Patrick Ekpotu is former deputy governor of Akwa Ibom State. In this interview, he weighs-in on the battle between the APC federal government and leadership of the parliament that is in the hands of the opposition PDP and other burning issues. He spoke with CHIBUZO UKAIBE.
How does the current debate on restructuring and state police come across to you?
The contemplation of state-owned police is counter-productive in the face of today’s reality.
To me, advocates of these positions are either acting out of ignorance or for some selfish reasons that brought the nation to its knees or obsession to positions held by their political idols.
How do you look at the current tension between the leadership of the National Assembly and the APC government following the Senate president’s defection to the opposition PDP?
While rational disagreement could be seen as healthy in politics but the differing political and ideological postures between the National Assembly leadership and the presidency is absolutely unhealthy. And I certainly fault the National Assembly leadership and hold them responsible for whatever tension this has generated in the country.
Why do you say that?
We are talking about an APC government with a surreptitious PDP National Assembly leadership, first clothed in APC attire before unveiling as full PDP, which has established a minority rule in NASS under a majority rule governance system. The democratic notion of majority rule is that it is better for the majority to be wrong than for the minority to be right. Having defected to the minority party, the Senate President need not wait to be removed, but should relieve himself of the leadership and show a good example. He should know the demerits in an arm of government, the National Assembly operating a minority rule-the rule by the king and feudal lord, in the nation’s majority rule democracy. They are seeking to normalise the blending of minority rule in a majority rule democratic system. That arm of the assembly may remain in lockdown. So to say until May next year when the Ninth Senate convenes. To pull the wool over our eyes, urgent legislative tasks that would draw widespread public condemnation when not handled might tactically be dispensed by committees which would present them only to the joint session of the National Assembly. Remember that joint sessions represent neither of the two arms of the assembly and might not entertain any chamber-specific issues like impeachment of the leadership of any of the arms. So the waiting to force them out might be an illusion.
As a key player in the attempts at bringing lasting solutions to insecurity in the Niger Delta, what is your outlook on the ceaseless bloodletting in the northern parts of the country, especially as the 2019 general elections draw near?
It is to me not only worrisome but also utterly absurd even though it is least surprising to me. In my book, “Lifting the Peril”, I tried to draw the nation’s attention to what I observed as the build-up to the disturbing scenario manifesting today and called for urgent actions to nip it in the bud. That’s why I am least surprised. So the ceaseless bloodletting and what you describe as general state of insecurity, and so on, are the manifest illnesses that are bound to make appearance from our socially patterned defects. They are, in that light, only a part of the larger absurdities afflicting us. The ruin has only just come to our attention because it is sweeping through with bloodletting. Leadership entails seeing a few steps farther ahead and checkmating before harm is done. But this was not the case.
Many attribute the lingering insecurity to alleged nonchalant attitude of current government in the handling of the problem. How do you see that?
Did the slide not begin, develop and take shape during the watch of other presidents? It cannot be related to such opinion since the root of the problem is not security but social decay. Resolve the social dilemma that brought this about and the symptoms would dwindle over time and vanish over years. Dealing with it as a purely security challenge amounts to wrong diagnosis. Political short-term actions has proved to be very effective and makes military actions easy. An unambiguous direct warning to the predator herdsmen by government is one example. A decision to secure the nation’s borders against infiltration by mercenary herdsmen by inevitably pulling the nation out of the ECOWAS free movement treaty until further notice will inspire hope and ease the crisis. Another short-term political action of immeasurable impact could be the arrest and prosecution of cattle herders association chieftains reported to be accepting responsibility for the revenge killings by rampaging herdsmen in communities.
How do you feel about the unceasing menace of the herdsmen across the country?
That is the most unfortunate issue the nation has come to live with and my heart goes out to all the victims and affected families. I notice that two confusing terms compete to describe this dilemma. “farmers/herdsmen crisis” is one and most often used within government circle while “herdsmen attacks” is another, mostly used in media reporting. The two refer to the same dilemma. This, it could be understood, happens in most communities along the grazing routes stretching from the Sahara to the Atlantic. The potentiality of solutions to a conflict stands to be missed if symptoms are misplaced as the pathology.
What do you think the government can do about the murderous activities of those herders?
I will give a sketch of what I think needs be done, if someone is listening. It invites the nation to challenge all those currently aspiring to be president and governors to unfold their agenda towards it. So far, none seems to hold out any hope or inspire confidence while the few that dare discuss it either chorus the age-long doctrines of “restructuring” and “state-owned police”. And both of them at the moment, represent greater evils needed only to increase the level of insanity in us.
Is restructuring going to put back the debased society on course by undoing the way we have used and traded our young ones in the last 20 years like currency and pass around to successive ones? No. Is state-owned police going to reverse what our society has taught them to do over those years and are doing just that having come of age? Will state police reduce their capacity or change their minds from committing those crimes? No. Then it is time wasting and relates not to resolution of the predicament.
To what extent can a change in political leadership therefore offer some respite?
It sure can but only to the extent that it can only lay the foundational work for a future of sanity. I can say with every emphasis at my command that a mere change in the name of whoever occupies the office of the president is not enough to stem the manifestation of the slide. What can change it is the content of the package whoever occupies that office would have to offer. Now is the time to challenge the aspirants to name how they hope to get the nation out of it and then weigh the options put on the table. The revolt that will change Nigeria will stem not from shallow leadership changes but capacity to recognise one that can bring the citizens to full realisation of their limitations.
You have held three public offices as a PDP member, in this season of defections where exactly do you belong?
I am a member of the PDP, but I sincerely belong to no party when discussing national concerns because I feel both implicated in and condemned by the anguishing evils tormenting the nation with uncertainties all the way.