Former General Secretary of the National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG) and chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Chief Frank Kokori has urged Nigerians to give President Bola Tinubu at least six months to see what he could do to revive the economy and make things right. According to him, Tinubu inherited an empty treasury and mounting debts from the previous administrations of Goodluck Jonathan and Muhammadu Buhari.
The labour activist took a swipe at the labour unions and the civil society organisations for keeping quiet for over 20 years while the nation’s refineries remained moribund. In this interview with DAILY POST, he speaks on some nagging national issues. Excerpts!
Nigerians are groaning under the current fuel price regime which has virtually affected prices of everything; is there any hope of saving Nigerians, considering the realities on ground?
How can Nigeria collapse? Nigeria is a big country; it is just that we have been misruled for some time. The problem with Nigeria is that democracy has been there for 24 years, and out of all those years, we don’t have a refinery, and nobody was saying anything. The labour unions and the Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) were all complacent. They weren’t saying anything; nobody was saying anything. And just because Tinubu came to power now and with the conspiracy of most of his opponents and adversaries, anything he does must be criticised.
During the elections, the whole Nigerians said that we can’t use almost 90 percent of our earnings to service external loans. So, we were dying already; the hardship has been on for years, and now, you want Tinubu to change everything in just two and a half months just because you don’t want him to be there. Things are tough in Nigeria and everybody knows it.
Even during the campaigns, the three principal candidates said they would remove subsidies. Atiku was saying he would stop subsidies and sell the refineries. Obi said he cannot continue with the subsidies. Tinubu said he cannot continue with the subsidies. So, we all agreed in the country that subsidies must go and there is no other time to do it if not now. Some people are saying we should have prepared but you want to ask: prepare for what? Will Nigerians ever accept subsidy removal? Some people are gaining from the subsidies. From over 64 million litres of petrol every day, it has dropped to about 52 million litres per day; is that not proper gain for Nigeria?
If you say that other candidates like Obi and Atiku also said they would remove subsidies, you should also remember they never told us how they would go about it. However, the argument is that since the people involved in the subsidy fraud are known, why would the government not go after them instead of punishing Nigerians…
Of course, we know that. You can’t be selling fuel here in Nigeria for three cents and every other country in West Africa, and in fact, the whole sub-Saharan Africa sells fuel for $1.1. You can’t sell fuel for three cents here, carry it across the borders and sell it for $1.1 and come back with a profit of 300 percent. But, that is what has been happening in Nigeria for the past 20 years. Is that rocket science? We all know that.
So, we know all those people who are saying that there was no subsidy. The whole country is now divided. The last election was so acrimonious that nobody wants to shift ground. I am an APC chieftain and elder statesman, and I am an educated man, so I understand everything. Most young people don’t even understand the country. All they know was that during the last election, people divided themselves into three blocs – the Asiwaju bloc, the Atiku bloc and the Obi bloc, and nobody wants to shift ground.
No matter what Tinubu does, he must be criticised. Even seven days after he took power, the organised labour and the civil society groups wanted to go on strike, until I came out and started making powerful statements to advise my comrades that they should not do it. He just came to power for seven days and you are giving him a three-day ultimatum. I told them it is never done like that anywhere in the world. So, that is that. We know what is happening and no sane person will say we should continue like that. And there is no day Nigerians would accept removal of fuel subsidies until now when they know that it is not even possible because they don’t even have the foreign exchange to buy more fuel. The government doesn’t have anything; it even owes heavily. So, we just have to accept it and wait for about six months or one year. If by then, the Tinubu administration could not change anything, then we tell them we are tired of them, but not in one or two months, you start attacking a new government that came to inherit empty treasury and debts; mounting debts and everything. The country was bastardised by Goodluck Jonathan and Muhammadu Buhari. But, the situation is that people are suffering; we all agree. Everybody is suffering but frivolity has ended too. People don’t drive their cars anyhow again. People don’t burn fuel anyhow again and that is what is happening all over the world.
Are you saying that there is no possibility of going back to the subsidy regime even with the level of hardship as a result of its removal without any alternative?
The civil society is supposed to be the critic of the subsidy removal. The subsidy removal has come to stay. It has been removed, and nobody is bringing it back. I am an oil man and I know what we were passing through. I am only sad that the present comrades did not fight for the refineries. I am saying that our problem is that for 20 years, we didn’t bother about our refineries and that is because the government and the people didn’t even care. My comrades in the labour movement and even the civil society did not care; they just spent so much money on turn-around maintenance.
Some people are insinuating that your party, the APC, appears to be very comfortable with corruption. For instance, the former Governor of Kano State, Abdullahi Ganduje has just become the national chairman of the APC, and over 90 percent of Tinubu’s ministers have one corruption case or the other. Is APC really out to destroy Nigeria?
Normally, I have zero tolerance for corruption. So, anybody who has cases against them, not rumours, should file all those cases. The social media and the conventional media are all there; so let them file all those cases, not just speculations and rumours. Let them produce all those cases, after all, the civil society and all those well meaning investigative journalists are there to bring all those solid cases out, let’s see what the government will do about them. Personally, I have zero tolerance for corruption, and that is why I was angry with Buhari because instead of him fighting corruption, he was abetting corruption. Tinubu said he has just come in, his family is well endowed according to his wife and that it is just about his ambition, the ‘Emilokan.’ So, he already has sufficient money. So, Nigerians should give him some time. Let’s watch the government for at least six months to one year before we start criticising him, not now. He is coming from a really bad situation.
What is your impression about the list of ministers?
To me, it is too large. If not the constitution, why should Nigeria even have more than 18 ministers? The constitution said at least one from each state but apart from that, why should he even add more to it. To me, that is a bloated cabinet; I am not in support but the constitution made it almost possible for him to do that. And the Senate has some of the best brains we have in Nigeria because they represent their people, so if both the opposition and ruling party members in the Senate didn’t see anything against the list, what can an old man like me who has retired see wrong in that?
The FG is clamping down on the billboards bearing, ‘All eyes on the judiciary’ all over the place, what does that portend for us as a country? What is wrong with the billboards; what is the government afraid of?
How can people just put billboards all over the places, warning the judiciary to be careful; all eyes on the judiciary? Has that ever happened since 1959 when we started having elections in this country? How can you just carry billboards and blackmail the judiciary?.
Are you saying that erecting billboards with such messages amounts to blackmailing the judiciary?
Yes now, how can you do that in a country? Don’t you know that the judiciary is sacred? Just because the judges will not answer you, you are blackmailing them? Why should anybody blackmail the judiciary?” The Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) did not make any mistake during the general elections. At the ward levels, the election results were properly collated by the BVAS. Why should anybody blackmail the judiciary like that? In a country where you have a hard leader, all of them will be locked up, tried and sentenced to a long term in jail. You can’t abuse or blackmail the judiciary just like that.
How would you describe the recent coup in Niger Republic?
People who do not understand what a coup is will be supporting the coup. They even want Nigeria to have a coup again. Do you know the suffering associated with a coup? The military will just pick you and lock you up and if you go to court, nobody will obey the court. They will suspend the constitution.
As the Secretary General of NUPENG and Secretary General of African Oil Workers, I was just picked up after 10 weeks of resistance. They kidnapped me at midnight and the late Chief Gani Fawehinmi went to court to get an order of mandamus. But, they still locked me up in solitary confinement; in a desert prison, for four years. The former Central Bank Governor, Godwin Emefiele is just there for a few days and the whole world is shouting. This is Emefiele who almost killed the whole Nigerians, but everybody is shouting now because it is Tinubu that is in the government. So, nobody wants a war in the Niger Republic. The issue is that you can’t be organising a coup anyhow. Military regimes are rubbish. The military ruined Nigeria’s economy; Babangida and Abacha ruined Nigeria’s economy.
Do you think Nigeria has any lesson to learn from the coup in Niger?
There is no lesson to be learnt there; every coup should be condemned. No coup should be supported by anybody. That the people of Niger Republic are now rejoicing over the coup is not a new thing; it is normal. That is what initially happens when the military takes over anywhere. When Buhari came to power, Nigerians rejoiced and supported him. When Babaginda came to power, Nigerians rejoiced and supported him, but after some time, they started crying. You don’t challenge them because if you do, they will kill you, and they don’t obey court orders. Did Emefiele obey the Supreme Court judgement when Nigerians were dying for lack of cash? When a man that has so much money in the bank could not take more than N5000 from his account and the Supreme Court said ‘release the money,’ did Emefiele and Buhari obey the court order? And everybody was dying.
But it was Buhari that disobeyed the Supreme Court orders, not Emefiele. Was it possible for Emefiele to have released money when his principal said he should not release money?
Who told you? The Central Bank of Nigeria is an independent organisation. So, if Emefiele did not agree, he should have resigned and he should have become a hero. But, he was a wicked man. We don’t have any sympathy for him. He is from Delta, my State, but we don’t have any love for him. He almost killed everybody in Nigeria. The Supreme Court would give a ruling and Emefiele would say no, and now people are sympathising with him. He should be punished.
What would be the implication of Nigeria spearheading a war with Niger, especially when it has become clear that foreign powers are urging Tinubu to do so against the realities of Nigeria’s relationship with Niger?
Nigeria is not spearheading any war; we are not going to war. They are just threatening those military boys in Niger. Nobody wants the coup to be very close to Nigeria.