The Judiciary Has Continued To Save Nigeria From Doom – Placid Aguwa, Former NLA President

by Ugochukwu Ejinkeonye

U.E.: Are you a member of NIDO (Nigerians In Diaspora Organizations)? At what point did NIDO metamorphose into an image laundering platform for the Obasanjo Administration, as has been variously alleged by some people?

P.A.: I am a member of NIDO. Yes. You are wrong to allege that NIDO is assisting the Obasanjo Administration. I disagree seriously. I believe that the idea behind NIDO is great, however, as with any organization, improvement is needed. I think NIDO will welcome some of your ideas, so feel free to make suggestions to the organization. In any event, since the premise of your question is wrong, I cannot give further response.

U.E.: So what really does NIDO do?

Placid Aguwa

P.A.: Well, I am not part of the leadership anymore, so I am not in the proper position to tell you what it does. You may want to read its charter or speak to its leadership. I can tell you, however, that NIDO was set up to bring Nigerian professionals together to have a unified and strong platform to participate in the development of Nigeria. Out in the United States, there are pockets of professional organizations scattered all of the states. NIDO was set up to attempt to bring them together as an umbrella organization. NIDO was set up as a mouthpiece for Nigerian professionals out in the USA. How it has succeeded in achieving this goal is for people like you to argue. There is obviously some success. For instance, when I was in the board, in 2001, we had an economic seminar in New York. This brought together hundreds of entrepreneurs and potential investors. We highlighted the privatization process going on in Nigeria at the time. In addition, NIDO has organized and/or co-sponsored several other seminars and conferences. You may be aware that NIDO co-sponsored an international seminar on Advance Fee Fraud (419), a few years ago in New York. There are also minor activities that NIDO gets involved with every now and then, which does not make the news. For instance, NIDO has been at the forefront of the fight to get the US Department of Transportation to permit Virgin-Nigeria Airlines and other Nigerian carriers to fly directly to the USA.Again, reasonable minds can argue whether or not NIDO has been a success. I know funding has been a problem. On the other hand, I agree that NIDO can do much better. Regardless of what you read on the internet, let me make this point very clear, I was part of the group that set up NIDO. I met the President and Vice-President a few times while I was part of NIDO’s leadership, at no time did the President or any person acting on his behalf request that NIDO or its members become a mouthpiece or image-maker for his government. President Obasanjo supported NIDO, just like other Presidents support similar ventures involving their citizens. I don’t see a problem with that. This is not to say that there are no members of NIDO that have other selfish motives. I would have resigned from NIDO if I thought it was a front for the government or something close to that. I think there is a perception problem which is due largely to the fact that NIDO started “too close” to the government. But trust me, it was never the intention to make it a part of the government.

U.E.: Nigeria is spending millions of Naira on the “Nigeria Image Project”, do you think this is not a wasteful venture? Shouldn’t that money be channeled instead to programmes aimed at fixing the country and reclaiming its collapsed systems, which will in turn improve our rating before the outside world?

P.A.: I agree with you, I think the money is a waste. When we respect the rule of law, when we seriously control corruption, when we treat one another with respect and dignity, Nigerian’s image will improve.

U.E.: But when the Image Project was launched in Canada, NIDO was, reportedly, about the only group that came out en masse to help make it succeed. I don’t know about the one that took placein the UK and Washington?

P.A.: I did not attend the event you are talking about so, my comment will be limited. The mere fact that NIDO was the only group that attended has no implications, either way. If NIDO is run properly, this is one of the things it can do for Nigeria. I see no problem with helping to improve the image of our country as long as NIDO is not helping to advance the image of any particular administration. Again, note that I believe that it is a waste of money to attempt to salvage any image at all. You can smell a delicious soup from miles away. You don’t need to be told that it smells good. So, if the only reason for the event in Canada was to project the image of the Obasanjo Administration, it is a waste. However, I cannot condemn an event that I do not have the details of and never attended. Suffice to say that I know many of the leaders of NIDO are respected professionals and I do not believe they will allow NIDO to be used in any improper way.

U.E.: What is your assessment of the eight years of the Obasanjo regime? How does it make you feel that even today Nigerians still have to send their children to schools abroad, including Ghana, to get quality education, and people still go abroad to treat minor ailments like catarrh or other forms of’ common cold’?

P.A.: Overall, I think the administration failed Nigerians when you compare it with the leadership of many other countries. However, I give him some credit for his fight against corruption. As I always say, one Naira recovered today, is one Naira that would not have been recovered eight years ago. It is a shame that the healthcare and school system in Nigeria is a mess. It is part of the overall state of decay. I expect the next administration will see this as a matter of national security.

U.E.: You think the war against corruption is genuine, and not a mere tool for the prosecution of someone’s personal and political battles as has been widely alleged?

P.A.: I think the two positions can exist in perfect harmony. I have no doubt that the fight was genuine at the beginning. However, down the line, it appears to have taken a different dimension. I do not support corruption, but you have to balance your investigation and prosecution. What has disappointed many Nigerians is that there appears to be a few that are untouchable. Regardless of what they do, no one can touch them. I think the President deserves both credit and criticism. Having the courage to challenge the status quo, should get him some credit. Recovering some stolen funds deserves some commendation. However, he could and should have done much more in a fair and unbiased platform. He had the opportunity to do the right thing, but he blew it.

U.E.: Have you heard of the Nigeria Diaspora Village, which will have all the amenities that are not available to the rest of the people, where those of you who live abroad (including Sierra Leone, Togo and Rwanda, I suppose) will be ‘quarantined’ if you decide to come home? Do you think this can now serve as sufficient encouragement to Nigerians in the Diaspora to start returning in droves?

P.A. I do not think the programme is good for Nigeria . It does not appear fair. I do not support it and I have no intention of applying for space at the village.

U.E.: Do you have confidence in the ability of the Prof Maurice Iwu-led Independent Electoral Commission (INEC) to rise above what looks likes like partisan encumbrances to conduct free and fair elections?

P.A. I have no confidence in Prof. Iwu. I do not trust him. How can we expect a free and fair election, when we have all seen the height of unfairness and incompetence months before the election. It’s a shame to even talk about the elections. It is a big joke. We have been planning for the elections for years and this is the best we can offer? It is a total disaster.

U.E.: Apart from law books, what other books do you enjoy reading?

P.A.: I run a very busy law practice, so, it is difficult for me to make out time to read materials and books other than practice books. However, I make it a habit to read magazines and newspapers everyday. You may be glad to know that Daily Independent is one of my favorite newspapers. I read it and a few others everyday.

U.E.: Could you please talk a bit more about yourself; I am sure readers would like to know more about you.

P.A.: I was born more than 40 years ago into a big and lovely family in Mbaise, Imo State . I live a simple life with my wife and two kids.

U.E.: Any plans to enter politics in active capacity in the near future?

P.A.: I don’t know that people “enter politics.” Early this year, I met a gentleman in Abuja who told me that he is a politician, although he does not hold any office. I think we are all politicians by birth. If your question is whether I will like to serve Nigeria in some capacity in the future, then my answer is, may be.

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