Obasanjo Is The Grandfather Of Corruption In Nigeria–Dr. Vitus Ozoke

By Ikenga Chronicles February 14, 2018

Obasanjo Is The Grandfather Of Corruption In Nigeria–Dr. Vitus Ozoke

Dr. Vitus Ozoke is originally from Nigeria where he read and practiced law before coming to the United States. He obtained a Master of Laws from the University of Miami (FL) and a Ph.D. in Conflict Analysis and Resolution from Nova Southeastern University (FL).

With backgrounds in law and conflict resolution, Ozoke brings a unique perspective to the dynamics of conflict and conflict resolution – from both the traditional adversarial and the alternative dispute resolution systems.

Dr. Ozoke is the Executive Director of Peace and Leadership Africa Network (PLAN), a non-profit, policy, research, and advocacy think tank, engaged in the promotion of discussions and generation of best ideas in the areas of peace and leadership in Africa.

Ozoke’s research interests include civil wars and other ethnopolitical violence – their dynamics and their resolution, multiculturalism, indigenous systems of conflict resolution, civil societies and mass movements and their roles in conflict, socio-cultural aspects of conflict and its management, governance, governmental institutions and legal reforms, social identity and its conflict dynamics, social media, race, gender, human rights, and social justice.

As a Professor in the Department of Conflict Analysis and Dispute Resolution at Salisbury University, Dr. Ozoke teaches courses in the areas of cross-cultural conflicts, negotiations, workshops, research methods, race, and gender. He is a member of the Nigerian Bar Association and a member of the editorial board of the African Journal of Conflict Management. In 2011, Dr. Ozoke published a book entitled, Civil War Outcomes: A Predictive Insight.

In this exclusive interview with Ikenga Chronicles, at Salisbury, Maryland, USA, Dr. Ozoke discusses leadership failure in the world, Igbo Presidency, Biafra, Donald Trump, President Muhammadu Buhari’s failures, and former President Olusegun Obasanjo.

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Excerpts:

Sir, can you please give us a little insight about who you are, what you do and what inspired you to write your last book entitled Civil War Outcomes: A Predictive Insight.

I am Vitus Ozoke. I am a professor in the Department of Conflict Analysis and Dispute Resolution at Salisbury University in Maryland. Well, I was born shortly after the Nigerian Civil War. I recall growing up and being told the stories of the war. They were very graphic stories and they sounded very fresh. Stories of gallantry and how people survived. They were both entertaining and saddening at the same time. There was this abandoned market less than a quarter of a mile from my family house. It was called Ahia Attack (Attack market). It was a makeshift market for the exchange of local goods and wartime cigarettes. Its location met the strategic need for cover and secrecy as it was hidden in the groves of bamboo trees. All that created both a curiosity and an interest in civil wars for me.  

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You have written extensively on several issues that border on leadership. In your opinion, do you think that the world is burdened by many bad leaders in this dispensation? If yes, what do you think are the remote and immediate causes?

It is not just this dispensation, the world has always been plagued by bad leadership. If we take war as an indicator of failure of leadership, which it is, humanity has seen way too many wars. Twentieth century alone saw both first and second world wars and hundreds of interstate and intrastate civil wars, with human tolls running in staggering tens and hundreds of millions of lives. A combination of factors makes this time, or what you have chosen to call this dispensation, different. First, the world has never had greater opportunity for peace, unity, and common prosperity. The enormous opportunity that came with globalization has been badly mismanaged. With revolutionary advancement in both international, intra-national, and interpersonal communications technologies, including the internet, and means of transportation, globalization broke down national borders in ways that facilitated movement of labor and material resources across the globe. The result has been this massive wealth creation.

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Unfortunately, however, even though this wealth has been created on the broken backs of the poor and the working class, it has gone to the top one percent. The world has never known income inequality in the scale that it is today. The leadership class across the globe – national, multinational, financial, economic, and political – has not only allowed, but, in some cases, has also profited from, global income inequality. Take the United States as an example. The Trump Whitehouse is a billionaires’ club. From the president to several of his cabinet secretaries, it is Wall Street fat cows. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have anything against individual wealth, but where it gets complicated and frustratingly concerning for me is when policies are formulated that benefit the rich class at the expense of the poor working class.

A wealthy ruling elite will give robust tax windfalls to the rich, leaving the poor with the crumbs in the trickle down tradition. It will nibble away at health insurance for the poor working class. It will resist pay raise for the struggling working class who live from paycheck to paycheck. It will rollback protections against the next Wall Street bubble that will blow up and blow away people’s 401K savings. It will opt out of the Paris Accord and other commitments to a safer healthier environment. It will do all these on policy level to protect its selfish interest. And it will go to any length to safeguard its interest, including appealing to social wedge issues that pit one subset of the population against the other.

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I recognize I have used the current American leadership as an example. But bad leadership is not uniquely American in this age. Africa and other Third world developing economies have a fair share of bad leaders. Leaders whose idea of leadership is self-aggrandizement. In other civilizations, corruption is still a crime, and people get severely punished for it, including the punishment of death. In Africa, sadly, corruption has become normalized. And it is not just material corruption; it is also moral and intellectual corruption. Leaders who are willing to plunge their countries into internecine wars and other levels of conflicts just to protect some base selfish interests. It is as sad as it is unfortunate. But why Africa’s situation is particularly sad is the fact that most African societies are already fragile from both economic and political standpoints. Majority of the wars of the 21st century are going on in Africa and the Third world. So, yes, that’s why I have written extensively on issues that border on leadership.        

Down to specifics, how would you rate the governments of President Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria, and President Donald Trump of the United States of America?

They both receive failing grades.

With Donald Trump, I am not shocked. Everybody saw it coming. He is a racist white supremacist. He is anti-immigration – wants to wall America off from the rest of the world. He is xenophobic. He is Islamophobic. He is a compulsive liar. He lacks personal integrity and dignity. He is a thug with a loud mouth. He has no idea what America is about. He is a dictator with rabid contempt for the norms of democratic institutions. He is destroying America – ceding global leadership to China and helping Vladimir Putin’s Russia resurgence agenda. He is a complete disaster.

Buhari’s case is particularly disheartening. Here is a man whose pedigree suggested that he was going to be a strong leader for Nigeria. I supported his candidacy and vigorously campaigned for him. But you have to keep in mind that there wasn’t much of a choice in 2015. President Goodluck Jonathan was a very weak leader. His government was hijacked by a corrupt cabal. The economy was hemorrhaging. Youth unemployment was soaring through the roof. Educational infrastructure was in total rot. Schools were closed down for months on end, sometimes for upwards of years. Roads became deathtraps. Poverty was crippling. Yet, in all these, corrupt politicians flaunted stolen public wealth with impunity. So, there wasn’t much of a choice in 2015. It was a gamble. We needed a new direction. For me, it was anybody but Jonathan. I believed it deeply in my heart that had Jonathan remained in charge of Nigeria for another term, Nigeria would have become a failed state. We were going there. We were knocking on failure’s door. Buhari became the alternative. We rolled the dice. Boy, were we wrong?

But given the same set of facts as they existed in 2015, and without knowing what we know today about Buhari, many of us would probably still go the direction we went in 2015. Buhari has failed. He has shown himself to be even a weaker leader than was Jonathan. He has become captive to a different set of cabals. And it is sad. I will give him a failing grade without a second thought.             

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Do you think that a structural change is necessary in Nigeria? If yes, what do you recommend should be done?

One of the problems with Nigerians is shallow sloganeering. Some pseudo intellectual throws out some thoughtless slogan and everybody jumps on it. Everybody talks about restructuring, but when you ask to be educated on the whole notion of restructuring, you hit the wall of nonsense.

Just what is meant by restructuring? Break up the country and let secessionist agitating units go their separate ways? Reform and reorganize the operational mechanics of the police and judicial institutions so that corrupt politicians are locked away for the rest of their atrocious lives? Reorient common citizenry to understand that normative respect for elders does not extend to old sleazebags who have stolen and continue to steal from their children’s trust fund? Remind young Nigerians that youth is as much a fleeting attribute as it is a transitory guest and does not stick around for far too long? That youth is a wasting asset – you either use it when you still have it or you lose it?

You see, Nigerians are easily sold dummies. While the looting of the commonwealth by the old political elite goes on, young and common folks are busy quibbling over slogans. It is a distraction. Politicians come up with these grandiose slogans either to distract citizen attention to ongoing heist, but even when they don’t intend it as distraction, the goal is usually, if not always, selfish.

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Look, no system is structurally perfect. As successful as the United States is, there are flaws in its structure. There are structural injustices and inequities, but the country leaves you in no doubt that it is committed to building a more perfect union. Racism, slavery, and the continuing legacy of Jim Crow are stains that continue to bedevil the American project. And every once in a while, the system experiences a major aberrational jolt, like it is doing right now under the present Trump deviance. But the system has inbuilt structural and institutional integrity that is able to absorb the shock of occasional jolt and make needed correction and recovery. America will survive Donald Trump because America has strong and durable institutions. The court system has integrity and law enforcement, including the FBI, will enforce the laws of the land without fear or favor. But above all, the citizenry is engaged and tuned in.

Don’t forget that Nigeria has the same federal, presidential, bicameral system as the United States. What we need in Nigeria is not so much restructuring as it is attitudinal change. We need to build a new crop of justices who are not afraid to put the president and corrupt politicians in prison. We need a police force that understands its primary responsibility as constituted in serving and protecting the lives and property of every Nigerian, and not in serving as bodyguards and babysitters for corrupt politicians and their wives and children. We need an informed and engaged citizenry willing to block entrances to government houses in protest. So, the change that we need in Nigeria is more attitudinal than it is structural.

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Having said all that, I would be remiss if I didn’t recognize the substantive argument of restructurers. Part of the major argument for restructuring is greater devolution of power from the central government to the federating states and changing the revenue sharing ratio between the center and the states. I get that. My problem with that, however, is that in the absence of value reorientation, we will end of swapping a dog with a monkey. In a society like Nigeria, where politics is driven by cult of personality, devolution, in the sense that restructurers are clamoring for, will result in a weak ceremonial center and the creation of 36 strong corrupt men in government houses across the country. Even as it currently stands, governors in the 36 states lack everything but oppressive power over their denizens. Every governor in Nigeria, past and present, in the modern era, is stinking wealthy. They own sprawling real estates in choice locations both locally and across the world. They have eye-popping wealth stashed away in hard currencies in Swiss and other foreign banks. So, fiscal revenue restructuring is not about the welfare of common citizenry; it is about the corrupt power-tripping political elite.  

The one place that I may suggest a structural reform is in the area of state police. But even that is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, I have the feeling that state police will help stem the tide of criminality, including ransom kidnapping and terroristic invasions of local communities. On the other hand, state police will be a dynamite in the hands of egomaniacal state executives. They will use state police to harass political opponents, labeled as enemies, and consolidate their grip on power at the state level. But I think it is worth a shot, given the current state of near anarchy and breakdown of law and order in the country.  

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Do you think it is time for an Igbo president? And if so, who would be a better fit for the position?

If there was an Igbo country, sure, of course, it would be time for an Igbo president. But I didn’t know there was an Igbo country requiring an Igbo president. Look, it is a failure of the Nigerian state that the tribal ethnic origin of the president even matters. If Lagos state can produce great individuals with great presidential leadership characters, who are able to lead the country fairly, justly, equitably, and prosperously, what does it matter the Yoruba origin of the presidents? Origin becomes a salient factor only when there is consistent failure of leadership. In that situation of failed leadership, leaders’ origin becomes a meaningful, useful, and significant variable in trying to model factors that predict failure of leadership. It also creates a distributive, as opposed to an integrative, mindset where common wealth is viewed as a zero-sum resource.

The problem with the Igbo in Nigeria is, fundamentally, two fold. It is both external and internal. And there is a reverse and recursive paradoxical aspect to it. No doubt, the Igbo have suffered, and continue to suffer, invidious marginalization and allied injustices in Nigeria. But the Igbo have marginalized the rest of Nigeria as much as, if not more than, the rest of Nigeria has marginalized the Igbo. The Biafra war campaign in the late sixties was our clearest message to Nigeria that we wanted out. We demanded our ball so we could go home and play in our backyard. Nigeria said no. We fought them for three long years, lost over a million lives and suffered incalculable property damage.

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So, here we are, forced to remain in the endless, clueless, but relentless Nigerian experiment. Yet, the Igbo have continued to live in Nigeria with one leg in and one leg out. We have made the determination that it is only a matter of time before Nigeria collapses and disintegrates. Well, that may well be true, but until that happens, what should be the Igbo’s strategic posture in Nigeria? This is where I have parted ways on both practical and ideological levels with a lot of my Igbo friends. Until Nigeria implodes and splinters, the Igbo must remain engaged.

Don’t get me wrong, I believe in Biafra. I believe in Biafra as a resistance ideology against injustice, unfairness, inequity, marginalization, and all forms of oppression. There should be a Biafra resistance in Palestine, Kurdistan, American inner cities. But we cannot expose our children and young ones to a murderous gang of snaky zombie forces in a python devilry.

We will fight a smart Biafra. The Biafra of today must be the Biafra of inclusion, not exclusion; it must be the Biafra of accession and ascension, not secession and seclusion. The Igbo have made huge post-war investment into the Nigerian enterprise that secession is no longer sexy. So, the Igbo must be all in. A Nigerian president of Igbo extraction requires that the Igbo enter into strategic political alliances. The beauty of Nigerian democracy, from a check and balance perspective in a multiethnic system, is that no one ethnic group can, by itself, muster enough votes to elect a national president. A Nigerian president of Igbo origin requires that the Igbo be prepared to do business even with old enemies. We cannot continue to cut off our nose to spite our face. Politics is a game of interest. We must be clear eyed on our collective interest and align and ally with other like-minded ethnic subsets to achieve that objective.

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With that, I am just trying to be responsive to your question. I guess the more important and consequential question is why a Nigerian president of Igbo extraction? Do the Igbo even need one of its own to be president of Nigeria? For symbolic identity reasons, maybe. If the Igbo desperately need that as part of their collective resume, yes. But you will be surprised to find out that the average Igbo man or woman in Alaba, Ochanja, or Ogbete don’t care a hoot about where the president comes from as long as opportunities are equally available to all. After all, come to think of it, what have Igbo political elite, in high political positions in Abuja and other places, done for the Igbo? Are they not the same ones who yell Igbo marginalization in contract bids only to pocket contract monies for the rehabilitation of Igbo roads? Look, the Igbo problem is deeper and more complicated than the simplicity of the so-called Igbo president.                           

Nigeria has recently been plagued by several killings especially by suspected Fulani herdsmen. Do you think the government is doing enough to keep citizens safe?

No, the government is not doing enough to keep citizens safe. And it is not just in the area of murderous Fulani herdsmen and safety, it is in every aspect of life in Nigeria. Nothing is working. And the problem has been long in the making. Look, we stopped having a government in Nigeria a long time ago. Maybe the first and second republics. But since the extended years of military foray into politics that started in December 1983, incidentally with Major General Buhari, and lasted until May 1999, we have developed a whole new culture of ‘government’.

Government in Nigeria is no longer about doing public good; it is no longer about keeping citizens safe, like you said; it is about keeping corrupt politicians and shameless military brigands safe. It’s not about the citizens, the citizens now serve the leaders. So, no, government is not doing nearly enough to serve the security, economic, and social interest of Nigerians. And it’s a shame.     

Recently, former President Olusegun Obasanjo wrote to President Buhari, basically stating that he has failed Nigeria. In the same vein the wife of the President, Aisha Buhari got in the news for retweeting posts that say that her husband’s government has been hijacked. Both instances show a situation where those close to the President are beginning to question his ability to continue to lead the country. First of all, what do you make of Aisha Buhari and Obasanjo’s position? Secondly, do you think President Buhari has lost the reins? What can be done to remedy the situation?

Aisha Buhari may be right in believing that her husband’s government has been hijacked. That part is too obvious. As for Obasanjo, he is a total disgrace. Obasanjo is a major player in the failure of the Nigerian state. Obasanjo is the grandfather of corruption in Nigeria. In the eight years that he served as president, from 1999 to 2007, what did Obasanjo achieve for Nigeria? Nothing. Has he accounted for the several billions of dollars that he supposedly spent on the power sector? Look, we need to start having meaningful conversations in that country. It is a national scandal that Obasanjo is still part of the discourse. As for what needs to happen now that it is clear that Buhari has lost control of the country, he needs to resign. It’s that simple. He shouldn’t even dream of seeking reelection in 2019. It’s sad.      

If you are to decide, who should become Nigeria’s President in 2019?

I can’t decide, thank God! Nigerians will make that decision. I can only hope they elect someone who is Nigerian first before being Fulani, Hausa, Igbo or Yoruba. I can only hope that they choose someone who will rather die than surrender the fate of 200 million Nigerians to the debauchery of an economic, political, or tribal cabal. I can only hope they elect a patriot who will have a noble vision of unity, peace, and prosperity for all Nigerians regardless of their tribe and religion.

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Recently, former Military President, Ibrahim Babangida released a statement wherein he urged Nigerians to vote out current President, Muhammadu Buhari in 2019. Several controversies have trailed that letter, including a purported denial of the statement by Babangida and another statement saying he endorsed the statement. What do you make of this?

That Babangida has not changed. He is still the evil deceitful eel that he has always been. He is still the profligate who coveted billions of dollars in Gulf War oil windfall; wasted billions of dollars in a transition boondoggle; and plunged his country in a mess that it is in today. And just when you thought he was done and gone, he went to Ota farm to dust up a just released ex-convict who had only twenty thousand naira to his name, and planted him as president.

Former Vice President Atiku Abubakar recently said he has carried out an extensive study on the Nigerian situation and is currently ready with a workable plan to make Nigeria great. What do you make of this? Should Nigerians trust him or try an inexperienced person?

Your question carries the suggestion that Atiku Abubakar is experienced. That is just wrong. What is Atiku’s experience? What has he done? We don’t credit people with experience just because they make that claim. Nigeria must look forward in 2019. Atiku belongs in the past. Atiku has been around for too long, and Nigeria’s problems have also been around for too long. If Atiku is just now carrying out an extensive study on the Nigerian situation, like you stated, then something is wrong. If Atiku is just now figuring out a workable plan to make Nigeria great, then he is slow. He is slow in his strategic ability to process a situation. Anyway, like I said, Atiku belongs in the past.  

Do you have any general life advice you would like to give to Nigerians as a whole?

Nigerians are the most hardworking people in the world. They are also people of immense faith. They should just hang tight. They should not lose faith in the country. But they must take their fate in their own hands. This is especially the case with the Nigerian youth. Youth is a wasting asset; it is not going to be there forever. Whatever that requires the attribute of youth to be accomplished must be confronted head on, while the energy is still there. If you are already in your thirties, and your strongest selling point is your age, then you must do whatever you need to do with a sense of urgency. Otherwise, you may not have that attribute a few short years down the line.     

Professor Ozoke, it’s been an honor. Thanks for the pleasure and privilege of your time.

You bet.

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