Prof Pat Utomi, politician, businessman, academic and public intellectual, was in Imo State recently for a private function. He spoke to Sunday Sun on the state of the nation; the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), his role in the formation of the party; and why the party has failed Nigerians.
As a member of the ruling APC, would you say that almost six years down the line that your party has kept its promise of making the country better than it met it?
You see, my views are not hidden. What has happened to Nigeria is that political parties have become an instrument for state capture. A group of people get together, hoodwink another group of people to found an instrument to use to capture the state for their own material benefits and call it a political party. Whether it is the PDP or the APC, they are all generally into that category.
Some of us had thought that we are going to save Nigeria, when we got together and said that this Goodluck Jonathan’s government that is in power is doing so badly. But unfortunately, the APC is now worse than the PDP government that it replaced. So, Nigeria seems to be in a desperate race to the bottom. It just gets worse by every regime.
What Nigeria needs to do, is to recognize that there is a fundamental structural problem to governance within the country that makes governance difficult. The main reason is state capture. We have to purge ourselves of state capture. You said very easily that “you people founded APC. Which people? Have you ever heard me make any contribution to the APC since it started? Has the APC invited me to one meeting to say how should we do this? But yes, you’re right because “we” supposedly founded the party. APC had never invited me to any meeting since the party was founded. So, it was a criminal construct to use people to capture the state for the abuse of few individuals.
I had thought that with people like you who are progressives that the country would have fared better…?
(Cuts in) That is exactly what I have just explained to you that their motive is not to improve Nigeria, it is just for power to be in their own hands and not in the hands of the other people (PDP). The mistake all of us made was that we had thought that the APC had the interest in improving the lots of Nigerians, but that was not their agenda; their sole interest was just replacing those who’re sharing the booty; and that’s what we got.
What is your take on the agitation for the presidency by the Southeast in 2023?
2023 will be useless milepost if we don’t restructure Nigeria. It will be a completely waste of time. This is because the same people will use mago mago and rig the election again and the country will continue going down and we will continue struggling saying what is happening? One of my friends, Prof Adebayo Adedeji reminded me in one of our Zoom meetings recently that 20 years that people keep saying the country will get to somewhere and that it cannot get worse. However, he said that the country will still continue to get worse and worse.
Somalia, is it not a country, even though it is technically a completely failed state? Nigeria can become that unless there is a concerted effort by citizens because the political system is so desperately self-centred. But unfortunately the current government does not believe in democratic ethos and as long as they can still manipulate the system and get whatever they want, it does not matter whether the country is dead or not; what is important to them is to remain in power regardless the cost. And, they will keep playing it.
Now, ask yourself, since all these problems started have you heard the Senate say this is what we are going to do? Just like gang of parasites that keep feeding on its victim and will only die when its victim dies. That is the way the Nigerian political class is. They are unable to understand that they are killing their own country, until the country dies completely like Somali and they go into refugee camps; that unfortunately is our reality.
Now, what do you think is the major reason the northern political elite are vehemently opposed to the restructuring of the Nigeria polity? Some of them have argued that more states have been created and to them that is restructuring. It is the same basic thing that I have explained to you. They think that they have cornered all. But they are short-sighted.
If there is a proof that shared money does not make the people wealthy; it’s in Nigeria. We have enough evidence from history. Look at what happened to Spain, their elite were living like the Nigeria political elite. Smaller countries like Netherlands, Belgium and Switzerland invested in the youths of their next generation to grow. Today, they are richer than Spain that had more revenues. If any example exists in Nigeria, it is the Southeast. I was part of a study sometimes ago. Until recently, Imo and Abia states were not part of the oil producing states. So, Southeast states received the least revenue which is very skimpy compared to other states. But in spite of the fact that the Federal Government spending was the lowest in the two geopolitical zones of the Southeast and Northeast; Anambra State has the lowest poverty index in the country.
There is no connection between revenue allocation to the state from the Federal Government and the poverty index. But it is the ingenuity of the people that makes them wealthy. It is their hard work and all that. Unfortunately, what we have found in northern Nigeria generally; is that it has become poorer as it has gotten more revenues from the federation account. What basically happens is what economists will refer to as the lottery effect. The poor man who won a lottery 10 years ago is now poorer than when he won the lottery. That is the problem of those who do not want restructuring.
Their elite are looking at what they are getting now as revenues which they are squandering and they are saying that we don’t want restructuring thinking that they will lose the federal largesse. They are saying that we will fight to the finish. But in truth, they are making their people poorer and even themselves as they have refused to invest in the future of their youths. If you check, the North has the highest rate of poverty and illiteracy in the country, which ordinarily should worry their political elite, but they are not worried which is very unfortunate. You see, restructuring of the polity will unbundle the energy and ingenuity of most of the states by looking inward just like we had in the First Republic where the regions were in a healthy competition for the development of their regions. I repeat; free money cannot make a people wealthy.
Now, the country is trapped in another economic recession, the third in six years. Is it that the managers of the nation’s economy did not take the appropriate economic measures?
Did we ever exit the recession in the first place? What is essentially happening is that we had a huge curve and not the sharp curve. But because oil prices went up and it seemed like a growth took place quarter after quarter on growth of the economy. Therefore, we thought that we are out of recession. However, Nigeria’s economy has more or less stagnated since 2015. We have not done what it takes to grow the economy. What is simply happening is that the federal and state governments get together every month and share as much as possible, and for some people to get as much booty as they can; that is what has been going on since 2015.
Are you not worried about the rising debt profile of the country?
Of course, any right thinking person should be. But those in government presently do not have that mind-set. All they are thinking is: let us enjoy ourselves now and the country will take care of itself. That is the exact mind-set of those who are calling the shots today, and it is very tragic situation.