In this interview with select journalists, Otunba Adejare Rewane Adegbenro, grandson of the late Pro-democracy crusader and one of the arrow heads of the defunct National Democratic Coalition (NADECO), Pa Alfred Rewane, speaks on some national issues. TUNDE OGUNTOLA was there
What is your view on the state of the nation?
I must confess that it has not been easy at all the way we see things since this government came to office. They try to do their best, but their best has not been enough because there is always room for improvement.
In fact, one aspect that is getting everybody worried presently is the volume of lives that we have lost in this country in last three and a half years which is too enormous. Thankfully however, the government is putting in a lot of efforts to see the killings stopped and there are positive results towards that angle.
Let us remember that President Buhari is just a single person. So, it is our collective responsibility to rally round him and his administration to help him succeed in all his efforts to make Nigeria better for all and sundry.
So, the government should come out with bold plans to stem these killings especially in the north.
Then, the poverty aspect of it, many Nigerians are suffering now. And the government is doing their very best to see that the down trodden people are empowered with all sort of empowerment schemes and programmes and all that. Buhari should be commended for his administration’s efforts on agriculture which he is bringing back as the main stay of our economy. After all, we are proudly eating Nigeria Made Rice across the country. Yet, there are like more sectors the President is performing wonders that are not in the public domain.
We often blame the past administrations for our present woes. But I don’t want us to continue to engage in this buck passing and blaming game.
When a government gets into office, they know what they want to do before getting into office. You just have to get down and do what you are around to do in office. If past administrations were blamed for the mess and they have accepted their faults, what else are we expecting from them? So, we should stop the blaming game and settle down to perform as expected.
More importantly, we have not been able to tackle the education problems of our children. That is another area that constitutes problem for the country. When Chief Obafemi Awolowo was campaigning, I read his last campaign in the paper where he said that, those who make education of their children impossible would suffer for it sooner or later. And we are now realising it. And majority of those involved in killings and maiming are not knowledgeable, they are not educated, they take drugs. Sadly however, majority of them are being sponsored by politicians. Majority of them, sadly are also not from this country. They are likely imported to destabilise this country and everybody is looking.
What then do you think can be done to arrest that trend?
I believe that it is the duty of the government to make sure that all our borders are secured. Let the government close the borders for about six months or so and see what would happen. Our borders are porous and that is why you see the influx of nationals of neighbouring countries like Niger Republic, Chad, Benin Republic and so on into Nigeria unchecked. Strangers just besiege Nigeria because of the impression that we are big with abundant resources to go round. They come here to do all sort of things. They may take over this country if given the opportunity to do so. So it is left to our government to look inward and see what exactly we can do to stop all this nonsense.
Lets talk about your assessment of successive administration in Nigeria…
You see, like I said earlier, don’t let us get involved in passing bulk and trading blames because we won’t get anywhere. Whether we like it or not, past leaders have done their best. We should be tired of hearing that the administration of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) that ruled for 16 years ruined this country. I am even surprised listening to Godswill Akpabio, who was with the PDP before joining the All Progressives Congress (APC), say PDP didn’t do anything for this country. He has forgotten so soon that he was part of that administration! He was governor for eight years and then Senator on the platform of that PDP he is now castigating, And interestingly, Akpabio constructed the best stadium in this country in Akwa Ibom when he was governor! And he joins the chorus that PDP did not do anything for the country. Are you getting my points?
When former President Olusegun Obasanjo was there for eight years, he was the one who paid all our debts. Well, he did not pay with money, he used his personality, his international connection to make sure that we were forgiven. And our creditors wrote off our debts. And that is a feat and Nigeria has forgotten about that! To me, whether we like it or not, past leaders have done their best. President Buhari is there today. And it would not be a surprise if he goes tomorrow and people start saying he did not do anything while in office! But we all know that there are certain areas that he has done well and will still do more before he finally bows out. But there must be improvement and he has to do more since it is his turn to be there today. So, I think by and large, I don’t want to get involved in blaming past leaders and all that. They have come, seen and conquered in their own little ways.
Don’t you think that recycling of the old people is affecting governance in this country?
Well, what I will say is that it is high time we adopted the system whereby the youth with younger and versatile brains to come up to rule this country. My children, whenever I have problem with my phones of whatever brand, you will see the way these three, four years old would handle the fault! I cannot do it with my age and my experience and exposure. Whenever I exhausted my data, I will just call on them to help me out because it seems they had got special training from the womb that make them more advanced than us technologically. And the way we are talking and seeing things, they are not seeing and talking that way. They are more current in global events than us.
So, let us now encourage the younger ones, who now have better ideas about how a country should be governed to come up and take the leadership mantles of this country. We should do the right thing and stop our engagement in blaming game.
As far as I am concerned, I want the old people to allow the vibrant younger people to come up and get involved in governance. When we have 40 years old people, who are already professors in this country, what else do you want 80 years old people to be doing in political offices?! Let this older politicians take the back seat and handle advisory roles behind the curtains. After all they have been there since Independent! What else do they want?! They should step aside and allow the younger ones to take the centre stage.
Are the youth themselves ready for leadership roles?
That is the challenge now. Are the youth ready for service or are they still dreaming of riding bigger cars and living in big houses in Lekki or Victoria Island in Lagos or choicest areas in Abuja, Kano, Port-Harcourt or Enugu? Anybody who wants to rule this country must have in mind service to the people and not because of affluence. When you want to serve, you should remember your people are suffering and you want them to see you as a disciplined person. Your life style should be the type that every person around you would want to emulate. You have to serve as a role model in your immediate environment.
The youth coming to office should be ready to eradicate the idea of long convoy to safe cost.
What baffles me is that all of us travel abroad and we see what is obtainable there. We go to Britain, we go to America and we go to France. Where did we see what we are practising in Nigeria? The money that should be used in taking care of the masses is being squandered on the retinue of cars and aides. Everybody here would have Police Escort. There was a day I was in the train in Britain with Mr. Cameron. He just sat quietly by the window reading newspapers. And that has not taken anything out of his image as the leader of that great country. Nobody stood up for him.
People still put the blame on the presidential system of government we are operating. Do you agree with that?
I am telling you honestly, if we are asked to go for referendum now, I will mobilise and campaign for people to go for parliamentary system of government. It is this presidential system that has brought corruption and all other vices over us. We are wasting too much money and resources on the presidential system. We are not ripe for it. Even Britain, as advanced as they are, still practise parliamentary system. It is only in America that presidential system is in operation because they have passed through many stages before the system came to stay. We have not got to that stage. There is no discipline here in Nigeria. So, how do you want us to continue this presidential system? There is no amount of policies and manifestoes that can reduce corruption under the system. This is simply because the money involved in the system would make it impossible to stop corruption. The best we can do is to let Nigerians come out and decide. If I were the president today, I will come out and say, I have done my best and my best is not enough the way I look at it, and so I suggest we go back to the parliamentary system. And if Nigerians so divide over it, then, let us go to referendum. It is then that Nigerians will decide for whoever is on the seat whether we want the parliamentary system or presidential system.
Sadly, we missed that opportunity. Some people just woke up and foisted the presidential brand on us. There was no referendum to decide that.
In parliamentary system, Chief Awolowo became a member of the parliament as an Ikenne honourable in the Western Region. He got to the parliament from Ikenne and became a Leader/Premier. Chief Samuel Ladoke Akintola contested from Ogbomosho, he became a member of the House of Representatives and became the Opposition Leader. My grandfather, Chief Dauda Soroye Adegbenro Adegbenro contested from Ifo in the current Ogun State, he got to the parliament and became a Minister. Awolowo appointed him parliamentary Secretary and then Minister of Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs. These were the people voted for at the grassroots and they knew their people’s needs. If any of them was not doing well, others would accuse him and remove him because they were all the same in the Chambers.
But here now, we have the executives doing whatever they like. We also have legislators who screen Ministers before appointment and then after appointment, the Ministers become their Landlords that could not be controlled any more.
In fact, in this country today, parliamentary system is the sole solution to all our problems.
Can’t Restructuring of the country serve same purpose?
I believe in restructuring very well. When you look at restructuring, it means you will sit down to decide what goes where in terms of allocation of resources and revenues from Revenue Mobilisation and Fiscal Commission. I remember in Western Region when my grandfather was there. The region was lending Federal Government money from cocoa. They were richer than the centre. But the presidential system has destroyed all this. And they did it intentionally so that our people would not have enough money to upstage them. They vandalised our education system as well as other credible things. So, what we are saying is, what is the Federal Government’s business in agriculture? Put up the policy, give money to the states and local governments and let them go and utilise it. Then there would be healthy competition between the states. That is what was obtainable years back when the regions were in competition. The Easter Region would say Second to None, the Western Region would say First in Africa because of the ways they were developing. But today, they have vandalised the whole thing.
When Awolowo declared self-rule, Ahmadu Bello wrote to congratulate him. But he said the north was not ready for three reasons. One, there was no manpower, two, the education was not there, then three, no civilisation. So, we can restructure so that all the regions could be able to develop in their own rates.
Do you believe in the unity of this country?
Yes, I believe in the unity of the country if the leaders work towards it. My father is Yoruba from the West. My mother is from the South-south. I have a child from the north. Why wouldn’t I believe in a united Nigeria?! But there is impunity in the system. The appointments are being lopsided. Yoruba are the only people that are very accommodating in this country. When Chief Obasanjo was President, he told some Yoruba leaders and elders who visited him that he was President of the whole of Nigeria and not President of Yoruba. Let other leaders do same before we start clamouring for unity.
What is your advice to Nigerians towards 2019 general elections?
My advice to the incoming politicians is to have spirit of service. That they are not coming for selfish agenda but to serve the people. Selfless service like Awolowo’s. What do you need four cars for! Two cars are ok. One for you and the other one for your family. So, if they have spirit of service and they really serve selflessly, Nigeria will be better for it. That is the truth of the matter.
Politicians should be warned to do things right and beware of mass revolution. We know of countries where it was the civil uprising that swept the government out of power. And if things go worse, revolution cannot be ruled out in Nigeria.
On a final note, how can we stop the killings in Nigeria?
Let government continue to invest heavily in education. When you educate the people, you have made them to be intelligent and would know the evil effects of drugs. Can an educated person strap explosives on his body to kill himself?
Then, massive youth employment is another vital issue. You know when you educate the youth, you will engage them with jobs. And government cannot employ everybody. Then, government should encourage enabling environment for private sectors to set up industries like we had in the past. Only industries are capable of employing thousands of people.
So, a country of gainfully engaged youth would always be peaceful.