He also said for Nigeria to make headway, there must be elite political consensus.
At 55 years, what change do you think Nigeria needs?
I believe there cannot be development without change and the change can be accessed at various levels but there has to be a mental mindset change, there has to be a change in terms of economic outlook, there has to be change in the ways we as a people look at ourselves. I think the most important change Nigeria needs right now is new and I have been saying this since 1985 when I wrote a column after the Babangida coup of 1985. I said the most important thing Nigeria needs is what I call Elite political consensus. I said it will be very difficult for us to achieve it but it is the only way you can push the country forward. Without the elites coming together, nothing will happen in this country because this country belongs to everybody. I also believe Nigeria cannot move forward except we have elites political consensus. We have been suffering from this for over 30 years and we are still in the doldrums because the Nigeria elites are irresponsible. The political elites are absolutely corrupt and they have no sense of duty to the nation. They only pay lip service to everything they do. But in terms of responsibility and a duty to all Nigerians, I have not seen any change and the political elites should be held responsible for that.
I want the change that will happen to Nigeria to be a change in the mind of the elites and the acceptance that this Nigeria project is really important. Without the elites change, there can be no change in every other aspects of our lives and if Nigeria fails in this project, the whole of Africa will fail.
In addition, the way we manage the economy, it is clear that our practice is western driven and our being driven by western subservient interest has not done this country any good. It is time we ensure we have an economic system that addresses the issues of poverty. This country cannot move forward when more than 60 to 70 per cent of its people are living below poverty line and the idea that we must have a capitalist system is unacceptable. I look forward to a change in our attitude and the management of the economy because without this, the rich will continue to be rich while the poor will continue to get poorer and that is unacceptable and might bring disaster upon this country.
But in the present situation Nigeria has found itself, what do you think needs to be done immediately to ameliorate the situation from further deteriorating?
First and foremost, Nigeria cannot be on the path of honour when people are hungry, there cannot be honour when there is no functional educational system, there cannot be honour without respect for Nigerians.
This nation cannot move forward with this kind of politics we are seeing. I want to see politicians who are not joining politics to make money rather going into politics to provide services for the people. Politicians who want to live and die for this country and of course who are ready to provide basic amenities and boost the educational system, those are my own ideas of where to start.
If you want to start, you must guarantee free education to Nigerian children, you must guarantee health care delivery, you must guarantee security. Presently, I cannot start my car from Kano here and just think of traveling to Kaduna without thinking of insecurity, that is a tragedy because when I came back to Nigeria in the mid 70’s, I could drive from Kano to Jos at night without any fear. It is the same thing from Enugu to Port-Harcout. When I was in OMPADEC in 1989, I used to drive from Enugu to Port-Harcout without any fear of insecurity. This kind of thing must be seriously addressed. So this blind acceptance of capitalism without the necessary wherewithal for economic development is also a fundamental problem.
Kidnapping is another issue that has degraded this country. Look at the abduction of Chief Olu Falae, would any sane person go and meet somebody, who is in his late 70’s, in his farm in his small local government not far from Akure to kidnap him? I think sometimes Nigerians must react and force the government to do something because the abduction of Olu Falae must force the Inspector General of Police and the Director of State Services to give a directive towards ending this menace. These are important issues that we cannot push aside if this nation must move forward. It is Olu Falae today, we don’t know who it will be tomorrow but it is very unfortunate that somebody who is a former Secretary to the Federal Government with a track record can just be treated that way.
I believe there must be certain guarantee, which must be made by the Nigerian state, to guarantee safety of lives and dignity of Nigerians. The Nigerian middle class pay taxes because in Nigeria big men don’t pay taxes and that is very unfortunate. We must cultivate the act of paying taxes. I believe things cannot continue like this in Nigeria and all these boils down to the fact that we are not just serious about the country. However, I believe the Nigerian political class has been irresponsible and wayward and we cannot continue like this.
It is being said that Africa does not need strong leaders but strong institutions. Do you feel this is applicable to the Nigerian problems as well?
Absolutely. In fact whatever institutions was in Nigeria died with the military era especially under the Babangida regime. The institutions which the military met on assuming office were destroyed and since then, there has been no attempt to build the army and up till now, it has not been rebuilt. These institutions we have like the parliament is now a joke where rogues are now hiding. The judiciary has become so corrupt, it has become a direct threat to Nigerians and I don’t think there is anywhere in the world where the judiciary is being mocked like in Nigeria. The issues of judiciary and corruption go directly into the problem of the rule of law and without this, there will not be a credible democracy. You now hear judges saying their colleagues are collecting billions for cases before them and the issues of tribunal have now become so openly corrupt, so shameless that you begin to wonder who these judges are and who appointed them into office. This is a very serious matter that needs to be addressed urgently for us to strengthen our institutions.