Chief T.K.O Okorotie is one of the politicians of the Second Republic. He was Chief Whip in the old Rivers State House of Assembly. In this interview with JOHN ODHE, he speaks on the military and civil rules of President Muhammadu Buhari, the 2019 elections, Dickson's government and other issues.
As an experienced politician, what are the likely things that Nigerians are supposed to do that they have left undone?
Politically, there are certain things that have not been done. When you look at the developments, one is close to shedding tears because politics is no longer the way it was being played. There's too much disharmony now, there is too much vendetta - too much ill-will; very many awkward things are happening in Nigeria. The killings have become a weapon of politics. That alone is most disturbing. These were things that were not seen under the very peaceful man we called Alhaji Shehu Shagari who just died. He was a very peaceful Nigerian. There was proper direction in the second republic; particularly, we allowed the ballot box to change the leaders. You know Shagari came for a second term and just three months after we were to return on January 9, on December 31st 1983, Buhari came with his coup and we were all thrown out of office. We were in the state assembly; we had just returned from winning elections, and since then the military had dominated the field in most of the administrations. More years were used by the military to run this country and a lot of dictatorship took place and the entire polity became very much diluted. So, even when the civilians came to office, they became afraid of when the military would strike again. It was also something that was a push to corruption. People began to amass wealth which is a wrong thing but here we are. A lot of things that we were doing peacefully in the second republic are no longer taking place and it is a big pity. First of all, I think we must depend on issue based campaign that will uplift the life of the people and see to what extent we can impress our people and market our views for them to vote for us so that when we are voted we will also keep our promises. These days, many governments don't keep promises. Only a few are doing their best.
Talking about direction, at what point do you think that this country lost direction and focus?
I have mentioned to you a bit of it. I think when the military intervened, that became a big problem. For example, if you look at the Buhari /Idiagbon period, civil servants were massively removed from office. The process of discipline under the so-called War Against Indiscipline, WAI, was one that had a good part but it bastardized the whole service. Many people were chased out of office without due process in the name of discipline. In the civil service or any organised labour, you have to query someone, maybe two to three times, before you can take final disciplinary action. Also, the way the military administered the country was quite different from what the civilians did. It was so autocratic until PDP came on board in1999 and I think there was a change. If a group of people get into office and they do not know how to spread development, that's a problem. There was total lopsided approach to development and it is happening again. Developments are lopsided, appointments are wrongly distributed; they are looking at one area and one area alone. They have lost direction; that is why there are people who are not truly patriotic about this country. They feel the country is not giving to them what is due them. Government has to give something to the people for them to be loyal to their country. You ask for loyalty but on what basis, if I may ask you? Is it for what I deserve and you did not give to me? You expect me to be happy supporting you, no. That is the point at which we lost direction and we are still drifting.
Four weeks from now, there will be election, do you think that INEC will conduct credible elections?
Well, I'm an optimist and I will like to give INEC a benefit of the doubt. They seem to be showing that they are ready but they are also showing to us that they are not ready in a particular way. There are many signs of people who are ready to rig and the rigging instrument they are already showing us. A whole CJN is being tried without following due process. The courts of the land have stopped the federal government from trailing the man twice, two court cases they have ignored, is that a democracy? So, except the person is a northerner he can't be CJN. Those are issues that are problems to this country. Let there be a level playing ground. Whoever wins election should go on. Those who feel they must win elections must remember that it is God that elects, it is God that appoints and I know that God is everywhere. If God allows certain things, he does his own things the way he wants and there is always a purpose for it. I am appealing to all players particularly the federal government and the ruling APC to ensure that there is a level playing ground. Let us not rig this election, let us make it a credible one so that the outside world can respect us.
So you don't see any free, fair and credible elections?
There are certain signs that do not make me feel comfortable.
Do you think that PDP will win the next presidential election?
Well, I am very optimistic about that especially now that the ruling party has not kept most of it promises. They promised to stop Boko Haram within six weeks of assuming office and it is over three years now, and after two years which they claimed that Boko Haram has been decimated, the Boko Haram is even stronger than ever now. That is a failed promise. Talk about employment, let them show us the figures and statistics of employment and unemployment since they assumed office. The debt burden on Nigeria is so colossal. A lot of things have happened; the country has never been so disunited before. The amount of killings in the country has become a slaughter slab. This is not what we want in Nigeria. We want an administration that is civil, that respects the sanctity of human beings and rules in fear of the Lord. The aspiration of Nigerians is to live in a country that you do not fear what will happen to you in the next moment. People will be travelling along the road, and for no just cause, they are attacked and killed. This is what is wrong with us now and we believe that if Nigerians know what better life is, they should vote PDP.
You have been relevant politically since 1979, what is the secret?
First of all, it is God. Secondly, I am not a man with inordinate ambition. Ambition is good but when it becomes inordinate you hurt yourself. There are people who are looking for offices they know they don't have the capacity to hold that office, but they are still aspiring. Like the office of the governor, you know that you cannot do that work, yet you want to be and you get there you can't perform. Also, the idea of getting rich quick is not something that is part of my life. I believe that I have a God-given destiny and it is what God makes of you that will take place, you succeed over a time. So I try to make sure I have peace of mind, I get contented, I live a prayerful life, l take things in their own strides and so many governments identify with me and ask me to give support, and that's what I do sincerely. I am not a very wealthy person, but I am very contended because with many children God gave to me, l am able to educate them. My emphasis is to educate my children because education is the key, and as long as I am doing that successfully and I am clothing them and clothing myself and I am able to eat well, I am okay.
Sometime last month, the APC Bayelsa accused PDP of inciting the people against the police, in respect of Operation Doo-Akpo, the state security outfit. What is your take?
That is a strong accusation. I think it is the other way around. It is the previous administration that had a slogan "kill and throw away". That was their slogan. When Gov. Dickson came, he preferred peace and called it Doo-akpor, meaning 'peaceful life' and therefore he decided to give so many vehicles to the police. How do we incite them? Is it by making sure the police is fully equipped not only on land even in riverine areas? There is one experience I will never forget. I was part of the chieftaincy review committee. We went to a far away place in Agoro area deep into the riverine area; almost to the ocean. That's constituency 3 of Ekeremor Local Government Area and we had problem. Two warring factions were now beckoning us. One said "this is where you will anchor" and the other one said "this is where you will anchor. Suddenly, a boat we later found was filled with arms and was approaching our boat, I was bold to say at that point that, 'this is a government delegation' what are you trying to do to us?' At that point, I quickly called the Doo-Akpo control room. At a point, when the trouble became much, we decided to turn back but one of the engines gave way and we lost hope. Some of my members were already crying saying 'God is this where our lives will end?' But before 15 minutes, a gun boat arrived and they were asking where is Okorotie and we were rescued within 15 minutes of our call. You need to see the confidence we had, we could have been kidnapped or killed. So, that is what this government is doing with Doo-Akpo. They have a central system that shows where there is problem. Once the alarm takes off, they will move because they are strategically located.
The choice of Lawrence Erwhudjakpo as the PDP candidate did not go down well with the people of Bayelsa West senatorial district due to tribal and ethnicity, what is your view?
Why? Is he a non indigene? They are stupid. I think that is why we are talking about uniting the country. When you ask for unity in the country, you must look for unity at the state level and at the local government level. Everything is correct about Lawrence Erwhudjakpo. He was a performing former commissioner of works. He's a man of integrity, he's a man that can defend our people, he's a man that will work well at the federal level and the choice is apt. Some people who don't know what they are looking for are saying the man is an Urhobo man in Delta State. In London, Nigerians are elected MPs. There are up to three of them and this man is from Ofoni in Tarakiri clan and he speaks Ijaw very well. In fact he's known to be a master of parables in Ijaw. He has been campaigning from village to village and he's not speaking Urhobo. He's speaking Ijaw. He is a very knowledgeable person. I think we have a good choice.
If you were to advise the president, which areas do you think you can contribute?
First of all, he should be God fearing, secondly, he should respect life -life in the sense that no single Nigerian should be killed without any reason. I think that we should be just so that everyone will have a sense of belonging. It is written in the constitution that in the distribution of wealth, all parts of the country should be given a sense of belonging. Chief EK Clark has been crying, you constituted a board using our oil money, the place where the oil is produced. There is no Ijaw man as a member of the board, yet the president is the minister of petroleum. There must be justice and equity. If things are not done properly it causes problems in the country. PANDEF presented a 16-point agenda since two years ago. Out of the issues we raised, only one is partially considered and that is the maritime university Okerenkoko. Every other thing is 'no'. Oil companies are supposed to be situated at the place the oil is being produced and that's how it is in other countries but in Nigeria it is different. Once there is justice then the people can have confidence in their government and a lot can be done and the government will enjoy peace. Let us run a democratic society, not autocratic one. We should not go back to military regime.