By Pat Utomi
Let me, welcome you on behalf of a group of concerned citizens, social movements, civil society, and groupings of political parties, which include The New Fabian Society of the Concerned Professionals, The NCFRONT, which has for more than six years now been working on the building of an alternative political party track, and some political parties. I am myself as a member of the RNP steering committee, chairman of NCF representing many more groups including faith-based ones, as chairman of the forum of Catholics in politics and captains of industry, wearing many hats.
We come to you today with heavy heart as our country bleeds. You do not have to make an effort to realize that these are grim times in Nigeria. The blood of Innocents crying out from graves deep and shallow, the anguish of desperate unemployed youth helpless in spirit and wounded in the stomach by ulcers of hunger pull at every well formed conscience.
The desperate traveler separated from his commercial Enterprise from which he eke’s out a living or from a loved ones by distance formerly bridged by highway, railway or airway but now blockaded because they are in a city like Kaduna, where for generations we have domiciled the strategic hub of our military establishment, increase the sense of loss.
Compound this with watching a gruesome video threat to kill off train passengers train-jacked by armed bandits and no one will tell you our country is challenged as it has not been for a long time. If you dared to watch TV in these depressing circumstances you are likely to be faced with Seun Okinbaloye moderating a faceoff between an APC Chieftain and a PDP Chieftain arguing on who did more, or less damage to Nigeria. They are not able to put a brave face on failure anymore. Top this up with no petrol, no diesel, no light, no school, no this no that and you verge on despair.
But our object today is not a tale of lamentations. Our country is troubled and we need all hands on deck for a salvage operation. First things first though.
Two Saturdays back I had a good meeting with the President of the Trade Union Congress on the state of the nation and the need for labour to intensify political organizing rather than agonizing. He indicated he was leaving the next day to Abuja and then to Kaduna. Their Secretary General missed the train they took. He got on the next one and we know how suddenly his revolutionary life was cut down so early. It is appropriate therefore that we all pause, rise for a minute and remember him, the souls of the Nigerian people lost to the insecurity of our times, and the souls of the heroes past that God in his infinite goodness may grant them eternal rest ………..
And that those of us left behind be able to rally their spirit to rescue our troubled land
To lambast and lampoon while doing nothing, is not a solution.
These times call for people of courage and conviction to bring wisdom to the table. In many ways, providence is showing us a path in the convergence of a Christian season of repentance, lent, reconciliation, and renewal with the Ramadan season equivalent or similar spiritual disposition. We would therefore call on all gladiators to sheath their swords and recognize that which is at the very survival of Nigeria and the future of our children and their children after them.
We must now forge a consensus and the national unity team approach to governing during this season of a yet-to-be declared national emergency which poses an existential threat to all the parties notwithstanding. Now that the democratization of misery from the spread of insecurity, poverty, and disease has become evident to both those who think they have cornered power and those who consider themselves victims of power.
We want here to invite statesmen to approach the challenge of the moment in building a national unity solution with the same adroitness that General Yakubu Gowon approached matters in 1967, the Babangida step aside transition and the Yar’adua season doctrine of necessity. Several of us are considering optional models but the key remains a structure that can navigate the country through the currents of uncertainties with enough perceived or putative legitimacy.
Surely Afenifere, Arewa Consultative Forum and Ohaneze Ndigbo, Niger Delta People Congress and the Middle Belt Forum can be consulted to nominate people into this unity government forum that can walk us through the evil forest of now.
I have chosen to share these thoughts about a pleasure valve release given the tensions of the moment but when we decided on this press briefing the primary objective was to tell the story of how an alternative political party we promised has been evolving; where it stands on the issues; and make announcements on its path forward. We hoped also to provide a general analysis of the challenges facing Nigeria and some of the positions taken by our shadow government teams on issues holding back development, peace, and economic growth in Nigeria.
Some of us involved in the process of building the political platform have been particularly keen on getting the emphasis right so that it becomes much more than an election contestation machine. We know that the trouble with PDP and APC is primarily that their sole purpose was to win elections and wrest power. They paid so tittle attention on how to govern and the results have come in. The chicken has come home to roost.
The Coalition and Fusion Process
Nigerians frustrated by the fallings of the APC and PDP and anxious to see the back of both parties which they realize do not resemble political parties as we know them around the world keep asking about what they have come to call the Third Force.
Genesis of these initiatives to create a new major party goes back to 2002 when members of the Concerned Professionals who challenged the annulment of the elections of June 12 1993 and who made the decision to leave politics to politicians of old when the Military announced a retreat in 1998, in the expectations that the politicians from the First Republic who may then have learnt from the excesses that brought in military rule would return and take us back to times of service they generally gave well to the people before 1966. Unfortunately, those politicians we hoped would return with lessons learnt, did not trust that the military were not playing games. In their decision to watch first a vacuum was created and friends of soldiers and many opportunists with little culture of public life as service of sacrificial giving of self for the advance of the Common Good, entered the Public Sphere. To compound the woes of Nigerian people, oil prices went from single digits, towards the end of military rule to triple digits. The windfall was largely privatized or stolen and became the private war chest of the new men of power who elevated state capture to a new level in corrupting most governmental processes to favour their private interests. We know then we had made a mistake in turning back the urging by Donald Duke and Waziri Mohammed that we move into the space and show good governance in 1998.
The key words in those days from the late CP stalwart Tunde Akinleye was, “how do we press the reset button?”
By 2003 the Concerned began to regroup and founded The Restoration Group. But money, largely stolen from the state, had the major denominator of political action. The Restoration Group/ADC collaboration in 2007 showed then that winning elections based on ideas and how to serve the people better had been foreclosed by the collapse of culture in which the essential currency was stolen money. We know things have got much worse. The speculations about how much of our oil is stolen tell the story.
In 2017 other civil society activists began to regroup and rethink strategy as is becoming evident that the APC gambit had only produced another wing of the PDP. That work has continued without ceasing. Three years ago I led a delegation to meet with the NWC of the Nigeria Labour Congress. We also continued consultations with good people in the APC and PDP with a view to building a merger of parties and civil society to provide Nigeria a rescue platform. Working through another movement the Rescue Nigerian Project, RNP, focused on leadership selection to ensure that only people of the right capacity, compassion, and credibility entered public office and using the NCF to coordinate a fusion process of parties to enter the big tent. By design, the Big Tent is up and has already welcomed many. But it is built on a moving train pulling into stations at which passengers can board at will. Some on the trains, like PRP, will be in coalition to maintain their traditions while others like ADC have opted for fusion and expansion with social movement onboard and still boarding the train. We believe this will alter Nigerian politics for good.
Central to the modus operandi of the Big Tent is a center-left people’s platform that emphasizes human solidarity and the universal brotherhood of man and production-focused manufacturing and strategic value chain focused initiatives. Underlying the thrust of all the approaches is:
1. Massive trimming of the excess fat, graft, and inefficiency of the current operating mode that would save millions of Dollars every week.
2. Placing honest people of merit at the centre of all initiatives with accountability levers that are made public for the public to double up with monitoring and evaluation departments and civil society monitors.
3. Ramping up compensation based on clearly stated performance goals.
4. Reducing reliance on revenues to develop infrastructure but turning to self-financing projects and attracting new streams of income from assets registers and assets that are formally listed in stock exchanges around the world.
Of particular importance is an audacious low-hanging fruit of a conditional cash transfer scheme that will enable us from day one to put all University and polytechnics graduates without work, after NYSC, on a #100,000 a month on a Green Wall Project whose financing will come from abroad and savings from reduced graft in the system. This green ecosystem revitalization army will be at work between 8am and noon saving the planet and from noon to 4pm, a re-skilling initiative that will equip them with vocational skills that will both make them self-employable or fit into skills required in the industrial parks based on factor endowments of the six zones of the federation from which value chains into global markets are projected.
The development of infrastructure forms out of this cluster of industrial parks will piggyback on market that can bump up a hearty prosperity paradox for Nigeria.
Our Works and engineering shadow teams have also properly suggested that as the best of the best from around the world enter to provide self-financing infrastructure Nigerian companies which will also be growing from some smaller play closed access projects will be required to be privately arranged learning partners. In effect every global firm will a percentage of its stake a JV with a Nigerian firm. This will quickly ramp up local capacity without a local content program that is bureaucratic and subjects to corruption.
Nigerian Political Parties and Thrashing of Democracy
If you watch the run up to the APC convention and you are a democrat by socializing and exposure you would clearly be astonished and traumatized by what happened.
How do you prohibit competition in the name of consensus for a process that is rooted in competitive choice?
As a social scientist at heart and by training I am even more amazed by the fact of a term limited lame-duck leader whose performance has been costly both for the prospects of the party and country so easily pulling people who claim to be democrats into Poodle status.
In truth, it was just the continuation of a pattern. The previous chairmen of both PDP and APC Secondus and Oshiomole had been summarily shoved aside without due process in the contravention of the rule book play pattern in both parties. All this in the face of longstanding criticism of the absence of internal democracy in the parties.
In truth Nigerian political parties continue to be run as private business estate of those who “own and fund them”. This is why they continue to be questionable as instruments for the advancement of the Common Good.
In a 2012 leadership Newspapers Annual Lecture in Abuja I focused on the origins, purpose and modus of modern political parties going back to Roberto Michelo.
1911 classic political parties I prayed in many ways that the lecture attended by most of those who founded the APC inspired its founding. If anything exists as evidence of that lecture it is that they loved how it moved them to act but those leaders clearly were not listening to most of what I ordered a party should be.
The long-drawn painstaking efforts to construct an alternative political track is to avoid the errors of the APC and PDP and socialize the interested into clear values and ethics of the party and train all on the basic policy planks of the vision and grand human development ideas of the platform party of the Third Force.
The additional Factor which partly made this process briefing necessary is the switching of candidate selection process for political parties from those in hot pursuit of positions who sell their properties to purchase forms for party office, to one in which the communities approach people whose character, competence and track record suggests our growth prospects and approach them to sacrifice to serve.
We are therefore calling on Faith groups, community leaders Alumni associations to seek out the members of their community and bring them forward with suggested position they should contest.
In this college of reformers, a new politics and the new Nigeria that puts the people of Nigeria first, our approach is for this problem solving issues and values to be the focus and not big men, many of whom are poor examples of integrity and merit, we seek to build. This is just as we seek elite consensus and collegial leadership as our approach rather than to proclaim Messiahs.
All men are redeemable. A collective mean culpa is desirable in times when the seasons of atonement in Christendom and Islam overlap from the design of providence. We must seek to forgive but we must not forget how we got here and avoid it and at least sterilize those who got us here for a season.
As we examine these ideas it is expressly clear that we have to replace the culture and manning of the current political group in power. How does a class of failure manage such swag? Shame seems to have taken leave of this people.
We are witnesses to how our country of great promise has been crippled by politics of big men, big corruption, and disregard for the people. The purpose of the alternative track is to return politics to the domain of simple men filled with love like our founding fathers, Sir Ahmadu Bello, Dr. Michael Okpara, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Aminu Kano, and Tafawa Balewa. We are convinced that the labels of the heroes of a struggle past and present like the Bala Usmans, Gani Fawehinmis, Chidi Ubanis, Olisa Agbokobas, Ayo Obes, Femi Falanas, Gambo Sawabas, and Margaret Ekpos will cement the desperate desire of our people for a new beginning to ensure that Nigeria will rise up again.
As we call up the spirit of our heroes past let us remind us of the urgency of now.
In the last few hours Prof Wole Soyinka has spoken in despair about the politicians of APC and PDP. Peter Obi, a PDP aspirant has also spoken to the leadership of the PDP on the state of the nation. The Obi video has gone viral. Both suggest the total bankruptcy of the cultures, ways and performance of the people who have governed Nigeria in the last quarter of a century. And so I ask again, where does their swag come from after such monumental failure compared to their peers everywhere? In times of honour like in Japan of old all of these powerful people who listened to Peter Obi should have pulled out their swords and fallen on them. I favour repentance over dishonorable death but these people must stop swaging – they ruined a country.
May God bless and save Nigeria.
Remarks at a national press briefing on Friday 8, April 2022.