Hon Peter Akpatason, represents Akoko-Edo Federal Constituency in the House of Representatives. In this interview with MOSES JOHN, he speaks on the landmarks of Nigeria’s democracy, the raging war over the renaming of University of Lagos (UNILAG) after the late MKO Abiola and other issues.
We are 13 years into an era of uninterrupted democracy. What in your view have been the landmarks we have achieved so far?
The democratic experiment from 1999 to date is an improvement of some sort because today, we don’t have uniformed men in offices and to a large extent, and with varying degrees from one presidency to another, we have some amount of respect for the rule of law and for the right of the people and some semblance of democratic processes of decision making.
For me, this is the most we have achieved which is a departure from military dictatorship. But this is not to say, however, that we have made monumental strides in our democratic experimentation. I say this because the democratic processes have not been very democratic.
One, beginning from the internal party processes, we have instances of dictatorship within the parties that in most cases lead to the imposition of candidates on the populace and also the imposition of decisions on the parties.
What this translates to is decisions and policies that are being made by people have influence and control over parties, rather than these decisions and policies coming as an outcome of robust democratic processes.
For instance, the contribution of many people to debates – be it national or parliamentary debates or whatever – is actually influenced by how they became members of such bodies, whether they were democratically, truly and fairly elected or promoted by godfathers as a result they have to do the bidding of such godfathers.
We, therefore, appear not to be truly democratic. Also, we have had a situation where also the process of ascension to office, we have had office holders who do not seem to truly have the focus or the capability to man such offices and as a result, Nigerians or the people they represent in such constituencies, from the level of councillors to the local government chairmen up to House of Assembly, federal legislature and even the presidency, in the end they deliver some optimal outputs to the people.
Basically, this to me is a major snag in the system today. In any case, that is not to say we are not making progress. We are making progress but as rapid as one would expect.
With all these missing links, some Nigerians are saying that the National Assembly has failed in its responsibility to ensure good governance. What is your take on this?
If you look at the constitution, the provisions per se do not actually present the National Assembly as a watchdog on the executive arms of government. Separation of powers does not make the legislative arm the watchdog on the executive. The way this thing is being presented is such that one begins to think that the legislative arm is the police to the executive, it is not.
But we have oversight functions over the executive and this function is to look at what they do, whether it is in compliance or conformity with the provisions of our laws. Where they are found wanting or where it is suspected that they are not doing what is right, we investigate, look at the processes and make recommendations.
I cannot speak for previous dispensations but all of us can analyse their performance and where they do well and where they did not do well but I can speak for the 7th Assembly. We came on board through the most democratic process. Our leadership were elected freely by us and we take responsibility for whatever we are doing today.
We have clearly made the point to everyone that cares that the legislative arm and this particular Assembly is an autonomous arm and this particular Assembly we are determined to do what is right and what is needful to get Nigeria on the right footing.
This is clearly enunciated in our legislative agenda.
In practical terms, we have made moves. Look at what is happening in the stock market probe, look at the subsidy regime probe, and a whole lot of other things we are looking at in every sector of the economy. We were not prompted to do this by any allegations or blackmail or whatsoever, but it is out of self-determination to do what is right.
I think we are doing so much better than what the record has in terms of the oversight of the MDAs, ministries, departments and agencies of government to see whether they are doing well or whether they are not doing what is right. Look at the budget, within the records, in terms of passage, for the first time, we had the budget passed.
We have been waiting for PIB (Petroleum Industry Bill). For instance, it took them so long to pass sometime ago. Up till now, it is not available. It is not the duty of the legislative arm to compel the executive to send such bill. We are doing our best within the limits of our powers to ensure that the right things are done.
We are all aware that the legislative arm does not have the power to prosecute and if we investigate, come up with findings and recommendations that are not being implemented; the onus is on every Nigerian, including ourselves, to put pressure on the appropriate authorities. It is a pity that is where our powers stop. We cannot compel, by the instrument of law, to prosecute people that are found wanting.
The Democracy Day broadcast by the president has caused a lot of debates especially the renaming of UNILAG. What is your reaction to this?
To start with, MKO Abiola is a great Nigerian and he deserves to be honoured. Honouring him, for me, is long overdue. But notwithstanding, I thought that the president and his advisers would have been more sensitive to the special peculiar status of UNILAG. Some people said Ife was renamed, so why not UNILAG? I don’t think it right to put them at par.
To me, UNILAG is like a phenomenon. It is a name that is associated with high standards. The quality is like a brand that is making waves, and it is not proper to turn around and change the name because we want to honour a great Nigerian. To me, there are better ways to do it because there are other institutions that can be named after MKO, an illustrious Nigerian whose life and activities impacted positively on the minds of the people across the whole country.
So, it could have been an institution or facilities anywhere in the country but UNILAG, the status it has attained, particularly as it has to be associated with quality and the standards it has maintained over the years, that to me is not the best institution to name after anybody.
As a unionist and a political activist, you were one of the few Nigerians at the forefront for the actualisation of the June 12, 1993 presidential elections annulled by the military regime then, would you say the situation has changed with the renewed agitation for power shift across the country?
To start with, I think making June 12 Democracy Day would have been a better way of honouring MKO but they have refused to do that. If they so respect MKO, why not make June 12 the Democracy Day in this country or the day you hand over or the day a major event took place that should be named Democracy Day, particularly as it consumed the souls of many Nigerians, including the great MKO and many, many other people. Some of us were brutalised. Many people were inhumanly treated and completely dehumanized as a result of their stand on June 12.
Now everybody is benefitting from June 12 struggle because there is democracy of some sort and people would not accept to name June 12 Democracy Day. I think that is a food for thought and we should look at that. However, with respect to your question, whether the issue that led to June 12 has been addressed depends on the perspective.
For me, it was not poverty per se that led to the issue of June 12. It is the greed and desperation of despotic elements in this country that led to the June 12 crisis in this country - those who wanted to stay put in the office because they believed the country belonged to a few elements in this country, who so believed that certain people should never rule.
Those who believed that issues should be determined on religious and other sectional considerations; those were the people that caused the crisis. It is believed across the globe that the June 12 election was the fairest and freest election. I think the issue has rather been aggravated in recent times and we have not seen in any way the issue being addressed.
Some people still believe that it is either them or nobody, that is dangerous for the unity of this country. It is contrary to the dictum of unity in diversity.