HON. ARTHUR KALAGBOR is a former member of the House of Representatives and he is from Rivers State.
In this interview with JAMES FEBEBEBO, HON. KALAGBOR speaks on the way forward for Nigeria. He says that the institutions of government in the country should be strengthened as part of the development process. He also expresses his views on leadership in Nigeria, democracy and other issues.
What's your impression of our country's democracy?
I've a very positive impression that we are making progress. There are areas of adherence to promises made and also areas where promises made are not kept but on the whole, I think we are making progress.
Prof. Wole Soyinka recently said that both the PDP (Peoples Democratic Party) and APC (All Progressives Congress) do not deserve to be voted for. How would you respond to his assertion?
I don't have to listen to what anyone else says. I've an opinion. He's entitled to his opinion. That's all I can say.
How will you assess the PDP and the APC?
I think that they are both viable political platforms for Nigerians who want to be in partisan politics. Either of them can serve useful purpose depending on what your mission is in politics. It's not about the political party, it's about you who are going into office using the political platform any of those parties can provide.
What would you say about the sincerity of politicians when they are elected?
I should say something about their sincerity, you want me to pass a judgement on them? I will not pass a judgement on them. People give what they have and every society gets the kind of government that it has asked for. That's what happens. So, the sincerity or lack of sincerity is not for me to judge. I guess we just get what we have worked for, what we have, you know, in one way or the other brought about.
People get what they ask for?
So, what do Nigerians ask for?
We haven't asked for what anything that we haven't got. All the contradictions you see in our polity are supported by people depending on what divide their horn. So, as far as they are concerned, they are getting what they want. There are political divides. We've just mentioned APC and PDP as two political platforms. That's a political divide. One is on the other side, the other (on) the opposite side. So, whatever action any of them takes, whatever happens depending on where the person is, chances are that he's not going to be in a position to condemn what his political tribe says is good. So, that's what is happening in society.
Does that benefit the generality of Nigerians?
It's the consequences of presidential politics. It's a natural consequence. It happens all over the world. So, it's not strange. So, quite often, it is majority having their way even as much as the minority will have their say. It happens all over the world. Political tribes are formed on the platform of political parties and members of the tribes are as stuck in their positions as you'd probably would find it nightmarish to believe but that's the truth about presidential politics. It brings on a lot of people onto the political platform just to actualize ambitions of some individuals and they are ready to die for those ambitions. So, it's not strange to me. I'm not surprised.
What's your impression of the Buhari-led APC government?
I choose not to judge them… I'm not in politics anymore. My impression is that the government we have is what we have asked for. Who brought on the government? It didn't come from heaven. It came from among us. So, what impression should I have? I've none. I choose to have none.
What about the administration of Chief Nyesom Wike in the area of performance?
I think he's been doing what he can… He can always do better but he's been doing his level best. A man gives what he can and what he has. That is what we have to bear in mind.
To legal experts in Nigeria, President Buhari's suspension of the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Walter Onnoghen, is an interference in the judicial arm. By this action, do you think that the Presidency could be a threat also to the National Assembly?
Hasn't the National Assembly been attacked before? It has been attacked before… I'm sure you remember that not too long ago, sometime in 2018, the National Assembly was attacked by armed security from the Department of State Services.
And there was also an instance where some hoodlums came into the Chambers of the National Assembly and went away with the mace?
Yes, so, all that points to what kind of a country we have. That is all it points down to.
As former federal lawmaker, what are your future political ambitions?
I've left politics.
I thought I'd said that before. I think I've better things to do with my time. Politics is not the only thing any man should do. You do what you can (and) you move on. I've moved on away from politics. So, I don't refer to it as though I have any ambition to go back to political office, because I really don't.
What would you do if your people were to say, 'come and represent us'?
I have served the people before when the request was made. I don't think such a request will be made today.
What if the request was made again?
That's just a hypothesis. So, you don't build political talk or ambition on such hypothesis.
Where do you see Nigeria in the next 10 or 15 years?
(I see) only a Nigeria that is highly divided. That's what I see and there could be very terrible consequences arising from our division if we are not very careful. So, I can't tell you where Nigeria will be in the next 15 years. I don't claim to have such powers.
How do you think we could settle the issue of disunity in this country?
Good governance is the only thing that will settle it and the people being taken into account in whatever we do. Their yearnings should be listened to… That is what will stop the division that we see today.
Would you say that the Nigerian voter is docile?
Nothing to do with docile. What will they do? They vote. Nigerians turn out and vote during elections.
But they may not do as voters in some countries would do, saying No to issues?
What you are saying is whether they should be protesting on the streets. You protest with your votes during election. There's election coming around the corner. So, we should vote.
So, voters should protest with their votes?
If you have any objection to how you are governed, election is your perfect opportunity to vote in accordance with how you want to see your country go.
Some people are not even very sure that INEC (Independent National Electoral Commission) will conduct free and fair elections in the country. So, the issue of voting and having their votes counted is even not to be expected?
Is that what those people are saying?
Yes. So, how would they protest with their votes if that is what is coming?
Let's see how that plays out. Let them vote first then we see how it happens.
How can we advance democracy in Nigeria?
It's advancing. The democracy in Nigeria is making progress. You see the progress every day. Elections are coming round according to schedule. That is one. Questions are being asked of our leaders. If they fail to answer it today, they could answer it tomorrow. So, democracy will be deepened. It is the rule of the Constitution and rule of law. That is what it is all about. It is not by fiat. So, I think that gradually democracy is being deepened. It doesn't matter on what side of the divide the question is. The evidence is there that democracy is being deepened. If you have got experience of the military era, you will know that today people will not be questioning President Buhari if he was in his era as military head of state but questions are being asked. People are finding fault with some of the actions he has taken. It is a deepening of democracy and the rule of law is contaminous with democracy.
Do you think that INEC will conduct free and fair elections?
It's until the election is done that we will know. When the election is done, you and I will know whether that election was free, fair and credible. So, let's wait until it has been conducted. INEC has said it will conduct it. Too much cynicism is not my cup of tea. So, we should be able to hold them to their promise when the election is done.
Why is Nigeria poorly led, because this is the impression of most people?
If you know the history of Nigeria …you will know why we are poorly led: ethnicity, the infusion of religion into governance, corruption, lack of accountability, those are the things that have led to poor leadership. So, there are issues you cannot run away from. So, you can't expect that a country that manifests weak institutions like we have will suddenly be able to have that kind of and sustain the expectation that hungry people will not collect money and vote whichever way they are directed. So, those are the issues.
Do we leave it for time to solve our problems because we are very deeply divided on the lines of ethnicity and religion?
It's not about time, it's about eventually bringing people who are uniters rather than dividers. Eventually, you will have uniters rather than dividers and people think that division is only at the national level. It's also at the state level. It's also at the local government level. It's even in the communities. So, until people begin to see how they unite themselves around issues that are common to them rather than allow themselves to be divided by their partisan leaning, by their religion, by their ethnicity, you can't begin to solve the problem. So, it's not a matter of time. It's a matter of realization of our people that, that is the way to go.
How do we build strong institutions in Nigeria? You may recall that former US President Barrack Obama said at his inauguration that Africans should build strong institutions and not strong personalities.
It will be part of the development process of our country. Development is not about roads and houses. Development is about the people. It's about awareness of our civic responsibilities and rights. That is the major development that could bring about the kind of progress you are talking of.
Do you see that happening in Nigeria?
It will happen…. Whether it's going to happen now or in many years to come, it will ultimately happen if there is a country called Nigeria as we know it today.
How should politicians play the ball to get governance in Nigeria to a better place?
When you see what is good in other countries, borrow it, shamelessly. Apply it to yourself. You will make progress. It's just like education. We are not re-inventing the wheel in Nigeria. Borrow what works somewhere and use it in your nation. It will work for you.
And talking about education, would you say that we are getting it right and the knowledge imparted to students?
I think that those who want to use the knowledge they have learnt from universities also learn even in the university how to use that knowledge.
How do you mean, sir?
When people go into the university, it is a chance for them to pass through (the university) but also for the university to pass through them. If a person passes through the university without (the) university passing through him, you don't expect wonders from him. So, the university must pass through you because it's a level of development of your mind, not learning of just facts. You develop your mind to think. So, today there are people who leave the university system and are able to function very, very well in the society. There are others who are not functioning as well as they should even if they may have studied the same thing or attended the same university. So, I think it's working for those who want it to work for them. It may not work so well for those who are not prepared for it to work for them. It depends on how you use the knowledge you have gained from university.
How should leaders use their mandate?
You must use it according to the rules of the game. You must use it in accordance with the rules that prescribe the mandate. That is what you need to do. If you do that and stay on the straight and narrow path, you (will) have no problem. Your conscience should be clear (and) you will do the best you can because as I said before, a man only gives what he has. Don't expect to draw water from stone.
And so that such leaders can positively affect the lives of the people they are leading?
If they have the capacity, they will. You can only give what you have. If you have the capacity to positively affect (people's lives) then you will affect (people's lives).
And maybe we are lacking leaders with capacity?
Well, if you say so.