PERSONALITY OF THE WEEK WE ARE NOT TRULY SECURED UNTIL OUR PEOPLE LIVE BEYOND POVERTY LINE

Felix Morka, Executive Director, Social and Economic Rights Action Centre (SERAC) and convener New Dawn-Centre for Leadership and Development (ND- CLD), two non-governmental and non-profit organizations with headquarters in Lagos. Through SERAC and New Dawn, Felix Morka had impacted greatly on lives particularly, the poor and the impoverished people in the society who have no access to basic amenities such as electricity, good roads, housing, health care, education, among others.

The Agbor born Havard trained Lawyer was also part of the Pro-Democracy Movement that ousted the military and made room for civil rule in 1999. A few days ago he declared his intension to engage politically, asking that he should be given the opportunity by the people for him to serve them better.

In this exclusive interview with Ika Weekly at his residence in Agbor, Dr. Morka stressed the need for government to pay serious attention to the welfare of the people, saying that the whole essence of governance is how to better the welfare of the citizens. Why he decried the high level of poverty in Nigeria, he maintained that there will be no true security in the country if political office holders who are amassing wealth to the detriment of the people whose interest they are supposed to protect retrace their steps. He also talked on the power of the people to choose who represent them in government and not to accept of its entirety the inadequacies in government.

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It’s a pleasure meeting you sir, can you please introduce yourself?

I am Felix Morka, the Executive Director, Social and Economic Rights Action Centre (SERAC). SERAC is a human right organization based in Lagos and concerned with the promotion and protection of economic, social and cultural rights in Nigeria. I am also the convener of the New Dawn Centre for Leadership and Development (ND-CLD), which has been in existence for more than two year in Ika land.

What informed the establishments of SERAC and New Dawn?

Well, like I said SERAC is a human rights organization, it was established was established especially for those who are poor, and who have no access to housing, access to health care, access to work, access to healthy environment. These are rights that citizens are entitled to and expect from government to give them access to it. In other words, government at all levels has a duty to perform basic amenities are in accordance with their political manifesto. In the eyes of the Law basic amenities are far too important to be left to the vagaries of government and to the whims and caprices of political leaders. The Law guaranteed that government has to provide for its citizens. Infinitely, government is not taking these things seriously, because if they did the level of poverty that we see across Nigeria across Delta State, across Ika nation will not be there, or at least will be reduced to the barest minimum . But having said that, SERAC was established to hold government accountable to the provision of the functional basic necessities for its citizens. But what I want to stress at this point is not so much of how government goes about providing these services but how people can really help themselves to compel government to provide the basic necessities. One of the ways is through democratic process, where people realize that they are the citizens in any polity and would exercise their democratic rights in choosing the people who will govern them, select those who govern that ultimately will guarantee maximum performance from the government. That will also booster the ability of the citizens to demand and make government really provide amenities. These are the things SERAC was established to modulate. And over the years the organization has been able to accomplished a lot for people not only in Delta State but mostly South West of Nigeria and also around the country. The organization is being really active in ensuring that people who are deprived access to resources, and access to services are able to confront government.

SERAC was established in 1995 while New Dawn, is a recent creation. New Dawn was formed by a group of people who sat back to critically examine the state of democracy and real development that are currently going on in Delta State. New Dawn was established in response to what you might describe as total marginalization of the democratic liberty of the people of Delta State, and the betrayer of the democratic purpose in Delta State. Unfortunately, even though there have been successive elective governments in Delta State, the level of poverty is still unbelievable. In many communities around the state, certainly in Ika nation where I come, from the ability of people to enjoy even the barest minimum of existence has been devalued with consistent failure of government to meet the needs of the people. And this failure of government in meeting the needs of the people was caused by the lack of good leadership. Delta state within the context of Nigeria political frame work cannot be said to be so poor that people can be living miserably as they do. Therefore, there is only one logical example for the scale of enormity of poverty and deprivation that Deltans are living with, that is just pure undiluted failure of leadership and the failure to recognize that the society is nothing without the people. The failure to recognize that every person is entitled to minimum threshold of condition of material existence, below which those who bear the responsibility to use our collective resources to make decisions to or design policies and programmes that are supposed to uplift the conditions of the people would be described as failures. It is inexcusable that people have to live with nothing in the midst of plenty. It is inexcusable that many of our roads in many parts of the state are impassable, it is inexcusable that our farmers who toil everyday under the sun do not get any help from the government. Access to fertilizers is so politicized that there is no equity in the distribution Farmers are just on their own. It is inexcusable that many of our children go to school and they do not have what they need to learn, which is why many graduates behave as if they have never been to school. Even the modest effort government is making, attention is focused on the physical aspect. Education for instance attention is focused on repainting the schools. Agbor Model where I went to school for many years before now was allowed to fall into ruin, that is inexcusable. Now, I notice some work has been done in the school I commend those who made that happen. The government that made it happen deserves to be commended. There was no reason for it to have taken that long for the school to fall into ruin before intervention was made. Because it cause so much money to intervene at that level of decay than to progressively manage and maintain our educational system. Now what is more, I still have not seen a whole lot of effort put into addressing the problem distorting our school system. Standard setting is not going on, oversight is not going on, our hospitals are not better. The problems are staring us in the face, we can see them, even a blind man can feel the problem but why are we so short on answers? Why do we appear to be so short on good ideas? Why are we so short of good men and women in our political and economic systems, who will do something different to save the situation. These are some of the reasons why New Dawn was established, to grapple with, to provoke questions and to seek answers. So, New Dawn is an organization that is engaging in the promotion of new democratic practice, engaging in some type of capacity building that seek to clarify the role of government, a democratic practice that seek to redefine the relationship between the people and government because a huge part of the problem we are facing is that our people have allowed themselves to be so defeated that they no longer think they have any power of action against the government. They have since caved into the humongous betrayal by government, they have given up, they have become apathetic to their problems, they have resigned to fate and throw the towel. They no longer realized that as citizens there is so much they can do to redirect government attention from selfish pursuit to the pursuit of those basic things of life. I don’t think our people are asking to be millionaires, they are not asking of that, our people are asking of those basic minimum amenities so that they will be able to crawl out of poverty.

To what extent has Naw Dawn been able to enlighten the Ika people since its establishment more than two years ago?

New Dawn has in the two years it has been in Delta State especially in Ika nation done quite a bit in the areas of conscientization and sensitization, about the burning issues in the society. It has been sensitizing our people to make them understand that it is not too late, to understand that there is still so much they can do, to make them not to submit entirely to political leadership that is not contributing to their welfare. New Dawn has convened a lot of meetings, a lot of seminars and workshops, all to raise the peoples’ awareness about their rights in a democracy, about the limits of government authority, about the promises of government, about what government ought to do in a democracy. Our discussion boil down on the lack of accountability and responsibility in governance situations whereby resources that belong to the people are unknown to them, situations whereby the money accrued to the government are not known to the people, situations whereby the people are completely ignorant of how government spends public. Our funds are misappropriated by those who are supposed to use them to promote the interest of the people. These funds are literarily stolen by those in office, in advancement of their own interest, New Dawn is challenging these kind of actions. For instance, New Dawn went to court sometime ago to ask Ika South Local Government Area to provide information about its revenue, as well as information about its expenditure. New Dawn went for court of the failure of the leadership of the local government at the time under the Heads of Personel Management (HPM), as guaranteed by the Freedom of Information Act, 2001. The mater is still in court and we are hoping that very soon we will get some resolution. But you know what, in a vibrant democracy that is unnecessary because the revenue available to government ought to be public record. In fact, government should be in the business of publishing its own account, building confidence to inspire the people and also ensuring that people are able to understand that it does not have all the money to solve all the problems at the same time. Part of the reason why we have bloated expectations from government is that we do not know the amount of resources that is available. For example local government is not tarring roads as much as we like to see them do because they do not have enough money. The only one way to convince us about that is to show us the money that is available to government and how the available resources is being used judiciously, and hopefully to the maximum extent possible to provide services to our people. If we know all that, then we will be in a position to reason with government, be patient and support it, so that progressively it can solve the many problems that our society is faced with. Unfortunately a situation where we are kept in the dark, when you ask they do not talk, when you demand they do not answer calls for serious probe of government activities. In a similar vein, New Dawn also went to court to ask for an election to be conducted into the local government councils in Delta State. We went court because the an elected council is the mechanism approved by the constitution for the administration of local government throughout Nigeria. Delta State should not be an exception. We are aware that there are certain steps being taken by the state government and hopefully very soon elections the government of Delta State, we encourage His Excellency Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan to call for local government election without further decay because it will help to build legitimacy for his government. It will help to send a signal that Uduaghan government is a government that governs in accordance with the constitution. It will give confidence to our people that it is not all that hopeless. Based on this we want those who have intension to run at the grassroot level to come out to justify themselves before the people. The process of choosing among competiting aspirants is what democracy is all about. We encourage the government of Governor Uduaghan not to only ensure that local government elections will be conducted as soon as possible but also ensure that it is free and fair. And that only the best among the competiting candidates are voted to represent the people at the local government level.

On Wednesday, 24th April, 2013 at Oak Resort, Agbor you declared your intension to engage in politics, can you tell us your reasons for taking that step?

Yes you are right, on Wednesday, April 24th, 2013 at about 12.10pm in the afternoon I did announced to friends and colleagues who were at that meeting that I have the intension to engage in partisan politics. I made that announcement in response to the decay in our system and in the inability of our governments to harness our democratic potentials, inability to harness what I see as the available human capital, social capital, economic capital, our cultural capital, historical capital in a way that they will benefit the majority of our people who have been held hostage for too long by the political powers I have spent about twenty five years of life as a lawyer defending the rights of people who are cheated and oppressed, people who are very vulnerable, people who have been marginalized by the conduct of those more powerful than them. I have also been involved in human rights and pro-democracy movement. Fighting for the oppressed is my passion, I have also served in so many capacities in the United Nations, even on the board of many institutions both within and outside Nigeria. In the midst of all that carry with me a lot of frustrations everyday. I came home in Delta State and I have seen how our people I love dearly are living with a lot of deprivations and those whose jobs is to improve their welfare do nothing at all. Our public office holders make policies that do not benefit anybody but themselves. Yet, we follow and criticize from a distance. For those of us in pro-democracy movement we ask questions, we make some moves, but a time comes when that is not enough. The level of poverty that confronts our people is no longer enough for any right thinking, decent, knowledgeable man to stand back and watch. We must all come down to the arena to struggle, to beg, to plead, sometimes to fight for what is right. So, I have decided to get involve in politics because I believe very strongly that I can make a contribution about how we are governed and about how our resources are utilized to the utmost benefit of the people. My intension is to really take all of the work I have done as a human right activist and carry it forward, hopefully come in there as a factor of change, those are some of the reasons I have decided to engage politically.

Are you aware of the fact that contesting for any elective office is not a tea party anywhere in Nigeria. If yes, hope you will not chicken out when it matters most as most people do?

It is regrettable that our political landscape is filled with people who say one thing and do another. I think that is exactly the bane of our politics, the reason why our people have lost so much confidence in the political process. I have mentioned that for nearly twenty-five years I have been a human rights lawyer and a pro-democracy member. I was in the vanguard that brought our democracy back from the military government. I was involved in the struggle that brought to end military rule in Nigeria. I have through SERAC and so many other organizations which I am a member engage in a protracted struggle for the urban poor around Nigeria. Nearly two decades I have represented Maroko community, Makoko, Badeya and other slump areas in Lagos, as communities around the country, from Port-Harcourt to Abuja, to Bomadi, to Ozoro, etc. these are highly impoverished communities and I represent them in their struggle for access to resources and equity. You know one thing about me which is very easily ascertainable is that I am not someone who begins what I cannot finish. I am not someone who would start something and will not finish because it is too difficult. I am also somebody who understand real politik because I am involved for a very long time. Even though I am not engage in partisan politics but I understand how the systems of government work. I did not make the decision to engage in politics ordinarily, that is why I told you the date, day, time and the venue where I made my decision known. I want that to be my bond. I am not engaging in the kind of politics that seeks self, rather it is the kind of politics that put the people first, the kind of politics that is beyond me, the kind of politics that is about service not leadership. I am not seeking to be a leader, I am only going to ask for an opportunity to serve the people, that is my conception of politics. Politics is about service I want to ask and hopefully get an opportunity to serve. I did not say in that meeting which office it is going to be for that will be too premature. I don’t know quiet yet which office I may be offered to serve. I am consulting, I am asking question, exchanging ideas with people, trying to understand how best I may be of service. For the past three years I have been in this community quietly, listening and talking to our people, convening meetings, asking questions, and getting answers, A huge part of our problem is that we often recruit people who are grossly unsuitable for political positions. And when they are coming they do everything to protect their own interest not that one of the people. I am not one of those persons. I come from a long tradition of service, and I hope that at the end of the day my track record will count for something, and that my unbroken record to the service of ordinary people will speak for me. I have not been in the services of the rich and powerful, I have spent everyday of my life worrying about the well being of people who are most vulnerable in country. If I can do that in Yoruba land with outstanding success, God willing I can do it at home, the place of my birth. Ika land is my home, I will contribute to its development. I am not quitter, I will work till the end. We will ensure that it is no longer business as usual, we will not engage in the politics of the old which is so self seeking. It is going to be politics of the people, politics where the well being and interest of the people is of utmost importance to all of us.

Which political platform are you going to achieve your vision?

It is still goes with that saying that I have not decided on which position I am going to run. At this moment I am consulting to see how best I can be of service to our people. I am consulting to figure out exactly what role I will play and be of greatest service to our people. Once I am decided on that position which our people will be kind enough to assign to me to represent them, then it will now be a search for a party platform. But right now I am looking at all the parties equally. I am still asking questions about them, those things matter to me. Eventually, I will choose a party on the basis of the position I am running for and on the basis of my insight of the potentials of any political party as a compatible vehicle to ensuring that the will of the people prevails at the end of the day.

With the level of your exposure and education, don’t you think you will be seen as a treat for some political leaders to support?

I don’t see any problem at all. So far I have had good discussions with some of our people I have been able to meet. The truth of the matter is that there is nobody that I have really come across in more than three years I began this effort who does not feel the pain of the Ika community. At least we all are united in our realization that things have really degenerated to a point where some serious attention need to be paid to our governance and the way we organize our community. I think there is large concern that something decisive need to happen. Yes, there are a lot of entrenched interest that will obviously resist the idea but we must work for the people. We will not continue to pander to the continued detriment of the majority of our people. At sometimes those interest that are very primordial will have to be enlightened. Those who have amass wealth at the continued expense of the people cannot be truly secured when majority of our people are impoverished. I don’t care how rich they or they want to be, they cannot be truly secured and safe when everyone is sliding deeper and deeper into poverty. I think sometimes. Part of what New Dawn is doing is engaging people. It is in our best interest to focus attention on the people. Government should provide opportunity for farmers, mechanic, tailors to grow their small businesses and if possible employ people. What the people are looking for is a small help. The woman who is selling tomato in the market needs money just to buy another basket of tomato, the same goes to an hair dresser who has one dryer, she needs money to buy three hair dryers so that she can increase her income and maybe employ some persons. A famer at Idumuesah wants how he can transport his crops to the town where it will be sold, so that he would use not all the profit he would have made on transportation due to bad road. I reject the idea that these things are impossible to do. I also reject the idea that it devalued some of our people who command and political power. As a matter of fact this is why America is a successful capitalist state. American is a country where the rich and the poor are able to access basic minimum amenities. No matter how poor you are in America you can eat a Burger at MacDonald just like Bill Gate also do. You have access to electricity, quality health care, just like Bill Gate. When you go to school you can get a scholarship that will make you to be in a classroom with the children of the richest men in the society and therefore in a position to hopefully rescue yourself and family out of poverty. But when we make these things impossible and impoverished everyone in our society we are not truly secured. We are not truly secured until our people live above poverty line. I am not against those who succeeded through hardwork but we must also be a society that recognizes that opportunities are not equal. Those who that do not have opportunities must be enabled to have that barest minimum basic amenities.

How do you intend to handle political sycophants, who for example during the April 2011 general elections milk many candidates and abandoned them when the needed their help mostly?

This is a very important question. I did observe and monitor the 2011 general elections, I understand the question you asked me. Let me state here that it is a political error for any candidate to undertake certain programmes and distribute certain services or resources in expectation that votes will make an exchange, that is wrong and a total miscaculation. In a real democracy people can vote against candidates who want their votes because of what they have done for them. You do not purchase vote with anything, that is the beauty of democracy. I commend those who contribute to the welfare of the people but if it is done in expectation of the votes of the people that is a wrong perception. People vote based on their own impression, sometime people vote based on advise from someone else or even instructions from the political class. The society is a complex place. Outside political leaders, we have religious leaders, cultural leaders and traditional leaders. We also you have doctors, consellors, parents, who command of powers everywhere. So do not believe because you are occupying an office you are the only centre of power. Before you go into the political arena you must have an idea of what you are going to face and organized your strategy in a way that recognizes the complexity of the political process. And even if you go do anything for the people do it because it is the right thing to do. That now determine if you will do more if given the opportunity. So my point is that if I am running for an office all I have to do is to convince the people and make them understand why and how I planed to and the will to deliver on the commitment that I make. I will also allow them to scrutinize me, scrutinize my credentials, scrutinize my tract records whether the things I have said I have the capacity, the moral, mental, physical, spiritual, resource to actually make those things to happen. Most importantly the people have to decide whether I have the integrity to represent them and whether I have the passion to say no to what has been making political leaders to do other wise. If after doing all I know is good and the people decided to elect another person that is the sweetness of democracy. Running an election and loosing is nothing difficult. When you go into an election you either win or loss. If you lose figure out why you lose. Sometimes people votes against a candidate not that the candidate is not good but because they do not understand what they are supposed to do those who run for political office must do more to raise the awareness of the people so that they can make the right decisions. If since 1999 you have been following instructions from political leaders who are not fulfilling their promises made to you that mean you really deserve the oppression that confronts you. As a community we cannot accept that. This is the time we have to elevate the interest of our people and for government to get it right. We must retrace our steps and trace where we get it wrong.

The idea of waiting for a political platform particularly as 2015 draws near will that not be an impediment at last to your aspiration?

I understand that 2015 in very close. Like I said I am taking everything step by step. Once I know the office I am going to be of service to our people the next step is the political party. I hope to make the pronouncement in a very short while. I am very grateful for all the advises I have gotten so far. Truly it is my desire we get it right this time.

What is your final word to the people?

I want to say that a society where the impact of government is felt the most is that society where there is partnership between the government and the people. As a community we really have to come together. They are a lot of distrust, a lot of bickering, a lot of wounded aspirations, all these will not help us move forward. I am calling and appealing to our political and religious leaders to work together. God Almighty has given us so much to improve our quality of lives. We must eschew extreme selfishness and corruption that have set us apart from our people. We can mistake, every society make mistake but what we do in the midst of those mistakes is what counts. I am calling very humbly to the people in particular to understand that nothing will be given to them free of charge. It is not enough to just vote, we must learn how to ask questions about our welfare. Why are we not getting this or that?

Advise to Governor Uduaghan’s government?

I think that the Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan’s government can still do better especially in this last two years of his administration. It is not too late to embark on a drive that will bequeath a legacy across the state especially in Ika land. Governor Uduaghan should focus attention on projects that will benefit the people and also raise the bar for the next administration because what the next leaders see on ground detertime to how much extent they will perform. Finish projects that are hinging in the state. The Old Lagos/Asaba road for instance is there. I have observed that not a-whole lot of things is going on the road. There are many projects like that, that are hanging indifferent parts of the state. It will be a shame for government to leave without finishing these projects. Two years is still a long time to effect some changes, a whole lot can still be done. So, I am making a passionate appeal to Governor Uduaghan to increase on the visibility of the legacy it is to leave behind.

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