Why has your group decided to meet all the presidential candidates of political parties at this time?
The South West Development Stakeholders’ Forum is an amalgamation of different Yoruba groups which wants the development of the South West. When we talk of development, we talk of sustainable development where everything works as it is supposed to work. And if you want development in any nation, you will require the contribution of the leadership of those in government and no one does it better than the president of the nation.
We know that those who are coming for the meeting are contesting and we know that one of them will become president this year. So, we need to talk to them, present an agenda to them and ask what exactly they have for the South West. When we say South West, we mean the South West. We are not talking about the Yoruba people alone, we are talking about all residents in the South West.
How do you address the destroyed standard of virtually all key sectors in the country like health, education, finance and others? How are you going to revive them? We know the South West contributes over 50 per cent to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of Nigeria and it has remained the industrial backbone of the country. So, without this, there is nothing we can do except to continue to develop, and the federal government will benefit from such development. That is why it is high time we call on them to come and talk with us.
What are your expectations of who becomes the next president?
We are expecting him to use his power as president to ensure the development of our region as well as any other region. What we are saying is that the incoming president should know that though there are issues of insecurity everywhere, and economic decline in the country, our situation is specific. We want a government that will understand that what the people of the South West need would be different from what other regions need.
Once we are able to remind or even table the agenda before whoever is to become the president, we know that the problem is half-solved. He is going to do, as we expect, the right thing by ensuring that most of what we present is done. That is our expectations.
Are you saying the South West is not where it is supposed to be? And how underdeveloped is the region?
Yes, the South West is not where it is supposed to be because most things are not done the way they should have been done. These are the things we want to address and we cannot address them on our own. We want to negotiate with whoever is going to be president. We want that person to understand that if you help the South West, the South West people will help the government and the government will, in turn, reap in multiple fold from such assistance.
Still looking at the past, who would you blame for the underdevelopment of the South West? Is it the presidents or the governors?
We are going to blame all of them, including the people because certain roles are expected from the people too despite the fact that the governors need a lot to be done. Our governors in the South West, because of certain reasons, probably political, have not done some of the things that they are supposed to have done. They have not even addressed them at all. We believe that is so because there has not been a specific body that talks to them, advises them or tells them the needs of the people. So, we want to ensure that we serve as a bridge between the government not only at the state level but also the federal level. We want to serve as the bridge between them and the people. We should be able to list the expectations of our people and tell them. We should also be able to come back and tell our people that this is what the government can do and this is what they cannot do presently. So, this is where we come in.
We have been hearing that Nigeria’s economy is going to collapse. But Nigeria’s economy has not collapsed because if it has collapsed, we will not be seeing what we are seeing now. Surely, it has not collapsed.
But, we are going to ask questions. Why is it like that? We want to engineer the economic development in Nigeria which is mostly in the informal sector. The formal sector is so minute, yet it looks huge. But it is so minute compared to what the informal sector contributes to the economic development of the nation.
You see so many women and artisans working. Most of them do not even take their money to the banks. Some of them started trading with N2,000, N3,000, N4,000, N5,000 not more than that. But with that very little amount, they still send their children to school, they still buy things because what they do is daily trading.
So, the informal sector is very strong here. We want a government that would look into that sector and develop it into a critical one that can engineer development and industrialisation.
We are concerned about development. No one among us talks about politics. We do not talk about politics or get involved in politics, we just want to get involved in the development of our zone.
What specific areas do you want to be developed because other regions believe the South West is still ahead when it comes to development?
Yes. We are ahead. We should be ahead. Even if we are ahead, we should be greater. We know that a lot of things will happen if we grow more than where we are now, we would be able to help other regions to grow.
For instance, the South West is the melting pot for all other regions. This is where you find every nationality in large numbers, doing their businesses and they are growing too in their own little ways. That shows we are ahead of other regions because this is the home of industries. This is where we have the biggest market, the largest population in the whole Africa which means we are ahead of others but we are not where we are supposed to be and that is it.
As groups you must have assessed the presidential candidates, especially when you said they have been tested, so who among them will you support?
In a situation like this, you have to be neutral as much as you can. As said earlier, we have so many of our people too who are politicians, who belong to one political party or the other. So, all we want to do is to let the public know the type of person the presidential candidate is. We are telling you we want a bigger market for our product, we want silos for our agricultural products, we want a lot of things that will enhance commerce.
So, when we start talking, the general public will know we can support this, we can support that, this person can do us good, we can follow this and that. That is all we want to do. We cannot get involved in supporting any person. No, we are not out for that.
We do not have a special candidate. Of course, we have some Yorubas among them who we believe are going to do well but this is politics and this is Nigeria and as I have told you South West is the home for all nationalities. Resident in the South West are so many Igbos, Hausa/Fulani, Ijaws, people from Niger Delta, people from South-South, South-East and North-Central.
There are so many people living here, so based on that everybody has his or her own choice to make and who exactly to follow. All we want is development. We may not like you if you are not going to develop our zone.
What advice do you have for the of South West and your Yoruba groups?
The groups should be focused. Enough of politics that underdevelops the zone. Enough of politics that is destructive to our well-being. In the South West, there have been problems with the politics we play. It has destroyed a lot of things and hindered our development. That should stop. We are not going to allow anybody to push us to a corner we do not want to be. We have to focus, we have to be politically educated, you just don’t follow like that. Somebody said we should vote for a particular candidate.
No, you too can ask questions. If you cannot read, you can ask questions: who is this man? what has he done before? what do you think he can do? And then listen to others who have made several analyses about the candidates so that you can pick your choice from them. So, it is for us to be focused and politically educated so that we can achieve better results than what we have been getting before. That is it.
Ahead of next month’s elections, what is your message to the candidates, especially the presidential candidates?
Well, personally, I see politicians as not being fair to the public because they tell them they want to do this and they do not do it. And a lot of them get to the office and become richer even than the state itself.
In that way, politicians will make sure they do not put the people in front of the actions they want to take. They are not fair to the people they seek votes from. You begged them you want to get into office and immediately you get in, either as president or governor, you lord yourself over them. You turn to a small god and you want to be worshiped.
The politicians should learn how to serve the people. If you go about campaigning and you are running around, it shows you are begging the people. So, don’t get into office and start behaving as if you are our father or our god that we should always come to worship you.
Because you are able to tar one road or two, you now say you have done well and start using a lot of public money to advertise it. That is not good. Put the people first and things will be well for you and the country.