Adeseye Ogunlewe, chieftain of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), is a former minister of Works.
In this interview with INIOBONG IWOK, he spoke on why Nigeria’s democracy is failing, how President Bola Tinubu’s policy led to high exchange rate, among other issues. Excerpts:
How would you describe the corruption fight of the administration of President Bola Tinubu?
It is not the government that is pursuing those who are corrupt, there are agencies saddled with the responsibility to unearthing those who are corrupt and prosecute them.
So, the government is always there and the agencies to fight them are there. It’s not new, every country has corrupt people and there are machinery to deal with them. They are not doing anything new.
Does the issue of corruption have to do with our system; look at what is happening at the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, does it mean that we have a system that allows people to have access to public funds anyhow?
It’s restructuring that we need, the money available at the centre is so much that people are always tempted to steal the money.
You can never see this level of stealing at the state and local government levels. President Bola Tinubu has been an advocate of restructuring, so let’s restructure the country and give more responsibilities to the state and local governments and have a very lean federal government so that we can curb corruption.
The money available to people at the federal level is so much such that many people go there to steal. But if they have very few things to do and more things are being done at the state and local governments probably we will have less corruption at the top. The money available at the federal level is enormous for everybody to want to steal.
The APC had been at the forefront of restructuring and devolution of power to state amongst others, but this is about nine years down the line, why are they not implementing it?
State police is one, there are so many other functions that the federal government should not take part in at all, look at the registration of small scale companies, people in the informal sector, why are they registering them.
Why should the federal government manage mining, everything about Ajaokuta in Kogi State, for instance, belongs to the federal government, why? They should separate them. It is the feudalist that prepared the Constitution of our country that caused the problem.
We have passed that stage, let us go back to the basis, what were we doing before that we were making progress and we were moving forward.
We are repeating the problems that we had many years back, how can a country develop like this?
The easiest way to develop the country is this, call the Registrar of the Joint Admission and Matriculation Examination (JAMB), Professor Ishaq Oloyede, he would tell you that 1.6 million Nigerian children sit for the exam every year and that 350,000 of them apply to study medicine, and 500,000 apply to study engineering.
Can you imagine if we borrow money to invest in these people, the whole world would listen to us. If we produce 350,000 doctors and 500,000 engineers every year, what do you think Nigeria would become in the next 10 years? That is the area where we have advantage; personnel, our youths are brilliant, but they have no focus, which is why they “Japa,” (run abroad for greener pastures).
They have no future as nobody cares for them, but they are the most brilliant youths you can ever imagine anywhere in the world. Nigeria has 75 million children in schools out of which 45 million are in secondary schools. These are our young population that we can spend our money to develop.
That is what they do in China, and in India so that we can showcase them to the world and our diaspora remittance would be more than what we get from oil by far. God has given us people, people develop nations, it is not a nation that develop people.
It is people that make the United States of America, and the United Kingdom, which people would make Nigeria other than these younger ones? Let’s invest in them and produce 350,000 doctors every year and see what the world would do for us.
They know our potential and what we would do for the world if we develop our nation so they are distracting us. We are talking about poverty, so invest in children of the poor so that they would make sure that their parents are no longer poor.
When they are giving parents N25,000 or N30,000 as salaries and the children cannot go to school, what do you expect? Take the education of the children from the parents and you will see that they would no longer be poor. That was what the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Nnamdi Azikiwe and Ahmadu Bello did. Invest in the young ones and let the old ones take care of themselves.
How do we go about restructuring, will it be done by the National Assembly or we go back to the report of the 2014 Constitutional Conference or we should organise another one?
There is no need for another constitutional conference, let us identify the key areas. Call a meeting of the national caucus of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and it would include the governors and lawmakers of states, where the APC has the majority, senior members of the National Assembly, speakers of the states houses of assembly and tell them to do it, in one month, they would do it because every state would benefit, every state has potential to develop, but the federal government is drawing them back.
How can the federal government be talking of the Ministry of Agriculture, where are the lands, are the lands not in the states? They have the Land Use Act that has vested all the lands in the Governor of the state, so where is the land for the Federal Government, they should be coming up with policies and let the states take over agriculture.
How do you think the government can block wastage in the system; people say we have too many ministries, agencies, parastatals and too many appointments?
It is because there is too much at the federal level, which leads to wastage. Go and see other places, where they practise the presidential system of government. The largest airport in the US is in Georgia and it is owned by a local government.
It is the feudalism that the military government brought into our system that is killing us. Over-centralisation of power is a problem, how can we over-centralise the informal sector in this country? Who is talking about them, who is registering them?
In Lagos State alone, there are over two million informal businesses, people buying and selling and the amount of money that is going round is enormous, but they don’t have contact with the government because they have to register in Abuja.
How can somebody running business in Oke Arin in Lagos State go and register in Abuja? There are so many things like that, which they should take back to the states. I heard the Minister of Power saying that they are paying subsidy for electricity, what is his business there, let the states take over and let them determine what they are paying.
How can subsidy in Lagos be the same as subsidy in Maiduguri and in the east? If you give them 24 hours electricity in Lagos State, they would pay. Where I am living, we pay premium and we don’t have power outage at all, we have 24 hours electricity, but we pay. You don’t pray over power, you pay for power.
What do you think the government should do, especially on inflation as the exchange rate is going higher by the day and cost of goods and services skyrocket everyday?
It is the President that caused the exchange rate to be high because the money they realised from the removal of subsidy they pay the Governors and they share much money which allows the governors to buy more dollars.
When they were not earning too much, the rate of dollar to naira was stable, you give too much money to them, they buy dollars to prepare for elections. We are the cause of our own problems and we know it.
Does it mean that President Bola Tinubu is derailing from his campaign promises?
He is thinking about it, Nigeria is not a small country, there are so many checks and balances, so many interest groups, so many people advising you; don’t do this and that so that it can favour them. Nigeria is like zig zag puzzle, people say all sorts of things. It’s a heavy responsibility, but we will get there.
May be we should even go back to regional system of government or what do you think?
That will be too ambitious, we have the zones already, let’s create commission in all the zones and let them develop at their own pace.
We cannot continue like this, how can we have only one Supreme Court, which country does that kind of thing, when in the US that we copy, each state has a Supreme Court? Quick dispensation of justice is also important, each state can have a Court of Appeal.
We just want uniformity at all cost, you want a judge in Lagos State to earn the same thing as a judge in Sokoto State with the number of cases that we have here. Let us recognise effort and pay for it. Uniform system cannot move our country forward.
What do you think the government should do urgently to resolve issues on insecurity and the economy?
We should have proper planning, massive education at any cost. When you neglect your youths and you are thinking of the future, which future is that, there is no future. Let us not allow these youths to rot away, they are the ones to rise up for Nigeria in the future and we should realise this and train them at all cost.
They are there to do it, which country has 75 million children in school like we do with 45 million of them in secondary school, those are our wealth, let is train them for the future.