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With insurgency, Nigeria has changed forever

imageChief Gabe Okoye is the Chairman, Board of Directors of Nigerians in Diaposra and the Americas (NIDO), and a delegate to the on-going National Conference. In this interview with newsmen, he spoke on the group's insistence on the inclusion of diaspora voting in the nation's constitution, the establishment of the diaspora Commission, among other national issues. Assistant Editor, Joe Nwankwo, was there. Excerpts...
Coming from the Diaspora, what is the position paper of your group to the conference? What is your major demand from the conference?

We do have some positions that we have presented, but more importantly, it is not about having a position or some positions, it involves also bringing the diaspora perspective into the discourse and also providing the basis for comparison. For instance, when we talk about an issue, that we know is done differently where we live, then we will also bring it into that discussion, the perspective of how it is done in other places to bear, so that we can compare and contrast. So in my opinion, the value we bring here is not just to have our positions, but also to have the discussions complete. Yes, we do have a couple of issues that are important to us as Nigerians in the Diaspora community, one of them as you would know, every Nigerian cherishes the right to vote in elections. It is not right that a group that generates the second largest capital inflow into the country is disenfranchised by not letting us vote in elections in the country, for instance. Officially, Nigerians in the Diaspora remitted about $22 billion into Nigeria 2012 and about $21 billion in 2013, this is officially, and I said officially because these are remittances measured from the Western Union and what have you, but in reality, most of us know that many of us bring in money on ourselves while coming into the country, which are not factored into these. The investments, Nigerians in the Diaspora make are also not factored into these, if all these are factored, you will see that the amount of money we bring in will be doubled. Not only, most importantly, we are Nigerians and whatever is good for every Nigeria is also good for us. If Nigerians can vote, we can also vote, and it is not going to be cost prohibitive because we have missions all over the world. Indonesia, for instance, voted a couple of weekends ago, their citizens in Nigeria voted here, on a Saturday in their Embassy in Lagos, and on Sunday, they voted here in Abuja. So we can equally do that from wherever we live. That is one. The other one is that we have been clamouring for a Diaspora Commission, which would look out for the welfare of Nigerians living abroad. Right now, it is a confused situation, where you have an issue you want addressed, you are referred here and when you get there, they refer you to another place; so, it is a confused situation and some people bring in some beautiful and easily implementable proposals, only to be told, this does not work and only for you to the same day, see the same proposal, the same idea you just brought in, being done by somebody else, because your ideas was given to somebody else to implement and you don't get any credit for that, that is not fair. So we will want a Commission, through which we will channel everything we bring to Nigeria. So these two issues for a start are very important to us in the Diaspora.

Let's go back to this issue of referendum: the problem has been that on what basis, like for now we have a constitution which empowered the National Assembly to make laws, and since the constitution has not been set aside, that the referendum would amount to usurping the powers of the National Assembly. What is the way out of this legal hurdle?

That is why, as we speak, there is a bill before the National Assembly to authorize a referendum and once that is passed into law, then there is a legal backing to it, then the way is cleared.

Let's look at the issue of diaspora voting which you raised earlier. In the past one year the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has been tinkering with the idea, but the major challenge has been the funds, and the integrity of the process, what in your opinion will make the process credible?

First of all, I want to actually use this opportunity to thank Prof. Jega, the INEC Chairman, for his continued support for diaspora voting. As a matter of fact, diaspora voting will help to streamline elections in Nigeria. Because for those of us in the diaspora, we live in a more civilized and technologically driven society. On the most part, we can either vote through our embassies, we also do what we call e-votes, that is electronic voting, or we can do absentee balloting. All these are options and non of them will cost that much money. It may interest you to know that almost every political party in Nigeria has a chapter for instance in the Americas where I live, I was once the Chairman of the PDP professional wing in Georgia, and you have APGA, you have the CPC all of them, they are there. One agent from each party will represent it during this absentee balloting and then the results will be merely transmitted and broadcast. These figures will be open and there are so many ways that this could be done, there are also many other ways to do it. But, I think that sometimes, people allow their fears to block what they do not want. It can be done, and done safely and cost effectively, without bankrupting the nation. The important thing is to have it approved, and we had proposed some ways to do it which I have enumerated, we can expand on it and anybody that has ideas can be brought in to ensure that this is a success. But you have to understand that sometimes their fears are founded on the fact that, most of them have always relied on rigging to win in elections or get into office. I am not saying that all of them rig, but for those who depend on rigging into office, they are not quite sure of what the diaspora voting will do to their rigging arrangement, so you may have fashioned out your rigging machinery and when the results of the diaspora voting comes in, and it favors your opponent to the extent that he will beat you, but is that what Nigeria wants, That the person who scores the highest votes wins? So I believe that the diaspora voting will actually be a win-win for Nigeria as it will eliminate rigging and electoral malpractices.

With the present state of insurgency in Nigeria, many people are of the opinion that the government has failed in providing security for Nigerians. What is your reaction to this?

First of all, I will talk briefly about a couple, but when it comes to security matters it is not everything that you will put out in the public. Some once you have them in the public, their effectiveness is lost. But, security is not an issue that should be left for the Presidency or government alone, period, it is not, because it is for all of us and affects every one of us and for that reason, where I live there is one, what we call the 911 emergency number, if you see something happening, you dial 911, and the authorities will respond rather quickly. Now I know that there is either 122 or 112 that just came up in Nigeria, that is a right step in the right direction. But it needs to be publicized so that every Nigerian would know that it exits, you know what number to call in case of suspicious movements or any emergency. Good a thing that the use of mobile phones has become very prevalent in Nigeria, they will come into use and become very useful in the fight against this insecurity in the country. But if they are serious about the 112 number, they must publicize it and make it very known to every Tom, Dick and Harry that if you see something, even if it is mere suspicion, pick up your mobile phone and just dial 112. But then, that is on the front end, now on the back end, what happens after you have called that number? The 122, does Nigeria have the infrastructure to support it? So that whenever that number is called, somebody is there to take the call and dispatches people to the area where there is the problem? That needs to be done, so that Nigeria would have an infrastructure on the back end to support the 112 emergent number. But it is a step in the right direction. And let me say this, if you followed what happened in the US not too long ago, with the Boston marathon, there was bombing there, obviously, it was quickly, solved because there were so many street cameras, many of them you won't see, because it was a supermarket camera that actually captured the pictures that was the pictures that the authorities analyzed and found out what happened and within a space of time, they were able to bring the culprits to book. Of course one was killed and the other was captured. Well, one thing Nigeria has not done, what we need to do, is to come to the realization, like America did after the 9/11 bombing of the World Trade Center - they immediately came to the realization that America has changed forever and they started putting in place security arrangements to match the new America. Nigeria still thinks or believes that tomorrow things will return to normal. Well, I pray so and sincerely hope that it does, but I would want us to understand that the world is changing; terrorism has come to stay, we need to take that into consideration as we plan and develop Nigeria. That having been said, if you look at so many places in the capital city, Abuja security is very porous, that has to change, so many national interests need to be protected. Nigerians will also realize that with the present security situation, that our privacy may have to be impacted, that is the sacrifice that we have to make to move the nation forward.

What is your take on the high rate of corruption in the country?
It is very difficult for a country that is as corrupt as Nigeria to move forward. Just take a look at the huge capital flight, the amount that is being shipped outside the country by corrupt government officials; these people steal government money and the next moment they have moved it outside the country - and let me tell you, once the money leaves the country, it will never come back. It does not do us any good, that is why you have this massive unemployment in the country, the type that triggered that kind of stampede at the last immigration recruitment exercise, that was a very sad day for Nigeria. But you see the problem I have with this is that we have been treating the same wound with the same medication all these years but that wound is getting worse. I think what Nigeria needs is an innovative solutions to some of these problems, sometimes you don't have to go for a clean solution, sometimes the solutions will be dirty.

What do you mean by dirty solution?
If we want the country to move forward and develop, we have all been against the stealing of public funds, what has happened? They keep stealing it in a daily basis, and with impunity for goodness sake, somebody would empty out the accounts of his parastatal and nothing gets done. But the fact that affects us mostly, is that these funds are taken outside the country, which does not add value to the economy, it does not create the needed employments. It does not help Nigeria build infrastructure, now let's look a situation, like in my place, they say, that rather than losing the animal completely, it is better that you cut the tail, at least you have something to show for it. But let's look at a situation now, it may not sound too clean, and don't just get me wrong either, I condemn the embezzling of public funds but also let's look at a situation the government concentrates on making sure that Nigeria's money is no longer taken outside the shores of Nigeria, which means even if you acquired your wealth by embezzling public funds, you invest it 100% in the country, you will create jobs, you will find people who will have enough money to build you modest hospitals in the country and many other infrastructure.

How do we stop money from being moved abroad?
You see, when you have divided attention, you don't do so well but when you now devote your attention to one area which is making sure that stolen funds are not taken out of the country, you can get that down, there are so ways you can do it, but that is not what you will say publicly because people will start looking for a way around it. And try to beat the system. People who steal the funds if caught should be summarily executed. They should either get a life sentence or executed and be made to refund what they stole. So we need to work that out to ensure that Nigeria's money is not taken out, it will boost the middle class. We can reach agreements with the foreign countries to repatriate the funds.

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