Posted by By Crispin Oduobuk on
Professor Omo Omoruyi is best known in Nigeria for his work as Director General of the defunct Centre for Democratic Studies.
Professor Omo Omoruyi is best known in Nigeria for his work as Director General of the defunct Centre for Democratic Studies. He held this post during a period when he also performed advisory functions to former military president General Ibrahim Babangida on the design and implementation of democratic transition (1985 to 1993).
Moreover, Professor Omoruyi performed democracy enhancing functions in different parts of Africa for political leaders from eight countries in Southern Africa and in Kenya and Ethiopia between 1989 and 1993.
A 1965 Political Science graduate of the University of Ibadan, Professor Omoruyi also attended the State University of New York at Buffalo between 1965 and 1970. In addition he was a student of the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies, Kuru between 1979 and 1980.
Furthermore, having taught and researched in universities in Nigeria, Kenya, USA, Guyana and Turkey between 1970 and 1989, the Edo-born political scientist is well-versed in matters of politics and statecraft. He spoke to Weekly Trust in Abuja on a wide range of issues. Below are excerpts from the interview:
Nigerians have become fixated on the date May 29, 2007 since it's the day we all expect a new government to be sworn in. Looking ahead, what would you say are the chances that the date would be a reality?
If you are looking forward to May 29th 2007; if you go by what exists today, all the signs are on the table by the PDP and its handlers [that] it will be difficult. They spend so much time undermining General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida and Atiku Abubakar and spend less time talking about how to move forward. They spend so much time undermining INEC. INEC is now supposed to be a thief.
Then they want to make the current leader the national leader for life which is not provided for in the [PDP] constitution. Then they want to have a three-year capital budget. It's even more than that because they are even talking about 2020 for railway. They want to build a millennium building here. And so on and so forth.
Look, the man should be a lame duck president, find a way to Ota and allow Nigerians to think how to move the country forward. Now they have taken every event-mark my word-every event to mean reform. They come up with one event today; it's reform agenda. Give us a break! Events are not reforms. Events are just pronouncements! Reforms are supposed to be well-thought out. Every pronouncement of government today is 'reform'. el-Rufai says one thing; it's reform. Soludo; it's reform. Ezekwesili; it's reform.
Go to [Ministry of] Education; say you are giving six months to turn it around. What do you mean? That's where we all worked, retired. What can you turn around when you are not fit to be an accountant in the university?
You call the VCs and talk to them as though you are talking to children. That's not fair.
So we run into that kind of difficulty that even green horns are now parading themselves as presidential candidates. Those who were third-termers yesterday suddenly became presidential candidates overnight. Who are they deceiving, Nigerian people?
One thing I know, Nigerian people are very wise. They know those who are trying to undermine them. They are not allowing Nigerians to vent their wishes. Nigerians, if allowed to vote their conscience, will vote out these people. They won't support third-termers who turned democrats overnight. They will not support those who call every event a reform. They will not support those who want to institutionalise their stay in office as permanent. Let the voters judge and exercise their wisdom. That is what democracy is.
Nigerians will ask; what does Professor Omoruyi want?
What do I want? Having lived this long, having been given a second chance in life, you know, I'm very clear about that, what do I want in life? What do I want in my second coming? I call it second coming [because] I spent the whole of '94 in hospital... after going through surgery... arising from my political... from my involvement in the past. I am still carrying eight pellets today in my body. And then I was away for 10, 12 years. So, coming back and getting involved, I call it my second coming.
So my second coming, what do I want? To me it's more serious than green horns just getting involved. I believe that this country is gifted with men, women and materials. God has been so kind to all of us, but what has been wrong is that we haven't been able to blend these human and material resources vigorously. I want a situation where we can blend the natural and human resources to move this country forward. So if I can contribute at all, it is in that area that I want to contribute.
In what capacity, Sir?
Well, I'm not going to run for office. You find that if I go and join the race for anything at any level, I'll also be considered to be one of those old people who had had opportunity in the past. I'm also getting close to 70 now. So if I now join the race and say I want to be a governor where kids of 36, 37 are vying, my first son is older than that; so my son will ask: What is Daddy looking for? (General laughter)
So my responsibility now is to try and advice. I do consult. I am a consultant.
When you say you are a consultant, what do you mean, because it might define your interest?
When you are consulting as a political consultant, I never consult for two opposing people. I won't consult for two candidates who are vying, who are opposing themselves. I don't have interest. I will always support the candidate with progressive views who want to move this country forward. I will not support anybody who is anti-democratic. I will not support anybody who undermines the wishes of the Nigerian people.
Every consultant must have interest and I will specify my interest: I will not support anybody who undermines women; who will put religion as number one and will not want to make religion as private matter because what I did in the past, I'm still seeing my record when people say that up to '93, religion, ethnicity [was] played down when it came to politics. It was a private affair. One had responsibility for doing that in the past. It's still what I believe in; that anything I do is to reduce the political salience of ethnicity and religion, and to create opportunity for women and for the young. So you then can guess where I stand.
Considering your past association with General Babangida, it's quite natural for people to assume that you are consulting for him, is this true?
It is true. It is true so I can't run away from that.
Some people will say that you belong to our disastrous past because your Centre for Democratic Studies was not able to midwife democracy. And even the person you are consulting for was not able to handover to a democratically elected government as he promised several times. How do you convince Nigerians that he's a different person now and that this time he will get it right?
Okay, I think I'll separate the questions into two. I'll deal with CDS first and then deal with the man, General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida.
During the CDS we did a wonderful thing. I have records to show that our contribution is immense. It is one area where Nigerians today clearly ignore and they ought to go back to that position because CDS stood for two things; we researched into anti-democratic beliefs and found a way to take care of those things. We did both. We were able to find out sources of anti-democratic views, beliefs, attitudes in Nigeria, and we also tried to correct those things.
I'm not saying we successfully did but we tried because I don't believe that we can do it in one day-even within a generation-but we tried. And these two missions have been well acknowledged even internationally and I still want to stand on that. If you check the book Protecting Human Rights in Africa by Claude Welch, it's a good account of CDS work.
And if what we did didn't make sense at all, the United States Vice President, Dan Quayle, came to CDS and I recall the letter he wrote to this country-and he copied me-that we were running a unique institution that doesn't have a parallel in Africa. So, that's still the record.
Then, if we were to follow what we did, I usually end with one statement: the operation was successful, but the patient died. (General laughter)
That's where you get very agitated, "June 12 this." Well, yes, the reason why June 12 failed were external to the mission of CDS; were external to my mission; were external to what I did; were external to even Babangida himself and he will speak on such matter at the appropriate time and I don't want to pre-empt him.
He will make one statement and I hope once he makes that statement, Nigerians will-I know those who will not believe him will not believe him so he's not going to win souls. He is going to set the records straight and once he makes that point I believe we can move forward.
Nigerians should be allowed to move forward and not become a victim of the past. If you become a victim of the past then we have to find out those who were culprits of the civil war. But I've never heard anybody say let us find the culprit; who was the guilty person; who was the one who brought about the civil war; who were the ones who fired the first shot. Nigerians have been allowed to move on ever since. Why should Nigerians not be allowed to move on after June 12? I believe we should. I believe we have a right to. I believe General Babangida has a right to rear his ugly head in this country and not be a victim of what took place not too long ago, forgetting that Nigeria went through civil war and those who were involved in the other side are still very much alive.
What will General Babangida come to do now that he couldn't do as military president?
That is for the Nigerian voter to decide. If he [General Babangida] says, "This is what I want to offer," it is for the Nigerian voter to say, "We'll buy it; we'll not buy it."
You see, I'm always voter conscious. I'm always conscious of the right of the Nigerian voter. So if a man says I want to seek an election, my responsibility as a consultant is to ask the question we normally ask. We say take your pen, take your paper; if a candidate comes to me, I say, why? What do you want to offer? What do you want to do? What do you want to achieve? I've asked him these questions and I'm convinced that he has something to offer. It's not for me to begin to tell you these are the things he will offer otherwise I'll be pre-empting him. Let him make his views known. And if you are asking me should Nigerians not be given opportunity to hear these things? Of course! If democracy is what we are pursuing, Nigerians should be allowed to hear him out.
General Babangida has already been president. Shouldn't his son say to him, "Daddy, what are you looking for? Let me be president"
His son doesn't want to be president. He doesn't have a political ambition. He's a young business man who loves his horses and wants to run that kind of life. He doesn't want to get involved in running for office. Maybe time will come and he will change his mind but today that is what he does so he's not in a position to challenge his father.
What do you think of Atiku's candidacy?
I think he has right to and I do not believe what they are doing to him they are fair to him. The PDP is not fair to the man. Obasanjo is not fair to the man. If there is anybody in this country today who has right to succeed Obasanjo, Atiku is number one. That is what the standard book also says; that you choose a vice president who is your automatic stand-by generator ... in case of power failure. (General laughter)
But here you have a president who has never gone on leave for eight years now. The constitution is there, that even if he goes on leave there will be an acting president. Have you ever heard of an acting president in this country [since 1999]? Bush goes on leave. Clinton goes on leave. Is he super human? He will never because he doesn't even trust himself. He's god. Obasanjo is god.
Don't you think Atiku will give Babangida a run for his money?
We don't have to cross our bridge before we get there. Both of them are not candidates yet. They are just aspiring. I'm glad you know the difference. And my message to my friends in the North is: if you play into the hands of those who want to engage in the politics of divide and rule and encourage many of these candidates from the North, all this talk of power shift will be a mirage. It will not happen. Ditto South-South and co. Ditto Ohaneze.
You need to sit down and look at yourself and look at other candidates. Then you think to yourself, "I think on balance we allow A to go forward because A can accommodate the interest we all represent."
There is, whether we like it or not, a Northern interest. There is, whether we like it or not, a South-South interest. But you're not going to tell me that all aspirants from the South-South, whether six or so, are all talking of how to maximise that interest. I don't believe in the multiplicity of parties and candidates. It is a recipe for disaster.
And in my view, if we are not careful, it will lead to a stalemate, because, once you get into this thing called race, you're running for office, you've built a lot of resistance to negotiations. It is always better aspirants talk among themselves. The moment you become a candidate, there are many people who have a stake in what you are doing who will tell you you've already won, don't give up, don't do this. It's a lie because there is only going to be one president who will emerge maybe October 1, 2007. I'm not optimistic about May 29th 2007.
What's your relationship with Chief Tony Anenih who is supposed to be the biggest power broker today in government?
Well, I like him, I respect him, there's mutual respect, but I think that politically he's a disaster.
But he seems to be in control of political issues-
Even in your state.
That's what I mean: He's an unmitigated disaster in Edo State. And if Chief Tony Anenih had taken himself out of Edo politics, [Governor] Lucky Igbinedion will do better. If he's not breathing over the fellow's neck Lucky Igbinedion will do better. Is he too old to run for office? Why can't he run? Go and be chairman of a local government council. He has never had that experience in his life.
I don't believe in people who have never really sought office becoming instrument for making other people office holders. It is a disaster. Let him one day pick up a nomination form and say I want to run for this, then he will see what Nigerian voters are like; then he will see what the people of Uromi are like. They will be indifferent. He will say, "Ah! Is that so?"
Edo State is dying today. We are not represented at the federal level. We do not have a minister. Look at the full list; Edo State doesn't head one ministry.
But Chief Anenih is there and he is powerful.
Chief Anenih is there, it's that what you call power?
Perhaps he's the super minister.
No, no, no, stop that, stop that. Don't give me that baloney. If I go to Ministry of Finance will Chief Anenih intervene for me? He cannot. If I go to Ministry of Defence can he? If I go to Ministry of Communications, can he? He may be interested in who gets on the boards but when it comes to those who are on the street looking for job, can he? No be superman? I don't think he is. We do not have a minister of cabinet rank, Edo State. That's what you call a man who is powerful?
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