livewire – and to some extent, they still do.
- What do you think about today’s Nigeria?
I have already stated some of things that made Nigeria backward today. However let’s add that today, our leaders and the people lack what it takes for the Nigerian project. The polity has been flooded with hard-line ethnic and religious people. The case of Deborah who was stoned and burnt to death in Sokoto is still fresh in our minds. Today there is insecurity, which, for the past 20 years, has been intractable. The insecurity we are facing today is as a result of the weak and compromised national security architecture that we have. This has been one of the stumbling blocks to Nigeria’s realization of its development potential.
We all know that the frequency of insurgent attacks today has resulted in collateral damage to the peace, stability, development and sovereignty of Nigeria. We also know that past and present governments have not been decisive enough in tackling insecurity. Our military are overused and poorly trained, they have become less fit to fight Boko Haram, secure the borders or sustain the country’s previously enviable image. The police secure little or nothing, is corrupt and inefficient and has become a big burden to the state. Ordinary citizens resort to legitimate self-help or criminal ways to survive. At home and abroad. No one in power cares.
The list goes on and on. Is it the succession of failed administrations, political instability, moral bankruptcy in public institutions, the growing rot in public bureaucracy, sleaze in the oil sector and overdependence on oil revenue, public office allure – which has attracted more thieves and charlatans to politics, or the ceaseless plunder of the national treasury; and a lack of public accountability.
- What do you think about Restructuring?
Restructuring is a song on the lips of many Nigerians. It has trended for decades and seems to be an inter-generational topical issue in Nigeria. Why are the people clamoring for restructuring? To some people restructuring Nigeria is the only way forward for the country. What kind of restructuring are we clamoring for? Is it only political restructuring or financial restructuring? However, we know that the philosophy behind the existence of every state and the control of its resources bothers on politics. In order to ensure the peaceful coexistence of Nigerian multiethnic nationalities as one peaceful entity called Nigeria and effect the rapid and competitive development of the different regions of the country among other factors, consists the need for restructuring. Re-federalization, value reorientation, institutional re-strengthening, ethnic representation amongst others are some of the solution to restructuring issues in Nigeria. So we have to deal with these issues when we are talking of restructuring.
- Do you think Nigeria can survive without Restructuring the country?
We all know that Nigeria’s future is inextricably linked to restructuring its political system. However, it very important to note that political restructuring in Nigeria will only succeed if pursued in a democratically legitimated, participatory and coordinated manner. Today, Nigeria’s centralization of political power has continued to distort its political economy by encouraging redistribution instead of productivity. It’s a known fact today that most of the constituent parts of the country are not economically viable. Over 70 per cent of Nigeria’s state revenue comes from the small oil-rich region of the South South. So we can say that restructuring, in the form of political decentralization and a differential economic model, is necessary, if not sufficient, for solving some of the country’s most vexing problems. To create a more economically viable and politically functional country, Nigeria needs to overhaul its political system.
- What do you think of this administration?) vis-a-vis security/insecurity/fraud/terrorism/banditry/Fulani herdsmen/economy/education/unemployment?
From infrastructure, to finance, education, healthcare, sports, anti-corruption, human development , housing, oil and gas, foreign relations, and many others, the Administration is recording small strides. Today people are more afraid than before. Look at what Boko Haram has been doing in the North. Today IPOB are also killing people in the East. Nobody is safe anymore. kidnapping is going everywhere and people are dying everyday.
Look at our rail transport system. We have not been able to have the rail system that we need. Look at our road networks. The roads are death traps. What about our see ports. Take Warri Seaports for example. We have been crying to Buhari to come and fix our seaport here in Delta. We have three seaports here in Delta that are not functional.
Our education is nothing to write home about. University lecturers have been on strike for months and the government is not doing anything about it. Right now they are more interested in politics than the future of our children. The list goes on and on.
- Is there a way back for Nigeria?
Of course there is a way forward. For us to move forward we have to develop and entrench a supportive public culture. Nigerians must understand, respect and tolerate differences occasioned by socio-cultural diversity and also develop new institutions and mechanisms that address poverty, revenue allocation and other national issues peacefully. Nigeria can transform its potential into success. With a huge population, its citizens can be mobilised and empowered to engage in manufacturing as China, Singapore and South Korea have done. This will change the society from a consuming country to a powerhouse in manufacturing and exportation. At 60, Nigeria should not be groping in the dark. There have been numerous wasted opportunities, no doubt, but it takes just a right turn at any second for a vehicle in the middle of nowhere to find its bearing.
7. What do you think about the upcoming presidential elections?
The upcoming elections like others will throw up a lot of surprises. There going to be a lot of intrigues. But at the end of the day we are going to have a new president. However, this election can only be successful if we learn to tolerate one another.
8. What advice do you have for the eventual winner of the 2023 presidential election?
Whoever it may be. My advice for whoever may emerge as the President is simple, he has a lot of work to do and must try and work on the security of the nation. He must listen to the voice of the people.
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