By Ajong Mbapndah L
No party that sells primary tickets to the highest bidder deserves to be in power in Nigeria, says Okey Sam Mbonu President of the Nigerian American Council. A seasoned player on African policy circles in the USA, Mbonu says the pervasive corruption culture in Africa’s most populous country is making it difficult for the country to meet its development obligations.
Speaking in an exclusive interview with Pan African Visions, Mbonu who mounted a presidential bid in the 2019 elections says a year after the re-election of President Buhari, the lack of a strong vision and rampant corruption are preventing Nigeria from reaping the dividends of democracy.
On the upcoming US elections, Mbonu says the US-Nigerian council is undergoing critical structural reforms with a view to broadening its tent, and playing a more impactful role on US-African ties. While the current Administration has taken a laid-back approach to Africa, Mbonu believes that it is in the interest of the next administration irrespective of party to step up its game in Africa to curb the marauding Chinese presence.
It has been over a year since President Buhari started his second term of office, what assessment do you make of his leadership?
President Buhari’s current and final term has been bedeviled by some major problems, including:
-Lack of vision, which manifests through the limited delivery of democratic dividends, such as economic growth via a diversified economy.
-Lack of a broad view of national governance issues, because his core inner-circle is of one mindset, thereby robbing the President of the diversity of thought necessary for progress, in a highly diverse country like Nigeria, especially on security and the economy.
-Finally, the President has had to deal with economic uncertainty occasioned by COVID-19, and the collapse of the Oil Industry. The COVID-19 is nobody’s fault, but the collapse of the Oil economy should have been anticipated way before now.
What do make of the way his government has handled the coronavirus pandemic?
Well, Buhari’s government has adapted well with existing public health protocols in other countries. However, the COVID-19 has revealed the under-belly of the Nigerian economy, which is that a huge chunk of the economy, perhaps more than 75% is unregulated and informal. Most Nigerians basically survive by going out on the streets every-day to “hustle”. Thus if they don’t go out, for a week or two, they may die of hunger. Many people essentially went berserk out of hunger and deprivation, during the state mandated lockdowns.
May we have your take on the suspension and subsequent detention of Ibrahim Magu former Chair of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission – EFCC ?
My recent extended exposure to Nigeria showed how corrupt the country really is, especially among the political leadership. We have witnessed former state governors who essentially plundered their states beyond recognition, walk away from jail (maybe temporarily), thus giving everyone a license to plunder.
However, what is so troubling is that an entity like EFCC could also be mired in the very essence of their existence, corruption within a corruption fighting agency.
If the allegations are proven, it erodes the trust of all international partners who depend on the credibility of their crime-fighting partners, to maintain sanity and economic stability via standards rooted in the “rule of law” in the world. A situation where every entity and everyone becomes beholden to corruption, will eventually lead to a chaotic “everyman for themselves” doctrine.
There isn’t, and won’t be enough police to contain all out corruption in the country, thus ultimately leading to a complete grounding of the country.
What is your take on the National Assembly hearings on the misappropriation of funds in the Niger Delta Development Commission?
The NDDC saga, is another showdown that the problem of Nigeria is really the thieving elites versus the masses. If serious prosecutions do not happen, then the executive branch would have failed to get a grip on the evil of corruption.
It is really sad, because, if you think about the mind-boggling figures involved, you wander, why public officials need to steal in an unconscionable manner like that. However, if you take a look at the physical appearances of these people, you know they won’t live very long. It’s obvious from their distended stomachs from excessive consumption of alcohol and the like, organ failures, high-blood-pressure, obesity, heart problems, etc. So what is all the stolen loot for?
Nigerians have now had the opportunity of comparing leadership and governance from the APC and the PDP which are the dominant parties, which of these two parties has responded more to the expectations of Nigerians?
None. It’s the same people going back and forth in different color-painted buses. President Buhari could have done a better job of reining in some excesses, and setting some examples, by signaling intolerance of corruption from his own party members, as well as prosecute members of other parties. However, Buhari still has a chance to set some example before his term is over.
On the other hand, the first of these two parties (APC and PDP), to open up their primaries, without excessive nomination fees to new-generation candidates, and a corruption-free nomination process, will ultimately prevail in the moral battle for the soul of Nigeria.
No party that sells its primary tickets to the highest bidder deserves to be in power anywhere, because that candidate who “bought” the ticket, does not owe the electorate anything, except to recoup their money, and empower their family to their heart’s content. That is why you frequently see a governor who plundered their state and failed to pay salaries walk the streets of Nigeria without outrage.
Do you agree with those who think that a third major force or party will be a healthy development for democracy in Nigeria?
A third major party is a viable route, but that third party may ultimately have to ally with one of the big two, in order to pull-off a national victory. There are many other intricacies to address, but it is doable.
You did get into the 2019 Presidential race, but dropped out, could you share some of the lessons that you learned from the experience and any plans for 2023?
Yes, my Campaign team calculated that the Labour Party, which is technically the third largest party, with existing structures in all 36 States, was a good vehicle to challenge the status quo. However, it turned out that the Labour Party needed substantial internal reforms, in order to float a national candidate. We came close to clinching the party’s nomination, but met resistance from the party’s national leadership who did not see the vision we saw.
The shocking end was that the party actually did not present a presidential candidate after I dropped out, because there was no other candidate of caliber like myself to fly the flag of the party. However, there are a few good people at the party leadership level, and maybe they learned enough lessons to get it right in the future.
As we do this interview, the US is bracing up for elections in November, how is the Nigerian American Council that you lead preparing for this?
Well, we have actually commenced an evolution at the Council, which is now veering off in a new direction, to embrace the entire African Diaspora via a new “National Council for African Diaspora (NCAD)”, which you’ll be hearing about very soon (August/September 2020). The new NCAD vehicle will encompass the entire African Diaspora, and is poised for more impact in US and Africa in the near future.
May we know what changed negatively or positively for US-African relations in the first term of the Trump Presidency?
While the current US Administration has not placed a lot of strategic interest on Africa at the moment, however, the traditional US institutions and organs like the State Department, continue to perform their traditional roles of engagement with Africa.
However, most of us in the policy-circles expect that the US beyond 2020, regardless of who wins the election, will as matter of necessity engage more with Africa, because to disregard Africa, is to capitulate to the Chinese, who are now having a field day in Africa.
If care is not taken, the Chinese will take charge of strategic sources of African input in the global economy, especially in the area of expendable natural resources.
What is at stake for Africa in the elections and what are some of the recommendations that should guide the choice of voters especially those of African origin?
Politics is consistently about protecting or preserving one’s interests. The African Diaspora should not be guided by emotions, but by a clear strategy of preserving their interests in the US and beyond. Once the community determines what those interests are, then they should invest in candidates or programs, or movements that will protect those interests.
Could we also get a word from you on the reaction of African countries on the murder of George Floyd, when the same African countries remain silent on flagrant atrocities that take place across the continent daily?
George Floyd opened the eyes of Africans to racism in the US, in ways they never knew existed. It has also forced continental Africans to begin to evaluate how their own police enforce the status quo in their law and order.
Africans within the continent actually need to make greater efforts to cultivate and maintain cordial effective and cooperative relations, with their African-American cousins. African-Americans are the most prominent black Diaspora on the world stage; their struggles should garner strong solidarity across Africa. However, in reality we find that because of colonial mentality, and a profound lack of enlightenment, many Africans inside the continent, do not see the struggles of African-Americans as their struggle as well.
This is where the continentals who migrated in the past 20, 30, or 40 years effectively come in, as the bridge between the continent of Africa, and the West, especially the US.
About 70% of current African leaders, from Buhari to Biya, etc, do not have a clear understanding of the need to raise the stakes, in the Africa versus the rest of the world dynamics, which could be a win-win situation for all. I believe only newer generation continentals with exposure to Africa, Europe, the America’s and even Asia can address the gap.