by Professor Pat Utomi
WALKING MY TALK: A CRY FOR MY BELOVED COUNTRY – STATEMENT BY PATRICK OKEDINACHI UTOMI, SDMP CANDIDATE FOR PRESIDENT 2011
I am honoured that you all could join me today as I bring to close one of the more challenging experiences of a life I can dare to say has been eventful.
It is opportunity for deep reflection and candid review of our nation’s state of health and my personal engagement with the struggle to renew and refresh it. Let me apologise that given the object of today’s briefing, the narrative will be somewhat tedious. This is necessary because what is at stake is feedstock for history.
These statistics tell a clear story about how poorly we have fared. Comparing us with our peers from the 1960s usually is cause for much sadness. Whether it is the UNDP Human Development Index or the Africa Competitiveness report, the nation which at independence had great potential now lags.
As a citizen, I have long been puzzled by why Nigeria fails to perform. I am more troubled when I move from statistic to the poor widows I interact with often, the unemployed youth I counsel, and the ailing rural person in search of basic health care.
In traveling frequently though such countries as Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore I have come to feel a personal responsibility for Nigeria’s failing. In the last few years those have caused me to step into an arena that family and many friends would rather I avoid. I have to admit that many times, I have wondered if the price was worth it. Then I remembered that the prize is a better country for my children and all of God’s and on trusting that one day it will be a glorious dawn.
A month ago, I suggested that I was rethinking how the spirit of service for the good of all could be deployed outside of a partisan political process. Now in full view of the 2011 election campaign as failing to being our competing ideas for governance I decided I would make a statement on my continuing participation in the process.
The first point of my statement is that in comparing Nigeria of today and Nigeria of the years of promise, it seems self evident that the politics defines economic performance and the quality of life of citizens. At the heart of it all is the Grand Norm. I have come to be persuaded that’s until we return to the constitution negotiated by Chief Obafemi Awolowo, The Sardauna, Sir Ahmadu Bello and Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe progress will come far too slowly to Nigeria for it to be meaningful.
I have come to the realization that constitutional reform is far more valuable than elections which have continued to be at the whim of state capture.
The big question is how do we deal with this challenge today?
Let me in complete candor indicate that as the 2011 elections cycle rolled around about a year and half ago the last thought on my mind was to be candidate for any office. The reason was simple.
In 2006, I had become frustrated with a country making no progress. I could not reconcile the fact that oil revenues had been sky high for so long, yet Nigeria under performed on all quality of life indicators; infrastructure was generally worse that year than before the surge of revenues; the roads were so immotorable as to be described as the violation of the fundamental human right of those who travel on them by a Canadian diplomat; just as there was less power to light up the country and resuscitate industry after billions of new dollars had been poured into the sector between 1999 and 2006. It was evident that something fundamental was wrong and that the challenge of character, commitment and competence in public life needed to be addressed.
I was persuaded that my offering a clear vision of a new Nigeria would, at the least, set an agenda, and if all went well in a fractured field, result in a run-off in which we could tell the balance in favour of a coalition committed to serving the people sacrificially. I was convinced that would move Nigeria away from the column of paradise deferred to new possibilities.
As is now widely documented and accepted, the 2007 election was a farce. But it was not that it was a farce alone that troubled me. It was the level of evil in the process and the widespread view that to have a place in politics you had to sell your soul, conscience and dignity. I was convinced there could be a better way, a different way.
Instead of returning fully to my normal life as a teacher and business angel, I spent more time trying to forge a movement that could advance the common good and help hold political actors more accountable. It was hard work with results challenged by many factors better discussed with the availability of more time.
The factor of that bothered me the most from my 2007 experiences continued to lead me to question many things. It was the ease of state capture and the abuse of the power of central of the state to the detriment of the people and the country’s statistic that the lives of Nigerians got worse with our democracy getting more revenues, to see how state capture by a group who chanced on power could bring us to where Libya is today. That was tried with the third term bid, which failed only because interest diverged within “the family”. I saw them and how pointless it was to expect elections to bring change and freedom to the Nigerian people in this so called democratic arrangement.
I identified them with the PRONACO effort to resolve this through a new constitution that will break the disconnect between political leaders and the interest of the people.
On January 1st, 2010 it seemed natural therefore to share with my wife a New Year resolution not to run for anything without damaging my commitment to serve neighbour and God, particularly though, making my shoulder strong enough for the young to stand on so they can see tomorrow more clearly. What happened instead was that process that began with a phone call inviting me to meet with Chief Anthony Enahoro in Ikeja took a new turn. When I met the elder statesman, I had been briefed about a movement to bring together the progressive opposition to form united front to bring change about. Having been Chairman of strategy and the face of the opposition Presidential candidates in 2007, as the extent of the flow in the elections became evident, the process being started by Chief Enahoro was a welcome development and I had no trouble committing. I expected to play a role that would be citizen duty but hardly a leadership role.
I would soon find myself listed as one of one conveners especially as an apparent desire to have a northern flavoured movement emerge with a view to merging the now so called Mega Summit Movement to which Chief Enahoro had also invited General Mohammadu Buhari, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar and former Sokoto state Governor, Attahiru Bafarawa, listed as convener of the NDI, Chief Olu Falae and myself being the Southern CO-conveners with Gen. Buhari, Alhaji Atiku and Bafarawa and asked to co-chair the working committee with Alhaji Sule Hamma.
I soon plunged myself with great passion into a process that could provide a United opposition that could make the change I believed was difficult, possible, even in the face of state capture. It cost me time and enormous personal resources to facilitate the process.
On the day president Yar’adua was mysteriously flown into Abuja, an important leg of the process was set for Lagos Governors Lodge on Isaac John Street in Ikeja, Lagos. Gen. Buhari, Alhaji Atiku and Bafarawa, Chief Olu Falae and I met with the leadership of the Action Congress led by Sen. Bola Ahmed Tinubu, Chief Bisi Akande, Niyi Adebayo, Segun Osoba and others. I left that meeting heading to another in Benin with the Governors of the South South convinced the process would crash. The next day in Abuja it did.
On a personal level, I carried on the crusade for bringing all together. Travelled frequently to meetings at homes of opposition leaders around the country and even meeting some abroad, I suggested the in-fighting within the PDP provided the best opportunity to rescue Nigeria from the culture of rent-seeking that was crippling Nigeria.
I wrote letters to opposition leaders detailing the state of the nation and history’s likely judgement on us all if we cannot work together to show the light in another direction. The outcome of all that requires a well written book for history’s verdict.
What was constant was my traditional remark that it did not matter what role I played in the outcome, as long as I could have my vision of a new Nigeria which focuses on the people and the Common Good on the table for adoption.
When media coverage of various tow way merger and alliances talks were leading the public – which has kept pushing for opposition consolidation – into despair, we began an off radar effort.
In the meantime, a political party to provide that tent that could remove the ego problems of adopting my own party. I had entered the registration process. The name Social Democratic Mega Party had been chosen. I disliked the word ‘mega’, which as it would turn out would be contentious with another group that broke from the original Enahoro family: I thought a Tiger did not have to display its attitude. ‘Mega’ seemed of no value, especially as many of the original members had gone a different way. I preferred SDP because I was a Social Democrat. Other forces previously were already wondering if it was not time to walk away from it all, as the need to put Nigeria first was interpreted so different that I was beginning to be certain we would end up where other alliance efforts of the opposition in Nigeria lay when I had been chosen Chairman and interim of the party. I acquiesced as part of a sense duty.
The ideas began to circulate that for the party to hold together while discussions to being the progressive forces together were pursued, the party had to have a Presidential flay bearer. Before I could put the matter to discussion it was already in the media – I would be its presidential candidate.
I ceased on that as a rallying factor to further advance efforts to bring the progressive opposition together. With much thanks to Chief Olu Falae, we narrowed things down to ACN, ANPP, CPC and SDMP.
This followed the fiasco of my last effort to bring a broader group together. I have approached both the Ondo and Edo Governors to play important roles there. The meeting was set for Benin after long consultations with the would-be host. Between our last meeting and the event, he was persuaded by others to pull back. I carried the weight of that whole effort personally. The follow up flag event at the Sheraton would prove to be a fiasco because Alhaji Lateef Jakande arrived late and the MC and the acting Chairman disagreed on who was speaking next.
In the last two months several meetings involving Chairmen of CPC, ANPP, CAN and SDMP with their Presidential candidates and later the running mates of the Presidential candidates, plus one other Party leader have taken place.
Much progress was made on several fronts. We agreed to harmonize our manifestos and set up a committee with two persons from each party to do that. A consolidated document was presented and accepted. All steps were crossed till one, the conclave. According to the process the four presidential candidates were to be left in the room until they agreed on one person. To be sure the parties would respect the outcome all were asked to return to their Exco to approve of this. We were led to believe all had so done.
At the last but one meeting, the running mates were required to be present so none would be a spoiler, was there to be a request that they reject their nomination for the common cause. At this meeting, I would learn later, one of the running mates made comments about one of the presidential candidates and then solicited their stepping down after the meeting in a way that may have provoked that camp not to show up at the conclave. With that, the process which is technically still alive fell on life support.
Having entered the process with one clear goal, to produce a formidable opposition, I had said I would determine my participation in the process if failed, not just in the symbolic wiping the sand off my sandals as evidence against those who rejected the process but also in providing concrete evidence that ego did not stand in the way and that my repeatedly indicating I had no trouble stepping down if we all agreed on someone else was offered in sincerity.
In addition, I have also added to the troika of reasons why I must say goodbye to the process – the fact that it has provided me incontrovertible evidence that Nigeria cannot make progress under their illegitimate constitution that lends itself so easily to state capture.
I remain committed to institution building and will work with any person of goodwill to build a new Nigeria. In that regard one of my discoveries on this journey has been Kano State Governor Ibrahim Shekarau, who I commend to my friends and supporters.
I want also to take this moment to commend public life, true citizenship, to professionals and young people. Until they can make it their business much harm will continue to be done. It may be untidy at first. Unkind comments from people you would normally not engage with will drive you to the safety of your comfort zone but do not retreat. It is part of the price of nation building. Be assured that history will ultimately vindicate you.