Ever cerebral and articulate in addressing national issues, Mr Segun Sowunmi, Spokesperson to former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, in this interview with The Issues, dissects Nigeria’s problems, with a clincher that the leaders and the led need a social contract. Also, he hinges the probability of Atiku, his boss, of contesting for President again, in 2023, on the state of the latter’s health. Excerpts:
- What is your story about Nigeria at 60?
I have done enough on this. At the commencement of the 60th anniversary held last year, I said to Nigerians that we have circled our problems for too long; we have complained, criticised, agonised and have been angry for long. It’s now time for us to reset our agenda; all the citizens of the country and those that are in the Diaspora. Anyone related to Nigeria by birth or naturalisation should reposition his mind and see what we can do collectively to make the country great. I became persuaded because I tried to look at the last few decades that we were already adults and look at the previous decades before we could be easily active participants but we could also read. I found that over the years, people have been only satisfied with Nigerian government in retrospection; what does that mean? It means people are happy with the government only after it has left and so every new government that comes…even though they are the ones asking the government to come, voting the government into power no sooner that they begin to hate the government or start to love the government that they had been unsatisfied with; that told me that conversation is the very high level of expectations that had not been met. Why are the Nigerians’ expectations not being met? There are one million reasons. One of them is that, it is possible for the Nigerian expectations not to have been met because the people in the country themselves and the leaders, have not had what we call a shared vision.
If everybody does not know what we are trying to do, where we are going and what we’re trying to build, it’s easy for people to work at cross purposes. It’s easy for people to be frustrated, not knowing precisely what the frustration is. Then again, I thought that the Nigerian nation at 60 had become ripe enough to have social contracts with the people, which means; what are those minimum things that the Nigerian citizens can expect from the country? I began to ask myself: what did the country really guarantee for a citizen? I could find a Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) of PDP’s intervention during the early days which says Nigerians are entitled to education at age six until they finish the 1st three years of secondary school, guaranteeing the first nine years. I then asked myself; is that all that a nation can guarantee to the people? I became worried that okay we can come together now and say what is the minimum safety net of social contracts that this Nigerian nation would guarantee to a citizen? So having followed that trajectory, I stated to adjust even my conversations and styles from may be even criticising government or pointing accusing fingers at the individuals. I decide that it was best to now start pointing at the direction of what I think we should do, and to God be the glory we should take, it’s beginning to take tractions.
Are Nigerians satisfied with their country at 60? The answer is NO. If they were, then their complaints wouldn’t be heavy. Are Nigerians satisfied with the government of the day? The answer is NO. Nigerians believe that the people that served in the past are better than those that are serving now; but don’t forget I have earlier said that there is the tendency for Nigerians to love the leader only after he has stepped out of office. The Nigerians that are in the Diaspora are now a larger number that also indicates that perhaps our people are gravitating, looking for greener pastures and feeling frustrated here. Our own unemployment figure doesn’t also help, we have very young population and very serious unemployment issue which means it’s an internal frustration. We have a situation where the country doesn’t give anybody room for happiness or comfort; we have allowed things to fester for so long. We must consider the security architecture that we are running and determine whether we can afford to change it, improve on it and make it more resettable to our peculiar challenges.
Talking about the police, all of the efforts that we have with the police today we must thank them for standing up and providing security as much but we have over stretched them. The structure suggests now that the level of crimes and criminals activities around the country doesn’t make it reasonable to say we wouldn’t think about alternative models which will probably give the states opportunities to start their own police force. With that, they can police themselves and they can fit into the federal police structure. This is because they have models they can copy and they don’t have to reinvent the wheel.
If you look at how the present government is piling up debts you’re going to be very worried. No nation should have a debt policy that doesn’t include a clear programme or how they’re going to repay the debts, because not to have a programme for repayment is to be living at the mercy of those you borrowed the money from, probably expecting them to forgive you or not come for their money. That is not a good way to run a nation, that is not an honourable way to run a nation. Nations must yes use debts instruments for developments, but this debt instruments must be instruments that nations have the intentions of, one, judiciously using those resources, two, paying back. And, for you to pay back the debts, you must also tie them on the projects that can generate income to draw down the debts. Therefore, there are lot of issues, the national cohesion. Now, more than at anytime in our history, the country has been divided a lot, it is as if almost every section of the country has some ethnics nationality agenda.
For instance, the IPOB asking for a different things, even when you go to the middle belt area you’ll see that all over the country seems to have gotten to the point where after 60 years you’ll look at the structure we are running and talk about it. Whether you call it true federalism or restructuring; we must at this point now determine for ourselves, a constitution. We must all know this is the basic thing that will allow us to build a nation. We don’t have any reason to be afraid, because I do not think that any section of the country should be deceiving itself, that it can stand alone outside the others. Whatever greatness any section has, it has been greatness that accrues from being a member or being part owners or a country that is diverse or as blessed as Nigeria.
Even the leadership challenges can only be solved by good leaders, within a time of five, six or 10 years. A good leader will make us forget the years of bad leadership, we fix the leadership problems and for us to fix this problem, we need to fix the orientation problems for the people, so that the citizens themselves would have an idea of what to look out for. All of these and more are the reason I am championing the reset agenda and I pray to God Almighty, even you people in the media can help us to push it, so that all persons can begin to say what can I do for the country. That is, why don’t I pray for Nigeria, why wouldn’t I pray for this country, why not be a solution bringer, and why wouldn’t I reduce the acrimonious complaints that we have in the country.
- Do you see Nigeria overcoming the second wave of the economic recession any moment soon?
The economy of any nation is like a circle; sometimes it will go up and come down. Nigeria has had glorious years in the economy even in its 60 years history. For instance, if we didn’t have a glorious years in the economy, we wouldn’t never have had a nation like Nigeria boastfully saying money was not the problem. They were giving additional salaries and increases during the wages salary award. Nigeria also had a glorious era in the early days in the last 16 years of PDP until towards the end where we were growing the economy at 6% average and that growth of the economy propelled us to become the biggest economy in Africa. We were also considered to be one of the mint nations which is Malasia, Indonesial, Nigeria- nation that are expected to become great. We have managed the country in a manner at some point that people thought that we are the likely champion of the emerging market. That we are under a leadership, under the APC where we have struggled much on the economy does not mean that a better leader, a leader who understands a working of the economy and how to put together a good team that can work for the country cannot turn things around. After all, Nigeria still has a very large population, which means we have a large market; Nigeria still has appetite for a lot of things that have not been created, which means we can create our own local industrialisation to solve the problems of the citizens.
Nigeria still has a fairly stable climatic condition, which means that we can plan with the weather. Nigeria still has a very good quantum of arable land which means that we can embrace agriculture and agriculture value-chain; Nigeria still has a great potential in tourism which means that any leader that knows what to do can sit down and plan our country and make us more available and more receptive to visitors; Nigeria still has a very large set of diverse people which means that we are going to have a pool of ideas of a lot of people with plenty views and opinions that can be harvested.
Nigeria is like a rainbow nation and a rainbow always at every point in time no matter how gloomy things are, always has a potential to turn itself around and become great. So, as far as I am concerned, Nigeria can come out of its economy recession if leaders of the country expand the access or the opportunity they give themselves to bring people in and how people help them think about and readjust their governance philosophy. This should be in such a way that they are not harassing capital that is, a country that does not have a consistent money policy, consistent policy on exchange or foreign exchange and how you allow it to move will have a problem. This is because you cannot have a multi level exchange rate which will also encourage round tripping. I believe that Nigeria is a resilient country, a country of very optimistic people that are doing the best they can under the circumstances and I am very convince that over time we will get it right.
- What is your assessment of the performances of South-West state Governors ?
Well, I think that relative to their colleagues in the other parts of the country, you will see that they are enjoying the benefit of a fairly more egalitarian people, the people in the Southwest, each of the states fairly has citizens who can drive development either in their small businesses or their small and medium-scale enterprises or even some of the attraction they have been able to achieve in terms of their private spendings. The economy is still good here. They are still contributing a whole lot to the VAT which means that the consumer relationship here is very high. There is a lot of room for improvement and I believe that a great number have reduced the conversation around vision in governance and they are only doing ordinary things. I hold them they are responsible to themselves because where you do not have an arrangement of where leaders are punished, misdemeanor are discouraged, you will find out that you are going to enthrone a culture of people doing whatever they like and that is what we have here where leaders are stealing the country, the state blind and nobody is holding anyone responsible. You cannot lead ordinarily a Southwestern environment that way, but at last they have allowed a malady that they have seen in another location to fester across the Southwest and I am just praying that they will be able to nip that in the bud and understand that all of the resources available are not even enough to get us to where we want to go. We cannot afford people who come into government for the sole purposes of wanting to make themselves excessively wealthy outside what is reasonably allowed for them.
Again, I think that the Southwestern part of Nigeria has not also lived up to its expectations in terms of the early embrace of education. You would expect that the way Europe would be finding solutions to the problems of the world and America, would be finding solutions to the problems of the world and China would be finding solutions, you would expect that environment in the Southwest of Nigeria would have been made such that we will be the one creating solutions if not for Africa and perhaps to the world. Therefore I think that we need to now review the curriculum with which we are teaching ourselves in the Southwest, we need to review what exactly is the overall vision of the Southwest of what we are trying to achieve, we need to review what are the mode of operations that will be acceptable here, we need to review what exactly we are doing now to improve and get our education to be fit for purpose, we need to review what we are going to do about unemployment and general frustration of our people here. I dare say Southwest is right enough to be the first section of the country to introduce social security to it’s people.
* Which faction do you belong to in Ogun PDP?
I have struggled over the years to stay away from being completely involved in any of the factions. I have tried as much as possible even sometimes being criticised to keep a good relationship with all of them in so far as they are for PDP and I am for them. If anybody should ask me now that what is my point of view with the “Lado”group, I will tell you clearly that they are my people. I am for them and they are for me. If anybody should ask me what is my thinking with the “Kashamu group” clearly I am for them, they are for me, they are my people. If anybody were to ask me what is my view with “OGD” and people that are still very loyal, I will tell you I am for them and they are for me. What I have done over the years is to remove myself from the crisis and by trying to remove myself from the crisis, what I have done is I tried as much as possible not to allow any personal frustration or personal hurt to determine my relationship with them. What I have not allowed anyone of them to do is to insist that just because he is fighting with someone, then I as a leader in this state will be fighting with that person and at such I have made myself opened to them, I have made myself able for reconciliation for them, and I have made myself as someone anybody who is aggrieved can be free to talk to. Whenever they come to me, I simply try to determine what is the level of desire, that is their level of participation. For those who are so determined that they want to be with “Ladi”, I have always encouraged them and showed them the pathway to get there and the good number of them are operating there. Those who want to have a meeting with “His Excellency”, the former governor of Ogun State, I’ve always opened the door and made sure they can have those meetings. Those who are even neither with “Daniel” nor “Ladi” that want to also probably create an alternative platform for them, I’ve also tried as much as possible to draw them in. Why have I been doing that? It is because I do not see how exclusivity helps. I believe that we must be mutually inclusive, that means all persons that agreed that they are PDP, they must at least in the minimum talk to each other. If they are speaking to themselves and they begin to lower the temperature, they stop being abusive of each other, they stop being unduly combative slowly but gradually they will be able to wedge themselves together and probably with the help of their reconciliation committee, maybe God will help and they will be one again.
- What is your message to Nigerians ahead of the 2023 general elections?
Well, I have said to a lot of people who have asked me what we should do in 2023. On the national level, I have been asking myself and people have asked me will Atiku contest? Should Atiku contest? What is going to happen? My answer has been very simple, Atiku is not the kind of person that pretends so when he is ready and he has gotten to the point when he wants to declare his interest to contest, he will definitely declare it frontally. But personally, I have said to myself that the elephant in the room that we want to take care of before are unemployment, a broken down economy, insecurity, lack of unity in the country, how to create jobs, bringing the country to be reconciled. These issues are still on the table, so if the big elephant in the room is still on the table, perhaps we still need to call the experienced hunters to come and help us to take care of it. So what will determine whether Atiku will contest in the year 2023 is whether he has the level of vitality. I think we should not be looking forward to a president that could be probably ill in office because we have had that with President Buhari so, we do not need that in the future but if the vitality is there up till now I believe God will continue to sustain him and if he has the appetite to take on the job because we have to pity Atiku too. He has been at the forefront front of advocating for Nigeria to have a good democracy and to have a good sustainable country and he has done it for such a long time at great personal cost and at great emotional cost, But if he sees that he cannot afford to sit down and be watching Nigeria go down when he still has what it takes to help us, then he will have to get up again and show Nigerians that this is the way. At least, so that it can be on record that Atiku Abubakar spent his entire adult life trying to serve Nigeria, showing Nigeria, making himself available for Nigeria and advocating on the issue for Nigeria. May God Almighty give us good leaders.
On the state side, I have looked at Ogun very well and I have become convinced that the conversation around leadership in Ogun has dropped down so much and I have began to convince myself that there is a need for me to get into the race for the governorship so that the conversation and vision that we want to share in Ogun may be espoused and that we may push that vision which will do four things four us. These things are; (1). It will force everybody that wants to govern to have a conversation around these issues and that will give the citizens things to consider. (2). If we run we will do it well and run it in a disciplined manner and not a cumbersome manner. We will be able to inspire the younger generation of people just by the audacity of the vision and hope. (3). We will at least be sure that we will have, if we do not win, a credible opposition that can do the work of opposition. (4). If it is the wish of God Almighty and we get the support of the people and we win, we will now be able to implement a completely new order so as to show Nigerians that we are truly the children of some of the best leaders who have passed through this country and we will now reset and create an Ogun that can work for all persons of Ogun and be the envy of nations even within Nigeria and some of our neighbouring countries.