Former Minister of Works and Housing under the administration of President Olusegun Obasanjo, Senator Seye Ogunlewe, is not one that is afraid to express his views on national issues no matter whose ox is gored. This he demonstrated in this interview with Sunday Sun, when he took the Federal Government to the cleaners, saying that it has failed in providing social security for the unemployed and abandoned its primary responsibilities, hence the insecurity witnessed in the country today.
Ogunlewe also chided the National Chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, saying that he lacks the political dynamism needed to tackle the undercurrents at the National Assembly.
What is your take on Nigeria’s rising debt profile that has hit $24.4 trillion?
It’s not a surprise to me. Look, let me tell you, all this money they are borrowing they are stealing them. People are converting the money, stealing because the government is not responsive to their plight, government is insensitive about your up-keep, government is not concerned about the house you live, the school your children attend, that is, your children education, what you eat etc, so you have to take care of yourself, what everybody is doing is self-help. No matter the amount of money they borrow they will steal it because the government is not concerned about your future, so everybody is preparing for his or her future. What do you do when the government is not planning for you? All over the world government plans for the citizen, but in our own case it is not so.
There is struggle for leadership positions at the National Assembly and the APC is insisting on a winner takes it all. What is your take on this?
Let me tell you straight away that the problem of APC is Adams Oshiomhole. He has been in labour union, he doesn’t understand the dynamics of politics. Even where the party has decided it is Senator Lawan that they want, it is not for you to call them to a classroom as if they are children and begin to detect to them, reading a sort of riot act that it must be Lawan, no. That is not for the public. Even after your national working committee has taken such decision, you keep quiet; you now call them one by one, not in the glare of the public. He (Oshiomhole) makes too many loud statements, which do not go down well with some people in the party. The gap between the APC and the PDP, I think is only nine senators. So, just find a way to woo the nine of them to your side, simple. It would have been better for the man to work underground and they will get whatever they want to do easily, but he has made so much noise about it to the extent that people are now saying…okay, maybe it is you and Bola Tinubu that want to install Lawan, some may because of it vote against it. Some of these things are better achieved by using underground tactics. I know Lawan is quite good. He was in the House of Reps when I was in the Senate, so I know his competence and dedication, he has the skill. But let’s watch and see what is going to happen.
What do you make of the security challenges the country is facing?
One must be very sad, I feel quite sad, but we laid the foundation for this sort of situation, a long time ago where we have so many children out of school and once you are not well educated the possibility of the person going into poverty is very high. And as long as you don’t care for the normal citizens of your country you will expect insecurity. What we are witnessing is just starting; it will escalate with time and consume all of us. What other nations have done is to use national ID card and then give them social security support, that is, once you are not employed you get something (money) that will keep you going. It is not the situation where only 10 to 20 people have cornered almost all the wealth of the nation and people are languishing in poverty, no direct government intervention, all this e-this, e-that, will never get us anywhere. You need to pay them some sort of salary as they do it overseas and you get them a job. Unless you do this, they will find a way to fend for themselves. And as they say, the devil is there for the idle mind and violence is likely their option. A lot of youths are joining the unemployment queue and are increasing in number by the day. The danger is that they will overwhelm all of us one day. Unless you properly address the issue what you are seeing is a keg of gunpowder waiting to explode one day.
Are you saying that even the intervention of the military will not provide a solution for this insecurity?
The military is also hungry, the military is unhappy; they are just doing it because they have to do it. What is their pay package? Do they even pay them on time? Sometimes they don’t even pay them, what is their welfare like? How often have you seen a military man die and their family are taken care of? None. All over the world, once you are in the military, all members of your family belong to government, but in Nigeria, it’s not so. So, you find children of most military people who have died roaming about the street and joining in violence. We are just a bunch of careless people; we are not organized as a nation. This is not the way to govern a nation.
What will be your advice to this government on this issue?
The first thing is that we have a problem with the structure. This is an ultra-conservative government that is pretending to be progressive. How can you mix the two? If you are a progressive government and you want a change you have to change the system, change the structure. The structure is too top heavy, I mean what the Federal Government is handling, 168 items belonging to the Federal Government and about 12 belonging to states. But nobody cares. Number two issue is that local government must be autonomous, that is the closest government to the people, but there is no government at the local government level. It will never work. People are going into poverty because nobody is taking care of them at the grassroots level. State governors will confiscate all the allocations meant for the local government, so how can they survive? All the functions local government is supposed to be doing for the community have been taken over by the state and Federal Government. We must restructure, we must ensure that this tier of government works.
But don’t you think that if we have the right leaders, people with passion to lead this country, the country will get better without restructuring it?
With due respect to our president, Muhammadu Buhari, he seems to be the right person for this job, but he doesn’t understand what to do. People surrounding him will never allow him to do it. You will promise something, but to execute it will be difficult. How can a government return 34 bills and didn’t sign them? It is during the preparation of the bills that people should tell them what to do. It is not that you leave them and when they pass the bill, you now return the bill. Democracy doesn’t work that way. Democracy is about give and take. Your people (presidency) must be involved as they (National Assembly) are preparing the bill, they should be briefing you on what is there. It is not the outcome, the final result that you see and you now decline to sign as if it is normal. They (APC government) has wasted four years of our lives. How can you decline to sign 34 bills? It is not done that way. As they are preparing the bill you get involved, you don’t just sit down and let them prepare the bill and you decline to sign, it is not reasonable at all.
Is there any area you can say this government has done well?
I am still watching. As a person, Buhari has everything that takes a nation to survive, upright, focus, but he is not communicating, that is the problem. All over the world, you call the press once in a while, draw questions and answers then they will ask questions and from there you know the feeling of the people at the grassroots, but they will tell Buhari he should not mind, that all is okay. How can people close to you tell you everything is okay and you accept it’s okay? No, it’s not done that way. You must call the press, the media will ask you questions that will be an indication of the feelings of the people, what is happening to them. What are you afraid of? They will ask you questions and at the end, it will be questions that will be useful to you. Buhari must always make himself available, he is elected. You make yourself available, let them criticize you, let them express their mind the way they feel and you reply. It is a feedback system. You jot down the questions and later, perhaps in your office or home you ask yourself why such a question was asked. When you know why then you tackle it. No individual has a solution to everything, journalists also have a solution because they mix with the people, and they can guide you on what to do. Your personal aides will tell you what will be pleasing to your ears, but the press will tell you the reality on the ground.
What do you expect the opposition like the PDP to be doing now?
They should prepare for the next election, they have an advantage. APC will not do any work; they just make noise for four years and they will overrun them.
How do you feel about the last election?
It could be better. My main take is that INEC was the main culprit, they didn’t do well at all. They made too many mistakes. In the process of accreditation, you can do it from 8 to 12 noon, and then you start to vote. Then more people will be at the polling booths and voting centers so people coming to hijack the ballot boxes will not have such opportunity with ease because there will be too many people around. This issue of vote and go make the people vulnerable. Also, the issue of transmission of the result. They are just collating results, but with an ordinary phone, your bank balance will be known in your bedroom. You could have done the collating by the card reader. Even banks do their collating on seconds and minutes basis. What are you collating? At every second they are taking money from the ATM and the machine is recording it and can release any figure you want. They must consider this collating wahala because once these two issues are corrected then we are good to go. Democracy is difficult to work with black nations because the sanctions are not there. For instance, here, the more you invest in agriculture the more people smuggle rice into your country; 20 million bags of rice were smuggled into the country, how can the farmer survive? And there is no sanction against the people doing it. Are they ghost? Once there are no sanctions, Nigerians are very difficult people to please. How can the customs man tell us that the 20 million bags of rice imported into Nigeria, they did not know, they did not see it?