Former deputy president, Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC), and current General-Secretary, National Union of Electricity Employees (NUEE), Comrade Joe Ajaero has decried the decay in infrastructure and the poor state of affairs in the country. He speaks on various issues in this interview.
Nigeria just clocked 59, looking at the journey so far, what is your assessment?
Nigeria at 59 is a period of lamentation, it is a period of woes because you find it difficult to look at both the critical and non-critical areas and say …oh we have done it perfectly in this area. If you pass through our roads in terms of the infrastructure, you will cry; the rail system is not working. If you go to the airports, there is a problem. Nigeria seems to be one of the few countries that don’t have an official airline and that is shameful. I faced a challenge of traveling to Sao Paulo in Brazil and I had to travel from here to Jo’burg in South Africa for about 6 hours and then connect another flight of 9 hrs to Sao Paulo in Brazil whereas if you have a Nigerian airways functioning here, from Lagos you cross the ocean and you land in Brazil within 8hrs; that’s how we have been moving. I just came in from Tanzania, I had to enter Ethiopian Airlines, flew for about 5hrs and another 3 and a half hrs to Tanzania and this is a journey that would have been straight and with lesser time. In all the sectors, you can’t say its well. Is it in the education sector? It is full of lamentation and things are going down and bad daily. The same things Buhari said when he came to power that our hospitals have been converted to mere consulting clinics, that was in 1983…..some of us will want him to say something about it now to see whether our hospitals are not still mere consulting clinics, between 1983 to date that is about 36 years, and then we are still where we are. It is like we are an under-developing country. Under-developing country is not the same thing as a developing country. Under-developing country means that they are going down, it’s in recession; if we have 10hrs of electricity supply and we are having 6, 7, hrs, we are going down. If you had 10 motorable roads before and these days you don’t have up to 5, you are going down and under-developing and it has continued in that direction in almost all the sectors.
Some say the problem of Nigeria is followership because they ought to resist bad leadership?
But the followers have not been allowed to realise themselves. If you want to ask questions now on why the government is doing certain things, they will clamp on you and say because you are an Igbo man or because you are a Christian and that you are challenging an Hausa man because he is not from your zone. They will say you are criticizing because it is not your brother that is there. The masses are at the receiving end and can never be allowed to be united. The very day they are united and rise, then there will be no hiding place for the political class. In some countries, people have risen and challenged and changed the system over the price of just ordinary bread. On each occasion that we try to get ourselves organised here, you will see their resistance, using divide and rule policy and outright intimidation.
Can we come out of this situation?
There is no conscious effort, no conscious master plan for us to come out of it as we talk now. If we must come out of it, we have to plan it conscientiously; if you watched the budget presentation of 2020 and you dissect it, you will see that there is nothing to cheer about, it is a budget of borrowing and then you can’t run an economy based on borrowing. You are borrowing from countries that your legislators are earning more than their legislators, meanwhile, you are borrowing from them and you are borrowing again to service debt; so that shows you that by next year, our woes will continue to increase. The other element is based on a projected tax on us, those that don’t have; the little we have is taken from us to run the budget. So, if you watch to see what is on the ground, you will know it’s not a cheerful budget and then how do you now project that things are going to be good because, everything is based on expectation, so all things not being equal, it means that our expectation may not come through and if it doesn’t come through, we will be running helter-skelter. I have not seen any conscious effort to make Nigeria big, to build the economy of Nigeria, none. As far as I am concerned, even if you go back to power generation, I am not aware of any power plant today that will start operation next week and Nigeria will now move from 4,000 megawatts to 5,000 megawatts; none. You don’t develop by magic; you must make a conscious effort, good planning to achieve good results. Our fire brigade approach is not taking us anywhere. If you recall, after independence, there was what they called development plan – 10-years development plan, 15-years development plan in that order…you can have your plan based on short term, medium-term and long term plans on how to develop your economy. Most of our budgets are not feasible and some abandoned at the end. There is no factory or industry on the ground now that can employ 2,000 or 3,000 youths upon graduation, none. If you equally look at our value system, those that our young kids’ value these days seem to be different. They value things like Hummer Jeep for instance, and it doesn’t matter the source of their income. We have so much Yahoo Yahoo persons and 419ers all over because that is the module….just having good cars, good houses, etc without questioning the root of the wealth. Those that are educated with Ph.D.’s can’t find jobs and are roaming the streets; the value system has gradually collapsed, honesty as a key to our existence no longer pays here, it’s sad; so, such a country is at the verge of collapse. Our education system is bastardised, coupled with that, we seem to dwell much on ethnicism and nepotism, the bests are not allowed or given the opportunity to be the main drivers in leadership.
The Nigerian Universities commission said recently it has more than 133 more proposals for new private universities, given the grim picture you have created on the education sector; do we still need such numbers?
I don’t think that the issue is university education, I think what is happening is that we are going to have as many universities as churches; if you see the proliferation of churches, it’s alarming and that is what we will gradually have in the university sector. You will have a university that may not have up to 30 students and they will train them but no job. And it is not the universities that are training people on how to be self-sufficient; you come out of the university and you start looking for a white-collar job, so whether the NUC gives approval for every university or not, that is not an issue. Every local government before long will have one university and that will not help our situation. If you recall in those days, every January/ February … you can have NITEL employing 1000 people; you can have NEPA employing 1000 people, you can see the NPA, Nigeria Airways engaging so many people, so will other corporations in that order under the Federal Government control; you will be sure that over 10,000 will get employment and there was a system: the system is that in those areas too, at the end of the year, people will still be retiring, those that have worked for 36 years or those whose ages have reached retirement age. They will retire and there will be space for new people but all of a sudden, there was an embargo and the government started saying that: the government has no business with business and it started affecting Nigerians. So, whether they give more licenses or not, it will further increase our problem in the country, nothing else. I am afraid of how we are going.
Afraid of what specifically?
I am really afraid of many things but my greatest fear is that of disintegration and it is a genuine fear because I grew up as a Pan-Nigerian, from the time I was a student’s union leader who caught across my ethnic barrier and up till now in the job I do, I still think Pan-Nigeria and have come to be a national player and to know that there is nothing basically wrong with Nigerians but that those who seek political offices fan the embers of disunity to cling to such offices and that poverty does not have tribe. For instance, if an Igbo man is hungry, even if an Igbo man is the president of Nigeria that Igbo man is still hungry. Today that Buhari is the president of Nigeria, I am not sure that the number of Hausa people that are hungry and without jobs is smaller than that of the Igbo or Yoruba. I am not sure the usual poor Hausa man is fairing better or having a good time now because a person from the North is the president. Politicians are looking for power to play up all manner of ethnic and religious sentiments to divide us, meanwhile they will not attend to the needs of the downtrodden when they get there. No millionaire in the East, South or West will exchange words with a millionaire from the North. Have you seen an Iwuanyanwu quarreling with a Dangote? It can never happen…their children marry among themselves to protect their grip on the rest of us.