In this interview, with The Tide National Assembly Correspondent Nneka Amaechi Nnadi, the Senator representing Rivers South-East Senatorial District, Magnus Ngei Abe, x-rays 13 years of democracy in Nigeria and recommends a restructured federalism and attitude change as essential ingredients for progress.
He also takes a cursory look at the myriads of challenges inherited by President Jonathan and says he deserves a pat on the back but needs the support of all Nigerians to bring his dream Nigeria to reality.
On the home front, the articulate and vibrant lawmaker flaunts the overwhelming developmental strides made by the Amaechi government in Rivers State, saying he is proud to be part of it all and enjoins his people and all Nigerians to rise to the occasion, utilise their personal potentials to make the state and nation more vibrant.
What’s your assessment of 13 years of unbroken democracy in Nigeria?
Let me say that for me I think that Nigeria’s democracy is getting stronger and stronger. What people don’t understand is that change sometimes is not something you see immediately you look at it. It is like a child that is growing up, if you’re living with the child in the house you won’t even know that he is growing but when you leave your house and go to another house and you do not see the child for over ten years, and they point out to you that, this is the child you saw ten years back you may say no it cannot be, but if you ‘re living in the same house you cant see the growth. That is what happens in a society. Each day our society is changing, the Nigeria of today is not the Nigeria of 1960, its not the Nigeria of 1970, it’s not the Nigeria of 1990, it’s a different Nigeria. In many ways our country has changed, our people are also changing just as the population is also changing. But because we are living here in the midst of all these changes, a lot of us are not seeing it.
The dynamics of the population is also changing.
Today, I was telling somebody, am very very excited to be alive today and participating in the leadership of this country at this time because this is clearly a time when the possibilities can be achieved and the things we can do are almost limitless because in every sector of this country, people are speaking up today the way they have never spoken before. People are thinking now the way they’ve never done before. So I think that democracy has brought a lot to our country. Sometimes being the kind of human society that we are, people within the society, tend to focus a lot on the negatives, which is not bad, because that is how you drive change, if you keep looking at what is good, you wont change anything. But if you keep looking at what was bad then you’ll always struggle to improve .It is not bad, other societies are like that. We all talk about America but if you go to America, you read American newspapers, you listen to American politicians and you hear them criticising America, you won’t even believe that it is the same America you think is doing so well.
So that’s how human society is and Nigeria is not different. Nigeria is changing for the better. I believe that our potentials will flower by the time we hit the right keys of the board.
How do you think the legislature has contributed to the country’s development over the years.
The legislature is still in its infancy in this country. Nigeria has been independent for over 50 years, Nigeria was amalgamated in 1914. By 1914 or even before 1914, there had always been a form of government. Government always involves some form of authority, which is executive power. Even in our ancient traditional setting, you had kings or chiefs, council of chiefs, you had some form of executive and judicial authority but what makes Nigeria a democracy is the presence of the legislature. Anytime there was military rule, it was the legislature that was always taken away. So it is the legislature that is the true symbol of democracy. That’s what makes Nigeria a democracy and people just have to realise that our legislative institutions are actually still in their infancy. They need the support of the populace, indeed the most active participation of the populace. The legislature is a collegiate place. We are in the Senate, we are one hundred and nine, representing different interests, from different backgrounds, you know, coming here with different ideologies, sometimes with even different visions of what we think the country should look like and where the country should go.
So you come into this environment and you start fighting for an aggregate of those sentiments and vision. I don’t think it’s an easy thing but if you are outside you think it’s easy. So people need to understand that for us to get this country to where we want it to be, we need the support of the people, if you don’t support the legislature, we continue to condemn, bash and boo the legislature, you drive the legislature into the hands of the executive and the executive is waiting.
If they pocket the legislature, then you have no democracy, so the true democracy will be the true independence of the legislature. That’s what Nigerians ought to realise, and there is no midway of achieving this, it is something that collectively, we must fight for and fighting for this, you must be involved in the legislature, you must support the legislature, and insist that our lawmakers stand up for the things we believe in, even when they are afraid, because in some societies, it is not easy to take on entrenched powers and entrenched interests, everybody wants a comfort zone.
So if I turn behind me and everybody is abusing me, accusing me, am not going to go forward, but if you turn behind and your people are saying yes move forward we are with you, this is what you must do and when you call them, they are there for you, then you move forward. But if the legislators are isolated, they will run to the executive because that’s where things are happening. I think Nigerians need to understand this and they need to understand that you can’t celebrate this democracy without celebrating the legislature. That’s the symbol of democracy.
I think that Nigerians have not given President Jonathan enough credit for some of the things he had tried to do in this country. You have to understand this country well. I keep telling people that the problems of Nigeria are predictable. It’s simple; you have a country that is run on an economy that is based on sharing. It is not based on production, it is not based on people putting in. Everyone who comes to the government comes to collect. Every citizen who looks up to the government looks up for what he can get. So no matter what you have , there is no way you can share what is not expanding to a population that is continually expanding and you will be a good person, it’s not possible. And the only way we can break that circle is to go back to the foundation of what we are doing and restructure it to change it, so that instead of having a government where everybody goes to collect, we have a government where everybody is expected to put in. Once we change that conversation, the whole dynamics of how we relate to each other as a country, changes automatically.
You give somebody an appointment, everybody knows that from the appointment he is not going to make anything out of it. It is going to tax him. This situation has continued over a long time. Expectations of the people are growing. In 1950 people did not expect to have light in their villages, so it was not a problem that there was no light. Today people not only expect to have light, they expect to have light all the time. So the expectations of the people keep growing. The population of the people keep growing, the resources of the country is depleting. In 1950, we had oil, we had palm oil, we had cocoa, we had this, we had that, today we don’t have all those again. We have just oil. The population then was may be 60million, today we have 160 million. So while the demand of the people are growing the expectation of the people is growing, the resources of the government is not growing and the number of people is growing, there must be crisis.
To be cont’d
Nneka Amaechi Nnadi, Abuja