By Sunday Ani
Amidst raging arguments as to which zone should produce the next president of Nigeria, the former General Secretary of the National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG), Chief Frank Kokori, has thrown his weight behind the proponents of a president from the South in 2023. He argued that the practice of rotating the presidency between the North and South is a conventional thing which must be respected by all.
In this exclusive chat, the former labour leader also spoke on the worsening security situation in the country, the controversial Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) recently passed by the National Assembly and other national issues.
The issue of rotational presidency has become a controversial matter, with the 17 Southern state governors insisting that the south must produce the next president in 2023. Some people in the North want the zone to retain it beyond 2023, particularly the Kogi State Governor, Yahaya Bello, who has said that rotational presidency is unconstitutional. What is your take?
It is a conventional thing and since it is a conventional thing, obviously, it should move to the South. There is no way the North will hold the presidency for 16 years. Remember that most of the military presidents or heads of state were all from the North. In fact, for over 40 years of Nigeria’s history when the military was in charge, they were all Northern military leaders, so the North has ruled for more than 70 percent since after independence. And with Buhari serving eight years by 2023, the north does not have any moral ground to argue that it should retain the presidency after Buhari in 2023. So, the North is just hitting up the polity in this their avoidable struggle to retain the presidency. Already, Nigerians have been accusing Buhari of being nepotistic and tribalistic, so obviously if you add this to it, I don’t think Nigeria will even survive it. So, I think this is one thing that the whole South will cooperate with because it is very difficult for the Southern governors to cooperate. And this is one of the few occasions where they are cooperating and they have the backing of their people. So, it is a very tough situation and they must ask for it because it is conventional; they just have to do it.
The recently passed PIB by the National Assembly has also become very controversial. The lawmakers’ approval of three percent Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation’s (NNPC) profit for the oil producing communities and 30 percent for the frontier basins has been roundly condemned by most Nigerians, particularly the Niger Delta people. What is your position on that?
It is unjust and a move to incite the Niger Delta people to go into the creeks again and start disrupting oil production in the creeks and everywhere in the region. Actually, it is very unpopular in the Niger Delta region and I am sure the people will react. I know they will react because I stay in the Niger Delta and I can tell you that the resolution is not popular at all. Obviously, the existing five percent should just have been manageable.
But, the issue of frontier basin is sheer armed robbery because I have been in the oil industry and if something like that had been there, many Nigerians would have gone into oil exploration as far back as the 1970s. People come with their investments and that is why the International Oil Companies (IOCs) were the only people invested in oil exploration. I know one or two Nigerians who were able to bring in their own rigs that time. Even in my own town, there was a famous man who brought in his own rigs; he was based in Port Harcourt and he was actually the first Nigerians to bring his own rigs into the country and start oil exploration. It is very difficult because it is capital intensive. So, if you are now going to dash people 30 percent of the whole money from the NNPC to say you want to go into exploration in dry land in the North, under the guise of frontier basin, then everybody, including me, will jump up to say we want to start oil exploration. So, if I am going to get free 30 percent front funds, why won’t I go into oil exploration? Do you know what is called 30 percent in Nigeria’s oil well? I think the government is just risking that; the government cannot just use the nation’s resources extravagantly. It has never happened in Nigeria before because if you do it, then everybody in Niger Delta where you can even have oil in everybody’s backyard, will want to go into oil exploration. Why go and drill for oil in the North where you know you will spend years upon years and you won’t get oil in commercial quantities? They have been at that for more than 30 years and there is nothing substantial to show for it.
Are you saying that the exploration of the oil we are enjoying in Nigeria today was not even funded by the government but the IOC?
Yes, IOCs; that is the multinationals like Shell, Chevron, ExxonMobil, Agip and Total, brought their money into the country for oil exploration because it is a very capital intensive venture. The Federal Government (FG) didn’t give them any money. If the FG was giving money, a lot of the Niger Delta people would have gone into oil exploration. Even NUPENG, during my own time, would have gone into exploration instead of going into the downstream where the profit margin is very small. But, the upstream is where you get millions of dollars if you can really hit oil. So, the investment is very capital intensive and if you are now going to give free money to Northerners for oil exploration, then you are creating problems. Why can’t a billionaire like Aliko Dangote from the North go into oil exploration in the North? He cannot because he knows his money will go down the drain. So obviously, the government just wants to cheat people and steal money from the oil wealth of this country, the NNPC. Many people don’t understand how exploration in the oil industry works. Shell comes with their own money and if they lose, they lose. Shell International, Total International and ExxonMobil are all richer than Nigeria. Even six African states combined are not as rich as ExxonMobil. So, they invest their money in oil exploration and if they hit oil in commercial quantities, they will recover their money within a short time, and if they lose, they go away. But, if an ordinary person goes into it, he will go bankrupt if he doesn’t hit oil. So, if the government is now going to give people free money to go into exploration, it means everybody will go into it, just that then, it will be who knows who will get the free money.
The Senate’s rejection of electronic voting and transmission of election results took a lot of Nigerians by surprise. How did you receive the news and what is your reaction to the development?
Well, I am still waiting for the Independent National Electoral Commission(INEC’s) reaction because they know better. If they feel they can do it, they should do it. In fact, nobody should tamper with the powers given to INEC in the constitution and even in the electoral bill. So, they should allow INEC as a body to do its job. It is even unorthodox for the National Assembly to intervene by inviting INEC to explain whether it can do it or not because there are still some caveats there. The INEC is not 100 percent independent; the INEC chairman is still appointed by the president and all the national commissioners and resident electoral commissioners are still approved by the government.
I think it was to prevent what happened in the last election where people said there was no law backing the electronic transmission of election results, even though INEC had a central data where all the election results were collated electronically.
They have a law but I think the Supreme Court overruled that law and this is corruption of the judiciary. The Supreme Court has destroyed the whole thing because INEC actually insisted that you must use the voter’s card and if you can’t, you postpone the election till the next day. But, some people went to the Supreme Court and got some stupid ruling that destroyed INEC’s power in that regard.
You were aware of the controversial media bill that was suspended by the National Assembly recently. What should the legislators have done; couldn’t they have thrown away the entire bill instead of just suspending it?
We are not serious; I think the bill has gained so much popularity in the country because of the power of the media themselves. I think the media now need to use that advantage to challenge the government with all their instruments of coercion. I think the National Assembly members are afraid of their own reputation if they leave that bill; so I don’t see the bill seeing the light of the day unless they want to be enemies of the country. So, let’s wait until when they come back from their recess but I feel that the suspension is permanent; they may not do anything on it again more than that.
The issue of insecurity seems to have become an albatross on this government. There are reports of killings and abductions on a daily basis by the Boko Haram terrorists, bandits and others. Last week, a serving army general was killed while on his way to Abuja from Kogi State. There was also a media report last week that about 1009 ex-Boko Haram terrorists were set free by the army, yet the government is clamping down on self determination agitators in the South. How does the government’s action show its preparedness to tackle insecurity in Nigeria?
The security situation in Nigeria is at the lowest point of Buhari’s administration and there is no excuse for that. When the government can’t arrest the Fulani herdsmen with AK47 without license, I think my advice to other Nigerians is to get arms and protect themselves because you can’t rely on the government for security any longer. Every community should make their vigilance group to be more viable, so they can protect their communities. Every ward in every community should form a Community Guard, and equip them very well. State governments should equally assist communities in building up very strong vigilantes of credible people because we don’t want vigilantes that will become terror to the people. That’s my advice as a freedom fighter.
With the gale of defections by politicians across board, particularly the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) governors and the party shouting that its governors are being coerced by the All Progressives Congress-led government, what are your projections about the 2023 general elections in Nigeria?
Most politicians lack integrity and that is what you see playing out, particularly with those defecting from one party to the other. Unfortunately, the PDP is now at the receiving end and they are shouting. Personally, I would want the APC to win and they will win. All over the world, you don’t boycott elections because when you do, your opponent gets the votes. You can protest and even boycott when you know that you don’t have a chance of winning but PDP should not dare to say they will boycott states where they know they can win because we need opposition. A country without opposition is a totalitarian state and we don’t want that, so we want an opposition. Sometimes, I support the PDP’s opposition to the APC government, but you don’t blame the APC for what is happening now because it is paying the PDP back in its own coin. So, PDP should stop shouting because its members are defecting because nobody is forcing them to defect.