He showed the vibrancy of a middle aged person. Same could be said about his articulate ideas on life, nationhood, international affairs, among others. These uncommon attributes, displayed by Mr. Adisa Adeleye, in this interview in commemoration of his 80th birthday, left one doubting his age. But mistake should not be made about that. Adeleye was 80 yesterday. While this chat lasted, the economist, journalist and retired multi-national company executive in him, radiated.
You just clocked 80 in a society where things rarely work and where life expectancy is abysmally low. How has the story been?
I thank God for my life. I was born the North, precisely Jos where my parents were traders. I did elementary school at Saint Lukeâ€™s Anglican School and Baptist Day School after which I left for my home town, Ogbomosho. I finished in Eko Boys High School in 1953. I worked with UAC before I went abroad as a private student. At that time, we also struggled because we did all what children do.
The survival rate was not high but we managed to survive. If I were to rate how it was then, I will give myself a bronze medal. But later when we came to Lagos, the crave for education, especially at the University of Ibadan was high. And the urge to further our education was there. So, some of us left for the United Kingdom for private studies at the University of London. I came back with a degree in economics.
Entering into journalism, which I like much from secondary school, was a decision I made. I wanted to get into Daily Times Newspapers when I left secondary school but it was not possible. With the strength of my school certificate result in English, I wanted to get a scholarship to study journalism but it did not work. So I went to study economics. And economics had been a field of study I like.
It was new as a field of study in Nigeria in the 1950s. It was not taught as a degree then but as an elective course. I came back and got into journalism, then I later left journalism for the oil sector where I saw how Nigeria works in many ways. During my time in journalism, hardly could you see any article on the oil industry. I started commercial reporting, which is now known as business reporting in Daily Times.
Having worked in places of enlightenment, I found myself in the oil sector, where I worked in different managerial capacities. I got interested in politics after retirement in 1989. I did not go far because I discovered that it was a jungle and you have to be able to adapt yourself to jungle life for you to succeed and I donâ€™t think I was set for that. I was a senatorial candidate of the NRC in Oyo North, but I opted out. I left the political scene because of absence of principles and ideologies.
You have a robust experience in journalism, that makes one to wonder what could have made someone with a degree in economics in the 1960s to have opted for journalism in an era when there were good jobs for graduates?
I was reading London Times after having my degree. I discovered that their top editors had different degrees which were not related to journalism. I said to myself that if these people could go into journalism with their different degrees, the profession will be enriched. That was how I did a diploma in journalism. It was that qualification that got me a job in Daily Times.
I started writing quality editorials and eventually pioneered commercial/business reporting in Nigeria, where we carried stock news and started to analyse budgets. I could remember a budget analysis which I wrote then. It made the then Finance Minister, the late Chief Festus Okotie Eboh, to order for my arrest. When they came to our office, they arrested me and my Editor, who was the late Alhaji Odunewu.
We were taken to Okotie-Eboh office where he said that we were irresponsible journalists. He also said that we were divulging information in the budget. I responded that we were not doing such. And that Nigeriaâ€™s budget then, was just centred on tax increment, increment of import duties.
That made the economy so simple then because the manufacturing base was so low. The encounter ended on a good note. I also did something about the economic prospects of Obudu Ranch in1965, and I am happy that what I foresaw then has become a reality today.
As someone who pioneered commercial reporting in the country, how do you feel when you open the pages of newspapers and find a lot of pages allocated to business reporting?
I am so happy that many newspapers have embraced that. That is very good because people should know many things about the economy. Otherwise we will be living in ignorance. For instance, the sort of confusion about subsidy should not have come up if people had in-depth knowledge about the economy. I remember I once wrote about sensible economics in my column.
That implies how one can use knowledge of economics to turn economic factors to his favour. I donâ€™t think it is right for an import dependent nation to have a fixed foreign exchange regime. If you are wise, you will make your currency strong so that you will be able to import what you need. But if your currency is weak or depreciated, then you will need more money to import.
Our oil is sold for less than one hundred dollars and it is being refined abroad, while you say that the cost of landing is one hundred and forty naira. I have never seen a nation that produces oil, sells and imports. Before government took over the downstream sector, we will sit down and know the structure of the market here and predict demand.
If it is gasoline or diesel that we need per day, we will calculate that through a formula and go to the refinery and collect our product. No body will be going to buy oil, product by product because you get so many by-products from each barrel. What is going on now is economic sabotage.
Many people who read your column and know the ideas you postulate would want to know the secret behind this ability to write with the zeal and vibrancy of a young man at 80?
I am still active because I donâ€™t want to disappoint the nation. Education facilities have expanded, and, when you write, you have to consider your readers, so you have to think how they think. And you have to be able to convince them that you know what you are talking about. I also thank God that I have a very rich library. I write without basic knowledge about what I am writing about.
Sometimes ago, I added my voice to the Crimea crisis, because I remembered something that happened 50 years ago when I graduated in 1963. We discussed the Crimea war at a tutorial class in 1962. When I was in Daily Times, I wrote an article where I discovered the British fears about Rhodesia becoming a communist country. My argument was that Britain blundered on Crimea and might find themselves with the same consequences if they repeated same with Rhodesia.
And I remember a colleague then asking what I knew about Crimean war. I told him that the war was brought to the doors of Russia by Britain and France and it was just to humiliate Russia. Britain was thinking that breaking up that area will make Russia to interfere with the trade route of India. It was the same thing that is playing out now. Ukraine used to be part of Russian empire and NATO is trying to build bases around there now.
I am not saying that Russia took a legal and rightful position by annexing Crimea, but what will be the reaction if you donâ€™t want a hostile neighbour and you are now doing the same thing to Ukraine? So it is all about balance of power in Europe, with actors wanting to remain relevant. So, this is how extensive reading helps to keep me informed about world affairs. With an in-depth knowledge about issues, people and events, one will remain active in the society.
You experienced the fruitful and promising periods in Nigeria. Today, the country is unable to find its feet. So bad it is that the teething problems of nationhood are still common. What does that imply to you?
My observation is that we missed our opportunities through the kind of politics we play. After independence, we thought we had everything whereas the infrastructures were underdeveloped and when independence came we tried to assert ourselves. So our donor agencies felt we were okay, that is why nobody wanted to help. Every body wanted to trade with us and get as much advantage they could get.
Unfortunately we did not organise ourselves well. And that led to the war in the first decade of independence. The politics we play affected our progress. We did not understand the party politics we played well. And our colonial masters tried to help by bringing the idea of a national government before independence. And if you study the independence constitution, it created rooms for working together.
Are you talking about the 1960 Constitution?
Yes, it was a federal constitution. Before then, there was a national government. And if you see the Federal Government of the pre-independent Nigeria, you will discover that it had representatives from the various regions. The NCNC, AG and NPC sent representatives to the central government. These people represented their regions at the centre.
The British people felt that if we followed that kind of party politics, we might have problems. That is why they suggested that there should be national government at the centre. But we had government and the opposition which could not see eye to eye at the centre. Awolowo was jailed, while the Western region was boiling. The parliamentary system was abandoned in 1979 and the presidential system came without the American system.
The United States constitution vested much powers in the states, leaving the federal government with defence, currency and international relations. But real development is buried in each state. Here the Federal Government is the greatest power. They dictate so much that no state is viable now. The states have to go to Abuja to collect monthly allocations. You donâ€™t run a federation like that.
Lately I have been writing on Switzerland where there is a loose federation. The Federal Government there is a coalition of five different parties. The President retires years ago and no single party rules.
Are you saying that what they have is a confederation and do you suggest such for Nigeria, in view of the myriad of institutional problems in the country?
It is a confederal system. Their Federal Government is composed of five parties and there is no one cheating the other. The election into the federal parliament is proportional. If you score 12 million and I score 18 million, the 18 million rules under the parliamentary system, what happens to the 12 million under the federal system? You create danger when you exclude people.
So what we are doing is a type of government where the PDP takes all because they are in power. We created the situation where the opposition wants to get rid of the ruling party. What I am saying is that the spirit of federalism allows each area the opportunity to have a say in the overall policy-making process in the country. To achieve that, there should be a coalition at the centre just like the old system where regional governments sent representatives to the centre. There should be stronger regions with a weak centre.
The centre may become stronger when foreign affairs dominate. But the actual workings of government rest on the states. Let each zone develop at its pace by having its own institutions, so that only difficult cases come to the centre. You can never get peace under the present arrangement in Nigeria. We saw how the former Rivers State police commissioner ruled the state for a long time.
Although the governor is responsible for security, the security apparatus is with the Federal Government. The police is under the states in all federal arrangements. Why is it different in Nigeria? If there is a problem now, Fashola cannot dictate to the Lagos State police commissioner. That is why Boko Haram can flourish.
You support the on-going National Conference. But from what you have seen so far from deliberations by the delegates, are you impressed and do you see them coming up with something that can launch the country to the next level?
I will commend President Jonathan for having the courage to set it up. But by setting it up, he has to be extremely careful. If it was set up to achieve something concrete, that is good. But if it was done with a view to making delegates talk without results at the end, then he will have to reap the consequences.
For instance, when the states describe oil resources as their oil, the Federal Government says the oil belongs to Nigeria. The militants started their war because of resource control, now they are silent and they are not controlling anything.