The Otun Olubadan of Ibadanland and former Oyo state governor, Senator Rashidi Ladoja, speaks on the challenges confronting Nigeria and the way to tackle them with a group of journalists including DEPUTY EDITOR, DARE ADEKANMBI.
Nigeria will celebrate her 63rd Independence anniversary on October 1. Is it worth celebrating?
Our generation is unique. In the generation pre-Independence and post-Independence, we served our parents. They were having many children then to have enough hands to work in their farms. We served our parents until they started looking for people to work in their farms. Then, in our own generation, we were not selfish. We took care of our parents. But today, the story is not the same. It is saddening somehow. But how we came to where we are today, I don’t know. Maybe it is our fault. The suffering I had when I was growing, I didn’t want my children to have it. In those days, those of us that our parents did not have cars, we were looking forward to when we might also have cars. Of course, the values have changed also. In those days, you would ask a child: what do you want to be? The child would say he either wanted to become an engineer, a teacher, a pastor, a doctor, a lawyer, an architect or whatever. The child would look up to become a professional. At that time, nobody would say he wanted to become a singer. This is why I said values have changed. Footballing then was not a professional thing. It was just to exercise, especially in this part of the world. But today, if you ask a child what he would want to become, he can say he wants to become a footballer. He wants to become a singer. He wants to become a rapper. When you look at it, you cannot say this part of the world has changed for the better. You can’t because those of us who used to travel know that the respect they have for your country is the respect they will have for you. They will look at your passport and it is your passport that will determine how they are going to treat you, whether with respect or disdain. Some of us actually laboured for a good Nigeria. But we didn’t succeed for one reason or the other to put Nigeria where it should be.
What do you think is responsible for not succeeding?
Most of the values of Nigerians are different from our own. Most Nigerians are looking after themselves, more than they are looking after common interest. I always tell people that we like privileges more than responsibilities. Today, the advent of the social media has changed a lot of things. In some cases, the more noise you can make, the more you are appreciated, even more than they will appreciate those working silently to make things better. So, it is one of those things that we have suffered. As far as I am concerned, I don’t think our generation succeeded. We did not put our country where it should be. There may be other factors. Maybe we have many tribes or many ethnic groups in one country whose views are totally different. Where you are fighting for something, they are fighting for something else.
Is it only the leadership that is solely responsible for this situation?
Those of us who saw the civilian administrations before 1966 knew that we were doing well. We had hope. Yes, we had hope. We knew where we were going. We knew the values we were supposed to pursue. This is why I said if you asked people in those days what they wanted to become, they would tell you lawyers, doctors, and so on.
Then, if you look at the crop of leadership at that time, they were less selfish. We can’t say all of them were selfless. But they were less selfish. I said this because they were people who saw the values and were modelling on what they saw. Many of them were trained in England or the United States. They include Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Sir Ladoke Akintola, Chief Rotimi Williams and so on. Most of them were trained abroad. So, they saw the values and they tried to instill those values in us. They knew that in this part of the country, education was key and they harped on it. I cannot even say whether it’s the advent of the military that changed our values
Some people who participated in the First Republic still participated in the ongoing Fourth Republic, like the late Chief Bola Ige (cuts in). Yes, Chief Bola Ige participated in 1999. It is true. Currently, we are grappling to catch up to where we were. But under whom did Bola Ige serve in 2003? Look, when we were young, brilliant students don’t go to the army. Yes, you would not voluntarily choose to go into the army. The army personnel were not trained to be public administrators. They were not trained to be liberal in approach. They were not trained to be democratic because their opinions would always be right, even if you give them advice.
In those days, the competition was very healthy. The Western Region was proud to say ‘we are good exporters or cocoa.’ The Eastern Region would say ‘it is true that you have cocoa, we also have palm oil, don’t forget.’ The Mid-West that was created then, that was where politics started also. Mid-West was created in 1962, which we can say is a tyranny of the majority because Awolowo was asking for Calabar-Ogoja Rivers (COR) and Middle-Belt. But nobody listened to him because he was not in power at the federal level. People that were in power after the 1960 Independence decided that it was good to create Mid-West to curb the Western Region. I was a student in Ibadan Boys High School. Awolowo lived in our compound at Oke Bola, Ibadan. So, we saw everything that happened at the time, even the quarrel between him and Akintola. So, we saw it all. When you look at it, ask yourself: could it be the advent of military? The countries that were with us at that time like Malaysia and Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, even Saudi Arabia, are now more respected than us. Take Malaysian passport to England and take your Nigerian passport there. You will know what you will suffer. So, they are still seeing everybody through the narrow eyes of their perception. ‘Oh Nigerians are 419ners. Nigerians are drug pushers’, whereas it is not through. If a minority is doing something, you cannot generalise that to everybody.
So, the advanced countries have been profiling us?
They put you in a straight-jacket to say this is what it is likely to be. So, in that case, they will grill you. After the 1979 handover, we were still breathing some sound air until the time Muhammadu Buhari took over in 1983. Maybe that was where the problem actually started. The succeeding military government also introduced Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP). By then, hard work was no more the in-thing. The people that were making money were those with portfolios. They were briefcase contractors. They took a job and the intention was to sell it, not to do it. They would collect their own share, whether the man who does the work makes profits or not or whether he does the work or not is not their problem.
When you look at it, you will ask: where did we get it wrong? Economy was not bad as this. Corruption was not as bad as this. Now, can a teacher send his children to university on his legitimate earnings? So, people have to find a way of surviving. I think it was Yakubu Gowon that gave us Udoji Commission because he did not want to go in 1976. But Udoji created more problems for us.
Looking at the situation of the country, what can you say?
This is not Nigeria of our dream. We got it wrong from the time the military took over up to the time the civilian took power back. Buhari thought everybody was a soldier. I’m sure that’s what led to the coup that brought Ibrahim Babangida, who brought in SAP.
When we were young, naira was strong against the dollar. So, how did we come to where we were? Then, one million naira was US$1.6million. But today, you know what we have. Can you see it is quite incomparable? I bought a car when I started working in Total and I was earning 35Pounds. I was comfortable. So, when you look at it, it was sufficient then. The minimum wage today is N30, 000. It can’t buy a bag of rice and that’s for a family of four. That salary is not even enough for transport. Nobody is rich today really.
There were like three or four textile companies in Lagos. There were a lot of people working there so much that they were always running shift. But now, all of these have closed down because we don’t have foresight in this country. A lot of people were affected. We had groundnut processing factories, but they are not here anymore. Maybe if we had good economic policies, those factories wouldn’t have shut down. I am very sad about these things.
Let’s talk about ECOWAS
Is there ECOWAS? Do they still exist? The problem we have is that we are always trying to mimic developed countries. We want to mimic the European Union (EU). But EU started with a common market, the European common market. That’s where they started from. We want to do ECOWAS, but we don’t want to submit some of our sovereignty to the group. You see the fundamental thing about ECOWAS is free movement of people and goods. Nigeria can be said to be following the ECOWAS protocols at least in terms of people and goods, maybe 50 per cent. So, when there’s free movement, why would you close your borders?
As far as I’m concerned, ECOWAS doesn’t exist. The only interpretation people are giving the intervention is that our government is just playing to the tune of the Western countries. I’m telling you, if ECOWAS tries to strike and throw a bomb, France may throw 10 bombs and say it is ECOWAS. They are just looking for a way to come in and that is why they are encouraging ECOWAS intervention in the Niger debacle. But really, is Niger being treated fairly with how France was buying their uranium? 80 per cent of France electricity is based on Niger’s uranium and Niger doesn’t have small plant to power their own electricity. It is a dilemma of someone who has everything but doesn’t have anything. Just like Nigeria also, we are the largest oil producing state but no functional refinery to refine the oil. So, you see now that there are many things that are making us sad. Where are all our companies? How do we create jobs? In those days, we have cocoa industry striving, textile companies and the likes. But they all folded up. Even in Ibadan, we have a lot of them, but not anymore. By the time you’re buying diesel to power your plants, how do you sustain that? In Nigeria, you’re your own electricity board. Many times, the grid has collapsed when it is not a house or a bridge. So, can you understand like this? We made a mistake of not putting the infrastructures when we had surplus. Now, it is complicated. We are only praying that the new government would be able to put things in place.
Don’t you think the government is too large?
The cost of governance is too much and that’s why the lawmakers don’t know that the people are suffering. People claim that Nigeria’s legislators are the best paid in the world. I tend to agree with that. Do we really need that fleet of cars they gave to the ministers? Do we need that fleet of cars they gave to the legislators? Shouldn’t we have made them patronise Nigerian vehicle manufacturers and put our money there? So, these are all the problems we have. The more you think about it the more you tend to ask yourself how we got here. When we started, the naira was about US$1.3. Suddenly, it just moved to US$3 and from there it has been a downward slope.
How would you advise the government?
When you’re not in government, you cannot have accurate facts of how government takes decision. Well, I’m sure that the team the president is trying to build will be strong enough to face these problems. Under Buhari, it was a free flow government; everybody was just doing what they liked. That’s why somebody like Godwin Emefiele could come out and say he wanted to be president, as a serving Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) governor. Where did he get all the money he used to buy the cars he wanted to use for campaign? A normal president would have sacked him on the spot. All other places, the central bank governors are generally technocrats not politicians. Now, the issue keeps getting more complicated. The president says interest rate should go down, has it? No. Subsidy was removed, but it has been reintroduced through the back door because the president knows it is not sustainable. By and large, we should start looking at our core value.