By Ayo Alonge
NATIONAL President of the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights (CDHR), Malachy Ugwummadu, says that the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has lost the credence and capacity to work as a vibrant opposition party. However, he assures that the civil society will fill up the vacuum. He insists that the Buhari-led government appears effective in the area of tackling the menace of corruption and insurgency, with the international community at its beck and call.
The Delta State born Human Rights activist expresses hope that the judicial system under the present administration, will expedite the process of prosecuting the looters. He also speaks on other issues of national importance. Excerpts:
What is your assessment of the present administration in the area of providing effective leadership in governance?
I think that, by and large, the Nigerian people, including myself, are beginning to weigh in on specifics, the euphoria of what governance should be. At the moment, it is too early to assess the government.
From all account, you could see that from all points, we now have a government that has a more robust disposition in the fight against corruption. You can also appreciate that this government seems to be more focused on the fight against terrorism. What we have not seen fully is the creative ideas around the issue of job creation and the diversification of our economy. Perhaps when the government is fully constituted, we will see that. I have identified these areas just to underscore the high points on the quest of which this government seems to be based on-security, anti-graft campaign and job creation. Having said that, we must not lose sight of the fact that there is a seeming mobilisation of the international community behind this government. This is not because they have chosen to do so but there is a sense of trust reposed in this government; an antecedent that supports the view that Mr. President is well positioned to deal with corruption, security, and so on.
What impression do you have on the anti-graft war being waged by the present administration?
I need to say that the anti-graft war is not selective. Between you and I, we also owe ourselves a duty to moderate situations as they crop up. We must have concrete facts and evidence to operate with before we make comments and judgment. I am tempted to believe that Buhari has not started the fight against corruption fully. I am also tempted to believe that he has decided to prioritise the issue of insecurity, given the immediacy of the challenge. I think that he has seen that except he fixes, secures and rescues Nigeria from the clutches of Boko Haram, no matter how hard he tries to fix the economy, he will go nowhere. Without security, nothing can start.
What is your description or evaluation of the opposition we have today?
Well, it is unfortunate that we don’t have a vibrant opposition yet. I am talking of an opposition political party and it is in reality of that vacuum that we in the civil society have resolved that the best is to go back to the trenches. The only political strategy to sustain a government and keep them continually accountable to the people is to have a virile opposition.
We in the civil society are the vanguard of the struggle for our democracy and we are insisting that until we attain the level of holding government accountable to the people, and we are able to manage the political structure even in the absence of an effective legislative rhetoric, the country will not be exposed but merely hijacked by the ruling class. To that extent, naturally, it is bound to be difficult for the PDP because this is a party that has, in the last 16 years, been at the corridors of power and the political machinery of this country. Such a political party that was used to the luxury of governance in the Nigerian context cannot immediately transmute into an effective opposition.
The reason is not far-fetched. It is that you have to work the extra mile to be able to survive as an opposition party.
We see that soon after the election of President Buhari, the incidence of cross carpeting was incessant and in droves. PDP members leaving PDP in their legions to the APC. That is not because they have found a new ideological platform but because they realized that they cannot survive without power. The real role of the legislature is to continually exercise its power to moderate the excesses of the executive arm of government. That we have never had in this dispensation. They just collude and can only make a noise when they don’t get what is due to them. So, I feel the opposition is weak but the civil society can fill the gap.
In the case of extraditions, it is as if the Nigerian judicial arm is not fully on its toes in the area of prompt prosecution of alleged looters. One can even dare say that looters consciously travel abroad to, at least, escape the severity of the environment of our prisons. How do we begin to address this reprehensible norm?
Extraditions can only be effective when there is an extradition agreement between two parties bilaterally or more than two parties multilaterally. You can only be talking about extraditing a felon or a fugitive from London to Nigeria if there is an extradition agreement between United Kingdom and Nigeria. A lot of people have run into trouble thinking that it is what you can just do. Nigeria will not remain a shadow of itself for eternity. We must always guide our society in such a way that integrity would reign supreme. Gabriel Onosode just passed on and you could see a unanimity of opinion regarding the degree of integrity he espoused.
First is that you can no longer continue to operate with impunity. Secondly is that when you even do it, the system is sophisticated enough to identify and punish you. This is not an era where 419ers and scammers are given titles and even made to sit beside religious leaders.
Imagine that someone went to court to request a perpetual order to restrain law enforcement agencies from investigating him. Yet, most other Nigerians are jailed for stealing goats, tubers of yam, and so on. We must find a way of bridging the gap. In Singapore, you must have concluded to die before going into a crime because once you are caught, you are made to die.
How do we begin to maximize our judicial system in the area of bringing prompt judgment to offenders?
The first is to focus on the independence of our nation which must go beyond mouthing it. That will fortify the process of adjudicating over cases. It is very important because it is only at that level that you can maximise the capability and potential of the process.
No person is above the law, including the judge. Another way is the collective support of all regarding law and order. It should not be that a public looter is allowed to go scot free. Such a thing discredits even the judiciary because when it keeps happening, the impression is that there will always be pardon for them.
In your opinion, what should be the major focus of the present Executive cabinet?
First is that this is not the best of time and they must be conscious of the fact that we have lost a lot of grounds.
We cannot afford to get along with the mundane things that have kept us backwards over the years. They must be ready to take the bull by the horn and confront the issues before us. They must also assemble the best hands available to be able to deal with the technical issues which are hunger, dissatisfaction, disillusionment, disconnection, and so on. An issue such as resource control is something people have read ethnicity into and there is now Boko Haram as a manifestation of lack of education and unemployment.
When you are thinking Boko Haram and refuse to deal with the real cause, nothing is guaranteed. If a man is frustrated and you tell him to die tomorrow, he would tell you he prefers to die now. The team must also realize that Nigeria has a huge potential to succeed, provided we have the right people, no less capable human resources.