Governorship candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the 2017 Anambra State polls, Mr. Oseloka Obaze says that the party should not misuse the opportunity of Anambra polls in 2021 to return to power or it will remain in the doghouse for four years, or beyond. A former UN official, Obaze faults the nation’s response to coronavirus, warning that “we are not out of the woods yet.” The public policy and governance expert, spoke to journalists in Awka. Excerpts:
YOU were in the team that prepared the blueprint for the Obiano administration in Anambra; ahead of the Anambra polls and the exit of the administration, were your expectations met?
I believe and still do, that the ultimate assessment of whether the incumbent governor has done well or not, belongs to the Anambra people, of which I’m just a lone voice. After six years and after eight years in office, the verdict will come from the Anambra people and history. Then, it cannot be varnished, reversed or amplified. And there will be several valid bases for comparison.
It is speculated that Prof. Charles Soludo, is positioned to use his membership of President Buhari’s Economic Advisory Team as a leverage to fly the APC flag in the Anambra polls, and thereby benefit from federal support…
This much is certain, APC like any other party will field a candidate from Anambra. The people will decide if they want that candidate and party or not. Soludo has previously sought public office under APGA and PDP. If he elects to run under APC, that is his prerogative. Regardless of the party, he will still subject himself to universal suffrage in Anambra polls.
Could you throw more light on a recent tweet, “there was a vision and a promise. Now we know better about the road not taken! Quo Vadis Anambra?
During my 2017 Anambra polls, I told the electorate that the State was broken and needed to be fixed. Since it was broken physically and fiscally, I offered my vision and made a promise to turn the state around if given four years. The ruling powers said it was not so and hired my friend, Soludo to give a lecture to legitimize and validate their false claims that all was well with Anambra. With the benefit of hindsight, is all well with Anambra? Can the incumbent administration say so? Can Soludo further validate the claim? And can the Anambra electorate say so? My tweet was a combination of a post-mortem and S.W.O.T. analysis. In governance, politics and in the public interest, we must be honest and avoid false and expedient narratives and those who peddle them.
Has PDP yielded the governorship to Anambra South considering the number of aspirants from there showing interest in the race?
What PDP needs is to put its best foot forward in order to wrestle power from the ruling party. For PDP to succeed, it must present its best candidate and a united front, the zone from which the candidate emerges notwithstanding. The risk we face is the possible polarization and fracturing of the party over the so-called zoning arrangements. Since 1999 PDP aspirants from the three senatorial zones have always competed for the governorship ticket. It will not be any different in the Anambra polls in 2021. The inherent danger will manifest if the South decides to allow their zone to scuttle the chances of a PDP candidate who is not from that zone. Were that to happen, the PDP will remain in the doghouse and in opposition for another four years and perhaps, beyond. There are capable people in PDP who can govern Anambra. Politics is about service not ego tripping; never been a do-or-die affair.
How would you assess the responses of the Federal and state governments on the coronavirus pandemic?
Both the Federal Government and state governments have responded constructively to the pandemic within their abilities. As a nation, our response has been weak. Some states passed, while some failed. We have failed in healthcare delivery; education and orientation; communications; mobilization and logistics and in our responsibility to protect the average citizen. The pandemic has debunked illusions, unraveled myths, and shredded soft power of big and small nations. It has upended normalcy and unfolded a very dysfunctional and chaotic world. Nigeria is no exception; it revealed the waning strength of government.
What do you think the governments could have done differently, with the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) reporting daily increases of COVID-19 cases?
Nigeria lost invaluable lead response time; we underestimated this unseen enemy. The pandemic caught Nigeria unawares and unearthed our limited competencies in various sectors. Whether within the NCDC or outside, we had neither isolation nor treatment centres, despite the numerous University Teaching Hospitals in this country. The option left to us was containment and mitigation; and both required effective communications. We failed in that regard. There was a huge trust deficit as reflected by the failure of our leaders in persuading the national population to comply with stipulated public safety measures. The government’s inability to take the hardheaded decision to lock down the nation totally and longer, after putting the correct palliative and testing measures in place, was a clear policy and systemic failure. There was clear absence of national resilience strategy and synergy. We have not utilized our scientists effectively or explored possible local remedies like Madagascar and Senegal.
In terms of successes and failures, the numbers are not in yet. People are still being infected daily, people are dying daily; thus the scope of our failure is still being reflected in the hard numbers of continuing infections and rising fatalities. Painfully, we are not yet out of the woods and palliative and mitigation measures being put in place are largely transaction-driven. If not, why has the Federal Government not disbursed funds directly to the States and the States not disbursed cash and food palliatives directly to the people? Where is the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) and the State Emergency Management Agency,(SEMA) and the social welfare agencies? Some policymakers and bureaucrats at federal and state levels see the response to the pandemic as business as usual; even as people are dying daily from infections and from hunger.
The inherent danger will manifest if the South decides to allow their zone to scuttle the chances of a PDP candidate who is not from that zone. Were that to happen, the PDP will remain in the doghouse and in opposition for another four years and perhaps, beyond.
Can you elaborate on the numbers you talked about?
Since the mitigation measures started, a lot of figures have been bandied; N2 trillion for the SIP palliatives, N500 billion economic stimuli package, N27 billion plus raised by CACOVID Team, etc., yet the selective intervention and palliative measures on the ground are not commensurate with these amounts. It all seems like fuzzy math. Why would Lagos State get N10 billion in “technical support” and Kano State not get the same amount for “technical support” or “financial support” or “manpower support” or “facility support”, or whatever the Federal Government wants to call it. Why hasn’t the mitigation funds been shared equally among the affected 34 states? Why is the Federal Government undertaking the task of feeding school children at home? Those are local government responsibilities. Most people are now skeptical about Federal Government figures relating to monies donated and disbursed and even about the infection rates. The distrust gap is huge, more so as the overall fiscal response seems to be centrally managed. We have extant cashless policy, yet Federal Government is dispensing cash publicly. There’s a glaring degree of opacity in accounting for COVID-19 funds at all levels, perhaps with a few exceptions. So the perception that it’s “all about making money” is not farfetched. Also, it borders on criminality for some public officials to attempt to get rich off the present national crisis.
Do you think this won’t be explained as a case of being on an uncharted course for the governments, especially the Federal Government?
When the Federal Government handled the 2012 flood disaster, there was clarity and transparency in handling the funds and donations. Presently, we read of and hear lots of donations and pledges being announced, but no transparent record of how the funds are being disbursed or spent. That amounts to fiscal irresponsibility. Some states have set up committees, published funds received and funds spent in the spirit of full disclosure. Others have not. The situation is sufficiently worrying.
Do you think your earlier pronouncement on the COVID-19 situation in Anambra was perhaps hasty seeing that at the moment the State does not have a COVID-19 case?
I don’t want to be a harbinger of bad news, but the grave implications of Anambra unlocking early might be sorely felt in the months ahead. Naturally, every success should be celebrated. However, we should do so with cautious optimism, since whatever celebration or relief that is being enjoyed now might be ephemeral. I hope and pray that I’m wrong. It made no sense to unlock without testing; just as it made no sense to embark on lockdown without putting mitigating fiscal and subsistence palliative measures in place.
Outside Anambra, are there reasons to be optimistic?
As a social scientist and policy expert, I analyze crisis situations without sentiments. I had warned that Nigeria will only begin to feel the impact of COVID-19 by July 2020; we are two months away from that juncture. Those states suppressing their infection rates should draw lessons from Kano, Gombe, Jigawa, Yobe and Bauchi states. Fighting COVID-19 without testing is like building a house without a foundation. It’s only a matter of time for the collapse to happen. Like Lagos and Kano, Ibadan and Onitsha have dense demographics and should be watched closely.
With the pandemic changing scenarios worldwide, what kind of changes do you anticipate in Nigeria?
Electoral adjustments will have to be made. We have encountered a force majeure and the situation affects everyone equally. The Government and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) will have to decipher how to handle scheduled elections. In adjusting the political calendar, if need be, some issues will be resolved legally and constitutionally. If we cannot hold elections, the redundancies built into the Electoral Act and the Constitution will have to be applied. Constitutional dictates will of course be supreme. So, no governor for instance, will need to stay in office one day longer than stipulated. If all fails, we will resort to “Doctrine of Necessity.”
You don’t seem to be convinced that enough is being done to check the spread of coronavirus in the country.
I spoke earlier about absence of synergy and lack of coordination. I also talked about failure in communication and civic orientation. You cannot ask people who are uninformed to take their civic responsibility seriously. It ought to have been evident to the Federal Government and the states that a collaborative approach was needed. Now we seem to be closing the door of the barn long after the horses have bolted. The entire nation is infested now. I am certain that the 36 states have COVID-19 carriers, even if they are untested and unidentified.