Senator Adeseye Ogunlewe, a former chieftain of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, represented Lagos-East Senatorial District in 1999 before he became the Minister of Works under the regime of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo. He is now a stalwart of the All Progressives Congress, APC.
He speaks on why he left PDP for APC, the 2023 presidential elections, which he said is the turn of the Southwest geo- political zone, the constitution of Nigeria which he assesses as the sole destroyer of the nation, June 12 democracy day, godfatherism, insecurity, budgeting process, local government autonomy, national structure, among other key contemporary issues. Excerpts:
Why did you quit the PDP where you have been for long for the ruling APC?
There are so many crises in the PDP, divisions, in-fighting. It is not good for anybody who wants to be relevant in politics. The managers of the party in Lagos State don’t seem to be ready to win any election. We cannot be in politics to be perpetual losers. It is possible to win, but where it is impossible for you to win, what do you do? It was not possible to remain there to be fighting and quarrelling. No internal democracy; no discipline. Nobody loves the party. Everybody will just be doing what they like. We keep running around in circles without a firm purpose.
Could these be the reasons the party lost in the last governorship elections for the fifth time?
Of course, there was absolute lack of internal democracy in the choice of the party executives, in the choice of the candidate. Everything was based on impunity and corruption. How can you win election in that kind of party? There is nothing like internal democracy in PDP.
But the general feeling is that APC, which you joined, is not different from PDP you just left?
No, in APC you see them contesting. At least there is a semblance of democracy. That is what we are saying. Let there be competition. Let there be a choice by the people. They say power to the people in PDP, but in practical terms that is not what is obtainable there. Let the people choose and decide where power goes to. The tail wags the head there. Is that democracy? Sometimes 35 per cent is chosen ahead of 65 per cent. Is that democracy? Is that right in any way? They will ask someone to go and bring who you have. So, whoever you bring is imposed on the people. It is very unfortunate.
Maybe that was why Bode George recently warned the national body to keep away from the Lagos PDP chapter?
I don’t know. If you see him you can ask him. I am not part of them anymore. I don’t bother about whatever they are saying.
So do you have any more ill feelings for PDP?
It depends. It is in all the parties. When you don’t allow the majority to lead and control things. When they manipulate things and pass them off as democracy. It is not good for our democracy. I am pleading with INEC. The National Assembly should give INEC the power through the constitution to compel INEC to conduct every congress of the parties. That is the way you can have sanity.
How do you see godfatherism in Lagos politics, which has seen the APC hold sway in the state since 1999?
It is not a Lagos affair. It is also in other states. It is everywhere. Even in our communities. The leadership and much of the things we do in our communities are based on godfatherism.
But the Lagos situation is peculiar. One man has been calling the shots for two decades now?
No, no, no, it is not peculiar. What you describe as godfatherism is the basis of African community. Go and check it out. Somebody must provide leadership. Somebody must provide the funds. Our level of development has not enabled us to be so independent. We are a developing nation and we are not as sophisticated as the advanced democracies. The level of poverty is high – 95 per cent.
What if PDP bounces back either at the tribunal or in 2023, would you still say the same things?
It depends on your perception. What if you say if the APC consolidates on power in the period you mentioned? It could be in the Southeast or South-south.
I am talking about the national level
As long as there is impunity in the system, it remains a far cry. If things go well and there is no impunity, the issue of corruption will be reduced. The issue of godfatherism will be reduced. INEC should gear up and sanitize the system. Look, we have over 800 cases in court now over the last election. Should it be so? It doesn’t augur well for our democracy. And these things are there because of favoritism, poverty, corruption. INEC should be able to control all the political parties. That is when people can determine who is going to be their chairman. When that happens, we will put behind all the troubles and there will be perfection and sanity in the structure and the system.
Recently, the Federal Government set up a three-man panel to review the report of an earlier committee with a view to putting in place state police in the country. What is your view about state police in Nigeria of today?
There is no alternative to state police. In the past we had local government and sate police. Nigeria is the only country in the world that does not remember where it is coming from. In this same country local government had police. In this same country the regions had state police. And let me tell you, it worked well, no matter what some people are saying today. How can you have a centralized police system? It leads to problems, it leads to war. How can you post a divisional police officer, DPO, to a place where he does not hear the language of the people? And he will protect his own people in that community against the indigenous people against all odds. It is dangerous for us to continue that way.
How about skepticisms that governors will abuse state police?
Governors are not permanent. At the worst, a governor would be there for eight years and another person takes over. There should be a structure. We are talking about a system. It will outlive that governor. He will go eventually and everything will stabilize. It is not supposed to be a governor’s matter. The system in place is a national tragedy, where you take a Yoruba man to be the DPO in Kano. How can he fare well there? He doesn’t understand their language; he doesn’t understand their culture.
How do you see the widespread insecurity in the country with tales of kidnappings, banditry and the response of the security agencies to the problems?
They are incapacitated. The structure of the security apparatus, the security architecture does not give room for the nation to survive. For instance, in Zamfara, there is banditry. Who are the members of the police there? You will find southerners there – Yoruba, Igbo. What can they do there? Who understands them? Do they understand their language? Do they understand the community? But put the people in the community in the police there, there will be a harvest of success because they know themselves.
Obasanjo recently alleged that there is a grand plan to fulanize Nigeria. Could that be true or is it just a fantasy?
No, no, no, it is a note of warning that we are drifting towards what he is complaining about. A nation is supposed to take cue of certain allegations and retrace her steps. Obasanjo is not used to just talking and he has seen it all. He has fought a war to unite Nigeria. He was in the forefront of the battle for the unity of the country. So, he knows what he is talking about. He is not a small man in this sort of business. And nobody should underrate or undermine whatever he says. When he speaks, somebody should listen, and arrangements should be made quickly to pull back before it is too late.
The former minister of communications has said that the North should retain power in 2023. What do you say about that?
It is not for him to say it. It does not lie in his mouth to actualize this. It is the turn of the Southwest and we are getting ready to compete.
What about the Southeast and South-south that are already warming up?
They should come up to compete. There is space for everybody. It is competition. We are working hard on it. Let them also work hard and plan as we are doing. That is why I am in APC.
Why do you think it is the turn of the Southwest now?
We have sacrificed a lot for this country. We are the people who fought for democracy. We are entitled to it and we will compete for it. The North should hand it over to us and that is why I am in APC too. We will be given the opportunity to compete and I want to be part of it.
You were once a senator. What is your assessment of the 8th National Assembly that just wound down?
Honestly, what I am seeing is not what I expected. There are critical issues that are part of the shame of this country that ought to be addressed. But they were overlooked. They should be sensitive. What they did was not relevant to the problems of Nigeria and they know it. What are the problems, you may ask? We have very bad educational system especially at the primary and secondary levels. What stopped them from making it easier for every Nigerian child to attend school? What will they lose? Our schools are getting moribund. You go to healthcare nothing was done. Our teaching hospitals are fast becoming primary health centres. Access to good health and education has been denied the citizens because there are no enabling laws in that direction. That is what we want the legislature to do for us. Are you listening? The best form of education is primary education. One would have expected them to make laws that will make our primary education the best in the world. That is the way it is all over the world; in South Korea, India, Malaysia, and Indonesia. It is a shame that the legislature cannot address these problems. None of us can send our children to the schools we attended at the primary and secondary school levels and it is creeping into the universities now. What do we do?
In other words you feel that the 8th National Assembly failed woefully?
Not only the 8th National Assembly has failed, all governments have been failing because they have not addressed the problems of the country. Our engineers are not allowed to practice their profession in their country. What do we do? This is the only country where their engineers are prevented from working for the development of their country. Look at the accountant? Look at the medical profession? Look at the law profession? Look at the insurance profession? It is the most critical part that we are neglecting. That is engineering technology. Our people are not participating actively in this area and it is surprising how we will leap into the technological age without our engineers. This is a critical part of our development and it is unfair to exclude our engineers. Foreign contractors should not be given anything in Nigeria. Nigerian contractors should be given everything. We are happy China is doing our railways. When we had independence China did not have a railway. We have people who can build this railway line here, but we don’t care. We can manufacture railway coaches, but Nigerians are not encouraged to do so. It is only this country that is behaving as if we have never done anything well before. Things were a lot better in those days.
Let‘s talk about the local government funds. The Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit, NFIU, has warned state governments to stop pilfering local government funds through the joint state/ local government accounts and have given intention of penalty for infringement. The governors have fought back through their forum that it was unconstitutional. Who is right?
The Nigerian is right. That is one of the reasons I am in APC. I have fought such things all my life. I am a local support person. And any country, which is running a perfect local government system will be a good country. That is the closest government to the people. You have ceded local governments to robbers and thieves.
You have ceded local governments to the Emirs. You have ceded local governments to area boys and touts. We are so callous in this country. How can the Federal Government be feeding primary school children without the involvement of local government people? How can the Federal Government be giving things to market women without the involvement of local government people? Nonsense. Who owns the markets? Who owns the primary schools? Are we not reading the constitution? We turn things upside down. They should go and read the constitution. We should empower the local governments by giving them their money and allowing them to function in accordance with the constitution. If we give them their money and they embezzle it as some people are alleging, is it the money of the state governors? If the state/local government joint account is the albatross because it is in the constitution, they should remove it from the constitution immediately. In Nigeria, people want to make money and be rich to the detriment of the majority of Nigerians. How can we have 95 million people in poverty and we are happy as a nation?
The governor of Delta State, Dr Ifeanyi Okowa in a testy mood recently said Nigeria was on the verge of collapsing into regional or ethnic groups based on fear of domination by a particular ethnic group, which he cited as the Fulani. He declared that the South-south holds the ace in Nigerian unity and when they decide to let go, the nation will disintegrate. What is your comment on this?
Yes, this is expected in a federal structure that is not functioning. Our federal system is not functioning because this constitution is a destroyer of this country. We will never make progress as long as we continue to use this constitution. It is a feudal constitution. It is a constitution of oppressors. People who want to hold on to power forever are the authors of that constitution. It is very deliberate. Which country in the world would have electricity as part of the constitution? There must be National Grid. National Grid is part of your constitution. Eh? If there is coal in Enugu, we cannot use coal to generate electricity because of National Grid. This is self-serving and deceptive. All kinds of irrelevant suppressive items are found in our constitution and you know how many times we have had constitutional conferences? We have had National Assembly ad- hoc Constitutional Review committees? Let them remove all these things from our constitution. We are a nation of smart and intelligent people and we have allowed this constitution to remain over time. That is why we are not making any progress all round. That constitution is just a destroyer. It has destroyed the country and will destroy it the more. Let me tell you something that will shock you. No responsible company or contractor in the world would like to be in Nigeria. Those that were here before, they have all left. Yes, they have all left because our constitution is an inhibitor to national development. When you are saying and predicating everything on annual budget, how do you plan and ensure that jobs contracted out are executed in minimum downtime? If this year they give you 50 per cent and it is exhausted, you have to wait till the passage of another budget next year before you will get money. That way, jobs are slowed down and some are even abandoned. There must be national planning, economic planning. It is not just wishing that things should be done; we must be pragmatic and resourceful to remove obstacles that impede our national development efforts. The constitution has plunged the nation into confusion.
How do you see Nigeria of the future with all the problems?
I see a Nigeria that will one day go regional and the six zones will become the government. We don’t need the 36 states. Let there be six zones, that is, geo-political zones and let them become the government. The structure we have now is wasteful. You have 36 governors, 36 super-structure, including courts and ministries; and so on and so forth. We can’t survive like that. The bureaucracies weigh down on the wealth of the nation. We use 75 per cent of our revenue on recurrent expenditure. How can we operate like that and still expect miracle to happen in terms of development of critical infrastructure. Look at Ghana. Ghana does not have states. They don’t have governors. This is so they can plan well. But we, because of our population, we put in place all these structures that drain our wealth. We need to review the existing system and come up with one that will not be wasteful, a system that will be tailored to the prevailing economic condition in the country. The days of oil boom are over. We must apply restraint and be frugal in planning. Every geo-political zone should have its own Court of Appeal, and its own Supreme Court. That is the way to go. To insist that Nigeria will have one Supreme Court will not work.
Some women groups are not happy because they did not get equal appointments of male and female genders in the Buhari administration. Do you support the move?
I will go for competence any day. It is not possible to offer the women positions in government without looking at their competence level. Yes, gender accommodation is important, but it must not be given a la-carte. Some prerequisites must be considered and this is applicable to both genders. Let them come, but it has to be based on competence. The party should prepare a blueprint. It is not for the minister to be dictating policies for the party, no. It should be the other way round. What we have in Nigeria is that the parties abdicate their responsibilities to the government officials and stay on the sidelines. It is the executive that should tell the minister what they want him to do. As a party, they have a manifesto. They should sit down and work out the details of the manifesto for implementation by government. It is the party that is in power and not the government officials. What do they do now? Rubbish people. It is the minister that determines the content and direction of policies in government. How does that make sense? It is like the tail wagging the head. It is the minister of economic planning that will prepare everything that everybody will do. Before they are through it, half of the year is gone and we are always fighting for time. If the party has a programme on primary healthcare they should forward it. It is not for the minister to be telling everybody everything that you may have even studied in the university. This is one of the reasons our budget process is fairly long.
June12 has been declared Nigeria’s democracy day and the late MKO Abiola was honoured with the renaming of the National Stadium Abuja after him and a grand national title of GCFR, reserved for presidents conferred on him. Curiously, his bank accounts, frozen in the wake of the annulment of June 12 election are yet to be unfrozen and there is no reparation. Why and how is that so?
I think Buhari has done something that nobody ever thought of by recognizing the day as democracy day and honouring him post-humously. They have given him the highest honour in Nigeria. Give these people some bit of credit. These are the things that Nigerians have been clamouring for. The remaining things left undone, they will do them. People should exercise some patience.
But the family is crying that the account should be unfrozen and reparation paid to them. Added to this is that only a few weeks ago, the operating license of summit oil owned by the late Abiola was cancelled. What does that signify?
Why did they cancel it? Maybe they have not been operating. At least they should have a board of directors. Let’s leave MKO Abiola out of this issue. They have board of directors, they have management, they have directors, they have executive directors, let them go and sort the problem out with the government. It is not MKO Abiola’s affair any more. He has died many years ago.
What do you believe this new government should give Nigerians?
Honestly, they are on the right track, although they are slow. This issue of state police, they must follow it to the end. Number two is autonomy for local governments. They must free local governments and give them their due responsibilities under the constitution – primary health care, primary education, markets. Let them perform their duties. Don’t be over bearing on them. Let them survive. That is what we are praying for and that is what it should be. Let them be more vibrant.