Ogun State born High Chief and international businessman, politician and security expert, Otunbalaje Ambassador (Dr) Adejare Adegbenro spoke on the state of the nation at a recent media parley where he insisted that only sound economic footing can guarantee a brighter and stable future for Nigeria.
He spoke on other sundry issues of national interests like the security challenges zoning system and power shift among others. Excerpts:
What is your impression about the two leading political parties in Nigeria, APC and PDP?
There is no much difference between the ruling APC and the main opposition, PDP as both have almost the same ideologies as well as almost identical personalities. Reason it is easy for defectors from one to the other find it easy to adapt with their new abode.
So, it is no surprising that the way both of them go about their politicking. A bit difference is just the way of infusion of former members of the ACN and the CPC whereby they lean backward to relate with themselves even in the new arrangement called APC. And if you look at the defectors from PDP to APC, they still carry about the PDP mind-set in the APC. And the mind-set is sharing the booties and moving on.
However, in the APC, whether we accept it or not, the party has been focussing on infrastructure development. Though, it might be slow, it is steady and surely. APC has been trying in the area of infrastructure development.
But when it comes to politicking, it is not about what you have done but it is about how you can push your agenda to the minds of the people in the way they would accept you. Sadly however, what you read in the media nowadays is about rancour like APC accusing the PDP of one thing or the PDP accusing the APC of another thing. Whatever the case, both of them are aiming at 2023.
What then is your expectation about their candidature?
I mean the bottom line of all these will depend on the candidature of the parties at the end of the day. What I am trying to say is that whoever emerge presidential candidates of all the parties will make a lot of difference. Let the choice among them be decided through robust debates. Let the choice be through the calibre of the candidates and not based on the political parties they belong to. So, if the APC and PDP field their separate candidates, we should encourage a very strong debate between them to decide who is more capable. The consideration should not be about the political parties. I would want the people to look through the personalities and not their political parties. It is about who can do it better.
Also with the people consulting on presidency and people who are rumoured to want to contest for Presidency, who do you think is best for Nigeria?
Well from my point of view, I don’t think the candidate for presidency has come out yet as far as I am concerned. So, let’s wait and see. It could be a woman presidency or joint male for presidency and woman for vice president. That will be exciting you never can tell.
What is your take about the zoning system and power rotation between the North and the South?
As for me, I believe as a Nigerian, I think anyone from any part of the country can contest for president whether male or female, young or old so far they have the capacity to run Nigeria well. Also the issue of religion should be out of it. It should not be part of consideration. if we look at it, there is only one God.
And that is why my motto has always been ‘I am a Nigerian and my tribe comes second.’
Do you have any word for the women and the youth in the country on politics and governance?
There is no doubting the fact that the women and the youth control the votes in Nigeria. Demographically, the youth are more than the women in the country. This is because the youth are combination of men and women. However, the women have some roles to play in guaranteeing good governance in the country. The women have the capacity to mobilise, to sensitise and create the required noise to raise awareness towards doing the right things for the people as required of democracy.
And against this background, the women should be given more opportunities in governance. Former President Goodluck Jonathan promised the women 25 per cent in government and he went ahead to make that happen. Though Buhari administration did not make a policy, from the looks of things however, President Muhammadu Buhari has promoted the women in his government. Examples are that Finance Ministers in this administration are women who control major part of the country’s economy.
We expect those women too to have created a form of encouragement for other women. Look at banks, we have women. At the NPA, there is a woman there. The same thing in the NDDC. In fact Buhari administration has looked into promotion of women in governance. But in politics, we have to understand something. You don’t sit down at home and expect Manna from heaven. So, the women should do more for themselves. Part of the problems the women have is that they always feel relaxed waiting for men to do it for them.
There has been a form of agitation recently concerning the Constitution review that women are not getting affirmative action on a particular percentage in government. If the Senate and the House of Representatives approve such affirmative action, how do they now make the selection? Which consistency would you tell the contestants to step down for a woman? The women have to do more for themselves. They have to promote, they have to go out there to identify, appraise, elect and promote women that can deliver on result.
There are lot of great women out there. There are a lot of programmes in the country today that beckon on women. In terms of technology, we expect more women to be involved. Banking sector, that reminds me, in that sector we have women heading about four big banks in the country today.
The role of women is already there in the economy. It is only left to the women to motivate and organize themselves just as the youth should also be doing.
They should organize themselves and find a place to fit in because these men would not invite their wives to be their bosses voluntarily. It is not possible. However, if they there is the right competence and capability, the men would not be able to deny them the opportunity to come in. I think that has thrown more light on that path.
What is your permutation for the future of the country?
One thing we must understand is that our economy has to be salvaged. We should start working out a home grown solution. That is solutions that come from us. Most of the problems we are facing today are borne out of the fact that we are a consuming nation. We want to only consume in everything we do in this country. People are talking about the price of wheat. Are we saying Nigeria is not producing wheat? No, we do. But we export most of our products because there is more money out there that we make. We are not putting a lot in our agriculture and we are not putting a lot into our technology. We are not putting a lot into our SME. These are areas that can spur growth, the areas that brought growth in 2021 are agriculture, technology, manufacturing. How are we unburden this into the mind-set of the coming generation?
Truly Nigeria wants to make it big but we don’t like hard work! People leave the shores of this country to USA, Canada where they are willing to do any menial jobs. They are willing to do anything to survive. We should have a way to create opportunities. The reason the government exists is that they have been given the mandate to create opportunities. As soon as we start to create opportunities at all levels from Local Government, from state to the Federal level, you will see us moving to a better country.
Now the constitution review will help us to achieve some of the things. In the review you can see that some items have been moved from the Executive List to the Concurrent List. And you can see that we have the Local Government autonomy, the Judicial autonomy and we pray that the President signs it because at the end, the framework determines where development goes. So, with this, each level can enhance policies. That was a programme under former President Olusegun Obasanjo, Operation Feed the Nation (OFN). Are we having Operation Feed the Local Government? We can as well have operation feed the state whereby the governors would decide to put more money into agriculture. Are we having the state floating Operation Grow the SME?
Without a sound economy, we cannot talk of a great country. Economy is number one.
Are you comfortable with the way ethnicity consideration is undermining benefits of our diversity?
That is another major issue we have to tackle in this country. It is how to create that system where a Yoruba man will be able to live comfortably in the house of an Ibo man where an Ibo man can also live comfortably even in the house of a northerner. A system where a Fulfude man can live comfortably in the house of an Ijaw man. These things were there before. But as the country evolves, the unnecessary mind-set of oh, I am an Ijaw, I am a Yoruba or I am a Fulani was created into the sub-consciousness of the people. This came up because some people want to benefit from the crisis.
So, there is the need for a new orientation that would emphasise that we are one Nigeria. In reality we are not one Nigeria because we see Hausa, we see Yoruba, we see Itsekiri and all that. But look at the real situation on ground, how many Ibos have been given an opportunity to transform their states? What have they done?! The Minster of State for Education is from South-East. The Minister of Trade and Investment at one point was from the South-East. You see a Minister of Aviation at a point was from the South-East. Did Enugu airport done? No! Did the Cargo airport at Agwuanta approved? No. These things should not happen. These things are now happening. It tells you that some people are making huge benefit from the diversity issues where we are not able to agree.
And sadly, these are happening around the youth not the elders. The elders are coming together and working together as one. They don’t see hatred amongst themselves. It is the youth! The women are not part of this it is the youth that are promoting this segregated thinking. So, if we can solve that problem, we are half done into the future.
And finally, another problem we have in this country is population. Our population is growing faster than our resources. And it is going to be a serious problem for us. You heard the Minister of Finance speak about the population two years ago and perhaps she was cautioned because she has never spoken about it again. It tells you that, population, if not tackled, will cause a serious problem to the country. We have to tackle it more seriously because it is one of the roots of our problems. We can tackle population with right policies and right mind-set. We cannot tackle it with the common refrain that nobody should get more than one or two children like in China some years ago.
What then is the solution to the population problem?
We have to start enlightening women and also start enlightening the men to be more educated. As soon as we do that, we have empowered them, they will now realise that they don’t need to rely on men to survive. And also we now get the young men to start to think differently that, before you have a child, you need available resources to handle his responsibility. But again these things are influenced by religious beliefs and the peer groups in the environment. Like, oh, my friend is having so, so number of wives and children and so I must do same. I want a boy, I want a girl and so on. Whatever the case, we need to tackle our population for the country to grow.
Corruption is still very much with us. How can we effectively tackle the monster?
Former President Goodluck Jonathan said stealing is not corruption and we laughed at him. But with the recent happenings in Nigeria today, you cannot differentiate between how to be a thief and how to be corrupt. Corruption is actually a systemic thing. Being a thief is a personality. What do I mean by this? If somebody is not interested in stealing before, but when he gets into government and you get to resume as Commissioner for Environment, and they tell him the United Nation Environmental Protection Agency is sending in 150, 000 eqquipment for a pilot programme and he says fine. Where are the equipment, they say none. And he says let us set up the structure and they say no. And they call him, Oga, that is not how we do things here. That is the problem with Nigeria.
The problem is the system of how we do things here. And when you insist, they will tell you repeatedly that this is how we do it here. As long as we have the system of ‘how we do it here,’ corruption will continue. I tell everybody that corruption cannot be stopped because it is systemic. It happens in the Principal’s office according to a story. The Principal told his student I am selling this book to you at N1000. The student goes home to tell his parents that the book is N1,500. The father now thinks of how he can increase the price to N3, 500. It goes on and on like that in a cycle.
Corruption is systemic and we have to look for a way to curb it at the systemic level. And if you ask me which department in the government has been mostly influenced by corruption? I will say the Civil Service. From the Local Government to the state government down to the Federal Government, corruption is flowing like river through their systems!
Most civil servants go to work not with the intent of serving the country whole heartedly. They go with the notion that, ‘is it my father’s work or if I die today somebody will not come to replace me?’
If there is training for example in Dubai, they will rush to Dubai and come back as the same people.
So, there is the need for civil service reform so it could be managed like a private sector. And to do that, it will depend on the quality of the ministers or commissioners in charge. For corruption to stop, the highest office holders like the President and the State Governors must sit down to select the people that would focus on result. Once there is result measurement or metric in place, it will now be difficult to bypass the structures and the system.
Look at the ICPC, they have saved a lot of money for the country. Look at the TSA, the same thing. Look at the digitalization of various federal government systems, Nigeria has saved a lot of money through them. If you put Procurement Process today on certification programme, you will cut out all the loopholes. But because of corruption, these things would not be allowed to happen.
The first enemies of the country are those who insist that things should remain the way they are because they profit from it.
The security challenges are still there, any solution for that in sight?
Security of this country was stable till a lot of interests came in. Some people want to hold the some parts of the country to ransom. However, the way it is now, the best way to solve the security problems in the country, we have the capable training, we have capable hands, if you go to the military they are more organized than any other sector in this country. Yet, why are they failing? They are failing because there is willing internal sabotage! The Heads of the Defence Headquarters and all that have the duty of identifying the internal sabotage. The day the internal sabotage stops in the military, you will see that, that is the day all the security challenges like kidnapping, banditry will stop.